I had to squint my eyes to shield them from the mud being thrown up at me. Little bullets were nailing my eyes, my cheeks, my chest. I had to pull back a little to the left to get out of their trajectories...
I was out on the patio working on my computer when Bernd pops his head out the door.
“It’s Jose...you want to ride?”
I had met Jose over a week ago at the gypsy market in Rogil. He and his son had “rolled up” on horses. I mentioned my eagerness to ride, and the next thing I know I was on top of a horse. I took a small stroll around the gypsy market...just a couple of minutes, but Bernd assured me that Jose said that I could ride sometime.
I put it out of my mind.
“It’s Jose...you want to ride?”
The day was almost over. It was nearing six or seven o’clock, judging by the sun, and I was surprised to hear that he was asking me to ride at this time of the day...
“Definitely! Tell him I’ll be there in 30 minutes!”
I had to ride there on my bicycle, and he lived a few miles away. Bernd had showed me his house just Sunday night. I put away my laptop, grabbed a sweatshirt, a camera, and headed out the door. The nights are pretty chilly anymore, and I needed to make sure I would be warm!
And then I hit the road!
Biking has become a way of life for me here. With no motorized vehicle, I have had to use my legs to get to where I want to go. The closest town is a few miles away, and I have made the one trip to the bigger town even further away. The first week here I found myself on the bike quite a bit. As of late, though, I have been staying home more. Some of it is because biking makes ya tired! And going to town just doesn’t seem to be as appealing when you have to use your calves rather than gas...
But I was more than eager to ride now! I headed right out of the lane and chartered some new territory, only having seen it in the evening Sunday with Bernd and family when we went to another town for a restaurant. And I was having a crazy difficult time moving.
The road appeared straight, and my legs were pumping steadily, but I didn’t appear to be moving like usual. It didn’t make sense to me. I pedaled and pedaled and pedaled. I checked the gears. I looked up ahead, I looked behind. Perfectly flat. I looked at the tires, but I had just checked them for air before I left.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I said out loud.
I tried to figure out what was wrong. I had eaten well today...plenty of pasta last night, much food today...so what was wrong. I didn’t know. But I kept pedaling. At this rate, Jose would be waiting for me!!!
After about 20-25 minutes of pedaling, I neared Jose’s house. It is tucked back away from the road, and I had only seen the entrance one time. Bernd missed it that night and threw on his brakes causing a short skid....enough to warrant a comment from his wife in the backseat.
I saw the old machinery threw the trees, but I wasn’t sure where to turn. I passed a small dirty entrance, but it didn’t look like the one I remembered. After a few more pedals, I realized that I, too, had missed the entrance. I did a “U-ey,” and headed back to the small dirty path. I biked around the puddles from the previous three days of rain, including that day. And I pulled up to the house...I heard some movement in the back of the house, and I biked back there to see part of Jose through the clothes hung out to dry.
He said something in Portuguese.
“Hello! Bom dia!” I responded with what I knew.
I made my way around the clothes, and he made his way out of the open garage. Jose is a small man, and he has the typical dark skin of a Portuguese man. He walks stiffly but purposefully as any man who has worked the land all of his life. He has a beautiful deep, tinny voice with slow Portuguese and a mixture of Spanish in there, as well. And he only has a few fingers. Both thumbs and a couple of fingers. A “silage accident” is all I was able to learn.
But it didn’t stop him.
We said a few words between us, the only words allowable from an English-speaking guy and a Portuguese-speaking guy. We had little common ground, except the desire to ride.
We walk back to this typical concrete structure found all over Portuguese. It’s an old barn...no lights on the inside. But that’s where the horses are kept. I pass by chickens, ducks, rabbits, and dogs on the way there. More typical animals for the Portuguese.
Jose threw out some “boots” to me. I had seen him and his son wearing them at the market, and it’s a good thing, too, or else I may not have known what to do with them! They are leather “boots,” and I am sure they have a proper name that true cowboys know, but I do not yet fit that category. Yet. They cover the top of your shoe, then cover the entire part of your leg from the knee down. You wrap it around your leg, then strap up. And did I ever have to strap up! Each “boot” had about 15 straps. Tough leather. It took me several minutes to get ready. Jose already had his on, and he went inside to get the horses.
