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We Are Flying Solo

Showing posts with label Ecuador. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ecuador. Show all posts

October 6, 2010

Day 6.1: The Running Of The Bulls

I also learned that Sam loved one thing more than anything else: running. And he loved something else even more than that: running while chasing bovines. So when the bulls were turned loose after a vaccinating session, his ears about popped off with excitement. You can almost hear him gasping Want, waaaaaaaantttt....

October 5, 2010

Day 6: A New Landscape

When we left, I was tucking myself in at the Hacienda San Francisco. In the morning, we had to meet the van again to connect with Sally, who owns the outfitting company, and make our way to our new horses. We bumped around the edge of the valley and through the tinted window, I caught the first glance of what was to be a constant companion and undefinable presence for the next three days: Cotopaxi, which at 5,897 m (19,347 ft) towers as the second highest volcano in Ecuador (Chimborazo is the highest at 20,560 ft and just for reference, the summit of Everest sits at 29,035 ft).

In front of a chapel on a rutted road awaited our partners. I was introduced to Sam, a striking buckskin around 15.3 or so with a keen attitude and a strong will. One part English Thoroughbred, one part freight train, one part friendly companion, and one part enthusiasm.

Mum was paired with a very solid citizen named Jalisco.  (Yeah, it's HARD taking pictures from the back of a horse.  You try documenting nine days while never standing still!)

Anna found herself with a little liver chestnut named Alverito who was the very definition of his breed, a Peruvian Paso.  Although apparently from the back of Sam, he is the size of a Shetland pony.

An English volunteer, Hannah, brought up the rear with Caesar, who would be our chagra for the remainder of the trip. Hannah started out with one of Sally's experiments, a dark bay Hanoverian who Sally had brought down to see if the heavier horses did well at altitude (they don't). She led Anamike, a dappled grey Arab mare, while Caesar, riding the improbably named grey, General Pintag (it's a bus route in town apparently), ponied our familiar other-grey friend, Gitano (Anna rode him on the first half of the trip -- Gitano, not Caesar).

Our goal for the day was to ride south towards Cotopaxi, where we would arrive at the night's lodgings. It soon became apparent that we were in a whole 'nother world from what we experienced north of Quito. There was much more vegetation and livestock had flesh on their bones. It was greener and fresher and felt more...enriched, and yet at the same time, more wild. And Cotopaxi itself peeked out at us, flirting from behind the rolling hills.

Soon, we passed through a gate into a private hacienda. And by hacienda, I mean a massive ranch that sprawled across what was probably square miles. The owner bred (of course) Spanish fighting bulls and grazed them on the high meadows around Cotopaxi. Check out that pasture view.

Then, suddenly, we are on a high, tawny meadow. And I canter on, the snowy cone of Cotopaxi ahead of me, an entire alley of volcanoes, some extinct, some merely sleeping, surrounding me. It is almost pure bliss (if I didn't have to use every dressage muscle in my body to half halt Sam and convince him this was NOT a horse race), tinged only by the realization that I can only truly capture it in memory. Nothing else could hold its grandeur.

General Pintag really likes his job today. Gitano is just happy that no one is riding him!

Mum and I pose for posterity with Sam and Jalisco. One cannot pass by a Kodak vista!!  But I don't know why the volcano looks all weird behind us.  Perhaps the spirits are angry...

Anna and Alverito want some camera time too!

Caesar and the grey boys only make the landscape look even better.

We are getting close to the national park now and the land betrays its own past. Dirt becomes pumice and boulder fields are strewn across the slopes from the last lava flow that Cotopaxi threw into the skies.

The mountain over Anna's shoulder is Cincilagua. Which I have probably spelled wrong. We could never remember its name, so I called it Chinchilla instead. I longed to see a wild chincilla, but apparently they do not live this far north in the Andes. I had to settle for hungry puppies. Not quite as heartwarming.

The road in the last picture is the road down to our lodge, a sort of chalet called Chilcabamba. And what it lacked in facilities, it did manage to make up for in scenery...which you now have to wait for the next post to see.

September 26, 2010

Day 5: Halfway And A Goodbye

It was a slow start this morning, so I spent it wandering out to the breeding stock paddocks and petting the faces of the young stallions.  Eventually, though, we made it out the gate and I began my last ride with Capuli.  The track today would lead us over the mountains to the town of Olmedo.  We wound up and down the mountainsides and took a lovely canter weaving and darting through lines of planted gum trees and up a switchback road bordering more grasslands.  In the distance, we could see the snow-covered dome of Cayambe.  As we came down towards Olmedo, more and more agriculture sprung up as well, from wheat and potatoes to lupine.

