I woke to daylight streaming into our room through a crack in the shutters. I heard voices in the kitchen and quickly dressed to join them. Breakfast was served of fresh bread, fried eggs, and coffee. By now I was beginning to look forward to the morning coffee and didn’t even touch the tea bags I had brought. In fact, I was actually slightly embarrassed that I had brought them along because I felt it made me look like a wuss. I loved reading Louis L’Amour westerns and up until this point I knew I would never be a real cowboy because I hated the taste of coffee and all the cowboys in his books drank coffee.
It was still chili, but the sky was clear. It looked like it was going to be a beautiful day. We went to work on Vicente pretty quick that morning. It seemed as if the overnight rest did him some good. Miguel decided we needed to ride to Tobite. Neal rode Muchacho, Miguel was on Ruby, and I was on Vicente still tethered to Ruby. Neal led the way down the road and we had a fairly uneventful hour long ride. Vicente only bolted into the brush a few times and Miguel, Ruby, and I quickly regained control and back on track. Not only was Vicente being trained, Ruby was learning her roll and being a great help.
We pulled up in front of Abram’s house and tied the animals to the large trees out front. We pulled the saddles off and all three immediately began to graze on the green grass. Abram welcomed us in and we agreed to stay for lunch. During lunch plans were made for Abram and his wife Rut to come to the ranch the next day. We told Abram about losing Neal’s flashlight and asked if he could ask the women that we saw in the road if they had it.
After lunch I used a bucket to water our rides with water from the cistern that collected water off the roof. We saddled up and headed back to the ranch. We still had Vicente tethered to Ruby because he was still unpredictable.
At the halfway point we came to the closed gate. Neal was in the lead by about 400 yards. While opening the gate Neal learned that Muchacho would stand still if his reigns were left up on the saddle. Neal needed to use the “facilities” and it was the perfect time while waiting on us. Miguel turned to me and said “Watch, that horse is about to leave your brother”. It was if we were watching a scene out of a Spaghetti Western movie. Muchacho turned his head and looked back at Neal standing a few yards behind him. He saw Neal was occupied and took a couple of steps toward home. At this point Neal realized what was going on and quickly started to zip his fly and took a couple of quick hops toward his horse. At this point, Muchacho bolted for home and there was nothing Neal could do. Neal threw his hands up in disgust and exasperation.
By now, Miguel and I were only about 20 yards away from Neal. We were laughing, but had to take action quickly or Neal would be walking home. I jumped off Vicente and tied him to a tree. Miguel took off in a dead run on Ruby to catch the big Muchacho who had close to a 1/4 mile head start at this point. Muchacho wasn’t fast, but he had an amazingly long stride and we could hear his hooves pounding into the distance. Miguel and Ruby disappeared around a corner with a much faster tempo, and we could hear the hooves pounding as the race was on. Ruby had a much shorter stride than Muchacho, but she was faster and in better shape.
I had tied Vicente to a large tree with under growth all around it. Vicente was not happy with being left behind and started to throw a temper tantrum. He began to kick with his powerful hind legs. He kicked at anything he could reach. Within just a few minutes he had cleared all the under growth around the tree including several large vines, which is of significance because the vines were green and flexible, but his hoof snapped them like a twig. I already knew I didn’t want to get kicked by him, but this just confirmed that if he kicked me I would be in a world of hurt. Neal and I just stood out of the way and watched the crazed animal. Neal cracked a joke saying that at least we knew that if we failed at training him, he could be used as a bulldozer. Meanwhile, I was laughing on the inside about what had happened, but because he was the bigger brother I kept it to myself for fear of retribution.
After about 15 minutes Miguel came around the corner leading Muchacho. Both animals were covered in sweat. We had a good laugh about the whole situation. Neal was embarrassed, which would be expected, and we continued to rib him about it for the rest of the trip. Vicente started to calm down upon the return of his girlfriend Ruby.
I mounted up again and we finished the return ride to the ranch. Ruby and Muchacho were worn out from their extra run in the deep sand. Vicente showed no signs of being tired although he was sweaty. The sand did not have the effect on the little mule like it did on the horses. I now understood why Miguel needed an animal with more stamina for the ranch.
