Costa Rica Day 3: The View from a Saddle

Another day and one more ‘never’ crossed off the list. As in: I’ve never ridden a horse in the Costa Rican rain forest. In fact, I’ve only ridden horses a handful of times in my life. (One of them into the mountains of Kauai, which was amazing). The rest of the family had never been on a live horse ever. Going into it, our younger son was excited, Tom was game and our older son was not interested.

Once more, we found ourselves in the back of a van for over an hour through the African Palm plantation. Seems like in order to get anywhere down here, you need to drive on unpaved rocky roads through acres and acres of African palms. I joked that by the end of the week, I’ll be able to give the shpiel on African Palms, having heard it first from our driver, second from the Canopy tour guide and now again from our horseback tour leader. To me, the most interesting fact about the African Palm is not that they produce fruit every two weeks for twenty-five years but that Nicaraguans are bussed in to do the work because Costa Ricans don’t want that job.

Back to horseback riding. We arrived at the Finca Valmy stable and were quickly given ‘goofy hats’ (dubbed such by our tour guide, Che) and horses. The horses looked healthy and clean. They were docile as can be and well-trained. There were seven of us on the tour, a lovely family from the UK, another family from southern California and the four of us. We had two guides: Oscar, who was young and spoke no English, led the group with me just behind. My family followed me, then the SoCal family and finally UK with Che, our guide.

Che was a story unto himself. Tall and wiry with more gray in his mustache than black, he told us that he was born and raised in Buenos Aires, but left there eleven years ago and doesn’t miss it for a minute. A self-professed ‘Dead Head’, Che was easily fifteen years older than me, unless his hard-partying lifestyle had added more years to his face. Dedicated to ayurvedic medicine, Che regaled us with information about spices, fruits and plants that cure everything from hangovers to tumors.

Also well-versed in the ecological history of the land, Che pointed out hickory trees, walking palms and countless other flora during our ambling ride through a quiet river basin.

After a while, we arrived at a hiking trail where we dismounted the horses and took an easy path to the waterfall and pond.

On the way back, Valentin, the owner (I think) arrived on his horse and we were given the option to take a longer path home which would allow us to trot or even gallop or to take the shorter, easier route. Tom shocked me by requesting the longer route. Since they’d given us no instruction whatsoever about successfully trotting or galloping, I was unsure how the boys would respond. Heck, I was unsure how I’d respond! At first, I thought that I had excellent control over my wonderful horse, Bandito, but soon, I realized that Bandito wanted to do whatever the horse in front of him wanted to do. When Oscar, the guide, stopped, Bandito stopped. When Oscar moved ahead, Bandito moved ahead.

When the SoCal family passed me on the right at a nice clip, Bandito took off like he was going for the Triple Crown. Okay, I’m exaggerating. He did surge but I’d say we made it just past trot and up to canter. Definitely not a gallop but that was just fine for me! Tom thought it was a ball, our younger son loved it and our older son was afraid he’d fall off. About halfway in, the SoCal dad decided that he wanted run faster so he tried to pass our tour guide, whose horse freaked out. That was the end of our trotting.

Once we arrived back at the stables, Valentin drove us to his house where we had a delicious home-cooked ‘typical’ lunch of chicken and rice (all a part of the package). By the time we got home, our older son just wanted to go swimming, Tom was thrilled that he’d tried something new and our younger son was wishing for his own horse. Just another day in Paradise.

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