The Long Riders' Guild

Marie-Emmanuelle Tugler and Marc Witz are riding from Brazil to Peru

May 2002

The Long Riders' Guild received an email from Marie and Marc.  Thanks to an anonymous 'sponsor' found for them by Long Rider Marcelo Amorim,  they were writing to us from beside a hotel swimming pool in the heart of Sao Paulo!

"We went to meet our dog Max, who had just spent 14 hours travelling alone and in the dark.  We expected to find him trembling with cold or fear, but he came out of his cage like a bullet from a gun and greeted us with 6-foot high leaps!

This weekend Anne Louise has invited us to an equestrian gathering of 3000 people at Sao Roque.  It will last a little less than a week, and we will make the most of it by meeting the breeders Anne Louise recommends and try out some horses, but we also plan to join the festivities....

Up to now everything is going well, we are very happy.  We are literally stunned by the kindness of the Brazilians, who are folding themselves into four to help us."

June 2002

Marc and Marie sent The Long Riders' an email - they are about to start their journey!

Ready to leave at last….
Almost 2 months have gone by between our arrival in Brazil and the real start of our trip.  One month to find the horses, two weeks to obtain the health certificates, and one week to get our runaway mule back!
We decided to look for horses in the region we were in, Sao Roque and Itu.  This was not without some difficulty, as most of the horses offered to us were too expensive, too thin, too excitable, or had saddle sores or girth galls.  We stuck our noses everywhere, from the poorest of farms to the most luxurious fazendas, we went to an auction, to an endurance race, even to a rodeo.  In other words, the equine landscape of this region has very few secrets from us!
We discovered the local Mangalarga Paulasta (from the state of São Paulo) and Mangalarga Minero (from Minas Gerais).  The latter is smaller and ambles more easily.  These highly-prized horses are frequently used for short journeys and for les Romarias (journeys of about fifty kilometres). 
Some Mangalarga breeders suggested that we use their horses for our journey, on condition that we returned them.  We refused, because we wanted to be free to do as we pleased.
We finally decided on the ‘cavalo comun’ as it is called here:  more rustic, cheaper, it is used for every kind of work.
The team:

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Marc and Marie share a romantic moment with their new team. Click on photo to enlarge.

Tipi is a piebald.  Of Olympian calm, he must be about 10 or 11 years old.  He is a good school­teacher except for being tethered on a long rope.  He just can't get used to it (he's got two wounds already).
Coco is a roan.  Aged between 7 and 8, he has less experience but seems a fast learner.  He has certainly never received as much attention as he’s getting now, and which he loves!
Briosa (which means ‘proud’ in Portuguese) the pack mule is a bay.  Her beauty is only equalled by her ability to jump!

Mula da dor de cabeza! (The mule give us a headache)

After 15 days of being tethered with the horses, we naively thought that our mule would consider herself part of the team.  This goes to show how little we know her, and no doubt how little we know about mules in general!  The day before we were due to leave she cleared all obstacles, including barbed wire, and went to hide in the mato (thick forest....) of her native mountains, about eight miles away.  It took us a week to flush her out and to succeed in finding THE trap from which she could not escape.  Very enlightening!
Our Portuguese is improving all the time, although we still make mistakes.  A misunderstanding with the vet cost us a week’s delay in the provision of the necessary paperwork for crossing borders!  More amusing was the price of a spelling mistake on a message left for some friends who had come to help us find the mule.
Instead of NAO ACHAMOS LA MULE (“We haven’t found the mule”) we wrote NO ACHAMOS LA MULA, which was interpreted to mean NOS ACHAMOS LA MULA (“We have found the mule”)!  Pleased to hear this news they returned home, leaving us alone in the soup!

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Marc, Marie and Max get ready for their adventure!
Click on photo to enlarge.

On 20th June we will leave the little house in the mountains which has been lent to us for the last three weeks.  We will take a truck as far as Avare, a departure point a little further back.  La saudade (the Brazilian blues) at leaving everyone here is mixed with excitement at the long-awaited departure.  Max, our cocker spaniel, has gained a lot of fans here, and everyone wants to keep him…..

August 2002

We have at last successfully covered our first thousand kilometres.  The horses are waiting for us in a fazenda a few kilometres away where they are resting for a week.  During this time we have rewarded ourselves by going to admire the waterfall and the national park of Iguazu.  

