Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Saddle up

Valle Fertil in the rocky hills made a great base for exploring the crazy desert surrounding it. The hills here are covered in those classic cacti you see in Road Runner cartoons - "stick ´em up!" - and there are succulents growing in every crevice. It´s a sleepy little town that really goes gung-ho for helping out travellers, most of whom are here en route to Ischigualasto and Talampaya. We stayed in a nifty little hotel on a side street not too far from El Cardon, a small, family-run place offering cabalgatas - excursions by horseback.
It was finally time for me, Dave, to fulfill a life-long dream of mounting a steed for the wilderness. Yes, it´s true. Though 32-years old, the only horse I have ever been on was called "horsey" and I think it was either a) a stuffed head on a stick, or b) a pony at the Calgary Stampede. Either way, it was high time I got to check out this new fangled form of transportation.

We hooked up with Carlos who took us on a three-hour excursion into the mountains beyond. I rode Pintado, the best-behaved horse of the bunch, while Sandra took Flacca, who was more interested in eating every bit of plant he saw along the way. Carlos led us along "main street" towards the edge of town and into a deep valley that was constantly alive with condors hunting above. At one point we saw a dozen condors all gracefully swooping amongst the rocky hills. They rarely bother to flap, instead curling their massive wings under and unfolding them to keep the glide going.
We rode our horses though streams, past petroglyphs and into some very dense foliage. Halfway through the trip we actually got up to speed a bit - from slow canter to brisk gallop - which caused us to burst into uncontrolled laughter while bouncing hard on the back of the poor horses. They must have been wondering what our deal was, with our English commands, strange directional controls with the reins, and somewhat agonized whineying when going too fast. Yup, we were a bit sore after a few hours. And the next day even more so. Being on horseback is a view we could certainly get used to...so long as it is followed by a good massage

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