Tag Archives: Colombia

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.”

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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.”

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Halfway through Colombia

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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

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Marc

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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.

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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)

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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 ………

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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.


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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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,

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Harsh reality, injuries and an amazing group of children

So happy to reach volunteer location Ecuador but the first week has been marred with an injury to Red and an attempted murder

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Arriving into El Tambo and after making a connection with a wonderful American family running a school that offers education in a rural part of Ecuador I began volunteering here over a week ago. My days are spent teaching English and Maths in the morning and I use the afternoon to renovate the dilapidated boys bathroom.

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The children here are fantastic, a real eagerness to learn, arriving half an hour early to school and have to be forced to leave at the end of the day. The cost per child is $10 per month, this covered by donations that also pay for the staff and upkeep of this awesome facility. From what I have seen the level of education provided here is among the best of any volunteer project I have worked with, active for 10 years now, also played a huge part in helping the first person from this small village achieve a university degree.

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On Wednesday we went into the capital Quito, there I tutored English to several students, a great day but with sad news at the end as we learnt one of the students had been stabbed in a gang related incident, a reminder of the reality. This part is unbelievable, the man was presumed dead, taken to the morgue with 15 stab wounds but somehow was found alive by staff prior to processing.

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Thursday we were back into it and made some real progress with the renovations only to return to a very sad looking Red that would not come to my call. Making my way over I was told he had trampled the water supply to the home of the people with whom we are staying. Red had managed not only to demolish the water supply but had lacerated his chest and cut his legs badly in the process. Getting him to shelter I cleaned him up as best was possible and spent the night with him doing what possible to ease the pain. First thing in the morning hitching a ride to the nearest town I was able to pick up supplies from a veterinary store. We are way up in the Andes, no chance of getting a vet to my location without hundreds of dollars and so was forced to administer the antibiotic, anti inflammatory and pain killing injections myself, first time and remembering my training from Rancho Chilamate in Nicaragua all went well. Soon after Red returned to his favorite pass time of eating but still unable to walk. 3 days later now and there is a big improvement, 3 times daily treatment, lots of care and the wounds are slowly healing. The kind family even agreed to build a shelter in which to let him recover.

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And so it looks like another week or two of recovery before we can hit the trail but just happy the recovery is possible! Really was touch and go and reinforced how much this clumsy old horse means to me, there is nothing that will stop us completing this journey together. The extra time spent here means the opportunity to finish the bathroom project and help with the children in the lead up to exam week so making the most of the time and hoping for a fast recovery!

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A big thank you for the support through “buy a bale” was a huge help when needing medication and also for the support of this and all the great charities involved in this trip through the gofundme page.

Thank you for reading,

Marc

Fearing the worst at 3800m

Arriving at the entrance to the valley of volcanoes, a volcano lined corridor, thousands of miles of Inca trail ahead, leading to Peru and beyond disaster struck as Red pulled up unable to walk any further. I, in all honesty was inconsolable. Finding the first field in which to let him rest, massaging and applying heat to the injured leg I feared the worst. The land owner agreed to let us have use of the field for a fee, over the odds but he knew we had no choice. IMG_9638small

We are currently at 3800m above sea level, roughly 12kms south of the equator, where with the altitude when new to the area you get out of breath brushing your teeth…… Its cold!  Camping out with Red sleeping beside me after listening to some sound advice we rested, things can look a little better after 24hrs.

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The following morning Red seemed a lot better, walking, eating his way around the field (will take a lot to keep him from food!) Still I wanted a second opinion and so went to the nearest town to contact a few of my peers in the hope of a diagnosis. Vets are pretty much non existent where I am. After talking to both the team I spent time with preparing for this trip in Nicaragua and the Long Riders Guild the only real option was to rest a few days and, hope for best case scenario – a slightly twisted ankle. I figured with some free time whilst Red recovered I would take a look at a local school I heard about and see if maybe I could help out.

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After meeting with the schools founders, finding out a little about the project and with their permission I am now volunteering with a fantastic project in El Tambo, a small village in the Eastern Andes. After just one day could see was a great project, not very often you see children running to school and waiting for the doors to open. This is a fantastic programme, some of the children involved are the first generation in their family to learn how to read or write in either Spanish or their native Quichua. It respects tradition and provides an opportunity that would be otherwise out of reach.