Out comes the first horse...the one Jose will be riding. This horse is quite funny to watch. Jose had rode up on this one at the gypsy market, and I quickly realized it was the same one. Why? Because the horse is scared to death. The eyes are huge, protruding from the sides with a fear only known to the horse. I figured Jose was breaking it, as the horse is very stubborn. We all had a good laugh as the horse controlled Jose at the market, not the reverse. After a rebellious strut around the market, contrary to what Jose was asking and yelling, the horse and Jose disappeared with Jose making noises the entire time. A few seconds later the horse was back, doing the exact opposite of Jose’s commands. We all laughed and watched in utter amusement.
Jose tied this horse to the concrete wall, then went to retrieve the other one. And I think I figured out what is wrong with the horse. He has a serious case of Terrets. He is jittery, he is paranoid, and he can’t sit still, even on a short rope. I was quite amused but a bit concerned for his wild life. Something was deeply wrong with that horse.
Then my horse came out. A nice, dependable guy. The one that I had rode briefly at the market.
I watch Jose throw a couple of older saddles on the horses. They looked rather plain, rather silly to me, and I wondered how old they were! And all I could think about were the saddles that I saw at the National High School Rodeo Finals. Incredibly fancy. Decorated leather. Thousands of dollars each. And I wanted very much to have a saddle like that to give to Jose. It just seemed like he would very much appreciate something like that. And I think I would appreciate doing that, too. These saddles were so simple! But the more I think about it, the more I like Jose having the simple saddles. Maybe he has never seen those other saddles, and he knows not that they even exist. And really, he has no need for them. He only needs a place to sit atop his horse, and he has that. Two of them even. And I think that was enough for him.
I watched him strap the saddles, then throw on the reigns. He then took the horse I was to ride and rode it around his back lot for a bit. I think he just wanted to make sure the saddle was secure, the reigns were good and tight and free, and the horse was cooperative. After several minutes of riding, he beckoned me out the back.
And it was a good thing, too. When Jose left me, I found myself alone with that other horse. Or maybe I should say it the other way! The other horse found himself alone with me. And he freaked out. Stomping back and forth. Left and right. Neighing.
"He seriously has Terrets.” I think I may have even told the horse that he had a problem. But the guy was too busy freaking out to even hear me. At Jose’s beckon, I started walking out there, and I’ll be if that horse didn’t jump at my first step. I had made sure that I was in sight of the horse (which wasn’t hard to do because he moved around to see me so much anyway), but he was quite frightened when I stepped...
That’s a messed-up horse!
I walked down to Jose, climbed atop my own horse, and then rode around the lot in circles for a bit. Ok, let me give you my horse-riding history...
1. I vaguely remember my aunt having horses. One named Tex. I know not whether I rode it or just sat atop it or just saw it. I was under 10 years old.
2. In 1993, I went to Colorado with my family for a family vacation. While there, we rode horses through some trails. Easy horses, nice horses. I was 11 years old.
3. In 2003, I rode a horse in Mississippi. Sorta. This was a sorry excuse for a horse, really. But the owner had fallen in love with her. And I was put atop her because I was gimp. I had seven stitches in the bottom of my left foot, and I can remember the pain and difficulty of even getting up to a canter. A gallop was anything but enjoyable. A very unpleasant experience.
4. I watched 8 Seconds several times, and they ride horses on there. Sometimes.
Well, that just about covers it!!! So my inclination was: Act like you know what you are doing. Jose had left to tend to his maniac horse. I had remembered some lessons from the past, and so I gently led the horse the way I wanted to go with the reigns. Not too bad, really! The horse followed! But the horse was going a bit wider than I wanted. So I led him further in. Pretty good! But he was sometimes slow, sometimes fast. What to do? I kicked him when he was slow, and he sped up a bit. When he was fast, I just made sure to stay atop him! I was going in tight circles, and it’s pretty easy to have your momentum thrown to the outside!
And I loved it.
I went around to the left. Then around to the right. Several minutes of learning my new horse, and then Jose came down. And he started going in circles...opposite me. He was making wide circles to the right, I was making tight circles to the left. The faster Jose’s horse would go, the faster mine wanted to go. But I was able to keep us from hitting, so I figured that was pretty good!
Then Jose stopped. And so I stopped. And we lined up next to each other, after another amusing show of Jose and his horse...
The horse would back up.
“Izquierda!!!” Jose would yell.
Still nothing. Finally, after much convincing, Jose and I were lined up next to each other. It was time to go.