The evening routine was the same as the previous ones. Dinner followed by Yerba Mate and then we hit the hay. With no electricity or television there wasn’t much point in staying up much past dark.
Morning came with clear skies and a bright sun. It was still chili, but warmed up nicely about mid-morning.
Abram and Rut arrived around 9 am. They were driving an old Massy Ferguson tractor my dad had rebuilt and painted for Paul Gess a few years before. The tractor was used to drag trees out of the jungle for a saw mill that the Paul had also procured for the Ayoreos. The saw mill helped provide a living for the natives.
Abram also brought with him a small red Maglight that was found on the road. Neal was very thankful for the return of his flashlight and he offered to pay the lady that found and returned it a little money.
We worked with Vicente in the large pen for a bit in morning. We then gave him the rest of the day off.
After lunch Abram, Miguel, Neal and I saddled horses and rode out to where the saw mill was set up. There was no one working it, but they had quite a stack of fresh cut lumber drying that would soon be ready to take to the railroad.
We found the herd of cows and gave them a good look over. Miguel had not been out to check on them since we had been there. We all had a good time cracking jokes and relaxing. Neal was riding Ruby and Miguel told him she was quite the jumper. So we found about a 4 feet in diameter log and Neal lined her up and she leaped right over it like it was nothing.
That evening after dinner Abram and Rut drove the tractor back to Tobite. It only had two feeble lights, but with a top speed of 10 mph it was sufficient.
The next day was Sunday. We were going to Tobite for church. So Miguel hitched Ford to the cart which his wife was going to drive with the children. Neal wasn’t feeling like riding, so he rode on the cart. Miguel and I took Ruby and Vicente.
We didn’t tether Vicente to Ruby for the first time. I had to stay alert for the entire ride. Several times Vicente bolted into the woods trying to knock me off. Other than that we arrived in Tobite without incident and the cart was not far behind us. Ford loved to travel, he didn’t care if he was pulling the cart or hauling a rider; he had an amazing gait that could eat up miles of territory.
I didn’t understand a word spoken in the church service as it was held in the native Ayoreo language. They sang songs that had been translated from English and Spanish and used Bibles that were translated as well. The pews were simply benches with no backs. Children scurried about running in and out. The service didn’t last more than an hour and we made our way to Abram’s house for lunch.
After lunch we hung out for a while. Abram, Neal, Miguel, and I walked out toward the airstrip and climbed the small mountain next to it. The climb was steep, but short. The view from on top was great as it was the highest point in the area. The top of the mountain was a solid rock with nothing growing on part of it.
Upon returning to the house we saddled up and Neal hitched up Ford and we made our way back to the ranch. Vicente did excellent on the return ride. He didn’t bolt into the brush and we made very good time. He was beginning to understand what speed was expected of him and really seemed to enjoy traveling.
Miguel decided that we would ride to an old empty ranch house the next day that his brother was going to move into soon. We wanted to give Vicente a good workout and Miguel was going to ride him for the first time. We also decided that Neal and I would head home in two days.
The next morning the sky was clear. It was chilly but promised to warm up. We wasted little time getting on the trail. I think Miguel was a little apprehensive about riding Vicente for the first time, but didn’t show it. I saddled Ruby since she was the next best horse in the “arsenal”. Neal decided to stay at the ranch for the day. Miguel had always carried his Colt.45 with us but had me strap it on because he didn’t want to possibly get thrown while wearing it. This really made me feel like a true Western Cowboy. The only thing I was missing was my beat up felt hat I usually wore instead of my ball cap, and of course, Cowboys didn’t wear glasses like mine.
The first leg of the ride was south, back to Tobite. We stopped at Abram’s house to water the animals. Vicente was doing quite well. He only bolted into the brush a couple of times and Miguel handled him perfectly. In fact, he was a much better rider than myself, and we both knew it. But I think he liked the idea of me getting thrown rather than him since I was much younger.
From Tobite we rode to the north east down an over grown road that had seen little use in a number of years. This road had been established years earlier and was a direct route to the town of Robore. However, Miguel said it was washed out where it went over a low mountain range and was impassable by vehicles. Often the brush along the edge of road was as tall as we were and would snag us as we passed.
