Chapter 1 -The beginning: Small preview

“As I squatted down in the dirt, trying to make my decision, he stepped toward me, gently pressing his nose on mine until our foreheads touched, from that moment I knew he was the horse for me. Getting to this stage was hard enough but what lay ahead I could never have imagined.”

10441372_701394623314074_5332208496379790078_n (1)
The day we met

“Six weeks earlier I had arrived in Cartagena, Colombia searching for a horse. Leads turned to dead ends or poorly cared for animals. As the end of each day gave no results I wondered why in a country where horse is King I could not find even one. Clutching at straws I agreed to meet a young Colombian man who told me he could help, even though he looked more likely to supply me with coca than a caballo. Meeting on a street corner he pulled up on a motorbike. Speeding through the streets on the back of his bike, his Brylcream covered hair slapping me in the face I expected to be heading to the surrounding countryside but no. Deeper and deeper into suburbia, all the while him ignoring my questions. Eventually we stopped in the middle of a badly rundown housing estate and as I jump off, several more guys appear from a battered shack – “ven y mira” they invite me, “buen caballos para te gringo” Nothing about this felt right but screw it, I went in. As I walked in I heard the stamping and snorting, like the equine equivalent of walking into a garage full of revving Ferrari’s. Horses worth tens of thousands of pounds, mostly stallions pacing as much as they could in their tight stables. The air thick with the smell of sawdust and these testosterone filled horses. I tell my new friend that these horses are not what I need, that I need something a little calmer – seemed more appropriate than telling them I was not interested in stolen horses. This did nothing; they pull out the first – a stunning 15 hand Colombian Paso Fino, almost golden in colour, in immaculate condition, the kind of horse that would fetch £20,000.00 back home in England. They saddle him up and jump on trying to keep him still, telling me he is “tranquillo” as he is rearing up on two legs. I ask how much “$5000.00 for you my friend” I tell them this is way over my limit, the price drops by half, eventually it is $1k but still I am not interested and they are getting more and more agitated. I ask about the papers, no problem I am told, he is legal. I eventually get them to put the horse back into his stable. I take one more look in there, mostly out of curiosity, a little to appease them. Telling them thank you but they are too much for me, I will have to think about it. Three of them surrounding me, trying to intimidate me into a purchase, asking what can I afford, how much do I have. Getting closer and louder, watching the gap between them close I just laughed, told them maybe tomorrow and pushed my way out, blinded by the intense midday sun beating down as I open the door. I see the guy that had brought me – I tell him I would walk and didn’t look back.”

“I eventually found Red in a field North of Medellin, he was skin and bone with a shaven mane and an attitude. Our first night camping together was a disaster, unable to get him to settle in a small wooded area I sat up with him all night until I passed out, only waking to see just his head collar hanging from the tree I had tied him to. Soon his character and sense of humour began to show. Sleeping by my side, waking me early by either using my hammock as a scratching post or slobbering all over my face and head, picking up his feed bowl and throwing it at me if ever it was empty. For several weeks I spent all my time with him, training, saddling, grazing, we raced through woodlands and open plains until one night when I knew it was time. I had been stalling for days, knowing that he was as ready as he would ever be, it was not him that needed the preparation but me. All these years I had dreamt of this and here I was on the edge, what I was waiting for I have no idea, nerves maybe, but on the 9th December 2014 we set off. Destination Peru.”

IMG_9232
Halfway through Colombia

IMG_0350

Next week the full first two chapters are to be sent to publishers in the hope to secure a deal so fingers crossed. For now I am working in the UK, getting together the funds I need to be re-united with my friend and continue our journey together. I have made some updates to the site and as always welcome any comments. Also if anyone wishes, the project is still very much alive and your support is always appreciated.  It has been a great start to 2016 and is amazing to see that with your kind support we are making a positive difference to lives around the world.

Thank you all for reading,

Marc

Advertisements

Looking back, moving forward.

