Horseback Riding in the Mountains
We got up Saturday morning filled with anticipation. Today we were going to be horseback riding for the day in the mountains around Urubamba. After a wonderfully fresh breakfast with jam, eggs, and produce directly from the grounds of the hotel, we were picked up at 8am by our guide. The drive to the ranch was about an hour and mostly consisted of following the river along the valley floor passing small towns as we went. The ranch was only about 10 minutes off of the main thoroughfare. We pulled in and saw our horses waiting for us. They were high spirited and looked sturdy. They breed special horses in this area, ones that are capable of handling the steep ascent and decent required to tour anywhere in the mountainous terrain. After transferring our rain gear, water, sunscreen, and other assorted equipment into our saddle bags we each met our horse. My horse’s name was Blackie due to his shiny black coat. I was told he was a bit nervous and he certainly seemed so as he was reluctant to let me get near him. Eventually though, we met, all of us mounted up and we headed out.
We were lucky because the day had dawned with blue sky. The few clouds present did not look threatening. Rain is always possible during this season so we had our rain gear and were ready for anything but at least we were starting off in beautiful sunlight. Turning out of the ranch into the hills we followed a dirt road for some time. I spent the first 15 minutes having a firm tug of war with Blackie as we decided who was going to be in control for the day. Definitely a spirited horse. We had some chances to gallop while we were moving along the road and the horses were more than ready. I got the impression that Blackie thought he was in a race and I had to use all of my strength to hold his head. It was a lot of fun!
Eventually after traveling along on the road a bit we reached the path which chartered our route to the top of a nearby peak, a climb of about 1500 feet or so, where we were going to stop for lunch. The valley we were climbing up and around had one small road winding through it with lots of small houses and farms dotting the hillside in no particular pattern. The overwhelming sensation impressed upon us was one of life- there was such a rainbow of green surrounding us it is hard to describe. Different shades of green were represented in the various fields planted and growing, the grass that carpeted everywhere else, the trees and various wild vegetation. It was very picturesque and with the blue sky in the background it could not have been more lovely. As we wound up the mountain side we passed small groupings of two to three houses with children out playing and dogs running free. We saw cows, bulls, pigs, and donkeys staked out in the grass feeding on the lush carpet underneath them. Most paused to look at us as we came by probably checking to see if we posed any danger.
People were out too, walking the paths on the mountain for destinations unknown. As we got higher we saw women and children out in the pastures tending flocks of sheep occasionally with a pig or two thrown into the mix. They were simply sitting in the fields watching the animals and every now and then I saw a woman crocheting. We exchanged pleasant a “buenos dios” with everyone we met. As we ascended the mountain we kept crossing and re-crossing a series of stone-lined irrigation canals which appeared to provide water to the surrounding farms. At one point a women was washing clothes in the stream and later when we came down I saw the clothing laying out to dry.
It appeared that many of the houses had electricity and I was amazed that it was possible to string wires all the way up the mountains. The homes looked cozy but like the homes in Cusco no heating or air was evident. Roofs were tiles and a few were grass as well. Life appeared to move slowly on the mountain and it was nice to relax and slow down to match the surrounding pace. In some areas the path was fairly steep but the horses lived up to their reputation and handily climbed where necessary.
After about 3-3.5 hours riding we found ourselves at the very top of the valley and staring at a small lake, the source for the irrigation system. This was our lunch spot and the two wrangles who had accompanied us with our guide set up a nice picnic lunch, including a nice bottle of Chilean red wine. The weather was still beautiful but the wind was more in evidence up at the altitude we were at, somewhere near 12,000 feet. We lingered over the meal talking with Juan Carlos, our guide, and sharing the food with Roberto and Luis the two wranglers (who did not speak much English). I was completely happy just laying on the soft green grass and watching the world go by but all too soon it was time to get ready to leave.
As I got back on Blackie to prepare for the trip down I realized there was going to be a price to pay at the end of the day- my muscles were already a bit stiff from sitting still for the hour or so we had lingered over lunch. After drinking in the scenery and the experiencing the peace of the outing I was prepared to be stiff for a while. The way down was a bit steeper but I had no anxiety as the horses very carefully picked their way down different kinds of terrain we encountered. On the way down we passed many of the people who we greeted on the way up only this time our greeting was “buenos tardes”. It seemed that we got back to the valley road a bit quicker than going up but in both directions it was a wonderful ride. The weather held all day and we never needed our rain gear so it was a total success! (And yes, I was pretty stiff for about 24 hours, but all is good now!)