So the hotel we were staying with near Trinidad had the option of horseback riding. After a lot of back and forth with the receptionist, every single student, our professors, and the tour guide, we finally settled on the eight of us riding to the waterfall nearby at 3:00 the nest day. It was 15 CUC for the horses and an extra 9 to go to the waterfall.
We got back with not a lot of time to spare, so those of us who needed to change changed quickly, we filled water bottles, those of us who needed to change money did, and then we went out to wait for the horses.
Saddling them was a little awkward. Not too bad, there was just the slight worry of “can I swing one leg over the other without kicking the horse. But then I was up, and got to watch everyone else struggle with their horses without worrying about mine.
My horse was a little slow to get started. But once she did start, she liked being in the lead. Like, right away worked her way so that she was second, which was just enough that when there was a dog to startle the first horse, it wasn't her. But after that, she was in the lead.
We went onto a narrow natural path right next to a sidewalk. Every other horse stayed there, but mine took a giant step up to go on the sidewalk. It wasn't an issue because the sidewalk ended soon after so she was back on the same walk as all of the other horses.
The guide stayed in the back, shouting out directions and urging the horses that were closest to him to go faster. Whereupon we learned that all of our horses behaved like Chicago drivers: they would speed up whenever another horse tried to pass them.
Mine remained in the lead. I did not want to be in the lead. I didn't want to be the one who needed to be guiding the group the rest way. The only fork in the road where I thought I knew what to do (take the path that didn't go through a pond) I was wrong. After I re-guided it towards the pool (which was already a deeper part) I discovered my horse was thirsty. She kept drinking until we were last of the students, at which point I finally managed to make her move.
I later discovered that had probably all been part of her plan. She liked being in the lead, but she also liked giving other horses false hope. Once we were on the open path, she worked her way to the front pretty quickly. Then there would be periods of running for a bit., walking for a bit. When the horses behind her started to run she would wait long enough for them to get a decent lead, and then she would run and end up in front of them.
She wasn't always nice about it. She tried biting another horse once, and I was spending way too much energy trying not to let her cut off other horses, because she would. But it was kind of funny when there were three guys with various competitiveness vying for the lead, urging their horses on... and then I would come up without doing anything about it and beat them.
It took a while, but eventually we reached the place to anchor the horses. Getting off was even more awkward than getting on, and but I managed after finally figuring out what the guide wanted me to do.
He said it was a five minute walk to the waterfall. It wasn't.
It wasn't a terrible walk. We needed to go up, and the ground wasn't exactly even, but it wasn't too steep, and provided you were paying attention you wouldn't trip. No one in our group did, which was a good sign.
Then we got to the waterfall. It wast a huge waterfall by any means. It was more of a gentle trickle than a rushing pour that comes with the stereotypical image of “waterfall.” Probably I've been spoiled by Niagara Falls. I'm not even sure how well I consciously remember it, but it's worked its way into my conception of what a waterfall should be.
At the base of the waterfall was a nice little pool that you could swim in. Some parts were shallow enough you could stand. Other parts were about 20 feet in. there were nearby rocks where you could sit on and get a good view of the people swimming.
There were two ways to get into the water. Jake and Trent (two of the more adventurous people I'd taken a secret satisfaction with beating on horseback) chose to jump. Everyone else who wanted to swim went from the dry rocks to the rocks that were covered in a couple inches of water, slowly walk forward (holding on to the rocks because it was slippery) sit down, scoot forward a little, and then finally take a deep breath and just swim forward. I was the last of the swimmers to get in the water, but I did go in.
Jake had been the first person to get in, and he'd said the water was nice and warm. When Emily got in, she shouted”Jake, you liar! It's freezing in her!” Personally, I'd put a bit more stake in what my foot had told me the temperature was when I'.d dipped that in than what my fellow students had told me the temperature was (it's not that I'm not that I don't trust them, it's just that they're not very trustworthy) so I wasn't surprised by the temperature.
The water was pretty cold, but you didn't notice it too much if you were moving around. There were some caves that looked dark and shady, and a couple people made half hearted attempts to look at them. The rest of us took the less adventurous approach and just swam to touch the waterfall part. It was really cold there,and also deep, so it didn't take long for us to go back to the warmer, shallower ground.
Then Jake wanted to jump from farther. After talking with the guide who had come with for a little bit, he climbed, shouted down to the guide until the guide confirmed he was at the right spot, and jumped. Then he jumped again. The rest of us watched (while, most people watched). I squinted and wished I could wear my glasses) with mixed reactions. The third time Wyatt, Trent, and Emily went up with him. They all said it was a lot of fun. A few people wnet up one more time. I considered it, but decided against it. I have a really hard time jumping off cliffs even under the best of situations (attached by ropes to trained professionals.) Besides, the rocks were pretty slippery by that point.
Then we crawled up onto the rocks to dry off before riding the horses back.
Now, I need to take a moment to give credit to Wyatt, because he was the only person who had had the foresight to bring a towel on this excursion. I need to give him that credit, because it puts the next thing he did in a bit more perspective.
Wyatt was drying off, and Emily asked if she could borrow his towel. According to Emily, he frustratedly threw it over her head. According to Wyatt, he threw it at Emily but she didn't catch it. In any event, Emily had been standing just a few feet away from Wyatt, with another person in the middle if it had been too far to hand over directly, Wyatt decided to throw the towel instead, and the towel ended up in the water instead.
It was his towel, and he was the one who needed to carry it back. This didn't stop the rest of us from making fun of him. We eventually promised we'd stop and not mention it again. Except to tell everyone else about it at dinner. And then as a description for the picture that had Emily swimming out for the towel. And in all of our journals.
“But Wyatt, if it makes you feel any better, your roommate did literally follow you off a cliff.”
Our drying off was slightly less effective after that, so we basically just had to pull on dry clothing over our wet swim suits. The guide helped us wring out the towel, but he seemed to be anxious to get on the road. It was getting kind of late. So we changed and walked back to the horses. By this point everything was starting to hurt. Even the bottom of my feet, which (probably because the water had softened them) were feeling the rocks it was walking over.
I got onto the horse and realized just how little I wanted to be doing. But it's like any other time that you're committed to something, whether mentally or “I need to get back. I don't have a choice.” I kept shifting around in the saddle to find less uncomfortable places,, especially when the horse started running.
The good news is that our horses were as tired as we were. My horse settled for fourth. Once near the end she took the lead, but she relinquished that without too much fuss. She still tried to bite a horse that wanted to get to four, and cut those horses off if I let her. But she was trying less hard, as was everyone else's.
Most of the ride I was just trying to distract myself until we were back. Probably the best part was when I realized we were literally riding off into the sunset.
Right now, I'm torn between “wow! That was a really great experience!” and “what on Earth was I thinking?” When I'm less sore, the latter thought will probably go away. But right now I'm still having moments like “huh, there's a bruise near my left ankle. That's weird.” (Feels right ankle.) “There's one there too. I blame the horse.”
Ultimately though, bruises fade faster than memories. I swam in a waterfall and rode horses into the sunset. In Cuba. It was worth it.