I was sure I could make the climb. It really didn’t look all that difficult. A regular exerciser, I felt I was in relatively good shape. However, the guide took one look at my gray hair and offered a ride. For just a few pesos I could make the climb on the back of a horse. I declined that offer, but did accept the walking stick extended to me.
Stunning blue skies, radiant sunlight, beautiful foliage and a rugged path bordered by deep drainage holes marked the climb. It wasn’t long before “rugged” translated into “difficult” for me. The horseback ride became a necessity, and the adventure intensified.
Relieved to be off my feet, I soon encountered another problem. The mare given to me was accompanied by her colt. A colt none too happy about me. A colt all too happy to nip at my legs and bully me away from her mama. A young Guatemalan boy did his best to distract the colt; but, with other duties calling him, he soon handed the switch to me, leaving me to deal with the anxious baby.
The ride to the top of Mount Pacaya was adventuresome, but the colt soon disappeared and the bold scenery at the end of the trip made the adventure invaluable. Unbelievable heat and ashes dotted the landscape of mild volcanic activity. Red hot coals ignited well-placed walking sticks as crisp heat spiraled across our legs, causing each photo op to be cut quite short. Fascination gripped each of us standing on the edge of this field of God-art.
And. Then. It was over. With daylight melting into the horizon my horse and Guatemalan friend picked our way down the mountain. Soon we were far ahead of the others, just the three of us. A horse. A boy. And me.
Occasionally I was given the order to “lay back,” in an effort to balance with my horse in moving down the incline. Yet, quiet permeated the breeze and stars were overwhelmingly bright in the night sky while my soul caught up with my body.
No one on earth, except my husband and daughter now somewhere behind me on the mountain, knew where I was. My life was completely in the hands of a 12-year-old Guatemalan boy who seemed to know only two English words, “lay back.”
Remarkably, as I forced myself to lay back, I could sense myself relaxing well for the first time that day. I could go nowhere, and do nothing, but what I was told. I didn’t know where I was and there was nothing to do but make the journey to the bottom. So, I laid back, drinking in the night sky filled with stars tossed about by the hand of God. And my soul began to catch up with my body.
Upon God alone, O my soul, rest peacefully; for my expectation is from him. Psalm 62:5
This experience in Guatemala occurred almost a decade ago. But, it wasn’t until this week that I realized its significance: “The soul travels by horseback.” Harry Mulisch