Written by SM. Experienced by SM & MS.
My nerves were increasing- I can’t believe we are about to trust a Colombian cowboy to guide us through the countryside on horses. I have limited Spanish and the last time I rode a horse I fell off. Still, it was done- I had studied some extra Spanish the night before ‘pare’- stop, ‘muy rapido’ and ‘muy lente,’ to go faster and slower respectively. Hopefully these new words will come in handy!
Pacho arrived pronto at 10 to 9, after checking our passport numbers (tourists are exempt from tax). Pacho is short but broad in stature, wearing the customary white broad rimmed hat similar to a cowboy hat, and he is very gentle and calm in nature. He led us to where the horses were tied up and patiently waiting. The horses were well groomed, appeared well fed and most importantly tranquilo (calm). I quickly mounted my white horse Lucas hoping the nerves would settle. After making the stirrups longer Martins too mounted his noble steed, Princess. And then we were off. Pacho quickly tested our abilities in controlling the horses, teaching Martins some new words: right, left and straight (in Spanish obviously). Really we didn’t need much skill as the horses responded mainly to Pacho’s soft whistles and kissing sounds urging them forward. Clearly they knew the way, as although Pacho called a la derecha, the horse had already begun moving right even before I had even lifted the reins.
As we made our way through the countryside Pacho spoke about the various plants and birds we passed, stopping to pluck the best guava’s from the tree. On foot the day before I had been disappointed that the ripe guava’s were out of reach, however the height of the horse meant the best fruit was in easy reach. As we relaxed into the ride the horses picked up speed, trotting along country paths. My horse soon decided it was a good idea to break into a gallop to get a good run up for the next hill. However as Martins’ confidence increased and he loosened the reins further Princess decided that she would prefer to lead. So ensued a competition as to who should lead the way, which lasted the entire journey.
Pacho took us to 4 different archaeological sites, El Purutal, La Pelota, La Chaquira and El Tablon. I needn’t have worried too much over my lack of Spanish, he explained the importance of each site slowly and with actions to assist our understanding. Pacho is very good with non Spanish speakers, checking in regularly to ensure we were able to understand and providing examples to assist us. He is also interested in English, and has a few English words, he seems to understand quite a lot. He gently corrected our poor Spanish, explaining why we were incorrect.
The sites were fantastic and we enjoyed the chance to see 2 statues which had been decorated with colours of red, yellow, white and black. Pacho explained how these were very important as there are not many coloured statues. It is thought that the colours could represent the python which has the same colours. He then took us into the trees, unsheathed his machete and struck into the trunk of a tree, exposing a bright yellow colour- the colour used on the statues. The sap was amazingly bright and not overly sticky. Another tree revealed a bright red colour.
Our next stop at La Chaquira was Pacho’s favourite because of the beautiful views down to the Magdalena river, a river which stretches all the way to the sea up in the north at Barranquilla. If you look very carefully, you can see many other carvings in the rocks, Pacho said there may have been many more, the carvings worn away by the weather. We gazed down the steep slopes covered with coffee plants, plantain and banana trees to the river below.
Although the archaeological sites are quite amazing, the best part of this tour is definitely the exhilarating ride on beautiful horses through the Colombian countryside. As we galloped back to our hostel I could not help but smile. The experience was more than I had hoped for, I had even learnt a few new words. I honestly cannot recommend Pacho enough, he is kind, gentle and caring. His horses are obviously well looked after and very well trained. He can even take you across the border to Ecuador, however 4 hours was well and truly enough for my sore behind!