Gone in the Morning

“Where in this wide world can a person find nobility without pride, friendship without envy or beauty without vanity?” - Ronald Duncan

I waited as long as I could. But the tighter I held on, the more desperate he became. So when the time was right, when my choice was between crashing into a fence or letting go, I let go, and hoped the ground would be kind as it caught me. 

This was my first fall from a horse.

Bonito and I on my favorite beach.

This was a lesson in control and the so obvious loss of it. As anyone who has been riding horses for a while will tell you, falls are part of it. Mine came while riding a gelding, named Bonito bareback. Looking back, it was rather obvious that I wasn’t ready for this challenge. A few moments after mounting, Bonito realized he could be in control instead of me. He sped up and my efforts to calm him were ill executed to say the least. I had ridden him before but never without a saddle, never without the normal control mechanisms. After failing to calm him down, I knew I was going to fall. From a horse. And probably land on my back. It’s a stomach-dropping feeling when you have time to anticipate it, but I held on at best I could until we at least got to a grassy part of the farm to soften the blow. And then I simply let go. Bonito ran off and I knew my friend Eduardo would catch him for me. I dusted off my back, tried to dust off my pride and walked up to the barn.

The barn. I’ve spent many of recent hours in Brazil here, learning the loss of control and how to regain it. Learning how to get back up from very embarrassing falls. I have always wanted to spend more time horseback riding, and this is the place I've been able to do it. I’m sure my Christmas lists as a child had the unrealistic request of “pony” written at the top for many years (it still does). I was like many young girls and thought horses were a romantic and free-spirited creature. They certainly are, but there’s much more to them than just a pretty mane and tail. 

The person who has taught me this and so much is my Brazilian friend Eduardo. We met while he was a guide at another farm where I had decided to rent a horse for the first time. He was kind and patient with me, and his passion for taking the best care of the horses was so evident. When Eduardo switched jobs to work at a private family farm, he invited me to see his new home. 

I immediately fell in love. It is a simple place, but it is also simply beautiful. A wooden barn and a strip of land that stretches almost to the sea. Best of all there was a place for Eduardo’s own horse, Gaúcho. 

Gaúcho

Over the next months I was invited time after time to enjoy this space, which we call the sítio, or the farm. Eduardo taught me the very simplest of tasks, like leading a horse properly. I relished the opportunity to be outside, to help with the animals, to learn more about caring for something other than myself. The horses of course were the main attraction, but I also came to love all the creatures in our care, like the little bull we had. We called him Bobby and I’ll never forget the time he almost knocked me off my feet at feeding time. The cat, too, became part of the family. I named her Zoe and remember when Eduardo called to tell me she was birthing her litter of kittens, one of which I’ve taken home with me. The chickens, too, were a source of joy. One day Eduardo found a lost hen wandering in the field. She was blind in one eye but Eduardo took her home anyway. To say he has taught me a lot about kindness is an understatement. He has taught me we always have more to give.

I have given a lot of my time to the sítio but what I have gained in return is far more valuable. Eduardo let me ride his own horse, Gaúcho, more times than I can count. He let me treat him as my own, and I tried to do what little I could to return this favor. This often can in the form of carrots for Gaúcho and brownies for Eduardo. I saw how Gaúcho’s condition improved in his new home, where Eduardo could care for him better.

Our adventures often took us to the beach, where I would walk Gaúcho just a little into the water. He never spooked at the noise or the rush of the waves, and it was as if he was at peace on the beach just like me. His disposition as a horse was remarkable. He was patient, calm enough for kids but adventurous enough to give me my first ride bareback. On one of our last rides Eduardo braided his mane and tail. By coincidence, I had braided my hair that day, and these simple things made us both smile. I tucked flowers into his mane and Eduardo feigned his disapproval. The truth is that Gaúcho was Eduardo’s pride and joy, but he was generous enough to share him not just with me, but with anyone who cared to ride him.

One of the many rides on the beach with Gaúcho and Eduardo.

I’ve introduced another dear Brazilian friend, Mari, to horseback riding, and I remember her beautiful smile when Eduardo and I put her up on Gaúcho on the beach. Sharing Gaúcho with others was a selfless joy for Eduardo, something I admire greatly. 

