With all due respect, we weren’t expecting this ride to be such an adrenaline rush – but it was. The preparations for it had been gearing up for a few weeks and now the horses were up there and rested up…and we were ready – for just exactly ‘what’ was yet to be seen (remember ‘expect the unexpected’?). The plan was to meet Billy at 5:30 a.m. in Platanillo where he would park his car and together we would head on up the mountain to saddle up and have us an adventure.
The horses were looking a little bit rough, new place, new diet, new elevation and weather, essentially new everything – but they were ok, adjusting. We saddled them up, our ‘host’ Alberto climbed on his poor aged mare (she barely made it up the hill) and together we headed out to meet Isaias, the trail down this side of the mountain into the finca was near his house at the top of the mountain – horseback required.
The rains had begun, and because of the elevation here they were getting more rain sooner than those of us at lower elevations, so the trails were already muddy. One good reason for getting an early start, rains were predictable every afternoon. Alberto changed horses, his little mare would never have made this trek, and Isaias led the way down the mountain, via cow trails – slipping and sliding and maneuvering ruts pretty much right off the bat. As was the case for when we rode up into Mystic Mountain, the vegetation was dense and the only way to get around was in using the cow trails, and these are (in my opinion) horrible scars on the land, leading to extensive erosion of the land, and ruts that might not ever disappear, cows or no. The rain water erodes them more and more each rain.
We have raised lots of cattle, and they will ruin the integrity of the land and water areas really quick without meticulous management. Here the locals capitalize and exploit the land by maximizing what it will give them without taking into consideration the irreparable damages…very sad. So these things just continue to get worse – and navigating through and around in the rainy season is truly an adventure and an experience that we would learn much more about as we went along. These trails going down the mountain were very steep, we zigzagged our way all the way down to the river as Isaias gave us the lay of the land. It was so steep and slick that Alberto’s horse could not keep track of her feet and kept losing her balance, watching her from behind I saw her hind feet go splayed out in opposite directions a couple of times! She was having a helluva time staying upright getting down that hillside and Alberto had to bail off at one point to keep from her going down on top of him – yikes! He decided it might be smart just to walk for a while and let her fend for herself. Our horses are very good in the mountains, and evidently Chuck was good as well, because there were no mishaps for them along the way. Both Isaias and Alberto had their machetes – these are not clean well maintained trails we are talking about, they are infrequently traveled and always have the jungle seeking to occupy the empty space as you create it and pass on through it. Just ahead a tree had fallen across and blocked the ‘trail’, and with a little machete work the guys heaved the tree up and to the side of the trail – actually, it bounced off the little gray mare on its way…but she was tranquila – I mean, there was nowhere to go anyway! Horse and tree in front, horses behind, jungle all around…no point in getting rattled, despite her bad time down the hill. Or maybe that was it, she didn’t give a hoot at that point? Hey, it’s just a tree falling on top of me – whatever. Crazy Baybee.
When we got to the river, it was clear we were going to cross, but this crossing was a lot more questionable than what we had crossed up to this point in our previous adventures. There was a good size quebrada dumping into it where we were, and so the choice was to cross above this or below it – either way it was ‘iffy’. Isaias crossed above, Alberto and Billy crossed below after him, and then I was up. Looking at the river I was totally not sure which way to go, so Isaias told me to cross above the creek and waited for me on the other side, guiding me. My trusty little Criollo Juan slowly and methodically picked his way across, trying to see through the white water rushing by his legs at more than knee deep; it is good to let your horse find his way in this kind of situation, as in coming down the hill or most any difficult maneuvering because their instinctive sense is pretty trustworthy. However, you have to be present with them to help out if they make a call that you can see isn’t a good one, or they need help. We made it across ok and now Mate on Chuck was checking it out. Mate wasn’t sure yet of the capabilities of Chuck – he had yet to be put through a complete Wilderness Skills Challenge, but he stepped into the water without question. He proceeded to pick his way across when his right foot stepped into a hole between boulders and he fell in shoulder deep. Mate pulled his head up and shifted his (not small potatoes) weight to the left and Chuck hoisted himself back to upright and regained his balance – then pulled himself across the rest of the way. Phew! That was close, it would not be pleasant to go completely down in a place like that, especially with a bad knee. Good horse, Chuck! A+. When a horse is in unclear murky fast moving water like that, it is not uncommon for them to get dizzy watching the water and to actually lose their balance. Costa Rica horses are incredibly amazing; horses in the States are a different animal all together and for as many horses as we have owned and ridden there might be one that would NOT have freaked out just thinking about stepping into a river like that! And our horses were big country working horses…but they didn’t grow up in the jungle crossing rivers, as seems to be the way it works here. Good mountain horses here rarely hesitate to cross some of the most amazing river crossings, still makes me shake my head. However, there are ‘flat land’ horses here, also, that don’t have a clue how to get around in the mountains. Like taking a stall horse on a trip into the Rockies – nope, won’t work, muy peligroso.
