Julian and I saddled up as the sun began its arc down and away. As we mounted up, it threw long shadows out in front of us. I watched them and remembered Alexander the Great’s horse Bucephalus, who, legend has it, was scared of his own shadow but still conquered the world with his master.
Our shadows led the way in front of us and we moved at a brisk pace. I trailed slightly behind Julian as we wound our way up a path similar to the one we took to the waterfall the day before. We were headed to the Finca Comarca Coyachigue, which belongs to a woman named Dina Reyes. I had met her days earlier and when I told her of my intention to travel by horseback across this part of Nicaragua, she had insisted we stop at her finca.
Now Julian and I made our way there as darkness set in quickly, and for the second time I found myself putting my blind trust in my Palomino. We moved with a brisk pace up and down the sides of mountains, traversing the steeper faces and then turning back and crossing again, slowly snaking our way down the slopes. It’s easier for horses that way, and safer for riders.
As we descended into a valley, it became completely pitch black. By the time we reached the peak of the next ascent, we could see the lights of the ranch house in the distance. It was impossible to tell how far away it was, because it never seemed to get any closer. But eventually we arrived to the sounds of barking dogs and could see people come out onto the front porch to see who was approaching.
Dina herself appeared silhouetted by the light from the doorway, her cowboy hat on, still dressed from a long day on the ranch, delivering calves, tending to crops and all the other things she does on a daily basis. I felt like I was in one of those western movies, traveling to a ranch house surrounded by nothing with just the light from the windows shining like beacons, calling us home. I was thrilled by the sensation of arriving like this; I felt more alive, like a deep energy was springing up inside me. I felt vibrant and smiled to myself in the dark.
Dina greeted us with hugs and kisses and one of her farmhands took our horses to a pasture to graze while we sat down at the table already set for our arrival. There were mounds of food: mandarines from her trees, vegetables from her garden, rice and beans and different cheeses, all prepared on the farm, which is completely self-sustaining.
We sat and talked and ate and Dina told me about her time working and living in the U.S. and how for 20 years she saved her money to move back here and buy this ranch and become a rancher. She is an anomaly here in cowboy country. It’s a man’s world out here and she is a strong woman jefa, out in the mud at 4:30 a.m. working with the ranch hands, and working as hard as she asks them to. They all respect her for it. I could see it in the faces of those around us who sat on the edge of the light and watched and listened to us talk.
There are not many visitors out here, and certainly not many gringo visitors. They watched me with a bemused curiosity. We talked of many things, mostly cattle farming and water levels and gravity-fed wells and all the subject matter that occupies the mind of those in this environment. I listened and learned. As the night crept on, the yawns came on and we retired to our rooms for the night. I realized it was only 9 p.m., but it felt much later and I was asleep before my head hit the pillow.
The next morning I woke warm in the cold room and stood and dressed and walked outside at dusk to my first view of the finca. The fog sat low, stuck between the rolling hills, and it was chilly. The cup of coffee a girl handed me felt good in my hands and warmed me from the inside. I walked around the property and watched the workers begin their day. They had the calves and the mothers separated into separate holding pens and they called the calves name out, with their sing-song voices echoing across the property in a happy way. The calf and the mother came to alert at the sound, and they let the calf in to feed off its mother and to milk her as well. It’s a pattern repeated every day and the names are beautiful as they are called out into the cool morning air.
I sat at the same table we had sat at the night before and was told by the girl who served me coffee that Doña Dina had to leave early in the morning to take her sister to the hospital, but that breakfast would be ready whenever I was. I was ready and she went back into her kitchen, where I could hear her begin to make the tortillas. Everything here has a rhythm and her PA-pa-pa, PA-pa-pa drumming with her fingers, flattening the tortillas, joined the singing of the calves’ names by the ranch hands outside. The crowing roosters and other animal sounds joined the chorus; every sound plays its part in the sunrise symphony of a working cattle farm.
The cook sat with me while I ate and we talked about where I’m from. She knew the United States, but had never heard of Louisiana or Texas. She was curious about how I could speak Spanish and I explained to her that I had lived abroad for a long time. “Do you speak other languages?” She asked.
“I speak some Thai,” I answered to a blank expression.
“Thailand is a country in Asia. Do you know Asia?” I asked. She answered yes, but I wasn’t entirely convinced she meant it.
“Hmmm, like China?” I asked.
This generated a spark in her eye. She had heard of China. “Well Thailand is a country just south of China. It’s on the other side of the world.” I picked up an orange to demonstrate this and then explained how when I used to call home to the USA to say Merry Christmas, I would call home on the 26th in Asia to talk to my family on the 25th back home.
“So Christmas is on the 26th?” She asked.
“No, Christmas is on the 25th just like here I said, but the time is different so that when it’s the morning there on 26th, it’s evening here on the 25th. She nodded her head as if she understood, but I could tell I had failed to communicate the concept of the international dateline very well. So I used the mandarin to try and demonstrate the rise and fall of the sun and how a new day dawns here as another day ends elsewhere. I wasn’t sure it worked. It was an interesting exercise for us both though, and I enjoyed talking with her. She told me many things about herself. She had never left the village, she was 25 and she’d been married since she was 14. She had a 9-year-old daughter and a 1-year-old baby.
I looked out and saw Julian coming up from the corral with the palomino in tow. I stood and lifted the camera to take a picture of him coming across the field with the fog still sitting low behind him in the distance. The horse was a beautiful color and I loved its mutedness in the morning light.
I went to help Julian saddle up our mounts and we said our goodbyes to the kind folks who took care of us and our horses. As we are said goodbye I realized how rare this is now. How often do you ride into someone’s home you don’t know, spend the night there, talk with them about their lives and move on? I have never even said hello to some of neighbors back home, and my family has lived in the same home for 15 years. Needless to say, we’ve never gone in their house and eaten at their table and discussed life and sunrises. I reached down and gripped the cook’s husband’s strong hand and wished them both well as we turned our horses and set off at a brisk walk into the fog covered hills.
Next week: The final chapter: The Gringo rides off into the sunset
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