It all started over a couple of beers on a random Tuesday night. Well, more than a couple. There may also have been about a half a bottle of rum involved, according to the bar tab.
You see, I was sitting around with Tim Rogers, editor and creator of the Nicaragua Dispatch, at a bar called Nectar on the Calle La Calzada in Granada, Nicaragua. We were discussing Nicaragua, travel, writing, our old mutual friend Jeff Giles, and whatever other topics came to mind as the drinks flowed.
It was then that I decided to run an idea by him that I had had for a long time. You see, I’ve been toying around with writing for a couple of years now on my own little website www.coolerthanafan.com, but I’ve always had this idea burning in the back of my head for a book. So I decided to run it by Tim. I trusted his opinion enough by now for him tell me if I was an idiot or not. I had run my idea by a few other people recently and they told me I was either “stupid,” “insane,” “crazy,” “unrealistic,” or, at best, “eccentric.”
Maybe I’m just sensitive, but sometimes I get the sensation that if you go and do the things that interest you—things that stray a bit from the tried and tested path—you get regarded with some skepticism. However, at the same time, I’ve found that people’s reaction to your crazier ideas is a great litmus test for who you want around you.
I’ve always had the good fortune to have some good people around me, so I turned to Tim, narrowed my eyes to try to focus through the rum, and said, “I’ve got an idea for a story. I think it might be pretty interesting.”
Now when Tim gets serious about listening, and he is always serious when it comes to a story over rum, he tilts his head down, shuts his mouth real tight, and looks you dead in the eye through his eyebrows. “Shoot.”
“Well, you see, in 1925 this professor from Washington, D.C., who was down teaching in B.A. (Argentina), decided to ride two Argentine Criollo horses back home. Along the way, he encountered all sorts of hardships, including a bout with malaria. He had run-ins with bandits, and all that good stuff. But eventually he made it home with both horses intact, and they lived happily ever after.”
I stopped talking to take a pull off my drink and see if Tim was still with me. He hadn’t said anything, so I assumed he was either listening or sleeping with his eyes open. Either way, I carried on.
“Well, I’ve always thought it would be interesting to retrace the same route. You know, to see if it’s still possible to travel long distances by horseback like that. And what happens when you do? How does one’s perspective of the country change from the back of a horse compared to, say, the comfort of a car? Or a plane? Or whatever? I mean, what happens? What sort of relationship does one develop with a horse after traversing such distances together? These are things our ancestors knew intimately, but we’ve mostly lost contact with that sort of life.”
I stopped to think. Tim took a pull from his drink.
“Well, I guess I don’t have three years to travel from Argentina back to the U.S., but I could certainly do short leg of the trip, right here in Nicaragua. It’s a place close to my heart, and it has a true horse culture.”
I stopped talking, realizing I didn’t really have a plan, and it probably sounded like a foolish idea that shouldn’t be stretched any further with drunken prattle. After all, I have plans to return to the business world when I get back home, and probably shouldn’t indulge in any more fantasies of cowboy adventure.
As I picked up my drink again to try to wash the foolish talk out of my mouth, Tim finally broke his silence. “I love it,” he said. “We could absolutely run this as a series of installments in the Nicaragua Dispatch. Nicaragua by Horseback. Or the Gringo on Horseback. It could even become a book. It’s good.”
Well the conversation and the night faded into a haze of late hours and more drinks. But when I woke up the next morning, the idea was still with me. Should I just go for it? Even for a short trip—maybe a week or two? Should I really delay my return to a career, a job, and just saddle up and ride off into the sunset? Am I completely off my rocker? Or perhaps off my saddle, as the case may be?
When I returned to my home on the Pacific Coast, I decided to go for it. I was going to trade in the incredible sunset views over the ocean for a horse and saddle on the dusty trail. It might be a waste of time, and I may not get a damned thing out of it, but I’m exploring for exploring’s sake: I want to feel and see something profound, even if it’s just for a few short days before I return home with a sore ass and a sunburn to spend the rest of my life in a cubicle (doubtful).
One last little adventure in this amazing, fascinating country, full of staggering beauty, shameful neglect, unbelievable kindness, laughable corruption, a criminal disparity of wealth, and all the other aspects of life magnified a thousand times over in this seismic land. Then, I’ll go home.
The next day I saddled up Tornado, my friend’s horse, and took the nutcase out for a practice run on the beach. I decided to tie my GOPRO camera to the end of a polo stick to record our initial beach run. I thought it might be cool to see the water splashing up around us as we ran. Well, it worked and I got PLENTY of water splashing around as you can see in this short clip here.
When the test ride was over, Tornado and I decided to take a break from one another, which has become a familiar pattern in my relationships. In the end, I decided to take another horse on this grand adventure—but not without some regret. I feel bad I’m not bringing the little bastard along. He doesn’t listen to a damn thing anyone says and, well, I can relate. We are kindred spirits in that regard.
However, he and I will have to make another trip another day. This cowboy needs a new horse.
Next Friday: Scott and Tornado’s stormy relationship is decidedly over when he meets a new horse in Managua and rides off to explore Nicaragua.
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