“Don’t worry, Elena,” said our host, Juan Rabasa, co-owner of EnduroEcuestre, an equestrian outfitter based in San Cristobal de las Casas in the highlands of southwestern Mexico. “Palomo is the perfect horse for you. You can trust him.”
But could Palomo trust me? Everyone knows you can’t fool a horse. But fooling yourself? That’s easy.
How easy it was to forget that the ‘me’ that is seduced by exotic adventures, is only a distant cousin to the ‘me’ reflected in the morning mirror, and - here’s the rub - a complete stranger to the nervous ‘me’ perched atop an Arabian horse in the wilds of Chiapas, Mexico.
EnduroEcuestre co-owner Gloria Castellanos. © RachidDahnoun
As we introduced ourselves – Ryan from British Columbia, Andres from Ecuador, and Rachid from Lake Tahoe - it became obvious that I was not only the sole female guest rider but also the least experienced. The voice in my head that parroted ‘Don’t worry, Elena,’ seemed oblivious to the self-doubt that surged within me. The thought of navigating an English saddle for four days atop raw equine power across challenging terrain had me feeling more than a little intimidated.
However, as we dined that evening on farm fresh tamales, chilepiquin, queso fresco, chayote, y pollo on the veranda of a centuries-old Hacienda, my worries vanished as quickly as the tequila añejo.
Hacienda la Valdiviana ©Ellen Barone.
My heart pounded against my chest as we rode out the next morning across the historic ranchlands of the mountain-fringed Cintalapa region amidst the raucous squawks of swirling green parrot flocks. Palomo felt it too. But in place of the previous evening’s trepidation pulsed the heartbeat of an adventurer.
Horseback riding in Cintalapa, Chiapas, Mexico. @RachidDahnoun
Leading the way and defending the herd, was our guide, Oliverio Frances Meyer, a swashbuckling livewire with as much energy and athleticism as his glistening black stallion. Oliverio arrived in Mexico from France some thirty years ago and has been guiding horseback riding expeditions for EnduroEcuestre for more than a decade. While Oliverio expertly managed the more experienced riders, Juan kept pace with Palomo and me, sharing invaluable advice gleaned from a lifetime in the saddle.
Equestrian guide, Oliverio Frances Meyer. ©Ellen Barone.
Over the next few days as we trailed along quiet dirt tracks, historic hacienda bridleways, across rivers, and steep pine-shaded mountain paths to the isolated beaches of the Pacific coast, I would learn to trust Palomo and trust myself. Cantering alongside Juan that last day, I realized something magical had happened: not only was I interacting with Palomo with newfound confidence and respect, I was riding high on pure joy.
EnduroEcuestre outfitter, Juan Rabasas. ©RachidDahnoun
With the horses trailered and headed back to San Christobal, our final evening was spent at Madresal, a community-built eco-friendly beach camp situated on a picture-perfect swath of pristine Pacific Coast. Accessible only by boat via a labyrinth of mangrove estuaries teaming with crocodiles, ospreys and herons, Madresal, is an awe-inspiring example of what local heart, sweat, and hope can accomplish.
Madresal, Pacific Coast, Chiapas, MX. ©Rachid Dahnoun.
Determined to find a sustainable solution to local unemployment, environmental protection, and increasing tourism, Madresal is owned and operated by forty-six visionary locals eager to introduce visitors to their sensational slice of paradise while preserving the uniqueness that makes it so special.
Exploring Madre Sal mangroves. ©Ellen Barone.
Reminiscing about our adventures that night over a savory meal of just-caught grilled fish and ice-cold cervezas, I realized that the people of Madresal knew how to trust - in fact, they’d banked their future on it.
Smiling children at Madre Sal. ©Ellen Barone.
Founded in 1996 by Juan Rabasa and Gloria Castellanos, EnduroEcuestre is a premier equestrian outfitter based in San Christobal de lasCasas, Chiapas, Mexico, offering day and multi-day horseback riding tours. For information and bookings, visit www.enduroecuestre.com or call 011-52-967-102-027.
For additional Mexico adventure travel opportunities, read GO NOW: 8 GREAT MEXICO ADVENTURES.
Travel information on attractions, activities, and accommodations within Chiapas is available at, www.turismochiapas.gob.mx.