One of the great loves of my life is horseback riding, but I don’t get to do it nearly as often as I like. As you can imagine, it costs the earth in a land-scarce country like Singapore and so I try to fit in some rides whenever I travel.
So when I found myself with some time to kill in Quito while waiting for my visa to be processed, it was a no-brainer to try and fit in some riding.
After some online research, I booked a 3-day ride with Green Horse Ranch – the Sacred Valley ride. It sounded (and still sounds) incredible, but unfortunately due to being called back unexpectedly to the immigration office, I had to change my plans and ended up doing a day ride (Pululahua Trail A) and, a couple of days later, a 2-day ride (Pululahua Trail B).
Booking (and subsequently changing) the ride was quick and easy. The ranch’s German owner, Astrid, replied surprisingly quickly to my emails and was very understanding when I called her in a panic about not being able to make it for the Sacred Valley ride. She led both rides that I went on and I can confidently say that she’s an amazing person. She’s lived in Ecuador for 25 years and speaks Spanish and English fluently (in addition to her native German), and probably a couple of other languages on top of these 3.
Another thing that I really liked about the ranch was that many of her horses are named after Lord of the Rings characters – Frodo, Bilbo, Smeagol, Boromir, Gimli, Galadriel, Sam, etc. As a long-time LOTR fan, how could I resist?
Ironically, though, I ended up with a non-LOTR horse most of the time: a gorgeous chestnut mare called Sinchi who walked rather slowly (the gap between us and the horse in front would steadily widen until she trotted to catch up, but after she reverted to a walk the gap would grow again. Rinse and repeat). What I liked about her was her willingness to trot and canter and her sweet personality.
I rode another horse – Boromir – for one day, and he was more responsive than Sinchi (as in, it was easier to steer him, especially with one hand as I often had my camera in the other). He cantered more slowly, though, which I guess is understandable because he’s also a lot older than her. For that reason, I requested Sinchi again for my final day of riding.
The ranch is located within the Pululahua National Reserve, about an hour’s drive north of Quito. What’s interesting about this National Reserve is the fact that it’s actually a volcanic crater – at 6 km in diameter, it’s the largest volcanic crater in this part of the world and one of only two inhabited volcano craters worldwide (or so I’m told).
As you descend into the crater in the pickup truck sent by the ranch, you’ll be treated to this view of the huge ancient volcano and the crater.
On my first trip (the day ride), it was really cloudy, which I’m told is unusual. Contrast this with the second trip, on a considerably clearer day:
The ranch looks like it’s in a valley, but it’s actually a crater. Astrid said that most volcanic craters fill with water and turn into lakes, but in this case part of the volcanic wall collapsed, so the crater didn’t fill with water and instead turned into the lush green land you see below.
A Mystical Ride (Day Ride / Pululahua Trail A)
The day started off very misty, which meant you couldn’t see very far in front of you, but also gave the ride an air of mystery.
We were actually riding through clouds, I think.
We were a fairly big (and international) group that day: a Swiss couple, a Canadian couple, 2 sisters from the UK and me, as well as Astrid and a Finnish volunteer. I was slightly concerned that we would spend the entire day due to the different levels of experience within the group, but it turned out alright – Astrid led the more experienced riders while the Finnish girl took the less experienced group, so I got to canter a bit.
We stopped for lunch here. I’d asked for vegetarian food and I really regret not taking a picture of it because it was delicious! It was pasta with granadillas and cookies for dessert, with water and juice to drink.
Shortly after lunch, it started to pour. I hadn’t brought my rain jacket, but thankfully was able to borrow one from Astrid!
It wasn’t too bad, though. We got to hear some tree frogs, which according to Astrid only make noise in wet weather. I’ve never heard them in Intag, although it can get very wet there too – possibly due to a difference in climates. The climate in Intag is subtropical while that in the Pululahua crater is alpine.
As you can imagine, by the time we got dropped off back in Quito, we were cold, wet and hungry. The drop-off point was The Magic Bean, which serves American-style food. I ate there with the two British girls and treated myself to this tower of 3 pancakes, which were as delicious as they looked.
In fact, looking at it now makes me feel hungry all over again. If it weren’t on the pricey side, I’d definitely have eaten at the Magic Bean more while I was in Quito!
A Sunny Ride (2-day ride / Pululahua Trail B)
For this ride, I acted as third wheel to a very friendly Austrian couple. I guess being a third wheel is part and parcel of travelling solo sometimes.
As the name of the ride might suggest, the first day’s route is actually the same as that of the day ride (Pululahua Trail A). However, I’m happy to have done the same route twice because it looked entirely different the second time round. What a difference the weather makes!
A side-by-side comparison:
We also took a slightly longer route, which wasn’t permitted by the weather during my first trip. This part was new:
We stayed the night at Pululahua Hostel, a short drive from the ranch.
I got this charming room, which could sleep up to 4 persons, I think – the ladder next to the bed leads up to a second floor with more beds.
View from the hostal:
My vegetarian dinner: potato soup with cheese and avocado
Followed by pasta with mixed vegetables and fried banana
Once again, absolutely delicious. A great place to spend the night, for sure.
On the second day, we rode out of the crater and descended into a more tropical climate.
It got slightly hotter as we descended and you can see the difference in the surrounding vegetation, like this bougainvillea. We also saw yucas, pineapples and other more tropical plants that aren’t found in the crater.
Astrid pointed out this odd-looking flat plain in the distance, which was made hundreds (or thousands) of years ago by the indigenous people who used to live here. Unfortunately, theirs was a purely oral culture and they didn’t leave any writings behind, so very little is known about them.
We stopped here for lunch, and then rode back to the ranch. It was mostly uphill (so glad that I wasn’t on foot!) and we got to canter a couple of times.
In the afternoon, the clouds descended once again and thus my riding adventures in Pululahua were bookended by mist.