Lunchtime found us in the central park of Olmeda -- right during the school recess. Swarms of giggling children engulf the horses in wide-eyed delight. With my non-existent repertoire of conversational Spanish, I can only smile at them blankly.

Then it's time to hug goodbye to the horses who have become our friends. They, however, look relieved to be rid of us and ready for a good nap.

Now it's time to pile into the van and cross the Equator on the way to the Hacienda San Francisco, where we will spend the night. I am surprised that the woman manning the facilities at the equatorial display has a very good presentation when we stop off to check things out. I learn that here, just across the valley on the shoulders of Cayambe, is the only place in the world where the equator crosses a glacier. It's certainly the most interesting line I have ever visited.

Late in the afternoon, we pull into the San Francisco. It's a lovely place, as they all are. Lots of interesting things to look at tucked into nooks and crannies. We are heart-broken when no hot water bottles appear though, we have been so spoiled! I opt to sleep in my fleece. We also bid goodbye to Gaspar and Christian -- tomorrow we will meet Sally, who owns the outfit and who will guide us for the rest of the trip.

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.

September 22, 2010

Day 3.1: La Merced Baja

After we passed under the gate, the horses had only one thing in mind. Capuli, my hardy little horse named after a tart native cherry, made a beeline for relief!

You can also hear Gaspar in the background discussing the farm's stallions. Oh, did I not mention they had stallions? Well, guess what, La Merced Baja (I can't read their website, I just look at the pretty pictures) breeds wonderful Pure Spanish Horses (PRE; Pura Raza Espanola). This baroque breed is subject to much inspection and regulation, as we learn at dinner, and you can see the results in their pastures. I also learn that "Andalusian" is just a generic term that marketers in the US love -- we think it's a special special breed, but in reality, it can refer to any number of thick-necked hairy horses of European origin and doesn't mean much at all. And by the way, should you want a hairy, thick-necked horse with a talent for collection and suspension, importing one from South America is wayyyyyyyyy cheaper than getting one from Europe. And this farm, at least, is breeding quality, nestled in this beautiful valley.

Their prize stallion is Kilimanyaro (but pronounce the "y" like a "j", like the mountain in Africa). He is 20 but he looks 13. To get to Ecuador from Spain, as a 3 year old, he spent 8 days on a ship, locked in a container without moving. They were heartbroken when they picked him up at the dock, he could barely move. It's a testament to the toughness of these horses that he survived!

And you know what's cool?  He gets to be a horse.  All their stock are used, working the farm.  There are 125 head of dairy cattle and a herd of Spanish fighting bulls to tend to daily.  The breeding goal:  to produce a beautiful-moving horse that also has a good brain and a solid, working temperament.  Their oldest son is even showing one of their youngsters in the show jumping ring (I tried to convince them that they needed to give me one so I could teach it to event and expand their market.  For some reason, they laughed at me...) over serious jumps and doing well!  But each horse is out in the pasture all day, muddy and happy and snarfing down grass.  Kilimayaro, of course, gets his own pasture next to the mares, where he can keep a watchful eye on goings-on.

 There are also two older stallions enjoying retirement with great dignity.

The yearlings get their own pasture. Manes and tails are kept cut short until the horses are four years old so it's easy to see conformation and movement unfolding. Each horse must be inspected three times if it will be used for breeding, so it's important to keep a sharp eye on what's growing out there.

Then there are this year's babies. Because who doesn't love baby horses! The littlest one is just starting his halter training and he is all sass and vigor. I measure his legs with eyes, trying to figure out how to best fit him in my suitcase.

As with most grey horses, the foals are born dark and lighten to white by about age 6 or so. A rare few do stay dark though, like this mare.

I think my favourites though, were a pair of two year old stallions who always came running to the fence if a person walked by. Absolute love bugs they were and if you stopped scratching their heads and tried to walk away, they would follow you down the fenceline, nickering for more. The darker one was my favourite and his is the pride of the farm, as Kilimanyaro's son. He has absolutely exquisite movement and when he sits down and trots, he looks like he belongs in the ring at Devon with a blue ribbon on his neck.

More scritches, please! His name is Kilimanyaro MB (for "Merced Baja"). And there are even more! They've also imported two young 5-6 year old stallions from Spain to bring fresh blood to the program. Of course, they are lovely too. This one is Falcon IV -- a bit into the video, he brings his head up and you can see quality just oozing out of him.

Needless to say, I went to bed tired that night, worn out from staring at so many beautiful horses at once. I built a big fire in our room (no small feat in Ecuador, where fires sputter and go out in the low-oxygen air), snuggled up with the hot water bottle and passed out.