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Tag Archives: horses

Costa Del Sol, Spain

19 May

To celebrate my parent’s 30th wedding anniversary, my parents, sister, and I all went to the South of Spain. I had traveled to Spain back in 2007, spending a couple of days in Barcelona and a couple in Madrid. This was a very different piece of Spain. The Costa Del Sol is used by Northern Europeans much the same way Florida is used by New Englanders here in the US. Pasty white people trying to escape their own brutal climate and get a bit of sun far away from home. I don’t think I’ve ever gone on a “sun holiday” before, and I found it to be almost a challenging experience. What do you mean relax? Like I’m just supposed to lay in this beach chair, sip Piña Coladas, and enjoy my book? Somehow I managed to adapt. We did try to get out of our resort life though at least once a day and explore Southern Spain. These are some of the highlights.

MÁLAGA

View of Málaga from the top of the Castillo de Gibralfaro.

View of Málaga from the top of the Castillo de Gibralfaro.

Málaga is the main port of the Costa Del Sol. We spent the day in the Old Town area which boasts the remains of the Castillo de Gibralfaro which was an Islamic castle built in the 8th century. We walked up the Paseo Don Juan de Temboury which is a steep, winding path up the hill to the remains. It was something of a hike, but the views of the city and the Mediterranean Sea became more and more impressive as we ascended. The path itself is lined with beautiful flowers and trees. As we walked down the footpath to the other half of the ruins, the Alcazaba, I could hear Spanish music drifting up from the city center. About an hour later, we found the source. A small festival called Semana de Mayor celebrating the elderly. I sat and watched little old ladies perform flamenco routines and sing old Flamenco songs.

ANDALUSIAN HORSES AND FLAMENCO DANCERS

Riders on Andalusian horses showing off the high school riding.

Riders on Andalusian horses showing off the high school riding.

We signed up for a package deal at this little horse stable/restaurant in Mijas. Before the meal, we sat in an arena while they brought out gorgeous Andalusian-bred horses who are trained in Spanish equestrian style to prance a certain way and to buck on their hind legs on command. It was strange and beautiful. My favorite were the four white horses that came out with bells around their necks, roped together and galloping in circles in complete synchronicity. Afterwards we headed inside to a dinner and Flamenco show.

IMG_2689Oh Flamenco is just the best. The passion of the music, the rapid fire of the dancers feet on the floor, the graceful arching of their hands and backs. So beautiful, so emotional.

RONDA

View of Ronda from the bottom of the Gorge.

View of Ronda from the bottom of the Gorge.

Easily my favorite part of the entire Spain trip. We drove high up into the mountains to visit this little town which was unreasonably picturesque. Even the roads surrounding the town were dotted with a rainbow of wildflowers. Ronda is perched atop a gorge with two sections of town connected by an ancient bridge that offers stunning views of the gorge below and the rolling hills in the distance.

View from the Bridge

View from the Bridge

Even though Ronda is a popular tourist destination, it was the place where I felt the least like a tourist. It was also the only place I got to really use my semi-decent Spanish as I chatted with shop-keepers and ice cream vendors. I always find that when I travel I’m assessing the place I’m visiting as a place where I could move and become an ex-pat. Ronda fit the bill, especially when I took into  account that it was the inspiration for Ernest Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises.”

Always have love for Papa.

Always have love for Papa.

NERJA

A poorly-lit picture of the caves.

A poorly-lit picture of the caves.

We didn’t spend time in the actual town. We just went straight for the caves. Walking out of the sunny Spanish day and into the cold, damp caves was refreshing. The caves are millions of years old and sheltered some of the earliest humans during the Stone Age. The stalactites and stalagmites that jut from the ceiling and the floor cast eerie shadows and put creationists to shame.

GIBRALTAR

The Rock

The Rock

I’ll admit that I didn’t know much about the history of Gibraltar before we went. I knew it was an important naval post, but I didn’t know that it was still owned by the British and functions as a British city with pounds as the currency and fish and chips stands. We hired a taxi driver to take us around for the day and drive us up the Rock to see the tunnels where the British installed cannons. Gibraltar also has caves similar to the ones we saw in Nerja, except the British light theirs with purple, blue, and pink lights while playing a variety of disco music. It was a sharp contrast to the solemnity of the day before.

