“Hey guys, whistle, whistle; heeeeeyyyyy guys whistle, whistle”. Daniel must be up already, what the hell? I roll in my sleeping bag trying to find comfort on my punctured thus non-inflated thermarest. I can’t find a restful position so I sit up, unzip the fly to our tent and take in the morningness of our current world. The dew sits thick on the knee high grass and the air is still cool and fresh. The light of the sun, diffused from not haven risen above the ridge yet, still manages to blind my blurry eyes. My body feels deeply tired and the task of dressing myself is much more cumbersome than it should be.
“Whistle, whistle”, I hear him again. “Is everything ok up there”, I shout up. “Yeah, yeah, just counting the horses”. I hear Eli and Paul rolling around in our mini tipi, the megalite. When we left for this portion of our trip, five days prior, we packed only the absolute essentials. This meant during our 17 day ride the four of us slept cramped together in the megalite. We ate far less food than we needed and never changed our clothes. This equaled four smelly men living in very close quarters, who were constantly thinking about their next meal.
“Yup, they’re all here”, Daniel shouts down to us. Good, there is a slight feeling of relief among all of us. We arrived at our current campsite the night before. A beautiful, but tiny meadow, tucked away off the main trail. Apparently it is hidden enough from cows and other grazers so that the grass was able to grow up to our knees. A couple of fallen trees formed a natural corral with thick brush fencing in the other sides of the meadow.
We had herded our six horses into the area the night before, knowing that they were due for a good munch session after days of hard riding. Confident about the security of this little corral we let the horses have their dinner while we set up camp and prepared our evening meal. This site was perfect, the horses had food and we were off the path and out of view from local Gauchos. We had come accustomed to keeping our camp presence quiet whenever possible. The locals charge a telaje, which is basically rent for people and horses. Seeing four white guys with six horses opens the door to exorbitant fees. We found it easier to stay off the radar from these locals rather than try to argue down a Marriott priced stay on a backwoods meadow.
Daniel and Paul were fixing dinner while Eli and I were deep into our 72-game series of backgammon when we heard the hoofs. They were clearly our horses; however they were not on the trail. The horses were trotting through the thick brush and escaping! Darn it! Sure enough, through the brush I could make out Ventu’s long blond mane bounce against his neck as he trotted toward the main trail. Even in his mischievousness he looked majestic. Ventu was playing ring leader and he had apparently recruited at least Pansito, who seemed to always be his partner in crime and Maggie. I sprung up, grabbed a lead line and ran toward the trail, trying to cut off the fugitive threesome. Eli was heading into our untrustworthy corral to see if he could keep the other horses from following suit. Daniel and Paul immediately paused dinner preparations to stop the mutiny as well.
I spotted Ventu and Pansito on the main trail, he stopped and looked at me. His eyes told me that he had no intention of allowing me to catch him. He snorted and when I took one step toward him he galloped up trail. Pansito and Maggie followed and one minute later the rest of the herd stormed by, obviously not wanting to miss out on what lay ahead on the trail.
Damn it! Horses! What are you thinking? We knew that our group of steeds was experienced on these and the surrounding trails, having worked in these mountains their entire lives. They knew something we did not. Daniel and Paul had already come prepared with the grain bag, the only sure way to entice a horse back to us. Eli was working on patching up our broken corral area with deadfalls and anything else he could find to secure the small openings in the thick brush.
The three of us hiked up trail. The light was beginning to fade in the dusk; we had been riding most of the day so our bodies were tired and hungry. However, when I looked across at my friends moving up the trail with full energy and intent, I could see a spark of excitement in their eyes. It was the same spark I was feeling; an experience of being immersed in this moment. We were exhausted, wandering on a trail we did not know, somewhere dozens and dozens of miles away from anything we would call civilization, chasing down our herd of wild horses. Our lives had become the dream we dared to live. It felt really good.