Monday I start with the school proper and cannot wait. I look forward to giving some more information! And the big question, Red, somehow has made what seems to be a miraculous recovery, walking fine I am still massaging and applying heat daily but confident a week long rest and time to acclimatize and he should be fit for the road ahead. Hoping for the best.

Thank you for reading, update on my time volunteering coming soon!

Where the Amazon meets the Andes

Border crossing can be tricky enough, but throw in a horse and a border well-known for drug and weapons trafficking and things can become interesting. After resting 30kms from the border and a dry run to see what I could expect we set off. I had been lucky enough to meet Geraldo, local business owner but more importantly horse owner. He allowed us the use of a field and gave some invaluable advice on passing into Ecuador. With the help of some extremely generous donations I was able to purchase the paperwork needed to pass into Ecuador – a GIA (authorisation to transport livestock) and have Red’s blood test results “processed”. Everything in order we set of for the final 2 days of this trip in Colombia. IMG_9464IMG_9481 “tell them you are visiting an Uncle” and “whatever you do, do not say you are going to Peru” were Geraldo’s final words of advice as I saddled up. Covering 20kms we rested in a kural just short of the border, wanting to arrive early incase of hold ups. the following day the Amazon delivered the heaviest downpour I have ever witnessed and with it a leaving present from Colombia. I don’t think I will offend anyone by saying Colombians are not fans of the rain, I have often been asked what I do when it rains as if it makes travel impossible. And so we arrived at this little used border crossing, San Miguel, deep in the Amazon jungle, a region where, in addition to coca cultivation, guerrillas and paramilitaries have been engaged in a long internal conflict. Just a giant river that provides a natural border, 1 bridge and a corridor of armed border control guards stand in front of our entry into Ecuador. IMG_9488IMG_9476 As we approached the bridge, rain pouring off the brim of my hat the first guard gives a nod from under his shelter and motions to pass, and the next the same until we arrive at the final two guards, walking straight towards them they part, allowing us to pass between the two of them and with an acknowledging nod to them both I walk on through as though I have done this a million times, onto the bridge and for the first time on Ecuadorian soil! A little confused as to how easy it was I asked a taxi driver where we get stamped “4kms” I am told as he points South, my elation disappeared but still, stage one was done and all it took was a little rain to help the process. IMG_9492IMG_9489 Now was just the paperwork to deal with, arriving at immigration and a series of very serious (and a little confused by the foreigner on horseback) looking Ecuadorian officials. I tied up Red and after explaining the reason for the overstay in Colombia, a nervous 10 minutes whilst my paperwork was checked over we had entry and exit stamps and were officially in Ecuador! As sad as I was to leave what has been one of the most hospitable and beautiful countries I have ever visited behind, Ecuador is a country I have wanted to visit for as long as I can remember as here waits something I have dreamt of seeing for many years. Walking out to a whinny from Red we had passed what for me is a huge milestone and onto our second country. Continuing in the rain, spirits high I looked for a resting spot, after several “no senor” replies we arrived at the home of an incredibly welcoming Colombian family who with open arms let me put Red into their field and hang the hammock in the coral. IMG_9496IMG_9505 There we rested for two days, getting here had been tough going on us both. The 2 days were spent helping Llario train his previously unrideable mare and cleaning the jungle off of my gear. After a fantastic last evening I had the chance to thank my new friends for one of the warmest welcomes I have ever received and we were ready to make for the Andes. IMG_9538IMG_9554 After many kilometres (pushing 2800 in total) we are now in the Napo province of Ecuador, at an altitude of 3,300m just off the Eastern Cordilleras where the Amazon meets the Andes, here we rejoin the INCA trail and enter the valley of volcanoes. From here we carry on South and to my next volunteer destination, roughly 12 days ride from here. IMG_9631IMG_9619 To everybody that has taken the time to read, support and message thank you. We are now in Country number 2! With your “buy a bale” donations Red is in the best shape of his life and one of the best travelled horses in South America, and the messages do give us a real lift when needed the most. I look forward to writing to you next from our volunteer location where we turn our focus to the main aspect of the trip. As always, thank you for reading, Marc