Visiting Isla Isabela in the Galápagos Archipelago

Volcano Trip On Horseback (continued)

The tour group riding along the rim of the main crater; the ground drops off steeply on either side. A little of the crater floor is visible behind David (left) in the background.  

Once we reached the end of the horse trail, Richar tied up the horses to small trees.  

This fine-looking horse is my horse. In my journal, I always refer to the horse as "it" because I never looked to see if "it" is a "he" or a "she".  

One of the ever-popular yellow birds flitting around in the big tree at the end of the horse trail.  

The trail continued onward and upward, passing through woodlands, mixed woods and brush, and open grasslands with occasional bushes. In some places the trail was steep, in other places rocky or muddy. Some of the muddy spots were so slippery the horses would slip or slide, but they were reassuringly sure-footed. Despite slipping numerous times, no horse ever fell and no one fell off. After a while, my confidence level increased as I realized that the horse wants to slip and fall even less than you want it to slip and fall. The horses were very experienced in this type of terrain and they were quite competent. Of course, it helps to have four legs—one leg can slip completely out from under you and you still have three good legs to stand on.

In general, my horse did quite well if I just let it pick its own route through the mud and rocks. All I had to do was provide overall direction and keep it from bunching up or lagging behind to eat. As an aside, you make a horse stop by pulling back on the reins and loudly saying "¡Alto!", which is Spanish for "Stop!" and is a decent translation for "Whoa!". You make a horse start by jiggling the loose reins, or bumping your heels into the horse's flanks, or by making a "tch-tch" sound. Sometimes you could do all three and it had no effect. Just like you can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink, sometimes you can tell a horse to get moving but it just stands there.

We finally reached the rim of the volcano's crater and looked down onto the vast flat plain inside the crater. The main volcano has been dormant long enough that the crater floor is covered with green vegetation. The crater is huge—about 10-km wide—and is reportedly the second biggest volcano crater in the world (second only to Ngorongoro in Africa). The crater reminded me of pictures of lunar craters, with a high ragged rim and a flat floor (although lunar craters aren't chock-full of greenery). Our tour today won't descend to the floor of the main crater; instead, we'll visit a secondary crater on the flanks of the main crater. The secondary crater is also where the most recent eruption occurred.

While riding along the crater rim, we passed a group of tourists hiking in the other direction; we passed more tourists on horseback shortly thereafter. Unfortunately, it also started to rain, lightly at first then more steadily. Earlier, I had gathered enough courage to get my camera out of my backpack (which requires that you let go of the reins so the horse is temporarily "out of control"—oh no!). But with the rain and the narrow slippery trail, I didn't want to let go of the reins (or the saddle horn) to put the camera away. I first tried to put the camera under my shirt, which didn't work very well. I finally managed to get the camera's ziplock bag out of my backpack and put it around the camera to keep it dry. To keep me dry, another rider loaned me a spare poncho (I had a poncho in my backpack but didn't want to dig it out right now). It was funny—when we were packing on the boat, Marcie gave each of us a plastic pouch that contained a poncho. When David now unpacked his poncho, it turned out to be a Hefty trash bag with arm holes. Like the good sport that he is, he put it on, and though it kept his torso dry, everything else got soaked.

At one point, the trail descended slightly and I got a little nervous. It was a different feeling, less secure, and the horse wasn't quite as sure-footed heading downhill. We finally arrived at the end of the horse trail, which was next to a big tree in a small clearing. We all dismounted and Richar tied-up the horses to small trees. The rest of the trip would be on foot, since the trail was far too rocky and uneven for horses.

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