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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