For the last ten days, we have been experiencing the joys of horseback travel in the rain.  The temperature is constantly changing, going from 5o Celsius to 30o (40o to 86o Fahrenheit) from one day to the next.  The countryside is much flatter and more monotonous – wheat fields as far as the eye can see.  It was difficult, therefore, to find a good grassy area to stop.  On the evening of 30 July, we were soaking wet and frozen, when far off, to our great surprise, we saw a football field and a church.  It was a perfect spot for us, so we stopped.  We let the horses graze, then prepared their rations, dinner, and set up the tent.  It was already dark when we were suddenly surprised by two cars which shone their headlights on us.  Max threw himself at them, barking.  A man got out of one car, then another, who hastily returned when he saw Max arriving (who said that Max would never frighten anyone?).  We went towards them, calling the dog back.  Marc said quietly that he could see a gun on the back seat of the car.  For one second, I regretted summoning the dog.  From his very tall height, the man asked us, “What are you doing here?  Where are you from?  What do you do in France?” etc.   

He justified his behaviour by saying that he is the President of a group of neighbouring houses and that ‘people…  when they see strangers like that… well, you know what I am trying to say…’  We had a brief chat and he told us that everything was fine, we seemed nice people, and that we could stay.  Whew!

  The following day it was hot as hell again (27o C [80o F] at 9.30 a.m.).  We stopped at a young couple’s house.  We turned the horses out to graze on a field of oats, freshly planted for their cattle, put up our tent and went to have a lovely hot shower in the house.  Before nightfall we called the horses to give them their grain, at which time we saw frequent flashes of lightning.  The mule refused to eat, preferring to go to the buildings, perhaps in search of shelter.  Coco was very nervous, too, pawing the ground and upending his nosebag.  The thunder started, the rain could not be far behind, it was time to run for cover.  The rain rapidly became a deluge, the wind flattened the tent, which we hung onto as best we could with our hands.  Gradually the rain was replaced by massive hailstones.  Our bruised hands could no longer cope – we held onto the tent with our feet.  We seriously began to fear that the hailstones would pierce the tent and that we would die, struck down – smothered – by the tent!  At last the storm passed, and soaked to the skin we escaped unharmed and went to shelter with our hosts.  They had not suffered too much damage, just a broken windowpane and loss of electricity.  The tent had stood up well, but Josiane took pity on us, and finally suggested a soft bed!

The track was so muddy that the horses slipped as if on an ice-rink.  We dismounted and walked with 4 pounds of mud under each foot.  The rain continued, so we decided to stop early.  For the first time for a month and a half we were welcomed into a large fazienda.  “Here we have a house for the “peons” (workers) which we are not using, with beds and a hot shower which you can use for as long as you like,” said Recergio Valduga, who was in charge of the fazenda.  “You can feed your horses there and come have dinner with us tonight,” said Ernesto, his number 2.  This was unlooked for good fortune: after four days of rain we were going to sleep in a nice bed and do some washing, at last.   

The following day it had stopped raining, but was freezing cold so we decided to stay, to everyone’s delight.  We attacked our breakfast of egg fried in pork fat, and beans, all washed down with coffee!  Afterwards we helped in the slaughter and dissection of a pig.  We had to come to Brazil to see this.  Ricergio put on one side the heart and the liver, as well as the ribs, which we grilled.   

The remainder was cut into pieces ready for the freezer, and will feed the workers over the next few days.  So at midday we had churasco outside!  Laid out on the table were plates, dishes, rice, beans, salad and pieces of bloody pork waiting to be frozen.  Don’t worry – it takes a lot more than that to put us off our food!  Then we made the most of our free time to oil the leather and do a bit of sewing, then Ricergio suggested we ride with him to move the cattle to a new pasture.  We were thrilled, and leapt happily onto our horses, for whom this would also make a nice change.  Even Brioza, the mule, came too – no way will she leave her two mates.  So at long last, there we were riding across the prairie like real cowboys, something we have been wanting to do for ages!


A few days later when we stopped at Joao’s fazenda, he suggested we do the same thing.  This time, our break will last a week which will give us time to visit the Iguazu Falls, the biggest and most beautiful waterfalls in the world.


Click on photo

The Iguazu Falls were indeed magnificent – we have long dreamt of seeing them, and once seen, never forgotten.