It would be impossible to share all the memories of him, but I will always remember the lazy flopping of Gaúcho’s ears and the gorgeous reddish-brown color of his mane, and how it always reminded me of my sisters’ auburn locks. Gaúcho was willing to carry me in all kinds of weather, through both physical and emotional storms. He led me safely through the rain and thunder more than once, and carried me to see the sunrise on the beach. In short, he allowed me to see innumerable wonders, both around and within me.

We said goodbye to Gaúcho last month after he battled colic for some days and didn’t improve, despite lots of medicine and love. Eduardo called me in the dark hours of morning, saying he thought it would be time to say goodbye. He was right. Gaúcho made it just long enough to enjoy one more sunrise in a place that we both came to call home. 

Eduardo and I buried him later that day, on the trail that we take to get to the beach. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t hard digging the final resting place of a friend. It was the kind of work that exhausts your soul. But I was so grateful I could be the one to help in that difficult task after all he had given me. Eduardo let me put flowers in Gaúcho’s mane for the last time, and we thanked him for the adventures. In the end that’s all we can ever do, thank someone for sharing a little bit of their light with us. 

The Horse 

Where in this wide world can man find nobility without pride,
friendship without envy, or beauty without vanity?
Here where grace is laced with muscle and strength by gentleness confined.
___

He serves without servility; he has fought without enmity.
There is nothing so powerful, nothing less violent;
there is nothing so quick, nothing more patient.
___

England’s past has been borne on his back.
All our history is in his industry.
We are his heirs;
He is our inheritance.

by Ronald Duncan

Mother of Cities

She is a city where explorers once said farewell to familiarity and headed into the vast unknown. She is a city that marked the end of a tamed world and the beginning of the wild, the entrance into the “Great Province of the Indies,” as this area was called.

Imagine it: you are called to be a settler and explorer here in the time when maps are literally blank and survival of the fittest isn’t a cliche. The last place of civilization you may ever see is the “Mother of Cities,” know today as Asunción, Paraguay.

This spirit of exploration and adventure is hidden deep within Asunción. It’s so hidden, in fact, that I didn’t believe the importance of this place while I was there. But this tiny capital of a poor nation is one of the oldest cities in South America and was once a critical hold for Spain. The “Mother of Cities” was famous for all the souls who departed from her in search of a new start, but the full name of this capital city is perhaps just as noteworthy: Nuestra Señora Santa María de la Asunción.

But these days she doesn’t quite live up to the grandeur of her names. Once the center of a large Spanish colonial province that included parts of Brazil and Argentina, Asunción and the nation of Paraguay suffered what has befallen other countries of the continent: rebellion, war, political turmoil, foreign occupation, military dictatorship and a continued struggle with poverty. 

Even still, she is not without her charms.

Leafy parks dot the capital and the traces of colonial buildings beckon from many corners (you will have to look past some graffiti to see it). Sunsets along the Bay of Asunción are well worth the stroll, and the restaurant scene is growing. But my favorite stop was at Mercado 4, the city’s market that, like many others I have seen, offers a smattering of goods from trendy shoes to unidentifiable meat, where ancient herbs are as valued as modern electronics. In Mercado 4 the butchered fish draws prowling cats and their hungry (and very creepy) stares, while baby chicks, ducks and mice await their fate in cages perched on piles of books and crates. These kinds of markets are often the best look into a culture and here was no different. Though the "Mother of Cities" may not have the same commanding presence as she once did in South America, you can still find her spirit of adventure tucked in somewhere between the fake iPhones and the yerba mate.

 

If you go, consider these restaurants:

Taberna Española - My favorite place we ate! This was a paella-lover’s heaven, and the sangria was excellent.

Lo de Osvaldo - A football-themed, sophisticated pub with a fun outdoor eating area and great cuts of meat. 

Talleyrand (Centro location) - Good for a quiet, delicious meal and a decent bottle of wine. We were the only ones in the place, but the service was nice and the steak divine.

Bar San Roque - This restaurant has a good ranking on Trip Advisor but for me it fell a little short of the romantic atmosphere expectations (probably because of the awful Jackie Chan movie dubbed in Spanish that was playing in the corner). But it would still be a good stop for an afternoon treat or coffee.

Medialunas Calentitas  - Friends introduced to this chain (with only three locations!) and we thoroughly enjoyed their sweets and coffee.

904 - A wood fired oven pizza place across from the InterContinental Hotel with a pleasant outdoor courtyard. Good for after-dinner drinks, too.