So now we were all safely across the river, not much worse for wear – mostly – and we must hack our way through the jungle into the main part of the property. The entire property is in two sections, one on each side of the river and where we had just ridden was one side – not much for pasture, but an incredible wealth of forest and trees (and steep). Now we were on the other side and after working our way out of the jungle lined riverside, we opened up onto a very big relatively flat area. This was where you might build your gardens, your greenhouses and food processing as well as a gathering area (BBQ anybody?), the homestead. We visualized the possibilities, dreaming our dream. We had a good look around and then headed back towards the river – further upriver – to the waterfalls that were here in this area (there were more, a few more – downriver).
No one had been this way for quite a while, honestly I do not even know how the man knew which way to go, but when you live all of your life in an area you learn to know it. Although Isaias had owned this farm for his entire life, his son had died there (many years prior) and his dreams were shattered, so his connection with the land was virtually in leasing out the pasture to a man that owns water buffalo. Water buffalo have a very delicious milk, and make some of the best cheese in the world, especially mozzarella (which sells for $15.00/lb and more). The owner owns a farm in the valley where he milks the cows and processes the milk and makes the cheese; to have milk you must make babies, and this pasture housed a lot of cows and bulls. It was a muddy mucky mess, but they paid him yearly for the grass. Our plans were different – no more water buffalo, for sure. We were more interested in setting the land up into a sustainable farm, there is so much water here that hydroelectric is no problem! Springs for good drinking water, and pastures already created that would accommodate our horses, as well as sectioning off areas for fruit orchards and if we choose, some cattle. Raising cattle is big business for most folks that are deeply involved, but we were thinking specialty market – organic. There are still folks looking for good clean meat to eat – not every gringo living here is a vegetarian, despite what the primary trends tend to be. Unfortunately, a business plan must be considered for survival, even when living self-sustainably (we are still living on 3D Earth, sad to say). Different venues to play into as possibilities…
We hacked our way through the jungle, again, and then tied the horses up to walk to the river and have a break for breakfast. It’s nice when riders each bring a meal, then everyone shares. We swapped with Billy, but the other guys didn’t bring anything…so we shared ours with them. Totally awesome, a river of majestic proportions in the middle of nowhere, requiring a very good horse to get there, and waterfalls that beg you to come hither. (We did not even want to think about the snakes and other jungle critters hiding within the jungle, but not being aware that they are there is far more dangerous – we were making enough noise, but snakes move through the trees just as well as the ground, hmmm.) Unfortunately we did not have time to get in and play, so we enjoyed the vibes while we could. Isaias then beckoned for us to follow him (on foot) upriver, as he chopped more into the jungle – to see the other waterfall just up here a little bit. We reached the water’s edge and could see it, but to get closer required much more than we were ready to give at this point – however we were envisioning having the opportunity to return and have that time to enjoy, to create trails into these pristine sacred untouched very remote places – one day in the near future (we hoped). At this point we were still only sweat equity, scoping out possibilities (ooohkaaayyy…), but when the great Cosmos (opportunity) begs you to come on an adventure to see, you have to go – yeah?