We both motioned our horses forward, and we were off. Down a dirt road in Portugal. My horse wanted to get up to a canter, and Jose followed. To be quite honest, the canter is one of the most painful rides of a horse. It’s not walking, and it’s not running. It’s a quite bumpy experience. With every step, my butt would nail my saddle. Not comfortable. But I knew not how to slow him down. And to speed him up would just be silly. Jose was keeping up, though, so we kept that pace.
He said something in Portuguese to me...and pointed at my feet. I quickly realized that he was telling me to pull my feet further out. I had them all the way up in the stirrups, and I guess that was bad form. I brought them out to just behind my toes, and Jose seemed to like that.
But this canter had to go. We slowed down to a walk, but my horse didn’t like to walk. He liked to canter. A little walking, a little canter, a little pain.
I finally reached a good form of taking my weight off of the saddle. I put it on my feet. Hmm...maybe that is how you are supposed to ride. Imagine that. My butt didn’t hurt so much anymore, at least.
We took several dirt or gravel roads through the countryside. The paths were wet from the recent rain, and my horse was quite afraid to go through long puddles. He would either try to go off the path to the left or stop completely when we came to one. Being a good horse-rider now, I made sure to make sure that my horse went through the puddles. It was a trust issue, really. My horse had to trust me that those puddles were safe to go through.
I was now a full-fledged cowboy. At least to myself.
Jose’s horse continued to act up a bit, and I said, “Aye, aye, aye.” Jose understood what I was talking about, laughed, and then pointed at my horse. “Lento!” He called my horse slow! And then he pointed at his horse, said something about “fuerte,” and I was certain that he saying that he needed a strong horse for a strong man. Or a strong-willed horse for a strong-willed man. Either way, Jose’s choice was the horse he was on. Terrets, stubbornness, or strength. Take your pick!
We went up to a trot, and that was more comfortable. Quite comfortable, actually. The horse just gets into this groove, and the bouncing disappears. We walked some more, and Jose always stayed with me. Very little talking, but I was having a great time.
We stopped at the Escritorio, and Jose talked to a woman there. I waited atop my horse. After he came out, we went out for more riding. The guys in the rock trucks just stared at us. With wonder. With curiosity. With longing. Every man wants to ride a horse, I’m sure of it.
And Jose took me to some of the most beautiful countryside I have ever seen in my life. We walked down this path, and the sporadic houses even disappeared. We came upon two old structures from years gone by...someone had once said this was paradise, and it was, but they either died or lost money or lost interest in traveling from their real home to here. And so the structure was now old and decayed.
“Mi casa,” I said and pointed to the old house.
Jose laughed, said something, and agreed. What a fine place to live. All around us there were open fields. And somewhere in those fields were pine trees that dotted the now wide-open landscape. Some fields were worked up by hand or mule, and others were either not being farmed or waiting for a different season. But we were in our own country out there.
And on top of all of that, God was doing some fine craftwork Himself in the skies. The recent rains had now left some beautiful towering cumulus clouds. Somewhere off in the distance was a thunderstorm. Somewhere over those mountains. Oh, yes, you could see the mountains, too. And in the middle of it all, the sun was starting to go down, turning from the bright yellow to that soft orange.
I was in paradise.
We walked slowly through the trees, then came out of them again, following this sandy, dirty, rocky road the entire time. We passed by the fields up close, and I asked what they were in my best Portuguese/Spanish.
“Que vegetable?” It came out “Kay veg E Tah Blay”? I pronounced every syllable which is a no-no here in Portugal. But that’s what I knew.
Jose seemed to understand, though, and he responded...
“Potatoes dulces.” Ah, yes, sweet potatoes! I have heard much about these here, and I am actually anticipating an octopus and sweet potato meal sometime in the next couple of weeks! Bernd’s wife had promised! And I even hear that I will be able to attend a Sweet Potato Festival here in October! All the sweet potato concoctions I could ever want. Perfect!
And actually, finding myself where I was, with the sun setting, with the mountains wearing the cumulous like a cap, with the fields spread out before me, that is all I could say.
Jose smiled and agreed.
And then he said something, and he was gone!!! He just took off! No walk, no canter, no trot...he sped off! And what to do but follow?! I don’t know that I’ve ever taken a horse to a gallop before, but, hey, why not?!