The sand was just as deep as everywhere else but it didn’t seem to slow Vicente down. He had an excellent gait and moved right along leaving Ruby in the dust and from time to time I had to put my heels into her so we could catch up. Vicente had his head up and he worked his big ears back and forth like satellite dishes listening intently to every sound. His eagerness to travel new territory was fun to watch. Miguel gave him his head and let him find his pace.
The trees thinned and eventually disappeared as we dropped into a bit of a valley. We could see the low mountain range off in the distance as we turned north riding parallel to it. There was a small stream running down through the valley with little more than a trickle of water this time of year. After a little more than an hour we came to a fork in the road. Miguel turned left and we climbed a small rise and about a quarter mile away found an old abandoned mud house. The doors and shutters were still there and the roof was still intact, but it was obvious no one had live there in quite some time. Large bushes and weeds had grown up in what would normally be a yard that needed to be removed. Large shade trees surrounded the house and when trimmed a little would make the place look good. It had potential for a ranch house in the middle of nowhere. Of course, there was no running water or bathroom, and to most people that would be a problem, but not to these folks. Water could be hauled from the stream or collected from the roof. The house would need some repairs and much TLC, but it could be livable.
We had packed a lunch so we relaxed under the shade trees and ate some food. Vicente and Ruby happily grazed on a patch of grass nearby. Vicente never left Ruby’s side. Miguel was very pleased with how Vicente was doing.
After we had relaxed a little while Miguel said we should go. So we mounted up and hit the trail again. Vicente was getting better at standing still every time he was mounted.
By the way the crow flew, we were probably only an hour and a half ride from Miguel’s ranch, but there was no road or trail connecting the two through the thick jungle. So we headed back the way we came to Tobite.
Suddenly Miguel pulled up short on Vicente and started pointing at the ground. He was looking down intently as I approached while trying to get Vicente to stand still. In the sand large jaguar tracks could be seen crossing the road. We could see that they were made after we had passed through earlier. This was strange because these jaguars are normally nocturnal. I climbed down and examined the tracks closer. This cat was so big I could nearly fit my whole hand in the tracks. Now I understood why Miguel was always armed. We knew the cat wasn’t far away and we were not going to stick around to find out when it might return. I climbed back on Ruby and we were on our way. I am sure Ruby and Vicente could smell the jaguar because they were more than willing to move out quickly.
We stopped again at Abram’s house in Tobite to water the animals. We didn’t stay long as it was getting toward midafternoon at this point and Miguel wanted to check the cows when we returned to the ranch because he would be gone for a few days taking Neal and I to the train station.
Vicente had learned the way home by now and he covered the distance to the ranch in record time. Poor Ruby was completely worn out by the time we arrived. Neal was bored out of his mind waiting for us, as we had been gone for most of the day. Miguel’s wife had washed laundry in the creek since the weather was nice and included Neal’s and mine as well. It was all hung out on the barbed wire fence next to the creek bank.
I unsaddled Ruby and turned her out to the pasture. Miguel and Neal saddled Muchacho and La Yegua. I wanted to ride Vicente one last time before we left the next day so I jumped on him and we headed out to check on the cows.
It did not take long to reach the herd and I decided to see if Vicente could be used as a cutting horse. I tried to round up a couple of the outlying cows, but I was not very successful, except for getting a good arm workout. He did not understand the concept yet, and was not used to turning much. So far we had ridden him on fairly straight roads that required little rider input. But I was confident that with time and patience he would turn into a good cutting mule. He seemed eager to learn at this point and understood that he was not in charge. I did not have a single problem in the few hours we rode and he was still full of energy.
We returned to the house just before dark. The animals were turned into the pasture and we went inside for dinner. After dinner we stayed up a little longer than normal talking about the future of Vicente and training other mules. Miguel seemed very pleased with the outcome of the week’s work, especially when we rode all day through the sand and he still had plenty of energy. He also decided that he was going to train him to pull the cart like Ford so he could be more versatile.
Neal and I turned in with the usual tick inspection. I was worn out from all the riding that day, but looking forward to heading home the next. I was enjoying my stay, but also a little homesick.