I’ve started a new routine of heading to the Juice Factory for a smoothie and instead of the eggs, potatoes and toast, I’m having a bowl of fruit. I still have two cups of great Ecuadorian coffee.

Today is horseback riding day. My new friends Verena, Jason and Sandrine are all going up Mondango the sacred mountain. We gather outside the horse rental place and are told to exchange our shoes for rubber boots as it will be muddy. Our guide Holgart asks about our horse skills and matches us up with a horse. Mine is a red haired beauty. I haven’t been on a horse in over forty years and that experience I didn’t enjoy. Two other young people are part of our group.

Our posse heads up hill out of town. The horses start running and I have to adjust my pants so that I don’t wind up damaging my balls. I’m thinking if it’s going to be like this the whole way then I better stop now. I ignore the thought.

Vilcabamba is more a village than a town, so after only two small blocks, we turn off the road along a small stream. The horses are back to walking. There are rounded rocks about the size of fist or larger. We pass through a tunnel and a pig with sucklings. We follow the stream bank. The flow of water becomes less and clearer as we move up the mountain.

We several cacti which alters your consciousness. Eventually we pass through a gate and start our somewhat muddy path ascent. The vista becomes more spectacular and open while the path winds it way up the mountain. It takes about 90 minutes before we get to the last gate. There are moments when I am very nervous looking steeply down several 100 feet. I am putting a lot of trust in my horse. The horse has to navigate hairpin turns on ledges that are a foot wide. I am grateful nobody said it would be like this. Then the thought “I hope we’re not going home that way” enters my brain. I dismiss it as we approach a grove of trees.

Here we park the horses and dismount. This is where our guides parents and a brother live. There are several dogs, chickens, turkeys and a tiny kitten. His mom says ola and our guide tells us we’ll be served coffee when we get back from a short walk. The house has solar for electricity but the floors are made of dirt and the walls are concrete.

Good thing we’re wearing those boots because the mud is pretty deep. We come across several turkey running wild in the field. The guides father and brother are tending two very black steers.

We break out of the grove to a swath of banana trees and a corn field. View climb up the belly of Mandango to overlook three valleys in three directions. I climb slowly because the altitude is leaving me easily winded.

We spend about 20 minutes enjoying the vista before returning to the house for coffee grown on the property. We’re offered panela and undefined sugar with a hint of molasses taste.

I’ve been taking pictures with Verena’s camera. The guide offers to a picture of all of us and the horses all line up as if they knew it was time for a photo op. time to head back. Yes, we’re going the same way we came. Gulp!

On a very steep slope my horse decides it’s time for me to learn how to direct her. I’m the last one in the posse and yell to the guide for help. He smiles and tells how to make the horse turn. Not what I wanted to hear. I wanted him to come and get me. My horse is facing downhill into the abyss. At least as far as I’m concerned. Finally we follow a higher up ledge and reconnect to the other path.

The rest of the way I have to direct the horse around steep inclines and mud filled turns. I focus on the path and directing the horse to keep my mind off those steep slopes. The closer we get to the bottom the more the slopes turn into gentle drop aways. Yay!

Finally we’re following the river and on our way back to town. The horses run and mine of course likes to keep up. Up and down crashes my spine and balls. I drop back and slow down my horse. We ride into town along the cobble stone streets and I feel a bit like a cowboy.

Back at where we started, we dismount and I try to find my land legs. The inside of my thighs have taken some punishment and walking is slightly painful. The 4 hour ride costs each of us $25. Viva Vilcabamba!

In hind sight I see the whole ride as a metaphor for incarnation. The ride up the mountain is like our birth and growth into young adults. Everything happens quite automatically. The horse is like our body. It doesn’t seem to need much direction and the vista is wide and expansive. We can look around and enjoy the beauty. However on the way back out we must use our awareness to follow the path home and guide our bodies without giving into the fears that might lie along the path.