Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Vamos Gallope!

The rain in Spain falls mainly on...my birthday? Our first day on the trail Monday started out gloriously, Spanish sun high and bright. It welcomed us as we saddled up at Mas Alba, a ranch located about an hour outside of Girona, Spain. We arrived the night before, and after our riding group had assembled from five different countries, we enjoyed a hearty meal at Mas Alba of rural Catalonian cuisine and rich Spanish wine. The accommodations there were delightful and quintessentially Spanish, with blue tiled bathrooms and bright striped bedding. The arched ceilings reminded one of living within a winery, or perhaps even a quaint hobbit swelling in middle earth.

Monday morning we awoke to find a string of fine Spanish horses tied and waiting for our acquaintance. Our guide matched me with a cute rose grey Andalusian, whose unique color came by virtue of his adolescent age, as he had yet to mature enough for his true silvery grey color to come in. We tacked up and headed out over waves of Spanish hills and past quaint haciendas, all brightly yellow golden in true Spanish style. Our horses were all Spanish speaking, and with a hearty shout of "Vamos gallope!" we would take off for long hand gallops through the open countryside. As midday approached we found ourselves winding through a quiet forest of white ash trees, all of them hand planted years before in neat symmetrical rows. The effect was almost Alice in Wonderland-ish, the trees almost too perfect to seem real.

It was here that our group felt what were to be the first drops of a long and unseasonable rain. We donned our rain gear but our small jackets were little match for the ensuing two hour torrent. The rain broke just in time to stop for a lunch time picnic deep in the woods, and we unsaddled wet horses and peeled off wet boots, before settling in for wine, cheese, olive spread on rich bread, and, best of all, some sunshine. Our group, knowing it was my birthday, produced two bottles of Spanish sparkling Cava, and when we finally returned to tack up our horses, we were all a bit giddy in spite of the wet.

We thought that would be the end of the rain but no such luck; as we approached a small Spanish town and walked through its narrow cobblestone streets, the first drops of a second storm fell our way. We made the best of things however, enjoying a couple of long gallops through the storm, which was an invigorating experience the likes of which I had never before enjoyed. The rain slowed our pace, however, and so night fell as we finished our trek to "the city in the rocks" a Spanish walled town carved out a large hillside, and built entirely out of stones.

After putting our horses up for the night, we showed up to our hotel soaked, chilled, and ready for a warm meal. We were richly rewarded with piping hot Spanish soup, full of vegetables, plates of bread and cheese, meats, and of course that wonderful rich red wine. As I tucked into bed, safe and warm and well fed, I knew that sleep would come easily and well. I also knew I had gotten a true taste of what life would have been like when horses were the only mode of travel, and rain or shine, one had to get from place to place with only their sturdy caballo to rely on. Hopefully, however, better rain gear as well.

I did learn that lesson well on this first day: always bring a change of clothes on the trail, if you are not smart enough to bring full emergency rain gear. It did occur to me as well how irritating it can be to get rained on in new York, when the press of business demands you not encounter untoward inconveniences to slow to down your day, but out in the Spanish countryside, it somehow felt like a grand adventure.

Day two to follow tomorrow. Dinner time calls! Buenos noches!!

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