Having arrived in Tupiza at 4 o'clock in the morning and wondered around for about 20 minutes because we were lost we eventually managed to find our hotel. Yes we splashed out and paid for a hotel with a swimming pool! Although the choice in this town was limited anyway and the price was very reasonable.
We checked in and crashed out until the morning where we awoke to a really sunny, hot day. We decided to get a few chores done (washing, banking, shopping, etc) then to sit by the pool and relax for the rest of the day. Whilst relaxing we once again bumped into the guy from London who we first met in Potosi and saw again in Uyuni. He was staying at the same hotel.
We got chatting and finally discovered his name was Andy. As it turned out our sole reason for being in Tupiza was to have a go at western horse riding and he was there for that reason too. We were also heading across the border to Argentina afterwards, as was he.
We explained that we had arranged to visit the stables to see the horses to make sure that they were healthy and well looked after and if they were, we would book a trek the following day. He was happy with this and said to count him in.
At 4.30pm we met the lady who owned the horses and she sent us off with one of the guides to have a look. We didn't know he was a guide at the time though as he looked about 16 and was riding a bicycle. We had to walk behind him for about 20 minutes to get to the stables. He didn't speak any English!
We arrived at the stables and the horses, to Sarah's relief, seemed healthy enough, there was even a small foal running around so that was nice.
We walked back, met Andy and booked the tour. 7 hours of riding, ouch! We also all had a laugh at Andy's passport photo because it looked nothing like him. He looked like a 70's hippy!
The booking guy asked if anyone had any riding experience so we all pointed at Sarah. He said something about her being privileged if she had her own pony which made us all laugh. He was a really funny guy and spoke excellent English.
Right, back to the pool for a bit before going to get something to eat. Earlier in the day we had wondered past a Parilla (bbq) restaurant that looked nice so we decided to go there. It was also cheap for the amount of food you get. Basically the place was a shop front with a brick bbq and the guy was cooking the meat fresh in front of you. There was a few local stray dogs hanging around outside waiting for titbits and the restaurant was full of locals so we guessed it was a good place to go.
After a good meal Sarah saved a bit of meat because she felt sorry for one of the poorly looking dogs (I had to explain we couldn't take them home) and was going to chuck it to him further down the street but as we walked out the cook chucked a whole load of leftover and scrap meat out for them. No wonder they were hanging around! Sarah just added to the pile in the end. We went to bed fairly early to get a good night's sleep before horse riding at 10am.
After a good night's sleep and breakfast 6 of us set off for the stables. Stuart and Charlene, Andy and an American named Christine and the two of us. I must admit I was a bit apprehensive but going to give it a go, not everyone had ridden before. It was actually Stuart who suggested the idea as he had always wanted to try western riding.
We put on our chaps and cowboys hats then mounted up. I had a horse called Negra (a black mare - Negra means black in Spanish - obviously). We can't remember the name of Sarah's horse but it was a big black gelding and called something like Fernando or Leonardo.
The saddles weren't western at all! Some of the horses were wearing really old English saddles and some were wearing blankets with what Sarah described as a metal tree on top, followed by a few more blankets and then a big sheet of leather. Sarah had never seen anything like it and none of them were very comfortable, it was going to be a long day!
We crossed the rail tracks and headed down the side of the road at a walk which was great and just about my pace, I also had a heavy backpack containing lots of water which was a nuisance and made it hard to balance going any faster.
We walked down the road for a bit then headed off towards the canyons. It was really hot and I was glad to be wearing a hat! I enjoyed it when we were walking and taking in the scenery, every so often we would pull over to let a car or motorbike go by and then carry on. Sometimes we would go into second gear (trot apparently) which for me was really uncomfortable. Sarah was also taking time getting used to it as the horses are similar to a type of Paso horse which apparently trot differently to normal. She was confused though because these horses also canter and their trot was very difficult to sit to. Not what she expected.
Before lunch we visited two canyons and then stopped by a river. After lunch we headed through the river where the horses had a long drink before joining the railway tracks to make our way back. During the afternoon Sarah took the backpack which made riding much easier. She even commented how hard it was to balance with a heavy weight pulling her back and she could sympathise with me not wanting to go faster in the morning (Sarah and some of the others galloped off and left me behind at one point and I had to fight to make my horse keep walking).
We were on our own for most of the way because our young guides kept disappearing and having rearing matches and races. We couldn't communicate with them as they didn't understand any English at all.
At one point Sarah's horse suddenly stopped and refused to go forward. It then started reversing into all the other horses despite her attempts to make it walk forward. None of the other horses would move either and she had to borrow a twig off Stuart to use as a whip but it didn't work. The guides where nowhere to be seen and none of the other horses would walk if Sarah's wouldn't so Andy suggested that we should all go for it at once! It worked and off we went again!
We went through more rivers and past canyons going through all the gears(!) and it was very wild west! I hate to say it but I really enjoyed it! Especially when we started cantering and I no longer had the backpack.
It was funny because when one horse went, they all did. Especially Charlene's which she couldn't control and just kept trotting off with her. I was laughing so hard I nearly fell off!
At one point I wanted to catch up to talk to Sarah and went to overtake Charlene and off we went!!! After a while Charlene didn't enjoy it any more though and was scared that she couldn't stop her horse. It was her first real attempt at riding. Sarah would have offered to swap horses but hers was jumping around and being naughty too. They had given her the difficult one because we all said she could ride.
7 hours later and a bit sore we arrived back at the stables. We were all walking like John Wayne back to the hotel and very tired. One the way back we stopped off to get some beers and then headed to the pool to relax our tired muscles.
Sarah and I just dunked our feet in whilst the others jumped straight in! They were mad because the sun had set and it was freezing! But the water was lovely and refreshing on our feet.
That evening we all went out for dinner and then got another early night because the following day Andy, Sarah and I were heading to Argentina and we would be saying a temporary goodbye to Stuart and Charlene who were heading to further places in Bolivia and then Paraguay!
Argentina wasn't part of our original plan but we were so close to the border we decided to go anyway. It meant we would have to move fast and we wouldn't have time to see the best bits like Patagonia but it also meant we wouldn't have to spend so long in Brazil which is really expensive. So we decided to make our way to Buenos Aires first!