We will soon be on the road again, heading for Mato Grosso do Sul, a much wilder region than that which we have just travelled through, and where we will find the famous Pantanal, one of the largest animal reservations in the world.


More soon!


The MMMs (Marc, Marie and Max)

5th October 2002

From the fabulous Bonito rivers to the wild Pantanal

At the Exposition Park at Ponta Pora we met three Gauchos (from rio Grande do Sul) who had come to sell Shetland ponies in the Mato Grosso.  We made friends with them at once, shared our meal and the famous Chimaron, the traditional hot infusion of Mate.  Luckily for us, they had two ponies left to sell which they had decided to take to Bonito.  We made the most of the opportunity to load our horses on their truck for the 250 kilometers between the two towns.  So as not to put them out, we decided to travel in the back of the truck with the luggage and in the company of the ponies and our own horses at the back.  The road was so appalling that it took seven hours to get there.  By the end, the ponies were not at all wild any more and we were black with dust, literally unrecognisable!

When our friend from Sao Paolo, Anne, learned that we were at Bonito, famous for its rivers, she jumped in a plane to come and join us.  For a few days we swapped our saddles and our boots for masks and snorkels in order to discover the wonderful secrets of the Formoso and de Prata rivers.  We swam among fish which were more than 16 inches long - Dourados, Pacus and others, in an almost surrealistic scene.  The infinite purity of the water and the whiteness of the chalky riverbed made us feel as if we were swimming in space.  It was only the bubbles of oxygen from the marine vegetation sparkling in the sunshine which reminded us that this was an aquatic journey. In the jungle we met monkeys, red macaws and enormous lizards. 

We took a boat down the Mimosa river and spotted kingfishers, papagayos, garcas (a type of white stork), toucans with yellow beaks and green beaks...  In the evening, we ended the day by regaling ourselves on pintado (panther fish) with an orange or passion-fruit sauce.  Then, Anne left us with great sadness and we set off again towards Bodoquena where we were to spend several days with George and Wilma, cousins of other friends in Sao Paolo. 

We made a new friend in Bonito, a large, beautiful and young mongrel who spent every night with us.  He decided to follow on the heels of our horses and to keep Max company.  He's called Bandeleiro. The heat here is unbelievably torrid, but we are lucky enough to find plenty of rivers and streams, where we all bathe together - horses, dogs and people - thereby enjoying real moments of shared happiness.  The countryside changes completely in Serra da Bodoquena, the gentle hills shelter deep caves and the dried-up streams wait for the rainy season.

Before he retired to his farm high up in the mountains, George was in charge of "des comitivas," convoys of 1000+ head of cattle which left the Pantanal and sometimes went as far as Santa Cruz de la Sierra in Bolivia.  He would have liked to have accompanied us for a few days in the Pantanal, but he had just broken his leg in a football game!  By coincidence, Anne telephoned and had decided to join us with a friend to travel some part of the mysterious Pantanal with us!  This solved all our problems, and five of us set out with a back-up truck, which would help the horses in this difficult climate.

We arrived in the Pantanal at nightfall, and rode about five miles under the stars in the cool evening air.  It was very humid there because of the swamps, but our nostrils were, strangely, filled with a sweet scent.  The fireflies seemed to be forming themselves into a guard of honour for us - but what is all that noise?  By the light of our torches we could see the eyes of hundreds of caimans (alligators).  Max, taken by surprise when he went for a drink, leapt a foot into the air and barked at them to make them go away. 

Our companions were waiting for us at Passo da Iontra, with delicious cold beers and an arroz carreteiro (rice with salted meat) - what a luxury! The following day we took the time to get a bit closer to the caimans:  this was difficult as they were afraid of us.  We met hundreds of tuiuius, large black and white wading birds with red throats, as well as a few capivaras, a fat Indian pig more than 20 inches high, which delighted Max and Bandeleiro.  Little by little the animals hid themselves and the heat first hit us, then stressed us out completely.  The trail seemed endless, the low vegetation offering us no shade at all.  When we arrived at our campsite at noon, we unsaddled the horses and jumped in the water with them.  There's nothing like a bath to lower the pressure.  Yes - but then it shot straight up again when Marc got bitten on the foot by a piranha!  It was a big round bite nearly an inch across on which you could see clearly the redoubtable carnivorous fish's perfect teeth! 

