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

To The Finish

Merri and I are sitting in the lobby of the hotel in Jaén waiting to take a train to Madrid. I'll go from there to Malaysia, Merri will continue to travel in Spain and Portugal. Just a little bit of time to reflect on what was without a doubt the most incredible Endurance event I've ever been part of.

Tierras de Al-Andalus - the lands of Andalucía - a 10 day endurance adventure - is the genius of José Manuel Soto. He is one of Spain's cherished singers, with a passion for life, a love of his land, an eye for adventure and a reverence for the horse. His dream, and his ability to put together a team of people capable of 'making it happen' gave us the opportunity to experience the beauty and variety of Andalucía on horseback. The trails were challenging and scenic, traversing historic sites, mountain passes, village streets, beautiful Atlantic beaches... We stayed in hotels nestled in historic towns, were hosted by different communities with their own styles and traditions. And the people of Andalucía are warm and friendly, passionate, quick to laugh and smile...Does it get any better?!

And what a production!! The event was managed by a production company ('Eventa' I think) with an amazing staff of people. Between the organizing committee, the Tierras de Al-Andalus staff, and this company there must have been close to 30 people working furiously to keep everything running. Organizing the press and publicity, the hotels, the transportation, the logistics of moving so many horses and people around. And then the challenge of designing the trail - through parks, private property, villages - this alone was a daunting task. On Day 7 everybody got to the staging area for the day's ride only to find out that the beginning of the route was blocked. A nice dirt access road along the Rio Genil was completely blocked because a construction team had just chosen that spot to place all of their building materials and equipment. And so an hour later - after much head scratching, map consulting and help from the local police - an alternate route was created which took the riders through the city, across highway bridges, in places one would never consider to ride on - but this was the only solution in such short time!

On most days the starting point of the trail was in a different spot from where the horses were stabled. And sometimes the stables were also in a different spot from the finish line. And then the hotels were in yet another place - the transportation logistics were formidable!! It could have been a simpler event, but in typical 'ride manager' fashion Soto wanted everybody to really really really experience Andalucía - to ride the best trails, see the most historic sights, experience the charm and antiquity of the special places, taste all the fantastic food, meet the special people... there was nothing simple about this ride! But I absolutely understand that it was a child of Soto's passion and artistic inclination and sharp eye for horseback trails. And although it was exhausting at times, with too little sleep, a blur of horses and trails and roads and villages and dinners and vistas and meetings and just barely having enough time for it all. Although it was exhausting, it really shouldn't have been any other way. It was the most amazing ten days I can remember, a dream - un sueño - an experience of a lifetime.

Yesterday was the last day. Once again I had the great pleasure to of riding Arenal - a brave and lovely mare that adapted to each day's unique challenges (and frights!) and carried me across las tierras. We started at an old 5th century castle - Castillo de la Mota- a crumbling earth colored castle perched on the top of a hill, with a cathedral built on the same site in more recent times. These lands were inhabited by the Moors - Arabic people for 800 years! They came north from Arabia, across the Straits of Gilbraltar - a journey of less than 10 miles across the water to Spain's most southern point, in the age where battles were fought with wooden ships, or on horseback ...with crude weapons and hand to hand combat - it's so hard to imagine.... Eventually Spain recaptured her lands and drove the Moors back to Arabia, but there are ubiquitous remnants of the years of inhabitation - and the transition from Roman to Christian to Muslim and back to Christian. Towers on the hills - Arab lookouts - cathedrals built on castles, castles built on the sites of Arab forts, and all of this predated by the Romans with their cobbled roads and stone monuments! Such an old land. And a magnificently beautiful land.

The ride began through the village - around the old castle, through narrow streets with curious spectators, and the clomp clomp of horse feet on pavement or stone. After we left the village we rode through the mountains - foothills of the Sierra Nevada - snow covered mountains. We rode through olive fields and orchards, across creeks, through herds of goats and sheep, past old crumbling dwellings, up and up and then down and down. Tremendous scenery - very dry country, rocky trails and grassy meadows. Stunning!

We finished at an equestrian center - with much press and hoopla and excitement. And it was yet another perfect sunny day. This ride was blessed with good weather. The Saints must have been smiling, it couldn't have been any better.

Last night was the final award ceremony - trophies and belt buckles and smiling people and special awards. (I got the special 'happy rider' award :)))) After the awards we had a dinner of special Iberian ham (salt cured ham made from acorn fed pigs), cheeses, wine, all sorts of treats. And then to the pub! What a wild wild party. Much laughter and dancing (these people can really dance!! a lot of flamenco Sevilla). And by demand, Jose Manuel Soto treated us to his singing. The room was totally captured, he is a very special performer. An amazing voice, and such passion projected with each word, each note. We were all dancing and those that knew the lyrics sang along - little cameras and cell phones capturing the performance - hands in the air, all raised to this very special person.

I'll try to write more later - so many details are still a blur, but are worth noting. I am so thankful to Paco (Francisco López Maeso) for inviting me and to Fernando Uriarte for giving me his wonderful horse to ride, and to the organizing committee for taking care of me and Merri, and hauling us and our luggage (ridiculously heavy because of the extended trips we're taking) all over Andalucia, and being so patient with our feeble attempts at speaking Spanish, and for being so generous! And to Jose Soto for creating such an enormous event. Soto has the talent for finding a scenic and challenging trail - he is in the same class as Dave Nicholson in this respect - and like Dave he was riding the trail each day by motorcycle - keeping track of his riders. And in terms of pure passion and charisma he is in a class of his own!


n (still smiling)