I often tell people that my ideal life would be wandering the world on a horse. Borders and oceans and logistics get in the way of living that lifestyle full time, but I love few things more than exploring beautiful places on horseback. I was excited to get the chance to share a full day ride to Pumahuanca with Frontierlab’s Kyd Campbell and a fellow Californian named Amelia.
We start off by riding through a small town, beside train tracks and corn fields and buildings constructed from brick and stone, with the view of the mountains in the distance. Listening to the clip-clop of the horses’ hooves, I feel as if I have been transported back in time. Only the power lines remind me that it is still 2019.
We follow the trail as it winds up into the mountains. Across the valley, high on the opposite peak, stand the ruins of three stone structures, where the Incas once stored grain. In a field below, a farmer is taking a break, his pan flute providing a soundtrack for our ride.
We make our way up the mountain, riding past rushing rapids and native forest, our horses picking their way over the rocky ground. We stop at a stream to water our horses. A team of men pass by us, herding about a dozen ponies and small mules, laden with packs, up the trail. Behind them, a family follows, carrying hiking poles. We ask them where they are going. They tell us they will be four days on the trail to Machu Picchu, camping along the way.
We encounter more traffic, this time a flock of multi-colored sheep that scatter, bleating, as we ride through them.
The trees part to reveal a complex of stone ruins. This is Pumahuanca, once a major way station. We stop here and tie up the horses, as the Incas used to hundreds of years ago (though they would have brought llamas instead), and spread out our picnic blanket. We boil up some cowboy style coffee and share a meal of delicious chicken pesto sandwiches on sourdough bread. As I made my way South through Latin America, everyone told me that Peru had the best food. They were not wrong.
The sheep return, peeking over one of the crumbled stone walls, just a few at first and then the whole flock, breaking over us like a wave. Soon the shepherds arrive, two old women with a little girl and a pair of sheep dogs.
“Look at that perfect Puma,” Amelia says. I scan first the mountain and then the clouds, but the puma in question is formed from the ruins. “See, there, looking out toward the mountain? And over there, a bull.” Once she points it out, I can’t unsee it, the cat seated on his haunches, the bull with his head down, facing the puma.
Kyd sets out a little ceramic horse and passes out cigarettes made with mapacho, wild jungle tobacco. “What did you want to celebrate with this ride?” she asks Amelia.
Amelia wants to dedicate the experience to her brother, and to the members of her family who can’t be there. As the two women talk about their families, I notice that the little horse is the sort that comes in boxes of Red Rose tea and am reminded of my mother, who collects these figures. I am far from home, and not very good about staying in contact. I set the intention to send her an email.
We hike up to the top of a hill, where we can see an amazing view of the ruins and the whole valley. It is an exceptionally beautiful day, and an exceptionally beautiful place, ancient but still teeming with life. We stay until the air starts to chill, and then return to our horses.
At the stream where we paused before, a family is playing in the water. I watch a little boy walk across a log suspended over the water, balancing like a tightrope artist. A little girl waves to us, showing off her missing front teeth.
On the way back I notice cacti and little brown birds, and white butterflies playing among pink flowers. The town is more awake when we return, bustling with mototaxis and tourist vans, but the horses aren’t bothered at all. It has been an excellent day.
Lily Ridley, April, 2019