IMG_2712

 

The highlight, of course, were the Barbary apes that are native to the island and wander around, grabbing food out of tourists hand and jumping on cars as they drive by.

HORSEBACK RIDING IN MIJAS

Overlooking the Costa del Sol.

Overlooking the Costa del Sol on my horse, Universal.

Spain is now the third country other than my own in which I’ve ridden a horse. As soon as I heard about the famous Andalusian riding, I had to find a way. I found a place called Rancho La Paz which interestingly enough is run by German people and full of German tourists. It was nose to tail riding, but the views at the top of the hills were spectacular. We also got to do a fair amount of galloping which is the whole reason to get on a horse in the first place. Spanish riding was a bit different than what I’m used to with longer stirrups and loose reins held in one hand. Galloping was a bit more difficult this way as I think I was supposed to be standing in the saddle as opposed to “riding like an American cowgirl” which is what the German leader of the group kept warning me against. I am what I am, lady.

I wasn’t able to bring my camera along, but I made a German friend, Reiner, who spoke enough English to offer to take my picture and email it to me when he returned to Germany. Nothing better than making new friends abroad.

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Burnt Well Guest Ranch, New Mexico

19 Feb

In my 29th year of life, I’m attempting to do 29 new things. Full List Here. All Bucket List Adventures Here.

Overlooking the land with Candyman (my horse) and Charlie (right).

Overlooking the land with Candyman (my horse) and Charlie (right).

I found out that I had one vacation day that was going to expire at the end of February. The reasonable thing would have been to have a staycation and catch up on errands. But I felt overdo for an adventure, even a mini one. So I got it set in my mind that I was going to visit a horse ranch in a state I had never been to before (both items on my 29 before 29 list.)

At the tender age of 6, I had changed my life’s ambition from becoming a princess to becoming a cowgirl, and unlike a lot of other childhood dreams, it never went away. After graduating college with a somewhat useless degree, I began researching dude ranches that might hire me. I wanted to spend my life in the saddle, around animals, embedded in the wilderness. Things didn’t work out that way, but I never stopped dreaming about it.

Marilyn! Their only longhorn cattle.

Marilyn! Their only longhorn cattle.

So when I started looking for a place to visit, I knew I didn’t want a hokey dude ranch. I didn’t want to be taken on trail rides and have Western culture put on display for me like a watered-down version of what ranch life is like. I’m from Nevada, after all. I’ve been to the rodeo. I’ve ridden horses since I was six. I didn’t want or need to be coddled. In my searchings, I found Burnt Well Guest Ranch which is a working cattle ranch run by a small family, the Chessers. To supplement their income, they take in guests and allow them to tag along on their day to day. It’s exactly what I was looking for.

Upon my arrival, Kim (the family patriarch) met me up at the airport in his pick-up truck. He jumped out in his cowboy hat and introduced himself with his country twang. I hopped into the truck and noticed a large, shotgun sitting in the driver’s seat. This was the real deal.

New Mexico sunset with a storm rolling in.

New Mexico sunset with a storm rolling in.

The next couple of days I spent the majority of my day on a horse, either with Kim or his son Tye and sometimes both of them. We rode through the pastures checking on the cattle, especially looking out for heifers that had recently given birth. I was in the saddle so much that all the muscles in my legs were cramping, but I ignored it as much as possible. I was elated to be back on a horse, to feel them break from a trot to a canter, winding their way around cacti. The cowboys told me that the leg pain goes away on day four. It made me want to call my job and quit, just so I could stay in New Mexico and ride until my legs had acclimated to a cowgirl life.

Jonah, my favorite of the three horses I rode.

Jonah, my favorite of the three horses I rode.

At lunch and at dinner, I went into the Chesser home with Kim where his wife, Patricia, made us amazing tex-mex meals using beef from their ranch. We would sit around and trade stories. For as interesting and different their lifestyle seemed to me, they were equally awed and astonished as I told them about life in New York City. As I told stories about dog walkers and animals wearing clothing and shoes, they sat incredulous. The more we talked about it, the more ridiculous I realized it really is. All day, I watched their border collies running alongside the horses, herding animals when need be, but mostly just running along. They’d stop to roll in the dust, chase jack rabbits. It was refreshing to see dogs being…dogs.

