Tuesday, April 20

Steve: Today became a day of travel, rest and preparation for our cruise in the Galapagos Islands that begins tomorrow. A combination of rainy weather and an unexpectedly long drive from the Kaony Lodge to the Yanococha Reserve made it difficult for us to accomplish some of the exploration and bird watching that we had hoped. So instead, we headed back to Quito for lunch, and then spent the afternoon getting ready for tomorrow.

Tomorrow's flight takes us first to the city of Guayaquil, and then to San Cristobal where we'll board our boat that will be home for the next seven days. We will not be able to update our web site until our return on April 28, but will certainly be taking lots of pictures!

Katie's Kwick Kwacks: My Experience with Horseback Riding in the Andes Mountains. This week we had a wonderful experience with exploring the Andes Mountains on the backs of horses. This was an enchanting, beautiful, and at times thrilling journey. Although I have gone horse back riding a couple of times before, nothing came close to matching the suspense, freedom, adventure and splendor of this ride. We weren't riding in any ring or enclosed trail…we were going on the path of the Incas.

As I stepped into my llama wool pant legs, and slipped on the heavy striped pancho, I couldn't imagine where in the world I was. It seemed like a joke. Why was I dressed like this? After placing a black felt cap on my damp head, I was officially an Ecuadorian cowboy. I expected to find our guides laughing at me. Instead they ushered all of us over, and we wobbled to the huddle. They began to explain the commands. After mastering each of the sounds we climbed onto our horses. I felt like I had 5 pounds added to my body. I hoped this horse knew where we were going. At this time I didn't need freedom - I just wanted direction. We started to progress up the hill in a line. We crossed over mud and puddles. We got to the top of the hill, in the middle of all the tall pasture grass. We were surrounded by clouds and the meadows around us - alone. I clung to my poncho and the leather reins. I felt like a powerful messenger in Inca times, with that endless road ahead. I was in a different world. I wanted to be free…we began to run.

Before I knew it we were cantering at full speed across the hill. It was a really exciting and dramatic experience. This was not just some little horsey ride with silly costumes. This was the real thing. We were completely alone in a peaceful and endless road - the road of the Incas. The scenery's tranquility and everlasting grace has remained in tact and alive since its use by the Inca empire centuries ago.

The original purpose of this road was to stay in touch with all parts of this great empire. The particular path we rode on was one that chagras (Inca cowboys) took to get from Quito to Cuzco. The messengers would communicate news between the cities on horseback, and work to keep the empire together as one.

When I got up to the top of the hill, I wanted to continue into the distance. It is only when you have an experience like this that you finally realize the universe has no limits. For the first time ever, I had a sense of real freedom.


David's Daily Dump: Horseback Riding. This week I had a wild, fun, crazy, and scary horse back ride which was probably one of the most amazing first-time rides anyone has ever had! This was the first time I had ever been on a horse and I was pretty excited as I kicked into the stomach of "pokey" (I named him that) and started up into the Andes. It's pretty sad that I have ridden a camel, elephant, and yak, but never a horse! This is the tale of the cantering first-time rider, David.

I had no idea what I was in for as we pulled up to the small hacienda where we would be starting our ride into the Andes. I did not intend to be able to control my own horse, canter, or be instructed on how to avoid aggressive bulls on the first ride of my life. But in the end, I realized what an amazing experience it really was for me.

I knew that this was not going to be a simple little ride around the park when we started suiting up in our ponchos and Chagra (Ecuadorian cowboy) gear. We had cool hats, fur cowboy pants (chaps), and llama wool ponchos which made us look like official riders. We mounted on our beautiful horses and were lectured on how to control them. Our guide told us never to pull hard on the reins or the horse would get on his hind legs and throw us to the ground. After I heard that I hardly ever pulled the reins and let them hang loose most of the time. Then we started our ride and headed off to the Andes which was the beginning of a new wild adventure.

The first part of our ride was an uphill climb through the slippery mud and vegetation. Pokey kept on trying to sneak bites of grass, and it wasn't until I kicked him harder than normal that he start to move again. Because of this I was holding up the group and eventually was given the honor of bringing up the rear. When we reached 10,000 ft Pokey was breathing hard and was falling behind the group. After about 30 minutes of climbing we made it to the bull gate…

Once at the gate to the bull field we were lectured by our guide on how to avoid charging bulls. I was taken by surprise and didn't recall hearing anything about this at the beginning of the ride. Anyway, we were told that bulls in packs are not usually dangerous, but that solitary bulls may charge. Our guide also said that they have never had any trouble with the bulls and that it's very rare to have any accidents. If a bull were coming toward us we were supposed to run our horses up the nearest hill. If there were no hills nearby or for some odd reason the horse would not run, we were told to throw our hat or poncho on the ground, dismount our horse, and run like heck!!!! We were a little nervous at first, especially when we saw a single bull running over the hill we were headed toward. We had no trouble at all, and weren't charged at once the whole ride!! After another half an hour we made it to the "galloping field."

This is when the fun really began. We were told at the start of the ride that there would be a chance to canter if we felt comfortable with our horse. When we all heard this, we turned toward one another and smiled saying "I don't think so." Little did we know we had no choice…

All the sudden…BAAMM…and just like that we were off, running into the distance. Before we could even decide whether we wanted to canter or not our guide's horse broke into a mad dash and our horses followed. It seemed that the horses always ran here and knew exactly what to do. I felt a jolt of excitement and horror as I found myself bouncing up and down, juggling with the reins and struggling to keep my balance. I could vaguely hear mom yelling, "shoooo" (which was what made the horses stop) and "oh my god, oh my god." I soon found myself laughing and enjoying myself while I followed Katie, who looked like she would fall down at any moment.

After our crazy sprint, we headed back toward the hacienda where we enjoyed a wonderful lunch. We were all sopping wet, but luckily our gear protected us quite nicely and we had dry shirts when we got back in the car. I couldn't believe that I had actually cantered on the first horseback ride of my entire life! In fact, I really loved it. The scenery was spectacular too. It was almost mystical as we looked down into the valley surrounded by mist and clouds. It was a once in a lifetime experience that I would do over again and again: an experience that I will never forget.












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