” Late in the day and struggling to find anywhere to hide out for the night I asked a restaurant owner if I could spend the night in the field below with my horse. (this is more of a shack than a restaurant) says yes offering me use and the field and the security guards bed for the night on the condition I join him for a drink. I accept but insist on sleeping in the field with Red. Hammock is up and Red has a roll before getting on with eating as much of the field as he can, I head up to the bar. As the daylight disappears the room full of just men, most with well sealed trucks parked on the dirt track infront. Every time I stand to leave another glass of rum is slammed down infront of me along with rowdy cheers and sweaty hugs. machete slaps on tables every time somebody walks in or falls down after too much aguadiente. There is a man keeping himself to himself in the corner, every now and then giving a nod or a shake of the head to the bar. Getting my attention he points to me and with a motion of his finger calls me outside” …

IMG_0156

Going through my notes and loving re-living the trip. Picture above taken from the hammock the morning after. Hoping to get an early start.

Now over six months after returning from South America to UK, sometimes  it is hard to believe what happened last year! The support for the charities continues, in addition to our support of Honduras Child Alliance  together with the child sponsorship program in Oaxaca Mexico,  this month we began  financial support of the Liberty Foundation in Belize.  A pledge of $500  over the next 12 months this will help  this fantastic organisation continue their work with orphaned children, providing education, housing and health care in a wonderful, nurturing environment. I loved my time there and urge anyone interested in volunteering through Central America to check out their page, or drop us a line and we will be very happy to help point you in the right direction.

I speak to my good friends in Ecuador as often as possible and get regular updates on Red. Seems he has not lost any of the strong will that helped us throughout our journey and regularly will jump fences to go exploring. There never was any way of containing him, just one of the reasons why we get on so well. Not a day goes by where he is not on my mind and I am working on saving the funds needed to get him to Europe, or me to South America. This photo below taken just a few weeks ago. You can check out more on the updated Red’s Retirement page.

13051553_10209265823711950_4131926331740105323_n

Fortunately I found the perfect job to help me get there. I am currently working as a trail guide in the Brecon Beacons, Wales. Taking people on guided 2-6 day horse riding holidays. Not as wild as some of the sections through Colombia and Ecuador but equally as stunning scenery.

26497771170_d949d292fb_n

Thank you to all for the continued support and contact. Apologies for the slow responses to mails, I will do my best to get to every volunteer request as soon as possible. Next blog I hope to be able to tell you how your support will benefit a project that is very deserving in Colombia and maybe some more from the journal.

As always, thank you for reading

 

Marc

 

“a life to which I feel myself a stranger.” -Swiss Long Rider Ella Maillart

Several months ago I returned home, to my loving family whom have been there with me every step of this journey. Still, months later it does not feel real. Taking in what happened and feeling out of place in my home town. It can be hard to process the changes that occur, not only within but the advances in the “civilised world” wifi, fingerprint recognition, smart phones, faster connections and no, I am not on snapchat. A lot can change in four years. Life seemed a lot more simple out on the road ….. however, I am not missing the chicken soup.

Lotus-Root-Rice-Bean-and-Chicken-Feet-Soup

Red, my horse, I am reliably informed is doing well, I wake every morning thinking of him, sometimes still disorientated enough that I jump up shouting his name, looking for him. He is safe and healthy with the wonderful family I got to spend time with in Ecuador, here he gets to rest and work with the riding school, getting ready for when we carry on where we left off.IMG_0170

Now back in England I have been enjoying speaking to all of the volunteer projects I spent time with from Mexico to Peru and have had the pleasure of sending out funding to these awesome projects.

Several weeks ago we welcomed Jennifer (aged 13) and Emmanuel (aged 7) into our child sponsorship program. Jennifer and Emmanuel are with our fantastic partner organisation Centro de Esperanza Infantil A. C.- Oaxaca Streetchildren Grassroots In Oaxaca, Mexico. I have just written to them explaining how their sponsorship is possible – because of you. I will be sure to let you know when I receive a response. Also we were able to support a fantastic educational program run by Honduras Child Alliance. With a $500 donation we were able to provide 10 Kindles after hearing this from their dedicated Executive Director “We now are able to get all sorts of books for free or low cost and when we register the Kindles, it means that books are shared on all of the devices and children are able to have a reading group and all be looking at a copy of the same book.  The Kindle-Fires also allow internet access and so we are playing some educational games as well!”