Snow in the morning. Melted within the hour.

Snow in the morning. Melted within the hour. Riding on Creed.

On my second day, they let me watch/help as they prepared some calves. They vaccinated them with large gun-like syringes, sprayed them down with dewormers and branded a couple of them. One unfortunate bull got castrated. I stood in awe as they caught it in a large metal chute. Tye roped its legs so it couldn’t kick, and Kim bent down with a knife and a severing tool called an emasculotome (it was on my vet tech exam last month) and castrated the bull in under five minutes. His hands were covered in blood as he tossed the testicles into the dirt and let the border collies eat it. Not for the weak of stomach. I watch castrations all the time at work, but it made me a little dizzy. Kim turned to me and asked if that’s how we do it in the city, I shook my head and laughed.

Lucy, the one-eyed border collie, resting by the branding fire.

Lucy, the one-eyed border collie, resting by the branding fire.

It was everything I wanted it to be. Fresh air, lots of horseback riding, a sample of what a cowboy life looks like, delicious food, a chance to see the stars in the sky at nighttime, fascinating stories from warm-hearted people. I know I’ll be back.

Iceland

3 May
View of Reykjavik from Hallgrimskirkja Church

View of Reykjavik from Hallgrimskirkja Church

I went on a quick weekend trip to Iceland with my sister. That might sound crazy, but the flight is under 6 hours, about the same amount of time it takes for me to get to California from New York. I had never been to Iceland, so off I went.

Something I had to wrap my head around in visiting Iceland was that unlike many other places I’ve visited, I wasn’t there to be wowed by the city, by the architecture, not even necessarily the history (although the Viking history is an interesting one), I was there for the natural beauty, the eerie landscape. I can safely say I have never been any place like it.

Cold, yes. Unpleasant, no. The air is so clear, the waters so blue. There was definitely a lot of bundling up and a light investment in an Icelandic wool hat to keep my head warm, but other than that the cold wasn’t difficult to deal with. There’s a saying that goes, “If you don’t like the weather in Iceland, just wait 5 minutes.” I had one hour stretches where I experienced snow, sunshine, rain, wind, cold, warm. God, what a strange place.

Our first day was spent in Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland and where about 2/3 of the Icelandic population of 300,000 reside. It was a charming fishing village with colorful buildings, shops selling homemade goods, a Beatles coverband playing from a balcony, teenagers running around dressed in animal costumes, signs about knitting elves. After taking a couple of pictures from the top of the Hallgrimskirkja Lutheran church and wandering the streets, we stopped into a traditional Icelandic cafe and dove headfirst into the strange cuisine.

Cafe Loki: Rye Bread Ice Cream, Fish on Rye bread, and Hakarl (fermented shark.)

Cafe Loki: Rye Bread Ice Cream, Fish on Rye bread, and Hakarl (fermented shark.)

Before leaving for Iceland, my co-worker kept telling me about a delicacy he had heard about called Hakarl. It’s shark meat that’s left to ferment for a couple of months. I told him there was no way I was going to eat that. But I found myself sitting in a cafe in Iceland, seeing it cheaply on a menu, and not coming up with a good reason to not try it.

Weird. Plain weird. I don’t know how to begin to describe the taste. Salty, fishy, fruity, chewy, juicy. Weird. Not bad. Not good. Weird. Then, I swallowed. The aftertaste that followed was horrific. The strong scent of ammonia that follows these shark bites around invaded my mouth and sinus area. All I could do was devour the Rye Bread Ice Cream (delicious!) and try to bury the horrible taste. I later learned that it is tradition to take a shot of Brennivin (Icelandic Schnapps) after eating the shark to avoid the experience I had.

At the base of Eyjafjallajokull in my new Icelandic wool hat!

At the base of Eyjafjallajokull in my new Icelandic wool hat.

