The Long Way to Los Gatos by Verne R. Albright

Starting off
Peru's newspapers had said a great deal about my proposed ride from Peru to California, mainly because I intended to use their country's National Horse. On the day the ride began, the entire town of Chiclayo turned out to see me off. There was a parade in my honor. The mayor gave me a letter for his counterpart in Los Gatos, California, my destination; and the Catholic Bishop blessed my enterprise. A representative of the national paso horse association even flew in from Lima to present me with a scroll officializing the event.

Once I was on my way, people stopped their cars to talk whenever I was near the Panamerican Highway. Soft drink trucks pulled over, the drivers insisting I take free refreshments. Newspaper photographers were everywhere; one even showed up in the desert on a bicycle. Reporters waited at the entrances to most towns, and every evening, On the trailpeople competed for the honor of hosting my horses and me.

It was heady stuff, and for a short while, it made my proposed intercontinental ride seem like a lark. Before long, however, the hard going was wearing horseshoes in half every two weeks, and precious water for my thirsty mounts had to be bought by the glassful. In the Andes, I found myself tying plants called Sabila into my horses' manes to ward off bloodsucking vampire bats. The bodies of dead, bloated mules along the roadside soon advised me that not all Andean plants were as beneficial as Sabila, and I passed several tense weeks trying to find out which were toxic.

Before I started, I was blissfully unaware of most dangers that waited, but soon enough I learned about them. Anthrax was once reported within a few miles of where I'd spent the night, and several ranchers refused to let me on their property until they'd bathed my horses in a solution that kills the virus responsible for hoof and mouth disease.

one of the lofty mountain peaksA Peace Corps nurse told me that I was at risk equally as much as my horses. She then gave me a list of the diseases against which I needed to take precautions: malaria, tuberculosis, typhoid, cholera and bubonic plague, diseases I thought existed only in history books and horror stories.

During the trek, I rode to heights that equal the highest in the continental United States and descended to 113 feet below sea level. In the good times, Dinner with the pigs!I was hosted by the richest man in Peru. When things turned bad, I slept in tool sheds, chicken coops, feed troughs and empty jail cells. In Peru I dined on some of the best food I'd ever eaten, but afterwards I was reduced to eating anything from goat jaw to guinea pig. My horses dined on a similarly exotic menu, including bananas, coconut, sugar cane, flour and corn stalks.

Just days after most Americans had fled a revolution in Nicaragua, my horses and I entered that country amidst reports that violence was about to flare up again. I would have been a lot more comfortable with an armed escort, but I didn't get one until I reached Honduras, where a submachine gun toting solider accompanied me from border to border, but not to protect me! At Mexico's southern border, an angry official announced his intention to confiscate my horses, forcing me to successfully elude the Mexican police. Four hundred miles short of the U.S. border, I ran out of money, and the solution to that little problem brought me into conflict with Mexican law a second time.

Along the way, I met smugglers, a famous bullfighter, a witch doctor, a camera crew from ABC's Wide World of Sports, a bullying small town sheriff, a snake hunter and a beautiful American girl named Emily. There were moments of intense danger, but over the years, my memory has retained those less than some of the simplest moments.

I suppose the most memorable day was the first. Before I rode into the desert, the city of Chiclayo held a parade in my honor. Though there was no drama, it was a day I'll never forget. Everything was new, and I hadn't yet learned how easy it would be to fail. The beginning of that day is described below in an edited excerpt from The Long Way to Los Gatos:

At the entrance to town, I was met by twenty Paso horses and riders from haciendas in the surrounding area. Almost immediately, we were joined by a police motorcycle escort and started our parade through the narrow streets of Chiclayo.

At first, the spectators were mostly vendors who tended fruit and vegetable carts near the city's entrance. They watched in silence as the police cleared the way.

Elsewhere in the world, the horses certainly would have been the center of attention. They carried themselves with aristocratic pride, as if leading a conquering army. Fleet and stylish, their four-beat gaits easily kept pace with the motorcycles. Each horse handled itself with lively vigor and was so smooth that the rider seemed to be floating through the air.

