–Just as a side note, this is my final blog. I may write some follow up stuff when and if I ever finish my DVD and/or book, but if you are new to 2horsessouthbound, I highly recommend reading ‘The Story’ section of above. It will explain why I did my trip which, perhaps, is more important than the trip itself. Thank you.
For the past year, the ‘signature’ in my emails has been a quote from Helen Keller saying, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” After some research, I’ve found that the quote needs some context. What she actually said was, “Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.” While the original quote is easy to plaster on inspirational Hallmark cards, what Helen Keller is actually saying is far more interesting and provocative. Shall our perception of fear and risk overpower our will, or desires, or our dreams. No matter what we decide to do, there is inherent risk involved. In my adventures around the world, I have very consciously avoided death and deadly situations. But what I’ve found is that these occasions are very few and far between and can be highly diminished by taking some pretty obvious precautions. So, besides taking a stroll down Kandahar’s main street with a burning Koran in your hand, most situations that occur do not have much danger in them. They have perceived risk, they have what your friends, your family, society or the media tell you will be dangerous, but it is imagined. It is superstition.
So, where does this superstition come from? How does it manifest itself? I’ve already mentioned the media, but we could add government campaigns to scare instead of educate. With family and friends, much of it comes from a place of love and caring for your well being. Sometimes, it’s self sabotage or sometimes it derives from jealousy, but sometimes it’s…well, let me just show you.
Before I left on my trip, I posted something on Lonely Planet’s Thorn tree asking for help locating horses in Mexico. These are some of the responses I received.
“You’re going to ride through 100 degree heat on average on a busy highways with no shoulders. Gee, sounds like fun. Can’t wait until you get to the capitals. Have you ever been to this region?”
“Anyone that even believes this OP is an even bigger fool than me, and that’s saying alot.”
“Thanks for the best laugh I’ve had in months.”
“More human residue in the barnyard of broken dreams.”
I think this guy took the cake though. He actually found my blog, read the story, and took time out of his obviously busy day to write, “Wow, you really are a complete douchebag….A jewish rich kid who thinks he knows something about the world. You can’t escape being a shithead and all your bad karma by traveling the world…… it will all catch up to you. You are a total faker…. but go ahead and satiate yourself with your bullshit!!!! Oh how the ignorant pawns love it!!! You are the number one pawn among pawns…..” End quote.
But the last example came from a friend who is very dear to me. In a congratulatory letter upon beginning my trip, she wrote, “I really admire your guts for actually doing this right now.” This could be read as admiration, which would be correct, but the way I read it was that there was a moment when she really didn’t think I would. And leading up to actually leaving, I fueled myself off the perception that everybody thought I couldn’t. I put an imaginary stick on my shoulder and challenged the world to think what they wanted even though many of those closest to me really did believe I could. This doubt, perceived or not, helped inspire me and instead of hindering me, it doubled my patience and emboldened my courage.
As I was writing these words, my father serendipitously sent me a message with some ideas by Socrates and Plato. “Human existence is that men and women can become what they all really long to be, but most fall short because they fear that what they truly long for is illusory.” For years, I have said that fear is the most poisonous of emotions. Fear of others, fear of self, fear is what stops us from achieving what we have always wanted. What we were meant to achieve. Our fate. This fear blinds us, it weakens us, and it makes us fool ourselves into thinking that what we truly want is impossible or better off forgotten. Anyone that has dealt with anxiety knows that this fear can be physically debilitating. Crippling. Yet, it can be overcome.
How do I know this? I am this! This is why I am riding. This is why this whole trip came about! Read ‘The Story’ section of the blog if you forgot. I set off to prove to myself that I was capable of anything. That our wills form our reality. That the difference between myself and the greatest of men were nothing. And here I am…3000 kilometers south from where I started and a changed man because of it. I have two horses, I have a dog, I have a new love and knowledge of horses, I know more about life, people, politics. I have friends scattered throughout Latin America and the world because of this journey. But what if I had failed?
The idea that anything is impossible is a hard pill to swallow. Amongst my friends, I have debated the point many times. They point out disadvantaged groups, they point to my self-confidence or good family. But what if I had no legs? What if I were abused? What if I were poor or lived in Sudan? I studied Sociology in college and I am all too aware of the statistics involved in who ‘makes it’ and who doesn’t. The world is filled with explanations and excuses for why we are the way that we are. But depending on where you look, the world is also filled with success stories and the 5% who prove the rest of the 95% wrong.
But the fear of failure, the fear of success, the fear to step outside your comfort zone, the fear to be different, the fear of letting the assholes from the Thorn Tree have the last laugh, and too many other fears to mention is what keeps us from even starting down our path. But let me tell you something. If you take the leap to follow your dreams, there is NO failure. Even if you don’t reach the objective, the journey will ALWAYS be worth it. The lessons you learn, the people you meet, the adventures you have, THESE are the successes! Life is either a daring adventure…or nothing.