251884_317755641645684_52479304_n
Volunteering with Honduras Children Alliance

376669_336214746466440_2067175528_n

Next we will turn our attention to Belize and Colombia seeing how best to support these other two incredible organisations. Organisations which make a real difference in young people lives. No agenda, no pretense, just caring people. Exactly what it is all about.On that note I would also like to thank you again. The support that we received throughout our journey was the most humbling experience I have ever felt. You helped make the journey possible for which I am eternally thankful.

Over the next few weeks we shall continue to send out funding to these great organisations. We also are offering something quite unique. A FREE volunteer placement service. No charges, no fees. What we are hoping to achieve is to build a large, skilled volunteer base. People who wish to lend their time to help others less fortunate. All you need do is visit out “how you can get involved” page and we will help finding a placement for you. Already we are making a difference, my hope is that this can continue.

Thank you for reading,

Marc

Time to make a difference

Taxco, Mexico 2012. Jumping on an ATV I set my sights on Peru. Nearly four years later, 5000kms by ATV, 6000kms on horseback and after the most testing, rewarding and eye opening years of my life we are close to realising the goal. To make a difference.

I had previously reached out to children’s charities in each of the eleven countries I planned to pass through, hoping to volunteer with and raise funding for each of the chosen organisations. Never could I have hoped to connect with so many wonderful people or be fortunate enough to be given the opportunities handed to me. From seeing the courage of children born with HIV to having the honour of coaching disabled athletes aiming to compete for a place in the Paralympics.

Too much for one blog so we start at the beginning, Oaxaca, Mexico and my very first volunteer location.

376669_336214746466440_2067175528_n

“Harold and Jodi Bauman founded Oaxaca Street Children Grassroots in 1996 supporting approximately seventy children. They soon realized that they could help even more children attend school if they formalized their initiative; with the help of others, they chartered Oaxaca Street Children Grassroots creating the child-sponsorship program. By the end of 1997, 148 children had found sponsors with the help of Oaxaca Streetchildren Grassroots. The number continues to climb, and today over 600 children have sponsors who support them through Oaxaca Streetchildren Grassroots and our Oaxacan center el Centro de Esperanza Infantil. Oaxaca Streetchildren Grassroots continues to serve as many of the poorest children as possible, children who otherwise, would never have the change to go to school.”

My time here set the tone for what was to follow, seeing the dedication of all involved in the project, no hidden agendas just a real desire to offer care and opportunity. I got to spend time teaching, cooking and visiting the homes of some of the children involved in the programme.

What next? With what has been raised and pledged so far we are looking to sponsor at least two children in each of the schools I got to work with. This will be just the beginning. Not just to make a one-off donation but begin what will be ongoing support. Also to provide a fee free volunteer placement service.  In the following weeks we shall be taking an in depth look at each organisation and what your support means and how you can continue to be involved, with an opportunity to see what this means through the years of each child’s education.

Thank you for reading,

Marc

One more adventure with an old friend – Part 2 – Fill your boots

Hard to believe what has happened over the last 9 months. Just myself and this incredible horse of mine on an adventure that I had dreamt of for as long as I can remember. If this is what it feels like to realise a dream, get out there. It will have you dancing alone atop a mountain, breaking down in tears of hardship and joy, realising your capabilities, after all, what is a life in which you don’t know of what you are truly capable.

IMG_0350

Red, not sure where to start with this incredible horse, he has achieved a feat that only a handful of horses in the world can boast, and solo. A true legend in the horse world. Having covered over 6000kms taking us from Northern Colombia, through Ecuador and on to the border of Peru. Overcoming several injuries, traversing the Andes, passing through a section of the Amazon and he is still petrified of sheep! the difference in his character and condition incredible, below you can see the difference in him from day 1 and to now.

redIMG_0924[2]

It is hard to explain the connection you build, a bond so strong that you don’t think twice to run in front of a charging bull to protect, will spend your last dollar on vets bills, sleep curled close to one another for warmth when at 3600m up in the mountains. Saying goodbye was never going to be possible.

IMG_9729

Finding a deserving resting spot for Red has been a high priority for a long time which is why I was so happy to have happened upon EL Picadero. How I found this place is a story in itself that I will come back to. But here in a small village, I found the perfect spot for my friend …… I say resting spot as there will be another chapter. El Picadero is a beautiful riding school near Latacunga back towards the North of Ecuador. Run by an incredible Swiss/Ecuadorian family where I could be sure Red would receive the best quality of care.

