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Endurance.Net Home 2008 Al Andalus Trek: Steph's Notes - a ride in Spain


Merri and I just arrived to our next home (a very nice hotel in Antequera) after I got to enjoy another day riding. We finished (turtles again :) but it was still a pretty decent pace. Very nice mare - I've never ridden a horse quite like her - maybe it's partly because she's a mare - but she has so many opinions about everything and is very 'social' - always checking out the horse in front, the horse behind, the horse next to her... her ears are constantly flicking back and forth... yet she is totally willing to do whatever I ask. She's an absolute pleasure to ride.

My partner and I are still in the running - 6th place team, an hour behind the 1st. we'll see! My horse - Arenal - is still having problems with the interference sores, boots, no boots, - hard to know what to do. She got a little sore the second half of the day today with the boots on, so I took them off and she was better. We rode through farm land - olive groves, wheat fields, several pig farms, lots of old houses, a few new houses, skirting around farms and towns. It was mostly gentle going, we were able to trot along and canter some too. I rode alone today, Paco wanted to go slow since yesterday was so tough, so Arenal and I went on and did our own ride :)))) and had an absolutely wonderful day.

This event is FANTASTIC!!!! really, it's just amazing. This was the sixth day and we rode from Ronda to Antequera, mostly through farms and olive groves and wheat fields. At the end we had a good climb up and over a ridge and then dropped down into a beautiful valley. The finish was at the site of a 15th century convent - huge vaulted ceilings, paintings of biblical scenes (old and fading, but undergoing renovation), tombs - crypts - in the basement. awesome!! After the horses were put away everybody went into the convent/cathedral for a reception. There was a celloist playing in the back of the vaulted ceiling room - we had fantastic food - some sorts of meats and sauces and paella and prawns and a soup that was sort of like gespacho - a cold tomato soup - but thicker, with bits of hard boiled egg and ham and oohhhhh.... plus wonderful ride wine - vino tinto - or beer - cervesa - or other fruity drinks and bread and and and...

This is not over-done, not ostentatious, just totally classy. Absolutely First Class. The trails are honest and challenging, the people are so wonderful, the organizing committee is totally dedicated to this enterprise.

The ride is the dream of Jose Manuel Soto - a horseman and one of Spain's favorite singers :
Marife y Jose Manuel Soto - Ojos verdes
He is Andalucian - and lives in Sevilla - and is really an extraordinary man. He started the ride 3 years ago - combining his passion for Andalucia with his passion for horses and his tremendous vision. The Tierras de Al-Andalus is part of a production company now - it is a fully staffed effort. Jose and his staff have connected with several sponsors and have engaged much of Andalucia. Each town that we ride to 'hosts' the ride. They show up in force for the start, the finish, the reception, and a dinner in the evening. Sometimes the politicians appear - to hand out awards, or just watch. The towns generally provide awards as well. The sports-tourism director for Andalucia joined the event yesterday and had a blast.

One thing I've noticed: Andalucians are passionate about Andalucia!! And I can see why. The climate is delightful (tho very hot in the summer they say), the food is incredible, the people are so warm and friendly. I could do this...

Day 5 Update:

Last night Merri and I stayed at a little tiny hotel in Ronda, we didn't have internet, and honestly even if we had we were too exhausted to use it, so we had dinner at a little restaurant 'Las Caballerias' and were in bed by 10:30 - we just crashed. (up again before dawn still craving more sleep, but a little more prepared for the day).

Ronda is one of Spain's - and Andalucia's - gems. It is an old city - originally built by the Romans. Narrow streets, little cobblestone alleys, so much charm! And it's built on the edge of a towering rock face. There is an old narrow bridge that joins the two canyon walls which are split by the Guadiaro River - (check out some of the photos! ) - and it has some of the feel of the Greek Island - Santorini - perched on a steep cliff - as if one could fly.

The finish line for yesterday was across the valley from Ronda. We could look across a valley of farm fields and see the full effect of the wall and the old old OLD buildings that stood out on the village skyline. In all my rides, I have never see such finish line scenery!!!

Yesterday was 'One Of Those Days' - almost everything that could go wrong did. One of the vehicles (with the finish line stuff) had a wreck on the way from the hotel to the staging area. Nobody was seriously hurt, but the vehicle was totaled. Another vehicle (belonging to Inez) overheated on the way to the vetcheck and sort of blew up. The start was delayed by 2 hours. (we hauled to the start - another incredible Andalucian village - Cortes de la Frontera - one of the many villages built into the landscape, with all of the buildings painted white (by decree) - so beautiful!!! against the backdrop of the green fields and forests... ). Delayed by 2 hours because Torrivo lost the keys to the truck that hauls the quads and motorcyles (which mark the trails and follow the course) and he had another set of keys sent from his home in Seyvilla but they only arrived in the morning, and then the quads and motos still had to be gassed up and go out in front of the riders... so the ride started at 10am instead of 8:30am. But - there was a lovely little Inn on the hill which served coffee and local food for breakfast, and we really didn't suffer too much :) And then there were problems with the rigs following the track and meeting the riders - it was a very difficult mountainous day, very slow, and even tough for quads. And then the horse hauling truck didn't pick up Arenal - Fernando's mare - (couldn't find her) in the morning at the stable (since I wasn't riding) and left her in the box stall, and Fernando had to drive back and get her.

But it was an amazing trail - slow, technical, difficult, beautiful - this event may be the ultimate 'Frills' ride, but it is still Endurance as we know and love it. The vetcheck was up on hilltop in another gorgeous white walled- narrow streets - built into the landscape - Andalucian village. The last half of the trail followed an old road built just above the river, it the first route through Spain - connecting the southern port cities (Mediteranian Sea, Atlantic) to the north of Spain and France. The road was built by the Romans!!!! Little stones cobbled the entire way. (which made it slow going in places for the horse). Old decaying Spanish homes - arches and walls and barns - many lives passed in these hills.

And the difficult day ended with Merri and I laughing helplessly in the 2nd floor hall outside the elevator of the little hotel because after we stepped out of the elevator and the elevator door closed we were pitched into total darkness. We were absolutely helpless with hysterical laughter, both collapsed to the floor because we were laughing too hard to stand up, and eventually (between gasps) using our camera flashes in the blackness to try to find a light switch. It was the perfect end to the day.

Tonight we have a ride briefing and afterward dinner and awards in Antequera. And then, another day!