The cast: Myself (i.e. Thekenyanexplorer), a horse named Aholera Segundo, a guide called Manuel, a taxi driver hellbent on raising my blood pressure, an errant snake who made a brief appearance and thousands of marathon runners.
The venue: Starting off in the quiet streets of Santiago on a Sunday morning and eventually ending up on a picturesque mountain somewhere in the countryside
I woke up really excited on this particular morning. I had signed up for a horseriding hike up a mountain somewhere in the countryside close to Santiago, the capital of Chile. My previous horse riding expertise was limited - a ten minute horse stroll along a beach in Accra (obviously with a guide holding the reins and the horse moving only slightly faster than a lazy snail.) I had also had similar 'horse rides" when small and at different locations in Nairobi including Hillock in Industrial area and Shade hotel in Ngong'. I also have a brief memory of almost riding a camel when I was small. I use the word "almost" because as soon as it started getting up on it's hind feet in that drunken staggering sort type of way camels get up, I started screaming like a baby and the camel was brought down......With this impressive equestrian resume I felt I was especially well positioned to go up and down a mountain on a horse.
Fate was somehow trying to keep me away from my horseriding adventure. I was to be picked up at 9am at a certain hotel in Santiago, but it turned out that this was the exact day of the Santiago marathon. All the roads in that general area were closed because of the marathon. I managed to get to the location by walking a very long distance, but once I got to the hotel, I realized the driver who was to pick me up wasn't there. I had no phone as mine had died in the Siloli desert in Bolivia, and it made no economic sense to buy a phone in Chile for my short stay there. After lots of back and forth, that involved me paying a juggler on the street to use his phone, walking up and down in search of a taxi etc, I finally had to give up and go back to my hostel. On my way back, I watched the marathon runners and noticed I didn't see any Kenyans....or Africans actually. I guess the Santiago marathon is one of the smaller ones that doesn't get the superstar athletes.
Once I got back to the hostel, the tour organizer had called. It was finally decided that I could do a horseriding session at 2pm. I took the subway train to one of its last stops and there I was met by the taxi driver who would get me to the mountain. We drove for close to one hour on a long winding road to get to the mountain. The cab guy was crazy. He was overspeeding, overtaking at blind corners where any miscalculation would lead to us falling off the cliff, tailgating etc. I almost wished I could sleep. That was my remedy when in Bolivian buses - If I slept I didn't have to witness all the near death moments on narrow roads on the cliff's edge.....It's much trickier to sleep though when you have a chatty cab guy and no one else in the car for him to talk to.
We finally got to the ranch and I was introduced to my horse for the day - Aholera Segundo (the 2nd Aholera.) I can't quite recall what the story was about the first aholera - was she Aholera the II's mother? A distant relative? A riika-mate? Not quite sure. She was introduced as being "Well behaved, obedient and loving." We instantly bonded over some sugar cubes and tea....ok not really...but we bonded. Before going up the mountain, I had a short training session, "How do you get her to turn right? Left? Stop? Ok. You're good to go!"
We left the ranch and I was feeling like a character in a Wilbur Smith - riding a horse and wearing a cowboy hat. Within a few minutes of leaving the compound, I looked down and saw a snake slither away. I was so lucky that Aholera was looking at the opposite direction. I am pretty sure she would have thrown me off in panic as she fled if she had seen the snake. I told Manuel about it, and he said that snakes were rare in this area, but there are a few pumas on the mountain. Manuel said this as if he was telling me there are lots of kittens on the mountain. I decided that on this trip I would just have to have faith in Aholera and in Manuel. Considering Manuel brought hapless tourists up the mountain all the time, I was pretty sure that I was in safe hands.
Faith was an important part of that trip. The pathways were narrow and most times Aholera and I would be on the edge of a cliff and I had to trust she wouldn't jump off or trip, but would instead turn in the right direction and keep taking me up the mountain. She did not disappoint. I realized that the most important quality of a horse on such a trip is "non-suicidal." If your horse wanted to jump off a cliff, he or she would jump off a cliff, and there is nothing you could do to save yourself. I had to believe that Aholera wanted to get up and down the mountain safely, just as I did.
We stopped for lunch by a lovely stream and I explored a bit on foot. It was such a beautiful day and I had such a wonderful view. Getting back down the mountain was scarier than going up because as some points, the path was very steep and I feared I would fall off Aholera, but thankfully Manuel showed me well how to angle myself when going downhill to ensure I put minimum pressure on Aholera, and also protected myself from falling over. I remember in the beginning of the trip Aholera started off panting loudly, and I thought to myself "Oh, Lord! This poor horse hates me. All those beers and hearty meals I was having in Bolivia will be the end of Aholera." After a while though she stopped panting. I think she came to terms with the fact that this chubby girl was not getting off.
That was a lovely day. Thank you Aholera Segundo!