IMG_1002

Having reached the limit of Ecuador and knowing the difficulties of passing borders on horseback this was where this chapter together was to end. Not wanting to risk being unable to return him to Ecuador and El Picadero we loaded up. Red is not accustomed to being transported and so I travelled the several hours in the back of the truck with him, seeing the hundreds of miles we had passed together over weeks and weeks disappear in moments. Realising again just how fortunate I have been to travel the way I did. The doors it opened and the lessons I have learnt will change me for ever. For the better or worse I will wait to see. And so, frozen faced we arrived back into the Cotopaxi region of Ecuador, not without one last finale.

IMG_1005

Volcan Cotopaxi – which I rode over just 7 weeks prior, having been dormant for over 140 years suddenly woke, throwing ash hundreds of miles, dispersing and rendering homeless thousands of people who live in the area that would be affected were it to fully errupt. Not being newsworthy like the rantings of a buffoon running for election is hard to find out any information but I gather the activity is heightening and my thoughts are with those affected.

IMG_0272

The farm where Red is now is in a safe zone, the picture below is from 5 minutes after we arrived and he was back with herd. Welcomed to whinies from the other horses I can feel happy that thanks to your help in paying for the transport he is in a good place, for this I cannot thank you all enough. What was used to transport him back I will match and put into the pot of funds raised for the charities involved now that I will be returning to work.

IMG_1006

I am truly humbled by your support throughout this journey, hard to find words that convey just how much it has meant. The donations, the kind messages that keep you going, the friends and family out there, and people who I have never met thank you, thank you so very much. This is where Red and I take a break, Red to rest, for me back to world. 9 months, 6000kms, 3 countries, 1 incredible horse. Having trouble processing right now to be honest. leaving my horse behind is one of the most heart wrenching moments of my life, I still well up looking at a photo, or even just having a passing thought and am not ashamed to say so.

IMG_1007

I have lined up a few events and fundraisers, with a chance to see previously unseen footage recorded throughout this trip and a few other surprises. The final event taking place mid December after which all funds raised for the charities with whom I volunteered throughout this trip will be sent out – just in time for Christmas. Details to follow but now looking forward to spending some time with the family, being an Uncle to my awesome Niece and Nephew and eating …….. and eating!

Thank you for reading and as I was once told – Fill your boots, below are a just a few of my favorite photos from this journey. Thank you for being with us throughout. If you would like to support the charities involved please check out the go fund me page or use the buy a bale link.

Marc

IMG_6035

IMG_6068

Imagen 003

Imagen 010

IMG_6515

11014802_10206147946719252_72110668_n

IMG_6607

IMG_6556

IMG_6706

IMG_6781

IMG_6858

IMG_7093

IMG_8285

IMG_8674

IMG_9393

IMG_9492

IMG_9464

IMG_9769

IMG_9866

IMG_9846

IMG_0271

IMG_0228

IMG_0395

IMG_0782

IMG_0909[1]

IMG_0838

One more adventure with an old friend – Part 1

The last few weeks have been some of the most challenging, interesting and emotional but most of all given me one of my happiest and clearest experiences of my life.

IMG_0946[1]

Pushing South toward the border of Ecuador Red seems to be in the best condition of his life. Riding open plains, with my bag lighter than ever (and myself 6 belt holes and 18lbs lighter since day 1) we are covering more ground than before and loving every moment. Getting the chance to canter through open paramour is something you dream of, this ridiculous image you conjure up before departing like the idea that you will at the end of a day in the saddle swim in a lake, read a book, catch a fish, but it actually happened. I got the chance to realise a dream, that will do something to a man.IMG_0847[1]

Pushing on through the paramour, area inhabited by the Quichua. I got to see some of the best of Ecuador. Passing mountains, ravines and rivers, riding through small villages and picking up supplies and advice from friendly locals. We all know the saying “you don’t know what you’ve got until its gone” But I was fortunate enough, thanks to my companion Red, to realise what I had a long time ago, making this experience all the richer. Stopping to pick up feed for Red usually turns into a 2hr episode, a million questions and my horse continuing his bid to become the most photographed horse in South America. I used to be ancy, wanting to push on but lately make the most of the opportunity, making new friends and swapping tales. (and looking over maps with some future adventurers)

