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Seeing the Countryside on Horseback

Seeing the Countryside on Horseback

Seeing the Countryside on Horseback

Destination: Arenal

In the San Juan countryside nearly every house has a garden. Chickens scratch at the floor underneath patios or ruffle their feathers on tin roofs. Old guard dogs run free, but stay close to the houses barking at passersby while small pups yap from stoops. Most of the roads are unpaved and still muddy from recent rain showers. They curve around orange orchards and taro fields through bends and over hills.

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Riding through the small town of San Juan on horseback, the years slip away. It could just as easily be 1950 as 2013.  The only sounds besides the plodding of hooves are the other farm animals, the wind and the birds. Passing by the small, colorful homes little sparks of life emerge; Children meeting their friends or popping their heads out of windows, mothers hanging laundry to dry and men mending fences in distant fields or working on old trucks.

The town is a collection of small houses separated by large land tracts over the rolling hills beside the Children's Eternal Rainforest. The highest hill in San Juan overlooks the distant town of Chachagua to the west and the rainforest to the east. Cutting through the forest there's a river leading to the Peñas Blanca dam; the power plant for nearby communities.

The ride started at a nearby lodge. Hidden in a distant valley bordering a different rainforest (Chachagua), the hotel provides jobs and educates the local communities about the forest and organic farming. One of the guides, a Spanish-speaking local rancher, took me and a couple from New York on the ride. Through a stream and out of the forest, we headed into the rural town of San Juan.

Without laughing at my poorly-worded questions and awful Spanish accent, our guide Carlos explained the crops, houses and forests. We discussed the reforestation areas where trees had been planted to help the forest re-grow. He told us about the dam and picked fresh star fruit from a tree for me and the other riders to eat.

We rode mixed-blood horses through the hills, trotting up and galloping down the backside. All of them about 10 years old, easy to control and well behaved. Walking through a small section of forest near the end of the trip, we circled a small lake, crossed back into the village and passed the San Juan school. Adorned with murals and utterly empty, Carlos explained that, like many rural areas, the school was closed on Fridays.

Only about 15 miles from the tourist epicenter of La Fortuna, the San Juan rambles on without flinching; A quiet, rural Costa Rican town, untouched by the years.

Seeing the Countryside on Horseback in Pictures

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