We decided to spend the following day at the Arara Azul fazenda, which is surrounded by marsh, to observe the animals.  In the morning, therefore, I left Marc at dawn in search of blue macaws.  More than twenty pairs have elected to live in the fazenda (which has many hundreds of hectars [thousands of acres] of land) and come to feed at dawn on bacuri fruits.  [The bacuri is a kind of small coconut palm.]  Back in camp, I saw a peasant setting off on foot with his dogs towards the
enormous area where we had put the horses.  He showed me an enormous tuiuiu
nest where the chicks, already as big as storks, waited hungrily for their mother's return.  Up in the trees bujius monkeys leapt from one branch to another, at the edge of the marsh we disturbed a slumbering wild boar, who fled, a cow on the outskirts of the herd desperately sought her young one, who had probably been eaten by a jaguar.  Suddenly the dogs started barking and we rushed through the brush to rejoin them.  I shuddered when I saw my companion take the machete in hand, but he only wanted to cut the branches to make it easier for me to get through.  Then he got his gun out, and this time it was no joke.  As he approached a "porco do mato" wild boar, he fired.  Eventually he realised that it was a female with her young, so he put his gun away and ordered his dogs to leave her in peace. 

Calm restored, we continued our walk and, having failed to find our horses, we met his own!  He suggested we use two of them to go find ours.  He lined them all up along the fence as if he were at the circus.  As motionless as statues, they waited while their master chose his own mount and one for Marc.  He then saddled his mule with 36 layers of sheepskin, whereas Marc only put one layer of foam on his horse, just enough to keep his bottom clean!  The joke continued for longer than we had anticipated, for the horses did not feel like allowing themselves to be caught.  When they returned, Marc could hardly walk, but he felt like a true vaqueiro! 

In the afternoon we saw our first sucuri, or anaconda.  It was a baby, only about nine feet long.  It was splendid, too, yellow with black spots.  On land, it is relatively harmless, but in the water it can devour a caiman, provided it is smaller than the anaconda, with amazing speed. 

The intense heat having passed, we left on horseback with Anne and a guide to discover the hidden marvels of this fazenda.  We found a female with her baby on her back, some viadus (a type of small deer), caipivaras, an ostrich, red macaws, a type of racoon, an armadillo...  Then we crossed a lake.  The water went up to the horses' stomachs, and the mule, running free behind us, had no hesitation in following us on this unexpected expedition. Oddly enough the horses were not frightened of the animals we met, they had probably made their acquaintance the night before...  maybe they had even got the scent of the redoubtable jaguar. 

It's incredibly touching to see these wild animals living in peace and harmony with one another.  In the rainy season, all this land is covered with water, except for a few islands where all this fauna is concentrated, including the horses.  That night, for the first time, we really felt ourselves in a sub-tropical climate.  Drenched in sweat, we showered incessantly by the lake, admiring the eyes of the caimans and the shadows of the birds. 

The alarm went off at 3.30 a.m. - a bit too early, but worth it.  The horses came at once to our call and we set off for a 30 kilometer trip to the banks of the Paraguay river.  Along the way, Max and Bandeleiro were mad with joy and had a lot of fun digging up caipivaras (a huge rodent).  The noise of our horses' feet sent thousands of birds into the air.  They come to regale themselves in these little ponds, as do otters, caimans and caipivaras.  As far as the stags are concerned, they come to drink and watch us carefully. What a privilege to be able to see this spectacle, all by ourselves! 

Eventually we arrived at Porto da Manga and the wonderful Anne brought us two cold beers and rode the last 500 yards with us.  The river is absolutely full of piranhas and caimans, but too bad - we and the horses went in to bathe anyway.  Coco, afraid of the depth, shoved me over and stamped on my foot.  Nothing serious, mother, but I would have done better to ride into the water.  For our last dinner together, the two Georges had prepared us an absolutely divine piranha soup, I think it is the best fish I have ever eaten.  Marc also much enjoyed getting his revenge! 

After a siesta, we went off in a motor-boat to see the fauna of the river, and on our return we were assaulted by mosquitoes.  They drove us insane. We put more clothes on very quickly and covered ourselves with repellant.  We got back - what a surprise - no horses!  They had been there, quite close by, at liberty all day...  was it the mosquitoes who had frightened them?  Now for the second time they did not come to our calls.  Night had fallen, we had to take the truck.  Marc climbed on the roof, flashlight in hand, calling them desperately, but there was not even a shadow on the horizon.  Three quarters of an hour later, we see them calmly turning up for their daily ration!  George was thoroughly fed up with us!  Our last evening was ruined by mosquitoes as everyone retired hastily to their tents.  