IMG_0909[1]

IMG_0901[1]

Of the last few weeks on the trail I spent some nights in some pretty nasty spots, derelict buildings too many times to remember, twice now upsetting packs of ferrel dogs as I had clearly taken their spot for the night. But sometimes you find the spot, nobody in sight, perfectly positioned trees for the hammock, a fresh water stream and good grass. There is something beautifully simple about a life where your main concerns are finding good grass and fresh water! Anyway, here we camped out the night, watching one after another shooting stars, completely unaware of how different tomorrow night would be ………

IMG_0924[2]

IMG_0934[1]

Riding into a major town for the first time was something, I am now used to tourists snapping photographs without asking, something I have never been a fan of. But arriving in a fully westernised town on horseback is a complete new experience. Red though, calm as ever, taking it all in his stride, if only posing a little too much for the cameras. We had reached touching distance of Peru, entered the city only in order to purchase the permits to transport Red back to what will be a well deserved resting place. I had been told of a stable where we could rest the night, this turned out to be nothing more than an open field in the city centre, lined by broken bottles and a few too many questions. We pushed on, with light failing I snuck into an open lot, looked perfect, lots of grass and nobody in sight. Drifting off to sleep Red wakes me pulling my arm, looking up spot a man walking diagonally away from me towards a  corner of the lot, with no hesitation he goes to one bush, picks up a bag, then moves on. Confident he did not see us I stay for a little while, 20 minutes later another enters, goes into the bush and can clearly see his short, harsh blasts on a pipe. This one hangs around for a while, circles the bush, takes a few more blasts then spots me and Red, watching he seems unsure how to react he walks in my direction, confident in my position, even more so as unimpaired, I watch him come to within 15 metres before letting him know I was not sleeping, he runs in the other direction. After this I decided we would find another spot as wanted to get some sleep after a long day and so we moved, and things got a little more interesting.IMG_0990[1]

By now it is close to midnight, outskirts of a major city as we look for a spot, deciding it was going to be a sleepless one I snuck into another derelict building, not much cover with 2 large entrances we rested in shadows, hoping to go unnoticed and wait out the morning, not going to happen tonight! 3 guys pass, then again, the third time coming in. I had taken off Red’s saddle to allow him to rest so leaving was not an option, some questions, turned to raised voices, requests for money denied and they left once realised there was nothing to gain here. A few minutes later more figures at the entrance, by now am not in the best mood and told them would not be a good idea to enter then soon changed my tone as their faces came into the light. It was a family, a young girl, just 8 years old who had seen me enter my spot after getting a cup of coffee from a nearby cafe had gone home and at 12.30am dragged her family out to come and recuse me, offering Red and me a safe place for the night. I gladly accept the offer of this unbelievable friendly family. Looking at it like this – its 12.30am, a complete stranger is passing through a rough area of town on horseback, near 2 weeks without a shower and not exactly looking the most savoury of characters. This type of act of kindness is something that makes you sure there is more good in this world than we are led to believe. Pay too much attention to the media and live in fear, getting into the world and seeing it first hand will change your perception for the better.


IMG_0996[1]

After a good nights rest and a rare cooked breakfast I went with the family as the children rode Red in the park, picking up feed for my friend before we headed off, invigorated by the experience of the previous night, but with a heavy heart headed off in search of transport.

IMG_0993[2]

Part 2 to follow shortly. This one a little hard for me to write. I must say a huge thank you to everybody for the support through the recent appeal in raising funds to get Red to a beautiful farm in the North of Ecuador. Your kindness and generosity throughout this trip has been incredible. My focus now turns to the charities involved in this trip, hoping to link more volunteers, reach our fundraising goal and aid those who are making a real difference in this world. The fundraising page is a little rusty but check it out if you have the time fuel the journey. 100% of donations received there and through “buy a bale” now also will be going to the awesome organisations I have been lucky enough to spend time with. And you can still get hold of some awesome outdoor gear thanks to Grand Trunk – Adventure travel with the next 5 donations of $100 or more recieving a $100 voucher to use at their online store (P+P included!). I stand by their gear, lasted 9 months on the trail, and the hammock holds up even to being used as a butt scratching post to a very large horse (usually at 5.30am when hungry!)

