February 07, 2004
The Last American Cowboy
DAY 109: Frodo, who fleed like a girl when the caiman got temporarily loose the day before, had the same sort of reaction when he had to dehook the piranha he caught from the bridge where we were fishing for our early morning activity. He was too scared to handle the "man-eating" fish until it eventually got loose, fell through the bridge planks and back into the creek.
I shouldn't have laughed because if I were in his shoes, I would have probably acted the same way -- that is, if I had caught anything. I had no fish to contribute to the group pile. Meanwhile, Mika, an aspiring tennis star from Holland, was master of the fish with a catch of four.
AFTER A MUCH NEEDED FIVE-HOUR MIDDAY SIESTA, I awoke to find that my fellow New Yorkers had left camp to move on with their shorter time itineraries. With Pete and Farley gone, I was the only American left amongst the thirty or so people left in camp.
For our afternoon activity, Akuna and another guide put on leather chaps over their jeans to lead us as gauchos (South American cowboys) on a horseback riding tour through the Pantanal. Each of the fifteen of us were assigned a horse and we all saddled up for our big cowboy adventure. It would have been something out of an old classic spaghetti western if not for our clumsiness with the horses -- it was more like 1991's City Slickers.
My horse Marivica was a tempermental little thing, never really responding to my instructions. At first I thought maybe she was just a dumb horse, until I realized that perhaps she was the smarter one between the two of us.
During a group break under the shade, Marivica did what none of the other horses did to their riders: get down on her knees to try and get me to dismount. I figured she was a disgruntled employee of the company, but Craig and Kate told me that it looked like she had a bum hind leg.
A broken leg on my horse was on my mind as we continued through the jungles, marshes and vast grasslands of the Pantanal like the riders of the Old West. But in the middle of a big open plain, my real life western fantasies-come-true had ceased when my horse decided, on its own will, to just stop going.
I kicked her side the way I was supposed to make her go, but nothing. I slapped her on the ass, and as kinky as that was, nothing. Everyone else had gone way far ahead towards the horizon, leaving me stranded under the hot sun with an unresponsive horse. I did everything I could to get her going again that didn't involved bestiality, until I gave up and waved and whistled down one of the gaucho guides.
"I think she has a broken leg," I told him.
"No, you just don't know how to ride."
With the big boss man watching, my horse got back going again, completely fine and without a limp. Eventually we caught up with the others that were waiting patiently for me under a lone tree.
"What happened to your horse?"
"I dunno, she ran out of gas."
But going fast wasn't all fun; at one point my horse veered off from the grasslands and towards the low tree branches of the jungle, almost as if she wanted to intentionally knock me off like in a cartoon -- I prayed I wouldn't pull a Christopher Reeve. One time in the jungle area, she went towards the branches and knocked my hat off -- I had to quickly break off a branch and flick the cap up towards my head before the horse ran off into the grasslands again.
"I think we should wait up for the guides," Kate said.
"Nah, they're right there," Michael the Aussie said.
Eventually the guides caught up with us, and together, we rode off into the sunset and back to camp.
I spent most of the night at the campfire chatting with "Poland" -- I forgot his name, but that's what we called him in soccer -- who gave me a preview of what to expect when I eventually make it to Eastern Europe.
Under the full moon of that night, Eastern Europe seemed like ages away; I was still revelling in being in the Old West of South America.
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