I gained a bit on Jose, but his wild maniac of a horse, though crazy, was a bit faster than my trusty steed. I found myself galloping directly behind him. The sound of the hooves hitting the wet ground had a beautiful cadence to it. But there is no room for being in second place when horse-riding.
I had to squint my eyes to shield them from the mud being thrown up at me. Little bullets were nailing my eyes, my cheeks, my chest. I had to pull back a little to the left to get out of their trajectories.
Jose would look back every once in awhile to see if I was still there, and I hoped that he was always surprised to see me, just a step or three behind. Two guys, galloping through the countryside. Perfecto.
The road turned, and after a couple minutes of all-out riding, we slowed down. The horses gave off billows of steam from their now-warm bodies. I patted my horse on the neck to show my approval. What a treat!
We walked some more, and I looked over at Jose’s horse who was now making quite a bit of noise. His mouth was all foamy, and he was panting rather heavily. So I did the same in mockery to Jose and his horse....
“<pant> <huff> <pant>”
And we both laughed.
We walked slowly the rest of the way to Jose’s house. The horses had treated us well, and we absorbed the sun as it set over the hills, somewhere over the ocean.
Once back at the house, Jose hosed down the horses with water, and then we took the saddles and reigns off of them, and then put them away.
And in his beautiful voice, he spoke to me in Portuguese...
“Es pequeno. Otra dia...” And he spread out his fingerless hands. Then something about going along the “mare...tres or quatro horas...”
Yes, yes, yes! Our ride tonight was very short...only about an hour! He was inviting me back for another ride along the coast!!! For several hours!!!
“Sim, sim, sim!” Yes, yes, yes!
I didn’t know whether to do it or not, but I figured I might as well risk it. If Jose can ride a horse with no fingers, then surely he can take a picture without fingers, as well. And I asked him to take a picture of me in front of my horse. He said something about not doing it earlier with me on top, but I said...
"Otra dia.” I was coming back!
And I watched him take his thumb and hold the bottom of my camera, then take his solitary pinky and push the button. It wasn’t necessarily a strain, but he had to take some effort to position his hands correctly to hold the camera. And then he pushed the button. It was quick, and on my camera, you need to hold it down for a few seconds, but I had the flash off, so maybe not. I was desperately hoping that the picture took, because I would feel bad to ask him again!
I looked, and sure enough, there was a picture. Good!
I thanked him repeatedly, then hopped on my bike. He said he would call Bernd when we could ride again. Perfect.
The sun had already set, and it was beginning to get dark. I had really wanted to get out in the open and take a picture of the huge beautiful clouds over the mountains, but I had missed my 10-minute window. The brilliant orange colors were now gone, the sun having stolen them back after giving them for such a short time. The clouds were still powerful and towering, but they now lost much of their luster. In just a few short minutes, the human eye wouldn’t even be able to tell that those huge monsters were off in the horizon.
I pedaled out of the dirty trail, then onto the main road. I needed to get home before dark so as to not be hit by a car. I took the turn towards home, and I stopped to try for a picture. But it not worth it. I missed my chance. So what else to do but wait for a car to pass and then relieve myself. Which I gladly did.
Then I headed home. After about 5 minutes of pedaling, I started to pick up speed. Every so slowly. And not the type of speed that a little boy enjoys when going down a steep hill. Not the type that makes your eyes water. Or makes your hair blow back. Rather, this was a gentle breeze. This was a gentle coast. But I found myself not having to use my pedals.
“You’ve got to be kidding me.”
I looked behind me. I looked ahead of me. There is just no way.
But there I was, not pedaling, but moving forward freely.
All of a sudden I realized why it had been so difficult to bike to Jose’s house. You couldn’t see it with the naked eye, and I am not sure if it was because of the terrain on the side of the roads or because of the hills in the distance or just because of its gradual nature or what, but this road had the slightest incline to it. But enough to make it difficult to pedal up. And enough to make it unnecessary to pedal down. But you would never have known it just by looking.
I felt better that my bike was fine. I was glad that I could continue to use it for the days to come. And I was very appreciative of only having to bike five minutes of the 20-minute ride back home.
I put the bike away, went to my room, took off my dirty sweatshirt with the specs of dirt that had been thrown on me, and I sat down to some pasta. After eating, I ended up falling asleep all dirty. I wonder what I dreamed about.
I mean, what do you dream about at night when your days steal all the night’s content?
2007-10-03 21:58:45 GMT