IMG_0891[1]

Thank you for reading, part 2 coming soon.

Marc

Volcanoes, open plains and rock wielding ladies

Heading on with real maps for the first time courtesy of a very generous friend we have been making good ground through incredible countryside, Ecuador truly is one of the most beautiful countries I have been lucky enough to visit, and the people so welcoming – except for the rock wielding old ladies ….. more to come on that.

IMG_0669IMG_0850

8 days ago we left Latacunga and the amazing hospitality of an incredible family. I got the chance to rest, this time was more for me than for Red as have been struggling with health issues the last 2 months, 8 months on the road and poor diet can take its toll on the body! I must say a huge thank you to all at El Picadero.

IMG_0773

Back in the saddle again and felt great, getting toward the end of the second day riding through a village of no more than 20 houses I hear somebody calling me “mister, mister” Normally would just ride on but stopped to see what the man wanted “are you the man riding to Peru?” he asks, little taken aback I spent some time talking to him, somehow word had got to this little village, I ended up spending the night with his family before heading on early. Over the last 8 nights have slept in the hammock, derelict buildings in run down areas on outskirts of towns, playgrounds, empty shacks 3700m up in the Andes and several fields, waking with Red led down sleeping next to me on more than one occasion, biting my beard, my hair and once with him stood on both of my feet – another 3 broken toes but if honest have never slept better.

IMG_0725

IMG_0782

I am now riding the western side of the Andes, passing snow-capped volcanoes, thermal pools and nobody in sight. Feeling confident and with good maps I pushed further into the paramour. Riding though open plains I stop to soak it in, with a contentedness I have never before experienced, this journey is way more than I could have ever hoped for. Riding dirt tracks, no tracks and train tracks, everything but tarmac. Pulling up to a bakery in the mornings to the smell of fresh bread and getting served on the back of your horse is something else. Arriving in a small community I stopped to ask directions, I could not hear what the people were saying so rode a little closer, this seemed to upset them as the only Spanish-speaking member of the group shouted that I should leave now, that I need to be carefull as strangers are not welcome here, we argued for a little, pointing out that I purely wanted directions however when I noticed the crowd building and the little old ladies armed with rocks in their hands decided I would be ok without directions and galloped out of there. This would never change the way I feel about this beautiful country, in a way I can understand and respect them wanting to preserve their privacy. Just 24hrs before this I was invited into a stranger’s home, fed lunch and when I tried to leave was told would be rude to leave before dinner and should spend the night, should have skipped the dinner as was heart omelette but the sentiment was wonderful!

IMG_0859IMG_0684

I am now entering the final few weeks of the trip and with it facing the reality of parting ways with what has become my best friend. Am sure by now you would have figured out there is no way I could let Red go to anything but the perfect home and have been lucky enough to find that in the good people at El Picadero. We have been through a lot together, injuries, tough roads, amazing highs, formed a bond that I can draw no comparison to. He has saved my skin several times and like to think have given him the best possible care. So proud of what that skinny little horse from Medellin has turned into. And so I am appealing for a little help in getting him to his retirement home, it will take around $500 to transport him to a well deserved rest and also a place where he gets to continue what he is so good at, working with children. If you can support in any way through the buy a bale link I would be forever grateful, and anybody that is good enough to help us out gets riding rights ….. if you are ever in Ecuador! (which I would highly recommend!) I have been hoping for a long time I could find the right home for him whist I return to the UK and feel extremely fortunate to have found the perfect place,

IMG_0838IMG_0170

Now we head back into the Andes for the final push through Ecuador and onto the finish line, hard to believe we are now over 5000kms and 8 months into the journey with just a few weeks left.

