Melodic Spanish of friends and family, shuffling back and forth from kitchen and chores, wakes me up. Bright, white sunshine peaks through the cracks in the slabs of wood. I finger through the filmy, blue, mosquito nets and grip my phone; 5AM. I don’t think we got to sleep until well after midnight.
I turn over and try to find more sleep. But the hard bed and my anxious thoughts prevent it. I look back over, Martina’s up. Laughter and Spanish float through the air like sunshine for my tired self. She’s back with a cup of hot coffee for me. For the hundredth time I feel spoiled. There’s nothing like traveling with someone else when you’ve been traveling alone for so long.
Before breakfast my hiking boot is fitted with a spur. A real spur. Leather wrapped around my ankle and held in place with a simple buckle. It clinks when I walk. So I don’t stop walking all morning. I’m a cowgirl.
We walk to the horses. In the early morning they wait patiently, rope halters and dusty saddles. I try to feign confidence, but I’m not sure how this will go. I rode horses a few times when I was nine or ten, walking old horses down a worn trail. There wasn’t much to it. But I think this could be very, very different, but I’m game…and I have no idea how we’ll get around today, if I’m not.
Our guide for the day, Nelson, holds the horse. I grip the mane (whisper an apology if it hurts), a foot in a stirrup, then swing the other over. And just like that, I’m sitting on a Nicaraguan pony, towering above the rocks and kids and dogs. Spencer is next. We sit as Martina gives me a quick tutorial.
It sounds easy enough. And, the way she rides, back straight with a smile, it looked easy enough.
We go from a walk to a trot. I bounce madly in the seat clutching to anything. And then it’s all out. We run together into a full, surreal, maddening gallop, as we barrel down the rocky dirt road. I hear a beat of the clip clop of horses bearing down on us, makes my horse only run faster. Martina rushes up beside me and yells an instruction to stop the locomotive.
And we stop. The world stops spinning, butterflies flit and the swirling sea of green slows to individual blades again as we sit up feet above the quiet world, laughing.
Martina doles out more advise and tips. She’s genuinely impressed we’ve managed a gallop within our first seconds on a horse, with laughter, and without fear.
So thankful to not be the only newbie, we walk through the Nicaraguan sunshine. When I ask his secret, he tells me, “I’m just trying to channel the manliest move, Gladiator horse racing.” He puffs up his chest and we roll over with laughter.
I search for the female role model, when do women ever ride roughshod across the countryside?! I’m slowed to sedate walking, thinking.
Then I remember. A bit of a memory reading some Jane Austin novel. A shard of some girl-hood day-dream. Being that young woman breaking free from the shackles of society, conformity, her family’s strict interpretation of her life, a life not fully lived…until that single moment when she takes her life in her hands and…
Before I can complete the thought, my heart has already bounced back into the game. I laugh and call out my muse: I will now play the role of a Jane Austin heroine. (And as I look at lovely, British Martina, trotting beside me, I actually believe it) Horse and I trot. I bounce up and down with new ease. This time, I know what’s coming. And when he starts to break the trot to stretch his legs, I find new familiarity in the daredevil pace that breaks everything, anything I thought I’d ever be able to do.
And then horse and I fly. We’re literally leaping through the sunshine. Gripping rough rope in one hand, racing through trees, ducking low-hanging branches, dust kicked up behind us, whooping and laughing, like kids on holiday. I laugh harder realizing I’d never imagined this possible, even a year ago.
And then my hand flies from the saddle it’d gripped and I’m doing it, I’m galloping, fearlessly, madly ahead, with my hands wide-0pen, reaching for the sky.
And onward we go. Prancing around fences, picking down steep paths, walking, breaking into trots, then full-on gallops.
The repetition grows more and more comfortable. As is the feeling of absolute wonder (and little goosebumps of realization) that, purely by accident, my childhood dream, that one that I’d forgotten until I was actually doing it: actually racing a horse through the countryside, was strangely, and beautifully, fulfilled on this gorgeous day on a chance trip to Nicaragua.