The weather that week featured cool nights but warm days. Our cabana had a thick concrete wall and therefore it remained consistently cool inside. Which was great during the day, but given that there was no heating, the nights were rather chilly. Fortunately, the ranch supplied lots of warm blankets which made for great sleeping. Getting out of bed in the morning though was brisk and eye-opening. Lingering was not encouraged. And hot water for showering was only available briefly in the afternoon as the propane tank was ignited for about half an hour during which we each tried to grab some warm water before it was gone.
That morning saw us drive again to the main ranch where Lupita, the Mexican cook, had prepared breakfast. The ever-present tortillas were served with an egg dish and a brown sauce. Not really knowing the food content was probably a good thing as I preferred to simply go with the taste, which was quite enjoyable.
Manuel told us that we were ready for a little more adventure, or adrenaline pumping. Cuarte would take Larry and I back to our lodgings but by horse. I had Palomino again and was happy to get back onto him. He was a much more spirited animal and would not be the laggard in a group of horses. If he couldn’t lead, he wanted to be right behind the leader. Unlike Geronimo, he required little persuasion to get moving. The trip, we were told, would be an approximately four-hour ride and there would only be the three of us.
Cuarte lead us out for what was to become our most exciting ride yet. Up, up, and up we went as Cuarte followed a narrow switchback trail that could have been designed for mountain goats. There were times when the fall away from the horses was thousands of feet. "Trust your horses" was Manuel's advice. We took that seriously, as the horses were very sure-footed. All we could do was hold on tight to the saddle pommel and enjoy the ride. And spectacular it was, as the view became evermore breath-taking, the higher we went. Eventually, we peaked and we were able to enjoy a fabulous panoramic viewpoint. Now, naturally, going up was relatively easy on the rider but much more laborious for the horse. Going down was just the opposite, as the rider needed to lean back as far as possible to help balance his weight on the horse's back. I found this quite strenuous and looking way down into the valley at an awkward angle from the back of a swaying two thousand pound animal was quite challenging for me. In one place, getting down involved going through some rather heavy underbrush without any visible trail. Larry's horse balked at this point and required some extra incentive from a switch which Cuarte gave to Larry in order to get his horse moving. But we made it safely down and began traveling through some semi-dry, stoney creek beds, lined with ancient trees, some of whom had diameters in excess of five feet. Up, down, and around was the theme for the next few hours. And with each shrub or bush concealing needle-like thorns, we needed to be constantly alert to keep from getting scratched or having our hats ripped off. Despite our caution, my hands exhibited occasions where I lost the battles and my calves were covered in bloody scratches where the thorns were too much for my jeans. A good set of cowboy boots or some chap skins would have come in very handy. We arrived back at our lodge by about 1:15 and I demounted onto legs which felt like rubber. And my knee and ankle joints protested at the horrible abuse to which they had been subjected. This was not an old man's game, but Larry and I agreed that the experience was unlike anything either of us had ever been involved in. And so, despite the complaints from our various body components, we were happy and proud to have shared in this once-in-a-lifetime adventure. Besides, there was an older couple in their eighties arriving that afternoon, and we couldn’t be seen as the wussies.
Los Banos ran approx. 700 head of cattle on 30,000 acres. Their maximum capacity was approx. 1200 head or one per 25 acres. This compared to some northern farmlands where I was told that you could run several head of cattle per acre. It was indicative of the sparse foraging in this area and the challenges faced by ranchers who had to cover vast tracts of land to support limited numbers in their herds.
Manuel offered us a break that day. Rather than ride again, he would take us, together with his wife, two young daughters, and two wranglers, to an area featuring warm spring waters. Larry and I gladly accepted the offer and late morning, we departed from our lodgings. Prior to departure, Larry and I took a nice hike into the foothills surrounding our compound. It was a lovely, clear morning, and we enjoyed the vast stillness of the area.
Following a half hour drive, our small group arrived at a clear-running, warm water creek. The source of the water was deep within the mountain and exited at numerous fissures along the canyon walls. The water came out at approx. 75F and eventually flowed into a river several miles downstream. We waded upstream for approx. one-half mile and enjoyed the swirling warm waters running across our tired legs. The quiet, pleasant atmosphere allowed us to take our minds and bodies completely away from the rigors of the previous three days. We relaxed there for several hours before returning to our compound.
The day ended with a steak barbecue, again using mesquite wood for coals. It was most flavourful and enjoyed by all. The evening ended with a round of Shanghai Rummy.
And so our adventure was coming to an end. Originally we had planned to stay until Saturday but after some discussion, Larry and I agreed to cutting our trip short by one day. We, therefore, departed early morning for Douglas. The four and a half hour trip was not something I was looking forward to, as the roads, as mentioned previously, were not for the faint of heart. But we survived it once and would do so again. The trip created extraordinary memories for us and it was sad to think that, given our age, there was a strong likelihood that it would not be repeated. Still, it had been worth every minute and could now be crossed off our proverbial bucket list.