…and you can be my cowboy.
Packing up to leave for my adventure, I was a mixture of eager and anxious. I was anxiously hoping that my perfect palapa on the beach would be waiting for me when I returned the following day. I was eager for the new challenge that awaited me. While I’ve spent many hours in the saddle over the past many years, my steeds are all made of steel, and this day’s steed was going to be flesh and blood, about 1,000 pounds of it! I was also anxious to see how Luna would react to me being astride this monster, she has a checkered past with horses.
I met my master, Marcello, in town and followed him to his Rancheria. Once we arrived he started loading essentials into the back of his truck – ice, beer, tequila, tortillas…. When we finally climbed into the car to go meet the horses, I had a little giggle at the stereotypical Mexicanness of the situation. Marcello pulled out some sort of mechanical adapter thingamajig and a fork to start the truck. When that failed, he jumped out and replaced the entire battery. Using the fork and the adapter again, he was able to start the truck and away we went.
After another thirty minutes in the car, negotiating both crappy dirt roads and a crowded Sunday dirt bike rally, we pulled off the road and were greeted by two teenage boys and two horses. One of the boys was a short, silent, doughy looking boy. I didn’t get much in the way of an introduction. The second boy was a tall, skinny, gawky boy of about 18. He was dressed in a simple tee shirt and khaki pants, he had horribly stooped posture, and when he greeted me I thought he had a speech impediment, Johnny Depp/Willy Wonka was in my head uttering, “I can’t hear you, you are mumbling.”
Marcello asked me if he and the boy looked alike. With the exception of the teeth, I didn’t see much resemblance. Marcello has less than a mouthful of teeth, and the ones left in his head are in desperate need of orthodontia. Abraham, his son, has prominent, crooked buckteeth and an incredible overbite. I wisely kept my mouth shut about the family resemblance, it was apparent that Marcello was very proud of his son.
I mounted my horse with some trepidation, not because I am unfamiliar with horses but because I was still uncertain about how Luna would react. She was pretty agitated, but she wasn’t acting aggressively. Marcello almost got her into the truck to drive her to the campsite, but she jumped out the window and came running after me. She was going to keep her momma safe from that big, dumb, hunk of lumbering meat! Abraham took the lead and the leash to my horse and we set off through the backcountry, Luna alternately leading and following and generally being a bit of a nuisance until she started to get tuckered out. She then fell into the routine of trotting alongside my horse.
We met Marcello about two and a half hours up the road. Luna, despite numerous water stops, was ready to be done and I asked Marcello if he could drive her to the campsite. He assured me that it was just around the bend and there would be plenty of water for all. Abraham relinquished the reigns to Marcello, and jumped into the truck with his friend. He was obviously relieved to be done with his duty of towing an old lady and her crazy dog around the desert. When Marcello mounted the horse, all family resemblance disappeared. Marcello rode tall and proud on the horse, regal, not a hint of the slouch that his son possessed. Marcello asked me if his son said anything. “Nope, not a single word.”
“Yup, that’s my son.”
He then launched into a little story about his rail-thin, bucktooth, slouchy, silent son. Apparently, Abraham has not one but two babies on the way, with two different baby mommas. I asked him if he had had the condom chat with his son. He said he had, and responded with something to the effect of, “kids these days.” There were a few things about his situation that surprised me. Firstly, Marcello actually seemed pretty proud of his son’s sexual prowess. Secondly, Abraham didn’t look like a lothario who would have multiple girlfriends. I learned later that Abraham was a minor rodeo star, like his father had been before him. They had both earned their swagger.
Marcello did not lie. Our camp was just around the corner and there was lots of water. Luna went cuckoo-crazy, splashing, swimming, and sucking up all the water she could. Marcello, being a proper gentleman, helped my off my horse then put an ice-cold beer into my hand. He then went off to prepare our simple lunch of beans and rice wrapped in tortillas. After lunch, he treated me to another cold beer and a walk down the arroyo. When we came to the place where the water was cool and deep, he left me with a small bar of soap and my thoughts, and returned to camp to tend to the horses.
Back at camp, he had spread the horse blankets on a sandy knoll with a view of the river, the arroyo, and the mountains beyond. A delicious, frosty, cowboy margarita was in my hand before I had a chance to sink my body down onto the blanket, and Luna was happy to curl up in the horse poop infested sand near my feet. Marcello and I chatted about life on the Rancheria, the travails of a washed up vaquero (buckaroo), and life in general. As I drifted off to sleep for Sunday siesta, he went to prepare dinner. I must admit being waited upon, hand and foot, by a retired buckaroo is a sweet thing. He fried us up some fish tacos for dinner, he then arranged the horse-blankets around the fire and unrolled the thin bedrolls.
That night, I slept under the starry sky, with nothing but Luna and a thin sleeping bag to keep me warm. To say I slept is something of a misnomer. I tossed and turned and tried to get comfortable all night. The ground was soft and sandy, the sweet scent of horse manure filled my nostrils, the horse blanket smelled of stale horse sweat, and there was an inconveniently placed ridge that made it impossible to get comfortable. Thankfully, the night sky was brilliant, littered with bright stars. I watched the constellations stroll by as the night wore on.
Early the next morning we broke camp, drank cowboy coffee, ate hard-boiled eggs with tortillas and salsa, and were back in the saddle as the sun was peeking over the hills. It was going to be a four-hour ride back and I didn’t want Luna out in the noonday sun. I was relieved when Marcello handed me the reins to my horse and gave me a short lesson (left, right, slow/stop, faster). I was once again in control. Luna was feeling particularly sassy. She kept running ahead then back, to one side of the horses and then to the other. My horse was not happy with her antics and kept trying to place Marcello and his horse between her and Luna. It was turning out to be a pretty bumpy ride. Fortunately, as the sun rose higher, Luna began to wear out a bit and got into a groove, running at the heel of Marcello’s horse but keeping me in easy view.
The day was hot and getting hotter, and the dust was thick. As many times as we stopped to give Luna a break and more water, after hour three she was dragging. When we were less than a half-mile from home, she found a tree to curl up under. She wasn’t going to go one step further. Marcello turned back to get her, and when he was taking longer than I cared, I tried to turn my horse around to go back. My horse stubbornly refused, she was heading for the barn. I had to dismount and drag her by the reins, a tough proposition with a stubborn beast that size. Fortunately, Marcello returned at the moment, he took the horse back to the barn while I stayed with Luna. He returned with the car to rescue the two of us a short while later. I felt like such a bad mama. Luna was nearly catatonic for a couple days. I guess I underestimated my training partner. Four hours in the Baja Desert is very different than four hours in the shade of a Northern California redwood forest.
When I arrived back at my own private lost beach, my space was waiting for me.
And it was still warm.
Don’t Fence Me In
Oh, give me land, lots of land under starry skies above
Don’t fence me in
Let me ride through the wide open country that I love
Don’t fence me in
Just turn me loose
Let me straddle my old saddle
Underneath the Western skies
On my Cayuse
Let me wander over yonder
Till I see the mountains rise
Let me be by myself in the evenin’ breeze
And listen to the murmur of the cottonwood trees
Send me off forever, but I ask you please
Don’t fence me in
I want to ride to the ridge where the West commences
And gaze at the moon till I lose my senses
And I can’t look at hobbles and I can’t stand fences
Don’t fence me in
No, Papa, don’t you fence me in
~ Cole Porter