Drops of wet sand splattered across my face as I gripped the reins tighter. I might actually fall off this time, I thought. My horse, whose name I can't pronounce, was itching to be the leader in a race across the beach. A race that never actually started, except in my horse’s head. This left me using all six hours of actual equestrian training I received 19 years ago to try to maintain control of a beast that really, really wanted to win this race. He lost, of course, thanks to our guide who spurred her steed to keep ahead of mine. We eventually slowed our horses to a less frightening pace, and I took another look around. We’re actually in paradise, I thought. Or at least Brazil’s version of it, which is quite extraordinary. For the next few years we’ll be living on the island of Santa Catarina in southern Brazil, a place whose nickname is “The Island of Magic.” Not too shabby a location to start a new decade of your life.
My husband’s birthday gift to me was a trail ride through a pine forest and a 14-kilometer stretch of sand, called Praia Moçambique. There are many beaches on the island here (42 to be exact) but Moçambique is surely one of the finest, thanks to the forest that protects it from urban development. As someone who has always loved the beach, I know I am lucky to make my temporary home here. We’d arrived in Brazil a few weeks earlier, armed with a decent foundation of Portuguese language training and the expectation that we would have many failures in communication. This is especially hard for me, as words have been my livelihood for a while. Not being able to find the right words is like not being able to tie my shoes. I often feel knocked back to being a kid here: intimidated and misunderstood. Which is why a birthday spent on horseback was so refreshing. Despite the rush of hooves beneath me and the general fear I might fall off and break my neck, horses are easy for me to understand. They all speak the same language, and mine was telling me to just keep moving forward. And to hold on, very tightly.
After a few minutes' rest our guide twisted around in her saddle to look at me, “Um poucinho mais?” A little more?
I studied the sweat already dripping from my horse's mane and my hands clenching the reins. Running further wasn’t going to be easy for either of us. But then I looked up at the clear stretch of smooth sand ahead. Perfect for a race, I thought.
Sim. Vamos lá, I answered. Yes. Let’s go.