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Latin America Kevin Dispatch

Riding on the Back of Experience

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I was born to be a cowboy, don't you think?
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It's early morning and the sun hasn't risen high enough to protect me from the chill of the night air. As I pass the Inca ruin of Sacsayhuaman, I can feel the earth, still soft from its nightly shower, giving way beneath my feet. Off in the distance, I can see creatures grazing in the muddy fields, large proud beasts the Inca had never seen until the arrival of the Spanish. Horses! As I approach, they seem undisturbed by my presence and perhaps uninterested in making the daily acquaintance with yet another of my kind. "¡Si, muy rapido!" I tell my guide, Umberto, who then points me in the direction of a gorgeous brown horse, the fastest of the lot. I immediately realize my respect for this kind animal, a solid mass of muscle who will carry me, and even guide me, for I am well aware that only he knows this terrain and has much to teach me along the way. I'm told that his name is Jarenero, but I have yet to introduce myself as his companion for the day's journey to four ruins just outside of Cuzco. After a brief moment of eye contact, we seem to understand each other, and so I allow my feet to trustingly leave the ground as I mount.

According to a piece by Adele Von Rust McCormick, Ph.D. in the April '97 issue of Caballo Magazine, Peruvian horses are purebred Spanish horses that were selectively bred for ambling after reaching the shores of Peru in the 15th Century. They were bred with Andalusians in Spain in order to produce a broken lateral gait. Until after the 17th Century, horses that trotted were the exception. All that changed when horse-drawn vehicles became popular in the early 1700s.

It seems strange to be visiting Inca structures from the heights of horseback, the same perspective from which the conquering Spaniards looked down on great cities destined to become ruins. Now that the others in my group have also mounted their horses, we begin along the narrow dirt path riding single file. Charlotte, Estelle, and Julie, the same French girls that I went to see the Colca Canyon with, are riding with me. Charlotte is the only experienced rider and has the second fastest horse. Although my horse is the fastest, it does not like to be in the lead and only proceeds when another horse goes first. Trees pass on both sides of us and I recognize the smell of the damp woods. After a clearing, we pass a small village and beyond that village we plainly see the first ancient site before us.

Not a bad grazing field for these horses, huh?
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The horses wait patiently for us at each of the ruins. As we proceed to the next site, we move from the soft mud to the paved road where trotting bounces me up and down so violently I'm tempted to ask Jarenero to stop for a while and stroll at a more tranquil pace. But just as the motion becomes unbearable, we slow down to allow the passing of five black bulls inconvenienced by having to cross this thoroughfare to reach further grazing lands. Further down the road we pass llamas that have ropes tied around their necks but aren't secured to anything. Freedom for a domesticated animal is but an illusion. Herds of sheep convene as they do every morning, but what seems like a banal existence is really a social gathering where lambs take their first steps and adults cry out the songs of the countryside. Beyond the field, the farms, and the trees lies an expanse so grand that only the Andes themselves can claim dominance over the hazy sky and the low-laying valley.

My friend Charlotte on horseback
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Traveling to each site is a separate journey back in time. My horse knows the way and I trust him like a friend. I trust that when he walks briskly, he won't make any sudden turns. I also trust that when he's running at a full gallop he won't...WAIT! Who told him to gallop? I've only been on a horse maybe two or three times in my life, and this is the fastest I've ever traveled while sitting on a live animal! But somehow galloping seems even easier than trotting, and I feel like I'm gliding through the countryside. My feet are holding steady in the stirrups, and I'm holding on with one hand while the other is stroking the neck of my ride. If I could have made a moment last it would have been this feeling of flying together with another beautiful creature past everything that makes us both feel so alive.

Kevin

Shawn - Bugging Out on the Amazon
Kevin - Powerful Learning Tools Discovered at the Ruins
Monica - The Roots of Present Day Peru
Team - Rope of Many Colors
Making a Difference - Save the Rainforest from Your Own Backyard!
 
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