Galloping on the quebradas, wandering through craggy canyons and admiring the rugged rainbow coloured rocks and colossal cactuses.
01.12.2011 - 02.12.2011
On a bright sunny morning I meet my guide Jose (who only speaks spanish and is a youthful 16 years...), get given a cowboy hat and chaps and get taken a few streets away to where Don Rico, a Bay gelding who will be my stead and Mora, a grey mare who Jose rides. The saddle is a metal frame with layers of blankets placed under and over, and topped with a piece of leather. Rather than buckles for the stirrups and girth the leather straps are looped around and through themselves - it took me a couple of times to get used to the hang of it (very different to the wintec saddle I used to use).
We start out riding along the road and railway track. The first trot we do I feel that Don Rico has a slight limp and point this out to Jose. He tells me it's just because the ground is hard. But when we hit the softer desert track the limp remains...hmmm, riding a lame horse for two days isn't cool for either of us.
We arrive at the first sight - a rock archway followed by a canyon of red rocks. I dismount to explore the canyon on foot and leave the horses with Jose.
On exiting the canyon I see that a number of other riding groups have arrived, including an older guide (on a beautiful chestnut stallion - although that's not the point of this story...). Jose asks him to take a look at Don Rico and a few minutes later he's given me another horse to ride - a grey called Moro who happens to be Mora's brother. We leave the canyon to a tourist calling out "Oi! That's my horse!", I reply "And, you've got mine" and leave the confusion to the guides.
I like Moro. He's cheeky and has spirit. Within minutes Moro gives his sister a nip on the rump and jumps out of the way to miss her kick. Jose throws a concerned glance my way, but when he sees me both still on Moro and laughing it sets the tone for the rest of the ride. I kick Moro on into a canter and when Jose joins me both horses pull forward. I let Moro rip and we start racing along the desert track. We politely stop as we pass another tourist and her guide only to start again when we're a hundred meters ahead of them. A few moments later the sound of horses hooves gets stronger and I notice we're being followed. The four of us stop for lunch and I get chatting to the Dutch girl. She tells me how she wanted a bit of speed but her guide had said no, but when she saw us she decided to go for it, and now she was grinning from ear to ear!
After lunch we part ways - my Dutch friend heads back the way we came while we use the wide, and mainly dry, river bed as our highway. Lots of racing dispersed with some sedate plodding to take in the scenery follows.
A storm is brewing as we arrive at Quiriza and the heavens open shortly after we've watered the horses and I'm inside enjoying a cold beer. Perfect timing!
I try to teach Jose the 'game with no name', despite my spanish for card games requiring some development. I thought he would help me out a little, guessing what I was trying to say, reading my exuberant sign language, but no, apparently 16 year olds are the same in Bolivia as anywhere else in the world - with few words, a distinct stroppy side that is hard to hide, and bad taste in music (which was at this point blaring from the TV). So after the storm has passed I head out for a wander through this small village. Ten minutes later I'm on the other side...but there are a few points of interest; rocky outcrops, goats being fed their dinner and a church.
My dinner is a groaning plate of panfried chicken, potato chips, beetroot and tomato that friendly Santina has prepared. Well fed I give my leftovers to the dog, bash my head on the doorframe built for exceptionally short people and decide it's time to get an early night.
Day 2 is fairly similar to day 1...lots of riding and some great desert scenery. We do a bit more on the road, until I spot an opening onto the river bed and head down there ignoring Jose's protests - it's the right direction, looks safe (certainly safer than a road containing lunatic jeep drivers) and apart from the word 'no' I can't understand what he's saying anyway.
We finish the day with a race along a deserted railway line (where I enjoy an unexpected ditch jump) and splashing through a not so dry section of riverbed to cool down again. A thoroughly enjoyable couple of days!