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.
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.
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)
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 ………
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.
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.
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.
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.
Thank you for reading, part 2 coming soon.