The next day, our three friends who were about to leave us took Bandeleiro with them.  Worried about complications later on in the trip, especially regarding transport, we preferred to give him to George.  It broke our hearts when we left him.  In only a few days a tight bond had built up between all of us.  Although we were sad to leave our friends, we were nevertheless happy to reform our own little tribe.

The following day, a night crossing of the river proved a little difficult.  Coco made an enormous leap onto the metallic bridge of the ferry, and found himself skating around as if on an ice-rink.  When the ferry moved off, the mule, terrified by the noise, turned round to jump back onto the bank.  We just managed to prevent her doing so, but we couldn't hold Max.  False start - we had to go back to fetch the dog!  After all that, we had an uneventful crossing, apart from the unpleasantness of the mosquitoes.

We are now resting very near to Corumba, in a centre for research on the fauna and flora of Pantanal.  The manager there was so pleased to hear about our adventure that he summoned the local TV so they could make a little programme about us!

Tomorrow we hope to cross into Bolivia: another culture, another language, different customs, different treasures...  not least of these being the Cordillera of the Andes, but we won't see that for about another 750 kilometres.

Will write again soon, The MMMs"

19th November 2002

The Bolivian Orient

We have been in Bolivia for one and a half months already.  Until now, we've had no problems with navigation, for there is only one dirt road which runs for 650 km. (400 miles) alongside the railway which separates Santa Cruz from Porto Suarez on the Brazilian border.  Every 20 or 30 km. we stopped at the railway station, around which there was always a little village.  Life is very difficult here.  Few villages have running water, and even fewer have electricity, which in any case is only available for two to three hours a day.  For the last three years the Chiquitanos has suffered a drought - there has never been such an ecological disaster.  Several lakes and rivers have completely dried up, and thousands of animals have died of hunger and thirst (fish, cows, caimans etc.), and many people have had to dig wells to ensure their survival.

For about a hundred kilometres we have only been able to find "yellow pasture."  Only the giant agricultural companies have running water, and sometimes there is a little greenery growing around the edges. In most villages, corn costs twice as much as before, and it's the same for cheese, because the undernourished cattle are giving so little milk.  Fruit, vegetables, meat and sometimes even eggs are hard to find.  The men go out hunting morning and evening and come back with all sorts of animals: caimans, capivaras, deer, armadillos, or rodents - we have tasted
them all!   For their part, the women bring up their 5-7 children who only get one meal a day.  Breakfast and dinner frequently consist of some tea and a piece of bread.  The "orientals", or "Cambas" as they call themselves here, are extremely kind.  We have never been refused any hospitality - quite the reverse.

Like every day since we arrived in Bolivia we got up at 3 a.m. to escape the worst of the heat, but this time there were a few raindrops.  Could it be the beginning of the rainy season?  No - it was just a false hope.  Today we are going to El Carmen, a village a little larger than all the previous ones, and one where we ought to be able to find plenty of provisions for the days to come.  We started by buying 40 kg (about 80 pounds) of corn for the horses, and then we went to the market to buy oranges, tomatoes and a pineapple.  A man we met there asked us to go and present our papers to the commissioner.  Marc went with the man, having ascertained that he really was a policeman, and found himself in front of a large sweaty gentleman, dressed in civilian clothes, sitting on a bench in the middle of the park!  He demanded to see our papers as well as those of the horses.  Obviously the horses' papers were Brazilian, and he tried to use the situation to dig a few pennies out of us.  He got fed up after a while when Marc played the part of "a kind-hearted gullible fool who doesn't understand anything," and let us go. 

We couldn't spend any more time in this little town as there was no grazing, so we moved on and found a more welcoming estancia about 10 km. (6 miles) further on.  We were received by a gang of hunters.  One of them led us to the only water source on the estancia, the well.  The bees buzzing around it did not frighten us for long, we had to have water.  Its yellowish colour and earthy smell did not put us off either, and anyway it did us no harm. Later they went off hunting, catapults and rifles in hand, and came back two hours later with two little rodents and two parrots.  One of the hunters removed four or five feathers to prevent them from flying, and put the parrots in rice sacks ready to sell them at El Carmen for the equivalent of
US$4.  Although it is forbidden to do so, they were also selling toucan beaks for 75 cents.  Here nobody pays any attention to the law which forbids hunting - they have to have something to put on the plate.  Bernadito made a divine meal out of this meat and some rice.  After that we went to bed while they went out hunting again. 
The heat was suffocating and the moths never left us alone, and the very idea that a tarantula might come and tickle our nostrils was enough to prevent me from sleeping.  The next day, Marc found one in his shoes. Luckily he didn't get bitten - apparently if the bite is not fatal, it produces a huge allergic reaction.  Finally we discovered one activity which tired us both out and plunged us into the arms of Morpheus. 