Our second day was a scheduled “Volcano Tour/Glacier Walk.” I wasn’t sure what to expect, and I typically don’t go on tours when I travel, but this turned out to be a highlight of the trip. An Icelandic guide came and got us in a massive land rover and drove us along the south coast. The countryside is pristine. Iceland uses something like 99% renewable resources, and they are environmentally aware. The island itself is volcanic, so the ground everywhere is black from ash and covered in a light layer of moss which is about all the vegetation that can grow there. The snow melt from the top of these volcanic mountains creates stunning waterfalls. Our tour included driving through riverbeds, hiking to the base of Eyjafjallajokull (that volcano that erupted a couple of years ago and ruined air travel in Europe for weeks), trekking behind waterfalls, hiking along glaciers, and eating lamb stew at a small Icelandic hotel. Of all the natural beauty we saw, it was once again the ocean that took my breath away. The long, black beaches and the crashing waves, the clouds rolling in with occasional sunlight breaking through, the loud roar of the ocean, the strong winds nearly knocking us over. Pictures don’t quite do it justice.

The ashy beaches of Iceland.

The ashy beaches of Iceland.

The following day I had arranged to go horseback riding on the famous Icelandic horse. Again, I was taken out to the Southern coast to a ranch that leases out wild Icelandic horses. The horses are rather small but sturdy. There was a German woman in my group who was rather large, but her horse didn’t seem to mind at all. The horses have a thick coat of fur and come in 100 different shades. Because I was a more experienced rider I was given a wilder horse named Rouðka (meaning “the red”). She was beautiful, and I was in love with her in an instant. Once we began the ride, she became feisty, pulling at her reins, wanting to break away from the horses in our group. Looking out over the endless Icelandic countryside I wanted the same thing, and she could tell. Once or twice, when we were trotting along in the special Icelandic horse gait called a tolt, I loosened the reins and allowed her to run ahead of everyone else. Our guides would warn me to pull her back and stay with the group, I played dumb, shrugging, blaming it on my Rouðka.

Bad picture of me, glamor shot or Rouðka,

Bad picture of me, glamor shot or Rouðka,

Our final day, on the advice of a friend, we stopped at the Blue Lagoon on the way to the airport. My guidebook put it well in calling the Blue Lagoon, the Eiffel Tower of Iceland, with all the good and bad connotations such a comparison elicits. It’s a touristy thing to do, but it is also the most iconic part of the country. I was expecting it to be so-so as most iconic things turn out to be. But instead it was relaxing, refreshing, beautiful and the exact thing we needed before getting back on a plane. Walking through the milky blue waters of the lagoon is soothing with different temperatures every few steps. There are sandy areas to sit, a bar to enjoy a beer at, masseuses, and silica mud to put on your face for a mini-facial. Although there were plenty of tourists around, the lagoon has so much steam rising from it that it was difficult to see a couple of feet ahead, not to mention that the swimming area is huge. It was easy to be alone and enjoy it without crowds. We stayed in until we were completely pruned.

Blue Lagoon

Blue Lagoon

A quick weekend trip to Iceland is exactly what I needed, to get away from work stress and personal stress. There’s nothing like traveling to a weird little nook of the world to reset yourself.

 

  • Travel Notes:
  • Skyr- Icelandic yogurt. It’s a little sour, but fluffy and satisfying. I ate it with berries every morning I was there. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since I’ve been back.
  • Expensive Food- While the American dollar is currently strong against the Icelandic Koruna, I found that eating out was crazy expensive. People warned me about this, but I shrugged, figuring I was from New York. But $40-$50 for a meal for one person is typical in Iceland. Most everything else is relatively inexpensive.
  • Tours- While I don’t like tours in general, the ones in Iceland were spectacular. The guides are all friendly locals. It felt more like hanging with a local as opposed to paying for a tour. Plus, Icelanders LOVE their country and want to brag and talk about it with you every chance they get.
  • Liquor- Drink Viking beer, skip the Brennivin. It tastes like bad Vodka.
  • Layers- Holy shit, it’s cold. Then it’s warm. Then you think you’re going to freeze to death. Bring layers.
  • Conditioner- Don’t let your hair touch the water in the Blue Lagoon! Condition the shit out of it before you go in, and condition it even more when you get out. Also, don’t get any water in your eyes. I did and temporarily blinded myself and ruined a new pair of contacts.