Thursday, January 19, 2012

Shameless Publicity and Inner Peace

When I was a teenager I remember hiking up Stone Mountain (the one in North Carolina) with my dad and him telling me that he would take that moment-- being up on top of the mountain breathing in the fresh clean air and watching the hawks circle above the beautiful patchworked landscape-- and savour it, bringing it back into his conciousness during the week at the office and using it to dispel moments of stress or boredom.  When you're a teenager such things seem wierd and cheesy-- you're too busy concentrating on the moment (is my hair ok? do I look fat? is she calling me stupid?) to think about anything else.  But more and more I've come to learn from the lesson my dad unwittingly gave me years ago and when I'm in a particularly beautiful or peaceful place I'll attempt to take in as many details as I can to be able to call up the sensation of being there at will.

One of these places which always inspires a feeling of inner peace and wonder at the beauty of our planet and the life which inhabits it is the Sierra de Gredos mountain range and foothills in central Spain.  It may not be as majestic as the Himalayas, as rugged as the Rockies or as picturesque as the Alps, but its understated yellow-dotted meadows with babbling brooks running through, its green-grey peaks often dusted with snow and its honest-to-goodness subsistence farmland and olive groves give it an element of absolute authenticity which makes one feel privileged to be permitted to take part in.  Its towns are charming, rustic and display many historical elements from centuries past, but you'll find few "reconstructions" catering to tourists.  Far more common are 200 year old private houses whose owners invite you in for sangría, medieval cathedrals still in use or half-ruined castles standing guard over the stoplights and subdivisions of modern life.
So what does this have to do with horses?  I've been lucky enough to discover a wonderful stable (Gredos Ecuestre) in the heart of this incredible countryside whose cheerful and caring owner, Gabriel, specialises in showing both outsiders and locals the hidden treats Gredos has to offer.  With the healthiest, happiest and most spirited herd of horses I've ever seen and always accompanied by midday tapas and sips from a shared wineskin, Gaby leads his groups through a surprising array of landscapes, over crystal clear rivers, along sandy creekbeds, up and down rocky mountainsides and through fairytale forests, ending nearly always with a shared picnic with his family back at the stable.  I've been on many routes with Gaby now, not least of which was a 5 day trek along the Camino de Santiago from O' Cebreiro to Santiago de Compostela, however when I need inspiration or inner peace I always bring up the feeling of riding through Gredos in good company (both human and equine).

At any rate, a while back Gaby sent a preview of some of this year's routes to me and I want to share them here, I highly recommend any and all of them and am more than happy to answer any questions you might have about travel plans, accommodations, the horses / facilities / skill level required or whatever.  You can contact Gaby for the prices but they're more or less in line with what you'd pay just about anywhere else in the region.  I'm saving up for the Full Moon Over Gredos ride myself and my big goal for Starbuck is to be able to take her on the Camino de Santiago with Gaby and friends next year...  He'll also "handcraft" a route for you based on your interests and group size if none of these work into your schedule.

Horseback riding through the wetlands of Doñana National Park and in the picturesque village of El Rocío.
Days 2, 3, 4 and 5

3 day ride through Mediterranean pasture land and oak forests, following the ancient paths and roads which Viriato used in his struggle against Roman domination of Iberia. Sierra de San Vicente (Toledo).
Days 17, 18 and 19

Festive weekend filled with cookies, lemonade, ice-cold beer and great paths for galloping!
Days 26 and 27

First of several stages in order to travel by horseback from La Parra to Fisterre (the very end of the Camino de Santiago whose Latin name means “End of the World”). This year we’ll ride as far as Zamora.
Days 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9

We’ll ride up the Sierra de Gredos by moonlight yet again this year and enjoy a night camped out under the stars.
Days 2, 3 and 4

New territories await our discovery along the banks of the Alberche river.
Days 12, 13 and 14

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