My two favorite places in Costa Rica were Arenal Volcano and Corcovado. Both involved horseback riding.
The day we rode horses around the periphery of the volcano was sunny and bright. One drawback, though, was the sulphuric smell emanating from the always-slightly-erupting mountain. Another challenge was having to direct the horses away from the untethered bovines that stubbornly stood unmoving in our way. Having little experience as horse folk, our tepid pleas and kicks did little to affect the behavior of the horses and nothing to affect the behavior of the cows. Like much in Costa Rica, they moved in “tico time.”
The second of the horseback experiences was quite surprising for its contrasts. My daughter and I were staying at a tent camp on the beach in Corcovado, the warm, clear water of the Pacific just a few feet from our tent. Our riding guide was a small, grizzled old man who spoke no English.
We set out on the beach late in the afternoon, just the three of us on our horses, at what can only be described as a glacial pace. The guide kept asking us in Spanish if we wanted to go faster. Our consistent response was “si.” Nothing changed. We left the beach and traveled along a river where we saw people panning for gold. The horses seemed as bored as we were. After a while, at a sleepy command from the old man, the horses turned around and headed back to the beach. It was nearing sunset, the sky softly lit with shades of red, purple and peach.
Suddenly and without warning or command, the horses began galloping as though fleeing some disaster. Juliet’s hat flew off her head. She screamed “how do I make it stop?” Holding on for dear life myself, I could give her no advice. My only thought was if I were to fall off, it wouldn’t be that far and maybe the sand would provide a soft landing.
And then just as suddenly as they had begun, the horses came to a dead stop. They seemed to know they were close to the barn and could rid themselves of their noisy riders and go eat some hay. This was exhilarating, scary and hilarious all at once.
The old man never said a word.