That said, I’ll try and explain the last couple weeks of my trip through the pictures themselves. Enjoy…
After leaving Liberia, I spent my first night at the police station. It surprises me that I hadn’t hit up the police before this point as I was treated royally (meaning beans and rice for dinner and breakfast). The guys down at the station made sure to call me every couple of days to make sure that everything was okay.
Gwladys had a pretty negative experience in Costa Rica. She found that the Ticos (Costa Ricans) had eaten the fruit of knowledge and had become more corrupted, more money oriented, and less gentile than their Central American peers. Thankfully, I did not have a similar experience at all. Though Ticos are definitely more educated (less corruption, more tax revenue, and much more factors aid them), I still found them friendly, courteous, curious, and ready to lend a helpful hand. Sure, they are laid back. I mean, really laid back. But I can’t really hold that against them. It is also one of their greatest qualities. This family was the perfect example. I was looking for a place to stay, they saw me looking around, they invited my horse into the shed to spend a dry night, and me into their house to pass an evening with them. Warm food, warm drink, and promises of friendship were offered and accepted. Typical Tico.
My next resting place was a small town near Samara called Santa Domingo. My aunt and uncle bought land here many years ago with the dream of building their tropical home and setting up shop in paradise. They built a cute little cabina and started to develop the surrounding property to sell into lots. It would take too long to explain, but their dream took them down some difficult turns. Dreams change, they morph, and sometimes they conflict with other people’s, yet, I don’t think either of them would ever say they wish they had never started.
The tourist beaches of the Guanacaste region are filled with westerners’ million dollar homes, resort hotels, plenty of tourists with money, and plenty of people trying to take advantage of the money influx. Everyone is trying to sell land, drugs are everywhere, theft is ubiquitous, and though it’s not as bad as all that, one could easily make the case that it is corrupted. But my Aunt Ellen and Uncle Kevin’s house is minutes away from the beautiful beaches and the tourist hub of Samara (interested in land?) but their little town of Santa Domingo is really special in the sense that it doesn’t really seem sullied at all. There is very little theft, there is a strong sense of community, morals and values count for something. That innocence that I so love in developing countries still exists but not because of ignorance and lack of education. When I arrived, the crew (Kevin and Ellen’s friends) were gathered around the town store shooting pool waiting for me. Typical Ticos.
As you all know, soccer is the social glue that holds most of the world’s society together. I was invited to see Davidesque Santa Domingo take on the mini-Goliath of Samara. A double overtime shoot out thriller resulted in a Santa Domingo victory and my Uncle Kevin and Aunt Ellen’s best friend Paco (the coach) and his baller son being carried off the field on the shoulders of their teammates.
On my off day, I went down to Samara to get some things done. Instead, I sat here for a few hours, swatted some mosquitos, had a few beers, ate some nachos and listened to the waves lap the beach. Rough.
Oh, and I watched the sunset too. Many years ago, I said that Costa Rica had the most beautiful sunsets in the world. I have seen a lot of sunsets in a lot of places since that time and I stick by my words.
I don’t believe in coincidence. But I also believe in coincidence. Whatever. I’m not going to go into it. But I decided to drop the weight that Azueta was carrying down to a bare minimum and I left his easy boot (think spare tire for horse shoes) and the rest of my shoeing equipment in Liberia. I had four weeks to reach my destination on a set of brand new horseshoes from the US. I figured I wouldn’t have any problem. After three weeks, the shoes on the front left and back left were worn down paper thin but I only had a week left so I thought I could make it. Nope. One of the shoes popped off and I was stuck looking around mostly jungle land and large hotels for some horses in the off chance that someone might be able to have some spares in the size of my horse (very very improbable). I saw a corral with no horses or cows and decided to ask in case they knew anyone. Well, it turns out that they had four extra shoes in Aztlan’s size and all the right equipment to shoe. An hour later, I was on the road again. I offered them money for the shoes, the nails and their generosity but they scoffed at me. I responded with my favorite expression in Spanish ‘arrieros somos y por el camino andamos’ which is literally ‘we are pack drivers and on the trail we go’ or figuratively ‘what goes around comes around’. In the olden days, there was an unspoken code among merchants who peddled their wares by horse, donkey and mule. If someone was lacking in something, they could count on another driver to help them out because they would see each other somewhere on the road again. I have used it countless times on the road and I hope one day, I can repay all the kindness and favors of my fellow drivers.
I found this guy trying to bring some cows to pasture. It’s really hard to do this with just one horse and the cows kept escaping into the jungle. I helped him out and he phoned ahead to his boss (a couple from Pennsyvlania) to tell them that I was coming.
A couple of miles on, I heard a voice yelling at me through the shrubs in English. I ignored it thinking it was some Ticos wanting to practice their English. Then the voice said that it had heard about me–the guy on the horse. My ego got the best of me and I turned around. As it turns out, it was a wise move. This lady and her husband had retired, sold many of their properties in Pennsylvania and bought a home in Costa Rica. They put a lot of work into developing the land and the houses, but looking at their beaming smiles as they showed me around their place made me so very happy. Wherever or whatever it is, I always love witnessing people who are living their dreams.
