The Gringo Horseback Chronicles V

Join Scott Stevens as he travels Nicaragua by horseback and explores off-the-beaten-path rural communities to see the country from a cowboy’s perspective. Chapter 5: "only 15 more minutes to the waterfall"

I woke in my hammock in Julian’s house. I’m familiar with the routine of his home and it was nice to be back. I am comfortable here, with his family and these friends.

We took our coffee with La Chinita in the morning and regaled her with stories of the Río San Juan, which she has dreamed of seeing some day but never has. Julian walked in and indicated that it was time to hit the road. We headed over to the barn where he lent me a beautiful Palomino stallion and gave his personal daily ride, a Spanish mix, to Roy.

We waved a goodbye to Julian and headed out through town. We more or less had directions to a waterfall. It felt great to be back on a horse and I felt proud and tall riding alongside Roy through town. The kid in you never goes away and I couldn’t help but imagine we were cowboys from a time gone by, passing through a Western town with the locals looking up at the new faces and pointing at us.

Riding out of town

I sat tall in my saddle as our hooves echoed through the streets. This trip was meant to be done by horseback, and we were finally doing as planned. The only aspect I felt missing was Confia. I wanted to spend more time with her and get to know her well, with all her quirks and moods. I wanted us to build a bridge of trust during our adventures. I have spent a lot of time on horses, playing polo and whatnot, but I never have felt a particular bond with any one horse. I want to know one deeply. However, I was happy on Julian’s Palomino and we road well together.

It didn’t take long to get through town and back into the countryside. We turned off the main road onto a dirt path that headed up into the hills. Two valleys stretched out below us on either side, rolling endlessly out to higher points on the horizon. There were no buildings, no evidence of humans, only nature.

The sky was a light blue with clouds like cotton balls floating low above us. They dotted the sky, occasionally providing some shade from the sun, until they passed and the sun beat down mercilessly upon us again. You could hear the heat as the earth itself seemed to sweat.

We were told the ride should take an hour or so. It definitely verged on the “so” side, as one hour stretched into two, and then three. We stopped time and again and asked various people we passed where the waterfall was. Some didn’t seem to know what we are talking about, others did and pointed ahead and told us to continue. No one seemed that specific about the distance. It was always “only 15 minutes more.” We were not even certain we were still heading towards the right waterfall, but we had passed the point of no return, so we carried on.

I watched my horse carefully. I was not sure of his fitness level and I didn’t want to push him too hard. I already had one horse in the stable recuperating from a tough ride, so I didn’t want to put another one down. The young stallion seemed fine though, despite lagging behind Roy’s silver mount.

The road ahead

On some of the steeper hills I dismounted and walked him up, remembering from a book I read that that’s how Crazy Horse always evaded capture. He and his band of warriors would walk their horses up hills, always saving their energy for when it was needed. I have never been a good manager of energy or time with myself, so I reminded myself to be extra vigilant with this guy.

Eventually we came to a fork in the road and we needed to decide which way to go. We chose the lower path and it opened onto a green field of high grass and beyond that—finally—a river!

We weren’t sure if it was the right river, but we tied the horses to a tree and stripped down to our underwear and dove into the cold, refreshing pools of water. The road dust and the heat washed away in the clear waters and we forced ourselves under the cold water cascading down from above. We were able to climb behind and under it at one point and I shot Roy in the water looking Tarzan-esque.

After lying for a while in the cool water and letting our bodies cool down, we lied down on the rocks and soaked in the sun. I am usually in the water daily and hadn’t been at all lately, and so it felt good to get cold and then warm up again on the hot rocks under the blazing Nicaraguan sun.

At last, the waterfall

We decided to bring the horses down to let them play in the pools and they splashed around and drank the cool water. They love the water and you could see the joy in their otherwise long faces. The sun set and we mounted back up and headed towards home.

The light drops fast in Nicaragua. We didn’t time this well at all and soon we were riding in complete darkness. It was a dark night, with just a sliver of moon and the stars stretched around us almost wrapping us up. There was no light at all. Not a single bulb burning anywhere, and the stars’ light flowed down unpolluted by anything unnatural. It was pure and dark and the horses knew we were headed home.

