A Ride on the Edge

“The goats were killed in the last eruption. There was no warning. The gas killed them before they could escape.” Carlos points to a the sun-bleached bones littering the mountaintop. “But that was five years ago.”

This is not comforting.

I’m on the edge of the Sierra Negra volcano in the Galapagos. Ten feet away the dry grasses plunge 100 meters to the cinders of the crater. A few kilometers away I can see plumes of smoke rising from hot spots, and nine kilometers away the far side of the crater rises up again. I can feel the heat radiating from below, smell the threat of sulfur.

sierra negra volcano / isabella

sierra negra volcano / isabella

Behind I hear the horses fidget, the shuffling of hooves on cinders. They tug against the scrub to which they’re tied, seemingly eager to leave. I remember stories about the sensitivity of animals to geologic events. (A talent that goats are apparently lack.)

After a suitable amount of time contemplating our mortality, we mount up to head home. Carlos rides downslope, and my stallion “Pesadilla” obediently turns to follow. We walk along with the crater to our right, angling gently downhill towards Puerto Villamil.

I grow bored, and gently kick Pesadilla in his flanks to urge him on. He rolls one bloodshot eye back to judge me, then leaps forward into a full run.

The shock of the sudden acceleration rocks me back, and my left foot comes out of the stirrup. The horse turns towards the cliff’s edge, and I struggle to maintain my balance as he swerves through the scrub.

“What? How? Arrgghh!” I think. I know horses. I’m comfortable with horses, and I’ve been riding since I was young. I’ve never felt out of control. I’ve felt many things on a horse, but never fear.

At 15, I was the proud owner of a beautiful Appaloosa mare. She was unfortunately named “Cinderella” by my younger sister, but she was otherwise perfect.

I would ride Cindy through the fields and forests around the farm. She would switch gaits seamlessly, almost reading my mind as she moved from trot to gallup to full-blown run.

Running with Cindy was like dancing, her body smoothly flowing in waves as we moved together, my body rocking to match her movements, everything forgotten except the feeling the two of us moving together through the air.

And late some nights when everyone was asleep, I would go out to ride Cindy beneath the stars. I was delirious with hormones, and with the feeling of her body moving between my naked thighs. We followed familiar pathways through the forest lit only by moonlight and fireflies.

Zig-zagging at the edge of the volcano, it seems that the ride will end much less pleasurably.

The guide Carlos, racing to keep up with us, yells “Pull the reins! Pull the reins!”

“I am!” I scream back, my untethered leg held out horizontally as a counter-balance to keep me from toppling sideways into the abyss. I tug the reins harder, and Pesadilla swerves more erratically, threateningly.

Finally Carlos catches up with us, reaches across, and grabs the bridle, pulling us away from the crater and gentle slowing our rush forward.

I walk Pesadilla the next quarter mile down the slope, then mount again. We follow Carlos downhill, and lean forward, whispering to my mount, thanking him over and over for our blissfully slow pace.


This post was written for Larry Habegger’s writing class in August 2015. This story occurred on Isla Isabela in the Galapagos Islands in March 2006.

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