Getting on the Horse...
We're actually galloping...at what seems like a hundred miles an hour down the canyon, the horses' hooves are throwing up dust, I'm desperately trying to simultaneously grip with my knees, keep my feet in the spurs, and maintain my balance. Bouncing up and in the saddle, I keep having the wind knocked out of me.
It lasts what is probably, in real time, a couple of minutes. I can't imagine keeping it up for any longer, let alone turning round in the saddle to fire my revolver at any pursuing bandidos. When we stop I ask Tito whether we were in fact galloping - what exactly does galope suave mean? He talks me through the speeds of a horse: the walk, the trot, the galope suave and the carrera (literally "race"). Right, so a galope suave is a canter. It sounds more impressive in Spanish. But Tito says I've done well, and that not many manage to do any kind of gallop their first time. "Look how your mood's changed from the way out to the way back!"
He's right - I was rather apprehensive this morning, having booked the horse riding rather despite myself. I think someone had told me that it was one of the Things to Do in Mendoza, and I had it classified anyway as something I Ought to Do At Least Once in South America. There were to have been five people in the horse-riding group, but the other four apparently cancelled at the last minute, leaving me to do it alone. Great, I thought, I'm not even going to have company in my incompetence.
I shouldn't have worried; Tito is very used to guiding beginners, and was very relaxed, which in turn affected me. He says he used to be an executive in a multinational company, but gave it up recently as it was too stressful. He learnt to ride on the pampas of his parents' hacienda in the Buenos Aires as a kid and now has a little ranch only 10 minutes from the centre of Mendoza. His dogs were going barking mad with anticipation as drove up; apparently they love going out on the horse treks.
It was hard to believe that we were so close to the city, as we rode out into the badlands near Tito's ranch - there was no sign of any other people, alone civilization. The horses walked through narrow quebradas and dry gulches, stained with salt deposits leached by the occasional storm waters which had created the pathways. Amidst the brush and cactus there were splashes of red, yellow and white wildflowers, and every so often the single flowering bulb of a cactus. After a while I began to relax on the horse. "Have a cigarette if you want" called Tito. "It tastes completely different on a horse...I can't, because I've got a sore throat right now".
We broke into the occasional trot, climbed up and down little rises, then some steeper hillocks. At first I was a little stiff with fear, but gradually gained more confidence. The horse knows what it's doing, I told myself. And it's not actively trying to throw me off,in fact it knows full well that I'm supposed to stay on it...what have I got to worry about? Overhead, a condor floated. "It knows me" said Tito. "Sometimes it comes down closer and teases the dogs".
On the way back we spurted along the flat bits, breaking into a couple of gallops. Well,canters, I suppose. I didn't really have any choice about whether I followed, as my horse, well aware that I didn't really know what I was doing, prioritised following Tito's horse ahead of any instructions I might give it. Still, a little out of breath, I survived. I think I might even do it again one day soon.