It was much cooler now and the horses were rested and wanted to run, so we let them. Soon we were galloping in the darkness. It’s a peculiar sensation letting the horse go in near blindness. I could only make out shadows, but I couldn’t trust the shadows, only the horse. I closed my eyes and completely let the horse have his lead. He was charging forward now in a fast gallop, but I could feel his breathing and it was an alert, controlled gallop. He was in command of his footing and his breathing and I trusted him and I let my body go. My hips moved with his body and I felt even more connected to him without the benefit, or distraction, of sight.

Cooling down in the river

It was just the stallion’s body moving beneath mine, connected to me, his hooves echoing off the ground and the sound of Roy somewhere ahead of me charging forward on his mount. I let out an uncontrolled shout of pure silly joy into the night air. I could feel myself blush at it, embarrassed at myself, at this unrestrained shout in this perfect moment. I shook the blush of a puritanical history out of my head and let my wild hair whip around my face. This was what I came here for, this was the moment that had so far escaped me, I was completely connected now and in the moment, free of my history, free of myself. Roy shouted out a YEEHAW cowboy style and I knew he was close. I opened my eyes and I could make him out just ahead of me. I lined my horse up and charged up next to his and we galloped, in time, together, and then slowly brought them back down to a walk.

We talked giddily now as we walked, both still high on the run and feeling more at ease. I realized that we hadn’t really talked that much during this trip, but how often do you ever really talk to anyone? In my experience, not much. We had been constantly surrounded by others and have talked but never really talked and we got on the subject of romanticism.

“I have realized I’m just not much a sentimentalist,” I told him. “I just don’t really miss people that much. Where I am is where I am and I don’t know if that’s a coldness, or a philosophical bend natural to my nature or what.”

“I’m a romantic,” Roy responded. “I’m Nicaraguan, so I can’t help it, I guess. It just comes naturally to me. But when I’m in love, for example, as I am now, I can only think of her and it’s hard to be away. This has been good for me in this way. I have learned a lot from you by this.”

“Learned from me?” I asked surprised.  

“Yes. Learned from you. I shouldn’t be so much that way.”

I think about what he says and I don’t really have much to say on the subject so silence carries us forward. Plus, I was thinking that here I was imagining myself a cowboy and whooping in the darkness so perhaps I’m a closeted romantic anyway.

“You know, I was even jealous a bit when you met my girlfriend,” he continued.

“Jealous? Of what?” I responded. There was certainly nothing to be jealous of on either side of the coin, from her or me.

“I know! It’s ridiculous and I don’t like the feeling of jealously, but whenever another man, any man, is around her, I get jealous, even if he has no intentions. I tell you, it’s an inherited problem.”

“Yes, we have all inherited both good and bad. The collective unconsciousness of our respective societies, or of humanity, or whatever. I think about that a lot. How much of us was pushed into us by those around us and how much of that can we exorcise? I’d like to believe it can all be exorcised and the purity of who you are, free of the encumbrances of what others want you to be, can be found. But not without great difficulty, struggle, and discipline. In some ways, it is just easier to quit pushing against the grain and accept who you became, regardless of if it’s you or not. However, you don’t strike me as the type to do that. So you’ll struggle on and I’ll like you more for it.”

He laughed at this mouthful of nonsense and we walked on and listened to the sounds of horses hooves against rock and pebble. I stared out into the darkness ahead of me and thought more about missing, and I started trying to miss, but realized I couldn’t right then. In that moment, in the dark, walking down an unknown path, in a wild place, with my horse beneath me…this was not the moment that I am going to miss anything.

I felt alive and content and present. I tightened my legs against the stallion’s body and he understood and stepped it up to a trot and it was at that pace that we traveled over dirt and through time until dirt turned to pavement and stars gave way to lights and we were back.

Next week: The Gringo and Roy part was as he heads back to managua with Confia in tow. Scott stays to learn about horses and life from the horse whisperer Julian

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

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