Billy brought his horse up to where we were in case Mate needed a ride out of the jungle, and we then hacked our way back out (in and out, always). Note to self: always carry machete on saddle in this country. I have to mention this: watching these Ticos swing a very long and extremely sharp (dull is dangerous, they are always sharpening their machetes) off the back of a horse is mind blowing! Now we were headed to see the big barn with the living quarters on top, and decide how much further we would go that day. The barn wasn’t too very far, but access was not easy, more washed out steep and muddy cow trails to maneuver. The barn was quite large and built on a knoll overlooking the entire valley.
There were corrals under with a modest – actually quite rustic – living quarters above. Like, made out of wood from the property that would never rot, but constructed in the local campesino way – i.e. wood floor and walls, tin roof, shutters for windows – no screens (never in the campo). And yes, every jungle critter that chose to come and visit – day or night – had access. There was water available, but no electricity. No kitchen. No appliances, no bathroom. Only a roof over a couple of rooms above the cow corrals (that always smell really bad). Would we live there? Nunca.
But that doesn’t mean it couldn’t be used by hired help, someone that would not be there full time but would have a place to stay when needed. The local folks have no problems with this, it is us gringos that want ‘more’, a little bit better house to live in…especially at our age…and this place could be improved enough for the above situation. Camping out, only. Line shack.
Next we continued on just a bit further to the fence line where a mare and young horse were on the wrong side of the fence and in with the buffalo, which were all piled up along the fence. The guys all helped fish out the mare and colt without letting any of the buffalo out, and then we headed out via the valley and into San Marcos, where we would then climb the hill to Villa Bonita and down the other side to Chontales. We had not come in this way and we were more than relieved to know that going back and crossing the river and climbing back up that hill, was not part of the plan to end the day.
We chopped through the jungle along what used to be the access road into the property (not maintained in forever) until we reached the entrance to the property – actually for us it was the exit at this point – and this was the entrance that we were unable to get to the day we got the horses into this ‘hood, then came down for a look-see in the truck and only so far on foot. Really beautiful. Awesome, private, very little traffic – only neighbors riding in to check their own pastures, so much water everywhere! We crossed a lot of water that day, in and out, various levels of crossings (:-o), and it was all good. We made it to the junction in the tiny village of San Marcos and we asked if there might possibly be a place to rent here, as there were a few empty homes there. We spoke to a few folks, asking around and planting the seeds of opportunity, and then headed up the road to Villa Bonita before the deluge – which was imminent at this point. It had steadily grown darker as we got closer to the village, with sprinkles beginning. Mate and I wear hats and carry our ponchos with us always – expect rain in CR in rainy season – but we got the deluge not far into our uphill climb. Isaias did not have a poncho, but he cut a huge banana leaf and rode with that over his head all the way home (camera packed, dam). We had been in the saddle for more than six hours and the horses were not only tired, but still had the last very steep hill to climb, even though it was a road and not a cow trail it still required perseverance, for us all. Mate’s arse was really complaining and Chuck was dragging, the rest of us were just putting in the dues to get home – all of us tired – just one more hour in the saddle.
It was an exhilarating day, the three of us were excited with the possibilities of what could be done in a place like that, even though we had no idea where the resources to do this project would come from. Our adrenalin had been pumped and our dreams stimulated. Billy had to get on home, as the owner of the property where he kept his cows was a guest at his hotel and he was obligated to show up ASAP – it was already 3 p.m. – but we took a few moments to grab a brew in the pueblo on our way out. What a day! Billy and I had taken lots of pictures and had a story now to share. Now we had to just toss it to the wind and see where it wanted to fly, yeah? Or if it wanted to fly at all. All we knew then is that this was the life we wanted to live, and that was the area we wanted to do it in – finca/farm or not! One of those empty houses has to be for rent…at the very least…right? Yeehaw and yippy kaiye, hope this one pulls it together and happens – really.
As the wheels of synchronicity turned, Billy returned home in such a state of excitement that he ended up sharing all of his photos with the tale of his day. His guest, the Doc, was totally impressed; he extended his stay in CR a couple of days because he said he just had to meet us…and might be interested in helping to put something like this together…