CAMOAPA—The universe always conspires to provide when something needs to happen. This trip needed to happen and the very next day after my little swim with Tornado, I happened into a conversation with my good friend, Lucia, from Managua.
I told her what I wanted to do, but explained that my horse wasn’t working out and I needed another.
“Take mine. I’m not riding her these days and it’d be good for her to get out and run,” Lucia told me.
I couldn’t believe it. Lucia’s mare is gorgeous. Her name is Confia En Mi, which translates to Trust Me.
She was given that name ironically because she’s a surly animal, and if she knows you are not in control, you can definitely NOT trust her. I thought it apropos that I would be riding a mare with this character. She’d keep me honest, at least, and she’s a lot of horse and I like a lot of horse, even if I was used to just riding around on little ole Tornado (he’s a big horse in a little horse’s body).
I left for Camoapa, which is in the central municipality of Boaco and true Nica cowboy country, on a Saturday, with an unexpected riding partner. You see, when I went to meet Confia, I was introduced to a guy named Roy, who runs the riding school, where she lives.
Roy is a tall, lanky, cowboy-type with long, dark hair, a sombrero always pulled low, and mud-splattered boots. He’s a true outdoorsman with the soul of a poet. His favorite book is the Little Prince.
When Roy got word I was going on this trip, he approached me with a request to come along. Naturally I agreed, because who better to ride along with than the very guy who cares for my horse?
Over the course of the week, Roy had somehow gotten a truck and a trailer together, borrowed from various friends. That’s the thing about Nicaragua, people always go out of their way to lend you a helping hand, or, in our case, a trailer. It’s humbling and reminds one to conduct a priority check and help out a friend whenever we get too busy or self-occupied to notice other’s needs.
We wanted to arrive in time to get a short ride in before the sunset. Naturally, this being Nicaragua, our scheduled was delayed. We ran super-late. It probably would have happened anyway, but was compounded by trying to juggle the schedules of other people who wanted to come along. Over the course of the past week, a few of Roy’s students had heard about our pending horseback adventure and asked to join us for the first leg of the trip in Comoapa, a town of about 50,000 in the central municipality of Boaco.
I had really envisioned this as more of a solo adventure than a group event, but it seemed like a fun idea to have some others along for the send-off. Especially if, in the future, the experience would help Roy to start leading horseback-riding tours like this and make some sort of business out of it. In fact, if that’s all that came out of this whole Gringo on Horseback trip, then I’d be a happy rider.
We arrived just before sunset at a small Finca on the top of a hill overlooking Camoapa. It’s called the Finca Agroturistica Santa Matilde, which rests, as a local told me, “in the skirt of the Cerro Mombacho.”
I spoke at length with the proprietor over a few cold Toña’s and he told me of his plans to eventually have up to 20 rooms to rent, as he proudly walked me around the property showing me the pool, the Evangelical Church, and the still unfinished rooms.
The sun was setting behind distant mountains with a soft orange glow and we stopped to watch the lights of Granada begin to glow as the last of the natural light slowly disappeared.
I have never seen more sunsets than in my time in this country, and have come to firmly believe that watching a day start and end keeps you in tune with the passage of time and the rhythm of nature. I don’t know about you, but I feel more in-sync when I look out over a distant horizon and I really can’t imagine myself living in a large city again.
Now the temperature drops quickly when the sun goes down in Camoapa, and I was actually cold. So we decided to light a fire. The kids roasted marshmallows and laughed, while the men talked of cattle farming and horses until it was time for bed.
I woke at 5 a.m. the next morning and spent the predawn talking with this woman named Dina Reyes, who had lived and worked in the U.S. for a number of years. Dina had saved her dollars there and recently “retired” back to Nicaragua to a finca purchased with her hard-earned money.
Now she is a female rancher—a real renegade in male-dominated cowboy country. The people all describe her as a man, she told me, with no shortage of pride. She’s a strong woman, quick with a smile, a deep laugh, and eyes you can trust. I liked her a lot and before leaving, she passed me her contact details in case I ever wanted to pass by and see, how a “cattle ranch is run by a woman.”
At 6 a.m. we left the hotel to begin our trek. Roy’s students included the lovely Inguun from Norway, her precocious 10-year-old daughter Pilar, and sweet Maurita from Managua.
Pilar with boundless energy, was beside herself with excitement for a real open-country trail ride. Maurita is a unique girl with an inclination and ability to communicate more with horses than with people. Both girls train Hunter/Jumper in the show ring, but there’s nothing like the freedom of just getting outside and taking off in one direction to discover new things along the way. Their energy and excitement was infectious, and I was happy they had come along.
We started off for the Cerro Mombacho, heading down dirt roads, past small houses, through muddy sections, over rocks, through fences, and up steep hills. It was all new for Confia En Mi, who had spent her life as a show horse. Although she’s a top athlete in her particular field, this was a new kind of strength, and she was tired.
I could feel her tiredness under me, through my legs, and I took it very easy with her. The ascent was difficult and she threw three horseshoes. The incline simply increased and eventually we had to stop and tie the horses to some trees and continue by foot.
We had gone this far and all were adamant about arriving at the peak. It was tough going for some, especially for Maurita, and it was inspiring to see her push on.
Some things are easy for some, and we take what’s easy for us for granted. This was not easy for her, and I was impressed to watch her determination.
I witnessed great tenacity and bravery on that mountain and knew it was a day of triumph for her.
It reminded me of a conversation I once had with a surfer when I was first starting out. He told me, “You know Kelly Slater (the top surfer in the world) is not having any more fun than you are. Everything’s relative cerebrally inside our brains. So when you drop in on a head high wave and make a solid bottom turn and cut up the face of the wave, your inner feeling, that rush, that excitement, is the same that he has deep in the tube on the best wave in the world. It’s all relative.”
I thought about relativity as Maurita picked herself up again and again out of the mud and wiped her hands clean and took one of our hands for balance as she pushed on.
She refused to quit until she made it to the top, no matter how many times she fell. I was a spectator to her triumph and proud to be so.
Next week: Confia gets sick and is down for the count, we meet a horse whisperer and go for a swim.
Scott Stevens, from Shreveport, Louisiana, has spent the past 10 years living abroad in Thailand, Indonesia, Switzerland, and, most recently, Nicaragua. He traded the boardroom for the outdoors after the 2008 financial crisis and has been exploring ever since. Follow his stories on his blog, www.coolerthanafan.com