Thank you for reading,

Marc

Freedom, well, that’s just some people talkin’

Exiting Cotopaxi National Park we continued South pressing through the stunning Avenida de los Volcanes high up in the Ecuadorian Andes. The nights here are cold, the mornings spent getting the blood moving into the toes again but the reward is incredible, watching the sun rise over the Eastern Cordillera, a soft red glow across the top of 4 snowcapped volcanoes. The riding here is unbelievable, open plains, nobody in sight as we follow the compass. I eventually needing more supplies, take a South West heading hoping to hit a town, passing eerily quiet deserted towns, looking like they got 80% complete and people either ran out of interest or money. Actuall tumbleweed crossing my path, the only sign to let me know the world has not ended is the drone of a highway 30kms to the west. IMG_0335IMG_0251

Eventually finding a small village I stock up again and head back into the mountains. Here you have no problem finding open spots to camp, anywhere that can offer a little protection from the wind works well, with nobody for miles around you can rest easy with a camp fire. This kind of freedom is what you hope for, the dream, setting up camp at the end of a day in the saddle. The thought now that I had before setting off of fishing, maybe reading a book are laughable. The truth of it is, making a fire, making sure your horse is comfortable and well fed and taking your boots off is the most you can be bothered to achieve. But the freedom, the chance to really adventure, challenge yourself and break away from the cottonwool wrapped, fearmongering is what it is all about, feeling alive. I truley appreciate this opportunity, knowing there are not many parts of the world where this kind of travel is possible or safe. The fact that freedom nowadays is viewed as a luxury.

IMG_0178IMG_0350

I was recently sent information about fellow long rider Geldy Kyarizov, held as a political prisoner in Turkmenistan, please if you have a moment follow the link and sign the petition. A reminder of the fact that free speech and “freedom” is not a luxury allowed throughout this world. Che Guevara once said “let the world change you and you can change the world” Appreciation of the things we have is so important, the ability to enjoy it, should not be a luxury.

IMG_0373IMG_0353

This last few days I have had a chance to taste local cuisine and get some valuable route knowledge for the road ahead. A mixture of emotions as we are prepairing for the big push to Peru, entering the final 1000kms the finish line is in sight. Wanting to make the most of what is left of this journey, the planned route will take us once again back into the wilderness, following the INCA trade route. Red looking strong, excited for what lay ahead.

Thank you for reading, for your support and messages. I have said it before but they really are appreciated!

Marc

Pumas, bureaucracy and assailants turned friends.

Riding the valley of volcanoes through Ecuador is something I have been hoping to see for many years but could not have in my wildest dreams expected what was to come.

IMG_0123

Red looking close to 100% we set off on foot from Pifo, wanting to know he was fully fit again before riding. Speaking to a retired army Colonel about my planned route he gave some words of advice -“the only thing to watch out for are the pumas, if you hear them on your right they are coming from the left, the bears are harmless” Colonel Moya had given me a contact who could help with route information. After 2 days I arrived at the home of “El Gato” a former military colleague of Colonel Moya. El Gato lives on the edge of the paramour, uncontactable by phone he was completely unaware who I was or why I was turning up at his doorstep yet welcomed me in like an old friend. I had walked into a big celebration, 4 generations of family there for fathers day, I was invited to join and once Red was in a field enjoyed dinner and listened to hunting stories from the elders. Again as with Colombia it is once you get away from the modernised culture that you really get to see the best of the people and of the country. After a very welcome feast, watching the peach schnapps and beer come out I decided this was the right time to get some rest, Gato kindly let me have a room in which to sleep, sleeping under the gaze of a mounted Puma head.

IMG_9949IMG_9947

The next morning after some vague at best directions from my sore headed host I headed on. Making my way through the maze of trails I eventually got frustrated as we were making little progress and decided it would look a lot better in the morning and finding an abandoned, half built house I set up camp for the night, things look a lot clearer after a good nights rest and a cup of English Breakfast – one of the few luxuries I allow myself!

IMG_0034IMG_0069

The following morning setting off at sunrise the path seemed to open up in front of me, I soon met Wilson Arroba, he was headed in the same direction and so we rode together into the valley, the scenery breathtaking. Arriving at Wilson’s home, circled by 6 volcanoes he invited me to a bowl of soup, watching me inhale it as though have not eaten for months he brings out another and a bread roll. With some real directions I headed on, this is where the scenery starts to really blow you away, riding a horse flanked either side by volcanoes, the kind of place you go to take a photo but don’t know where to point the camera. Two days later arriving at the paramour Red getting stronger by the day we cantered for the first time across open plains.

