I awoke in the darkness to the banging of the shutters on the glassless window of our bedroom. I was freezing cold under my blanket. The wind was howling outside as a “surazo” had blown in during the night. It was winter and the storms come from the south or “sur” in Spanish. These storms blow in and turn the Gran Chaco downright cold. Often a surazo can bring rain with it. This storm did not bring any rain, but the air was damp.
I was so cold, I got up and put on my jacket and jeans before crawling back into my bed. Neal was awake too as the cold had woken him. The room was far from airtight and there was no form of heat. At some point I dozed back off.
At daylight the wind died down slightly. The sun could not be seen as there was a thick low blanket of clouds blocking it from view. We joined the family in the warm kitchen. The fire from the stove felt wonderful. Miguel’s wife made hot cereal for breakfast and we gladly enjoyed it. Of course there was coffee, but I could not stand coffee. Knowing this I brought a box of tea bags with me to make hot tea. I am sure they thought I was strange, but I didn’t care. Neal liked coffee so he drank up while I enjoyed my tea.
After breakfast the work began. Miguel put Vicente in one of the smaller corral pens and we tied him to one of the posts. Miguel had put a saddle on him a few times and had started to work with him so we were not starting from scratch.
Vicente didn’t like the saddle much and when I tried to lead him around he fought me every step. He would bolt or he would stop dead in his tracks. After some prodding, he would bolt again as if trying to get away from the saddle. My hands were extremely cold as I worked the rope and I was shivering under my thin jacket. I had several shirts on trying to create a few layers to keep the cold damp wind out. My ears and cheeks were red and my nose was running a constant stream.
After a while Vicente began to calm down a little and seemed to get the idea of what we were trying to do. He wasn’t fighting the saddle as much and we managed to get him walking around in a circle.
About mid-morning Miguel’s wife came out to the corral with cups of coffee and some homemade bread called “pancitos”. I did not like coffee, but I was so cold the thought of the hot liquid inside me made me overlook the taste. It was typical Bolivian coffee, black, strong and extremely sweet. It really wasn’t half bad. We left Vicente tied to one of the corral poles while we took our break. He seemed more than content to stand there.
Vicente wasn’t tied very close to the post and decided the other side of the fence looked more enticing, so he proceeded to leap over the 5 foot tall corral fence from two feet away. He shifted his weight to his back legs and leaped up and over! Before long he decided the other side look better and leapt back over. Through the course of the week I would probably watch him leap the corral 30 times and every time I was amazed.
We went back to work on Vicente. He was responding slightly, but his stubbornness was definitely showing. He would be doing well and then explode with what could only be described as a tantrum. He would bolt and hop or he would lock his knees and not move. One thing I found comforting was that he never really bucked. The stirrups banging into his sides didn’t seem to bother him much either.
We took a break for lunch and I pulled the saddle off his back. I left him tied to the corral while we went inside the house. The warmth from the wood stove was a wonderful reprieve from the cold outside. My whole body was cold, but I was determined not to complain. My discomfort must have been noticeable because after lunch Miguel’s wife gave me a wool vest to wear. I put it on under my flannel and felt much warmer. We decided during lunch that I would ride Vicente that afternoon.
I was very apprehensive as Miguel saddled Vicente. He also saddled his best cow horse named Ruby. Since we didn’t have any sort of bridal for him Miguel fashioned one from a rope. He put a couple of small loops in the middle of a rope and slipped it around his lower jaw. Vicente didn’t care for this, but it would give me the same control as a bit in his mouth would. We also tied Vicente to Ruby with about 10 feet of rope and Miguel climbed on Ruby. I still did not know what to expect when I got on Vicente so I put my glasses on the fence so I wouldn’t break them if I took a header into the dirt.
I stuck my foot in the stirrup and jumped into the saddle. Neal was holding him for me but was forced to let go. Vicente took a huge jump forward and tried to bolt. Ruby did her job and kept Vicente from running. I managed to hold on and not get thrown, but I was completely out of the saddle and sitting behind the saddle. I quickly scrambled into the saddle and got my feet into the stirrups. We made many laps around the large pen of the corral that afternoon. Much of the time Ruby was dragging Vicente because he was so stubborn he wouldn’t move. Finally toward evening we called it a day and turned the animals into the fenced pasture. Vicente showed no signs of tiring during the work that afternoon.
We retired to the house for dinner followed by a round of Yerba mate. After dinner we all went to bed. That is when Neal and I discovered one of the curses of the Gran Chaco. Ticks! We both had deer ticks crawling on us. Several were already latched on. So in the candle light we checked every inch of our bodies and each other’s backs for the nasty insects. This became a nightly ritual for the rest of the trip.
I went to sleep in my clothes and jacket again because of the cold. I was so tired that I slept through the cold. Thankfully the wind died down when the sun set.
The next morning was more of the same. We had breakfast and coffee. I was beginning to acquire a taste for coffee. Avid coffee drinkers would laugh at our instant coffee, but I didn’t know any different and with enough sugar in it, it wasn’t half bad.
We worked some more with Vicente around the corral. Vicente was beginning to improve. About mid-morning we took a break and left Vicente tied to one of the corral posts.
More fire wood was needed for the stove, so Miguel caught Ford in the pasture and hitched him to a two wheeled cart that was kept in the shed. The three of us climbed aboard the cart and Miguel directed Ford through the pasture and I opened the gate for us at the far side. After about a 15 minute ride we turned down a narrow cart path through the trees. Miguel would stop the cart occasionally and we would load up dead limbs or small trees. After an hour or so we had the cart piled high with wood and started making our way back to the house. Neal was on the driver seat while Miguel and I walked behind.
It was lunch time by the time we piled all the wood next to the house. It all needed to be cut, but that would be saved for another day.
After lunch we resumed working with Vicente. Ruby was saddled again and we actually left the corral for the first time and headed down the road toward Tobite. Vicente continued to bolt as soon as I landed in the saddle. I was prepared for it now and quickly regained control of him each time. We kept the two animals tethered together with about 6 feet of rope. Vicente was forced to follow Ruby just off her right hip. It was a good thing we had Vicente tethered to Ruby because every few minutes Vicente would come unglued and bolt. He tried to crash into the thick under growth and knock me off. Other times Ruby had to nearly drag him along. After a while we turned back to the ranch.
Vicente did much better on the return ride. He was motivated and Ruby never needed to tug him along. He only bolted a couple of times.
We worked some more in the corral upon returning before calling it a day.
We had another nice dinner and evening before turning in. Once again, more ticks were found as we inspected ourselves in the candlelight. The night was cold again, but not quite as cold as the previous nights, so I slept much better.