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We Are Flying Solo

September 25, 2010

Day 4: The Roof Of The World

Horses are universal, really. Horse people, no matter what our language or culture, can suddenly slip into sync when discussing our passion. Oswaldo and Diana, the wonderfully gracious owners of the beautiful Merced Baja, were no different and we spent a long dinner talking of horses and breeding and shows celebrating the animals that brought us together.

The morning dawned bright and promising and today we were going to do a loop ride, ending up back at La Merced Baja for a second night. Capuli and I rode out with a ready step and quickly began to climb. Imbabura had snow on its wrinkled top from the previous night.

We climb and climb and climb. Gaspar points to a long, misty valley behind us and tells us that Andean condors like to live up there, where there is a hidden lake and shelter from the wind.  We all peer hopefully into its depths, trying to call one out with sheer willpower.

Black volcanic soil contrasts with golden wheat, green mountains, and purple lupine.

Suddenly, we are in a heavy, dark pine forest. All is quiet and still except for the muffled footfalls of horses on pine needles. We wind out soon onto a road cut into the side of the mountain. Gaspar and Christian are passing the time as if we are strolling through a city park.

I, on the other hand, have just turned around. All I can think is "the roof of the world."  It's kind of like witnessing a miracle -- you can't quite believe you are awake or that any of it is real. The camera fails to capture it and the eyes are not big enough for this scale. But it is absolutely, piercingly real and you still try to find a way to hold it all inside of you.

All there is left to do is slide back down the hard, slick volcanic dirt back to the village of Zuleta. It feels like you are going down forever. And it's good half-halt practice! Once in the village, we jog down cobbled streets and stop at the shop of a seamstress that Gaspar knows. We walk into a world of exquisite artistry. She embroiders in rich colours on shirts, tablecloths, pillowcases, napkins. And the back of each piece is just as perfect and tightly stitched as the front. She brings out all her pieces with glee, her eyes crinkling with her smile of pride as she unfolds fabric in front of us, each work more beautiful than the last. I am caught by a table runner, its round pattern sewn in shades of blue. I ask her how long it took; she says about 10 days, working on it around four hours a day. I gladly pay her price, she earned every penny.

The hacienda is just down the road and we head home to give the horses the afternoon off to roll in the mud and nap. Tomorrow will be my last day with Capuli, the eager youngster who walks with his entire body and has impeccable balance in every conceivable footing. I hope he gets a good holiday after this -- these rides are HARD HARD work for the horses, yet they take it all without complaint or undue fuss.


  1. I've always wanted to do this on a vacation, and your descriptions almost make me feel as if I'm there with you!

  2. Kate, it's totally worth whatever it takes to do it!