IMG_0163IMG_0129

Camping at the foothills of Volcan Cotopaxi, enjoying the chance to have a fire to cook and keep warm at night. Around midnight a truck pulls up, 5 men jump out and come straight towards me, two of them asking questions as the others circled my camp, by now am used to unexpected visitors in the night but five is a little different, some words back and forward I smelt the alcohol on them and felt a little more confident, telling them politely it would be best if they left. Once they knew there was nothing they were getting from me the atmosphere changed, after some apologies and hand shakes we re-lit the fire and they produced fresh trout they had caught in the nearby river, telling me they are allowed to fish here because they are the people of the paramour I did not argue and enjoyed a feed with them before they headed on into the night, they tell me to keep the fire going as it will keep the animals away, with them out of sight I let it die down, preferring the threat of animals to that of humans.

IMG_0228IMG_0269

The following morning we entered the stunning Cotopaxi National Park, by the afternoon on the southern side of the volcanoe I was stopped by four park rangers, demanding to see my documents and asking what I was doing. It would appear that pets are not allowed in the National Parks, and Red was classed as a pet, this thought had never entered my head, travel companion yes, but never think of him as a pet. The conversation got heated as they threatened to take Red, and imposed fines on me. Losing my cool I stopped my rant when I heard myself shouting about how in 1822 a man called Simon Bolivar rode a horse through here and liberated Ecuador. Eventually the situation was resolved but I was forced to leave the park, fined and disillusioned.

IMG_0272IMG_0246

And so here we are, in a country so beautiful that it has over 40 national parks covering nearly 20% of the country. I have today learnt that I can have special permission to pass these areas without fear of my horse being taken from me, of course this comes at a cost. After the reserves were hit with recent injuries and fines we really appreciate the support through “buy a bale” apart from the reality that it means food for us both it could give the pass needed to continue riding, we did not come here to walk the pan american highway! After being knocked down twice already on this trip by trucks as I walked Red down highways could really do with some help avoiding that again, people ask what is the scariest thing, most dangerous encounter, without a doubt it is the truck driver! A big thank you for all the support as everything really makes a huge difference to us, and for the messages that keep us motivated in places where the first 10 minutes of the day are spent rubbing your feet to get feeling back, thank you!

IMG_0170

Thank you for reading,

Marc

Cautious optimism

Without tempting fate Red seems to be on the mend and we can eye up the trail ahead. Getting away from it all again as we plan to head further towards Peru.

IMG_9874

My time volunteering is coming to an end and although as always it is hard to leave another group of amazing children am extremely happy and proud to be associated with such an awesome project. Also feeling privileged to have had the opportunity to get to know them and to know that the money raised through fundraising has found another deserving home. The time here has had it highs and lows, the experience teaching incredible, the injuries to Red tough.

IMG_9812IMG_9846

Watching as a young man with use of only one hand has a bow strapped on before beautifully playing the violin, being part of helping the first generation in a family learn to read. This is exactly the kind of project I had hoped to encounter when organising this trip back in 2009. Projects making a real impact on lives through education and care.

meIMG_9696

Red’s recovery was being hindered by the intense cold, something to do with the start of winter 4000m up in the Andes! After a lot of sleepless nights, round the clock care, even the kind family who run the volunteer project helping out by relieving me for enough time to shower and eat, we are seeing some progress. Once strong enough I took the decision 2 days ago to transport him to a lower altitude to complete his treatment. Only 34kms west and dropping down 5000ft the difference is incredible. Riding in the back of the truck to support him could see the life come back into the eyes as felt sunshine for the first time in weeks. Knowing what lays ahead I am making sure he is 100% before heading off as the next section will have very limited opportunities for help.

IMG_9781IMG_9866

All being well we shall be moving by the weekend. The already minimal equipment has been further reduced, now down to just a few pounds in order to allow more food supplies as we head through the mountains.

IMG_9872

As before a HUGE thank you for reading, your support of the volunteer projects, keeping us moving with the “buy a bale” donations which were invaluable help with recent medicine costs, and your messages. I hope to be writing to you again sometime in the next few weeks.

Marc