It was a long long day of walking and both me and Azueta were tired. I wanted to go to sleep to the sound of the ocean so I went to what I thought was a beach town. All I found was this open land. Rain was threatening and dusk wasn’t far off. As I walked down the road less traveled, I happened upon this…
…a turtle rescue sanctuary in the middle of nowhere! If you are bored, have some spare money, and want to do some volunteering, head on down to Costa Rica to help rescue and breed turtles. It has its ups and downs, but it is a pretty cool project.
In the night, they patrol the beach and try to scare off poachers (though it’s difficult as they have no authority or police backing) and gather the eggs of the momma tortoises to bring back to the hatchery. This is the hatchery.
By 7:00 AM, I had arrived at the estuary of the Rio Bongo. The people at the tortoise sanctuary told me that at low tide, I could cross easily. It was low tide, and I decided to try. It didn’t look too deep. First, I looked around for crocodiles which are for real down here (you know you’re not in Kansas when you have to check for crocodiles before crossing a river). Then, I took a few steps. Not too bad. Then a few more and my feet got wet. No problem, I can deal with wet feet. A step more, and Azueta front feet had left the ground. I wheeled him around and got the hell out. Pouring water out of my saddle bags, I reevaluated the situation. I had plenty of electronics, and all my clothes were tucked in a saddle bag around my neck. I was already soaked from the waste down, so I might as well try from a different spot. Same effort, same result. I reevaluated my situation. It was a long way to retrace my steps. I would lose hours. I wanted to cross this damn river, swim it if I had to. So, I tried once more from a different place and I didn’t even make it a third of the way across. The recent rains had made the current strong and the ocean was only a few yards away. I decided to err on the side of caution and I turned my soaking horse and went back.
Later in the day, I met these cowboys and told them about my river crossing attempt. Besides telling me that there are crocodiles there, they told me that there was no way to cross that river at this time of year. High tide or low. Lesson learned.
Curious Brahmin cows. I have become an expert on cows on this trip. I have also become quite knowledgable about corn cultivation and different kinds of grasses. Specialized knowledge that has absolutely zero relevance bake home, but any knowledge is good knowledge, right?
I met Luis in another tourist town called Santa Teresa. Supposedly, it’s one of the best surf spots in Costa Rica. I rested Azueta for a day. But that night it was a full moon, and I was close to the end, and…well, I took Luis and his girlfriend down to the beach and by the light of the moon we galloped Azueta along the hard packed sand. It was the first time I had ever really galloped with Azueta and I think he liked it as much as I did. The people of the town called Luis ‘the leader of the pack’ because wherever he goes, at least five or six of his dogs are right behind him.
Luis rents out some rooms in his house to tourists and makes enough money to live a surfer’s fantasy. He spends his days relaxing, smoking, hanging out with his pack of dogs, and of course, surfing. He really took a liking to Azueta, though I’d be lying if I said that Azueta cared a smidgen about him.
It was pretty fun as a whole. And I really liked the job they did. Not only is it pretty cool seeing yourself on the national news, but it is pretty cool having people recognize you as you go about your business. I’m famous!
Oh, and I know it’s in Spanish, but if you want to see the news program, check out
I was about 13 kilometers away when we started to lose steam. Azueta had to be spurred on every other second. I was tired, but I kept on seeing the signs for Jacó and wanted to get there so bad. I passed by this town, and saw a ranch with a barn full of hay and welcoming people. I tried to read the signs, but sometimes, there are a thousand signs that could be interpreted in any way. I had already gone more than 35 kilometers, why push Azueta when I’m so close? Why make him suffer when he took me so far? Yet, we were so close. One long day, and he could rest forever. I had never pushed like this before, but I knew how tough he was. I didn’t want to sleep knowing that I was only a few kilometers away. It would be excruciating. I decided to push on.
I pulled out my poncho (really just a large sheet of plastic with a hole in the middle), but the high winds blew it everywhere. Much of the highway had no shoulder and large semi trucks careened down the Pan-American Highway on dangerous curves.
I was seriously doubting whether I had made the right decision. Had I read the signs wrong or was this the last test of our endurance before the end? I gritted my teeth, pulled my dripping hat lower on my brow, and spurred Azueta to the top of the mountain.
We had arrived just in time for sunset. After 10 hours of trekking with barely a rest, I met up with my friends, stored Azueta’s saddle, and brought Azueta down to the beach to marvel at our accomplishment. We had arrived.
Many years ago, while I was walking in the Himalaya mountains in Nepal, I had a vision of me riding off into the sunset. I laughed at the idea. Me? I had never even ridden a horse! Yet, 9 years later, here I am. A living testament to the idea that sometimes, dreams really do come true. Enjoy the video and the remaining pictures. And thank you for coming along on the ride.