A few days later, we took a break for a day at Aguas Calientes ("Hot Waters") where we and our horses enjoyed a thermal cure!  The little river is pure, warm and delicious.  In some places it is transparent and deep enough for the horses to swim, in others it is only 20 cm. (8 inches) deep and boils like a mini geyser.  At first sight, you would think there was quicksand underfoot for we were sucked towards the bottom until the water reached our waists, but immediately afterwards the pressure of the hot water flowing from the earth pushed us forcibly back.

The following day we met Don Enrique Lima, another squatter at our host's place.  He and his unnamed mare are also travelling, and they want to come with us for four days until we get to his farm about a hundred kilometres (62 miles) away.  After two days Don Enrique, who knows the way like the back of his hand, tells us we have to ride for 40 km (25 miles), for according to him it's impossible to camp half-way through.  So we travelled 15 km. (9 miles) to a little stream where we refreshed ourselves for a few hours before leaving before nightfall for Chochis, 25 km. (16 miles) further on.  I felt terribly tired, I hurt everywhere, especially my stomach and back.  After an hour I was gulping oxygen to try and stop the contractions.  Half an hour later I felt even worse, and I knew that we still had four or
five hours to go.  I had only one wish - to get off the horse and lie on the ground!  Suddenly I heard a truck.  Without further thought, I stood in the middle of the road and waved at him to stop.  I explained to Marc and Enrique that I did not have the strength to go on and that I would try and get to our destination in the lorry.  I asked the four men who got out of the lorry if I might be allowed to climb in the back.  It was only later that I thought of the potential danger, but the sight of two women in the cab was reassuring.  As it happened, one of them was Don Enrique's friend.
He told him therefore that he would drive me to his parents.  When we got there, I asked for a hammock and some lavatory paper and went to sleep.  When I woke up, I saw his wife bringing me the lavatory paper and a tisane - a natural remedy which immediately got rid of my griping pains.  It was probably the water which I drank at midday which had made me ill.  Marc, who slept with the horses at Ronald's place, only rejoined me the next day with the first-aid kit and something to eat.  After two days, in spite of my convalescence, I decided to carry on with Marc as far as the sanctuary to admire the amazing natural tower of Cochis.  The village is surrounded by pink jagged mountains rather like those in Monument Valley - a fantastic sight.

That evening, I rejoined Marc and Enrique at Ronald's house so as to get ready to leave at dawn the following day.  Enrique, who had decided to leave at 6 p.m., finally changed his mind and decided to leave with us.  I don't know why, but I thought that was rather odd behaviour.  That evening, we were discussing yet again the problem of the drought between San Jose and Pailon (300 km. - nearly 200 miles).  The horses would suffer, there was no water and nothing to eat, we were told.  They also stressed that at San Jose there were many thieves and that we would have to keep the horses in our sight at all times.  And we had been planning to leave them with somebody and take the train to Santa Cruz to change some money, buy horse-shoes and extend our visas (for which the border guard wanted to charge us 400 bol. daylight robbery!)    We had two choices:  leave the horses at Chochis with Enrique, 30 km.(19 miles) away but 7 km (nearly 8 miles) from the station.  If we did that, we'd have to catch the train in an hour, not much time to get organised and ready!  The decision made, we woke a half-asleep Enrique to say goodbye and apologise for leaving him there!  We left Max with Ronald, left corn and instructions for our horses, and ran to catch the train.  Once aboard, we asked the conductor for the cheapest tickets to Santa Cruz.  He took us to the very back of the train where everyone was sleeping on benches, between benches, in the corridor - that is, all over the place.  I couldn't sleep - I imagined Max being sold at the market, or the horses accidentally "escaping."  I also pictured them riding our horses, or putting their nose into our business, or .....  Every possible scenario
played itself out in my head, I told myself we had rushed away too quickly...  and what if they were all in league with Don Enrique?  But Ronald was well known in the village, he had ten brothers and sisters - if we claimed that he had stolen from us, it would bring shame upon the entire family... but who knows?  Perhaps every single person in the village would cover up for him.....

