Puerto Vallarta, Mexico - Juan Gomez has been a cowboy forever. In fact, I think he was born riding a horse! He led us on my first cabalgata, Mexico's answer to the trail ride, except these may last several days.
Although I have been on many short rides with Juan, this was my first long ride. By short rides I mean 2 to 3 hours, no galloping, with lunch and a couple of cervezas after. This ride was 8 hours through beautiful ejido backcountry with an overnight at a ranch. You have no idea how long 8 hours on a horse is until you try it. I could not put my knees together when I finally climbed off!
We gathered in front of my friend Carolina's house. She lives in the ejido of El Jorullo along the Rio Cuale just outside of Puerto Vallarta. Ejido is the term applied to the land distribution and possession system that was created by the government after the Mexican Revolution. It consists of granting communal land to a group of people for agricultural and business rights rather than ownership rights. El Jorullo was founded in 1940 encompassing about 34,000 acres and 350 or so people.
Juan brought several horses for us as we prepared to leave. He lives in this area and the horses are owned by the ejido ranchers. The first couple of hours were awe-inspiring as we road along dirt roads through the jungled mountains of the Sierra Madre.
The vistas were breathtaking, the company enjoyable and Juan, with his knowledge of the local plants and animals, was most educational. We stopped for lunch in a very small pueblito where the local women had lunch prepared and the men were cooking a huge caldron of chicharrones in pig fat for us to sample, washed down with a cold cerveza!
As we headed out, I realized how sore I was becoming and dreaded the last hours before arriving in Llanitos, our final destination. As we rode through town toward the Fregoso ranch, we were hailed with whistles and cheers. Upon arrival, the women were directed to the bunkhouse and the men took care of the horses. They would sleep outside under the stars.
Dinner cooked in the outdoor kitchen on a wood stove was a delicious mixture of local fare including blue tortillas, beans, corn, radishes, and of course more cervezas. Talk around the campfire lulled me to sleep as I wandered to my bunkhouse bed for the night.
Morning dawned early with the sun rising over the mountains and the mists still hanging in the valley. After a quick trip to the rustic outhouse, we were ready for the hearty breakfast set before us. Local tradition included chocomil, a concoction of warm milk straight from the cow mixed with chocolate syrup, and, if you dared, a shot or two of tequila. What a way to start the day!
We bid a fond farewell to the Fregosos and found Juan washing down the horses to prepare them for our ride back to Vallarta. However, we found ourselves so sore from the day before that we opted to ride back in the supply truck with the extra saddles and gear while Juan strung the horses together for his tranquil ride back to town. So much for being a true horsewoman. It will take a few more long rides before I am ready to do another cabalgata round trip!
If you are interested in taking a ride with Juan, short or long, you can contact him through his Facebook page.
Sandra Cesca has lived in Puerto Vallarta for 12 years. She is a cultural tour guide with her own small business: Puerto Vallarta Walking Tours. She is also a cultural photographer and writer whose work can be found on Your Cultural Insider and Sandra Cesca Photography. Contact her: sandra.learn.vallarta(at)gmail.com.
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