Lost on Horseback Horses hip-check each other and stamp the dust on the dirt trail threading through the green mountains. Let me see if I can predict this one. Nick, they’ll give you that blondeone. It’s the most heroic looking. A blonde horse for a blonde dude, that’sthe logic they’ll follow. Rachel will probably get that smaller horse, seemsright for a girl. And Joel’s big, they’ll give him the big horse. See that one wandering off, munching flowers, and bothering the locals? That’s mine. Because I engage in similar behavior. Nick laughs at my line of reasoning. A brown water creek has been dug out into a large, shallow pond. Two kidsform a sopping wet, wobbly, two-man human tower, the base of which wears dripping, squelching Crocs. (Anxiety) cracked skulls and snapped necks when they topple. Splash – flailing limbs submerge under rippling water rings. They resurface spluttering water from lips and gulping air. Dogs lounge in the sun inside a chain-link pen. In a generator-powered restaurant built of particle board and corrugated tin, women boil rice, press guava, soursop, and mangos into juice, and grill fish for lunch. The grill sizzles. Reggaeton beats play. It’s lively here, but at least one of these lush green hills was the sightof a mass grave some years ago. Victims of Pablo Escobar, drug wars, andguerilla warfare. Hard to say where or which hilltop, it’s explained only invague gestures and vague terms. On the hilltops, near the shade of the tree line, crews of friends or families of four sit on blankets and grill hotdogs. The stable hand sets the length of stirrups, and fits bridles between bighorse teeth. Happy to drop a shoulder to shove a horse out of the way. Bullying them into good behavior. He wears a Guatemalan gaucho hat, a soccer jersey, and black mucking boots. But the story I had in my head was wrong. Nick gets the flower munching horse, Joel and Rachel’s horses are also reversed for reasons I can not understand to look at their respective sizes, and I get the blonde heroic looking horse. La Mona is her name. Memories return. I have seen the view of a horse’s mane and the back of itsflicking ears before. Felt this lurch and rock of its gait. Weekends withfriends off the clock at a summer camp job, taking the horses out for a ride. The bizarre way a horse can feel great precision in the urging of your intentions through the reigns. Lean and focus a sharp gaze at a place, and a smart horse will go there. Tug back, and she slows down. It seems so easy, yet. Experience counts for something. Rachel is beingwalked in circles. She is asking the horse to stop. English doesn’t work, so she tries Spanish. Nick is being brought into low-hanging branches by a horse that knows to account for its own height, but not that of an added rider. He laughs and bends them back from his face. They whip behind him as the horse nibbles shaded patches of grass. With a hissing whistle by the guide, and a flick of his switch, we’re off. LaMona is a competitor, and so I get to take the lead. Mountains so vast andgreen, on a scale too big for any picture. A view of the city’s pale buildingsin the valley. I am comfortable on the horse, so leaving the guide behind does not worry me. It does not worry the guide because he says the horses all know the trail anyway. We amble along, and I watch the green mountains and valleys flow by slowly in the sunshine. Nothing to worry about. But then La Mona trots up a green hillside following a needle-thin trail. I trust her. Why not? I can’t see the others. The trail gets thinner and thinner until I’m riding over grass. Ah, I was too proud of myself too soon. Clearly, this was a long, wrong turn. We arrive at a barb wired fence that reads, ‘Private Property, No Trespassing’ in Spanish. “I know you can’t read,” I say to La Mona. “But that sign says, No Trespassing. So how about it? Where are we?” Not so much as a snort in reply. I look back down the hill. My friends are nowhere in sight. “OK, we’re going back.” I tug the reigns, but La Mona shakes her head. I pull again and she doesthe same. She agrees to do an about face. But as soon as she gazes downhill, her legs start buckling. Knees inward, almost knocking. Horse fear. She turns her head back. Her eyes bulge. She must be thinking she will fall if she tries to go down that (admittedly) very steep hillside. Though she is the one who brought us up here. “You’re like a cat that gets up a tree and doesn’t know how to getdown,” I tell her. She doesn’t understand accountability, this horse. She snuffles and pleads for a different way down. Anything but the very steep, very scary hill. I can see the trail we’re supposed to be on below. I just need a way to get there that is not a straight line down. Searching, I see a shallow incline in the green hill. A needle of a trail buried in tufts of overgrown grass. But it is not steep, and La Mona likes this path far more. There are logs and branches all over this route. The horse can step over some, but if the debris is big enough, I need to hop off her and clear the path. I kneel to pull logs out of the way. She steps forward into where the logs arelying. One of them rolls up over her hoof. She steps again to escape it andbats herself across her opposite legs. The muscles in her torso shudder. Shewhines a little. She is stressed out, getting clumsy, clip-clopping, unhappy at the branches scraping her legs. I shush her and pull the branches away from between her feet. Finally, after what seems like an hour of riding and working, clearing brush, shushing and reassuring, petting, cooing, coaxing, and finally riding again, and sometimes a tightrope balance of riding on a steep hill, I am back on that main trail. But where are my friends? I can’t see them anywhere. But it’s OK. We are back on the right path, now. La Mona knows the way from here. Get my book Odd Jobs & After Hours in audio, hardcover, or paperback by clicking here. It’s about drifting down the east coast of the USA chasing one sketchy, so-called opportunity after another.