When the sun came up it was fiesta time - women and children made their way through the train with thermos flasks and baskets.  They sold everything: coffee, tea, soft drinks, chica, bollos, cuñape, chicken-legs, fried fish, pancakes, mortadella, and a freshly-killed armadillo still full of blood.  Most of these travelling salesmen got on the train at dawn and got off at Santa Cruz. 

At Santa Cruz we telephoned Rosa's sister - we had met Rosa for the first time a week earlier at Candelaria.  As it happened Rosa, who comes from La Paz, was staying with her mother at Santa Cruz.  She was absolutely furious!  She had returned from Candelaria by the very same train we had taken.  The two families whom she installed in her house in Candelaria to look after the place and the herd, had left without any warning, stealing the saddles and everything she had left with them.  This made me even more worried.  We did what we had to do as quickly as possible, and left promptly.

The train stopped at Chochis at two in the morning, and we rushed off to find Max and the horses, who were waiting patiently for us.  What a relief!  It was obvious that all our things had been disturbed, but we'll have to check them tomorrow.  The saddles had certainly been used, for everything had been taken apart and put back together any old how.  It was hard to know if they used our horses or not.   Apart from that, nothing had been stolen. Well, it was a good lesson, but luckily it was more worrying than dangerous.

Later, at San Jose, an old missionary town, we stopped for two days to rest in the hotel.  It wasn't very luxurious, but in our 48 hours there we must have spent 36 hours asleep and two in the shower!  The first 100 km. (62 miles) out of San Jose the ground was, at last, not dried up because it rained those few days.  It was only later, towards el Pozo del Tigre, that the drought revealed itself to be very serious.  The very hospitable Brazilian family which welcomed us live here, as do many
others, on cereal production.  They can remember how rich the earth was when
they immigrated to Bolivia.  Today they have had to sell their refrigerator, their horse, their cart, and their cows, and they work on an other estancia in order to survive.  In spite of all this, they welcomed us very cheerfully, but were embarrassed because there were neither meat nor eggs in the village, so they killed one of their chickens for dinner.  I made a huge salad to go with it, because for once I had managed to find tomatoes, peppers, and green beans which should liven up our potatoes!  That evening they invited us to sleep indoors on a mattress.  We were very touched by the generosity of these people who have nothing left. 

We have now been in Santa Cruz for four days, staying at the Lomita Pony Club where we are being seriously pampered.  We have met another Long Rider, an Argentinean pilgrim who is riding to Mexico:  Alejandro Guillermo Lopez.  It seems that the Peruvians sent him back to Bolivia because he wouldn't pay any baksheesh.  In the end he decided to leave his horses here at the equestrian centre and to buy new ones in Panama to continue his journey. The horses look very healthy, their tests are good and they even have brand new shoes!

Tomorrow we are off to visit the Inca ruins of Samaipata 2000 m (6,600 ft) high, and then we will leave for Cochabamba by the mountain road to the south, making a few incursions into the Amboro National Park. 

Will write again soon - the MMMs

5th January 2003

"We wish you all a very happy 2003!

We had a rather special Christmas at Cochabamba.  Orphans with no family and no horses...  The bars closed at 11 o'clock, and we were alone and rather sad....

Luckily, we were able to catch up on New Year's Eve which we spent with the volunteers of the Inti Wara Yassi park (a refuge for wild animals which have been captured and badly treated).  There is no experience to compare with being in the middle of the Bolivian jungle among capuchin monkeys, spider monkeys, squarel monkeys, lion monkeys, parrots, toucans, pumas (on the leash) and many, many other animals...  All this in the rainy season, with everything smelling mouldy, and every kind of insect... but also with people who had come from all over the world to help these poor mistreated animals.

Today we are having a day off to renew our visas, do the washing, which is drying... and pass on our latest news.  Tomorrow we will be leaving again for a week before continuing our journey by bus towards Salar d'Uyuni (4,500 metres above sea level, about 13,500 feet) in south-western Bolivia.

Will write again soon!  The MMMs."

(Translated from the French by Basha O'Reilly)

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