On this particular occasion, however, the animals attracted little attention, for Peruvians are accustomed to their National Horse. Most of the attention was focused on me.

People recognized me from newspaper articles, and wished me well.

"Que le vaya bien."

"Buen viaje."

As we neared the Central Plaza, the number of spectators increased. Groups of children tagged along with our procession shouting, "Pablito. Gringo."

It was somewhat embarrassing. I hadn't done anything yet. The recognition and honors were undeserved, given in anticipation of something I hoped to accomplish.

As we neared the city center, crowds filled the sidewalks, applauding and shouting encouragement. A small group of attractive young ladies was showing particular enthusiasm, and I tipped my hat.

"Thank you very much," I said, flirting.

"Why do you thank us?" one of them returned, eyes wickedly sparkling. "We were applauding the horses, not you!"

Everyone within earshot roared with laughter, and then all eyes turned to me. Peruvians love word games, and people were anxious to see if I was any good at them.

My mind went blank until I remembered that something very similar had happened to Alfredo Elias, a Peruvian friend of mine.

"I know, but my horses can't talk, and I'm answering for them," I took Alfredo's words for my own.

The crowd laughed, louder than before. Then attention returned to the girls. They had no retort, fortunately for me!

I didn't make it to Los Gatos unchanged. My ride lasted only as long as a single school year, but I learned more than I'd ever learned in a like period of formal schooling.

Along the way, some people were far from hospitable, but most were kind beyond belief. I'd always been too proud to ask for people's help, but the Latin Americans didn't wait to be asked. They volunteered, and by the time I got home, my opinion of my fellow man had changed completely. And so had I!

Of the many paths my life could have taken, the right one for me began when I had that crazy urge to take the long way to Los Gatos.



Not long before I met "the last of the true gentlemen," I ran into some men who were anything but. A gang of bandits suddenly appeared behind me in a remote Andean village, at the end of a long, hard day. It was a moment of very real danger, as shown by the following edited excerpt from my book, The Long Way to Los Gatos:

Later that afternoon, while passing through a small town, I sensed that I was being followed. People frequently followed me. Most of the time, they were polite enough to require some sort of acknowledgement before approaching, and when denied this, they'd give up and go away.

But this time was different. The man behind me didn't go away. Instead, he was joined by a companion and then another and another, until there were six, in dirty suits and various stages of inebriation. I comforted myself by observing that the mules they rode were small and scrawny. Meanwhile, I moved my horses into a faster walk and kept my eyes peeled in vain for an army post or police station.

At the city limits, I wondered at the wisdom of continuing into the unpopulated area ahead, but what else could I do? Stopping would make
things even worse, and turning back to town also had a downside. The group behind me had grown from one to six in that very town, and given the chance, it might grow even larger.

A little ways from town, the leader put his mule into a fast trot and came up alongside me. Making an obvious attempt to sound authoritative, he announced that he was "the law" in the town I had just left.

"It will be necessary for you to show me your passport and the contents of your bags," he demanded.

"Do you have anything to show your authority?" I asked, turning to look his way without slowing my horses.

"I'm not making requests! I'm giving orders!" was the stern reply.

"How do I know you have the right to give orders?"

"Senor, you must stop your horses at once!"

"As soon as I see proof of your authority."

We were temporarily at a stalemate, and neither spoke for a moment. Obviously the "law" wouldn't or couldn't prove his authority. Considering the size of his "deputies" and the dubious speed of their mules, I wasn't about to be talked down off my horse. My resolve was all the stronger because I had the impression that the men behind us would abandon their mission, unless it proved effortless.

The man at my side, however, was the kind who sees things through! He repeatedly ordered me to stop and dismount. I kept the mares a few steps ahead of his mule and double-talked him, hoping he'd tire of the game and go home.

Unfortunately, he didn't.

Instead, he suddenly turned his mule and jumped her between my horses, grabbing the pack horse's lead rope. I was holding the free end, not
wishing to risk more broken parts by tying it to my saddle. I stopped my mount and turned her to face him. One last time - half-hoping that he would produce a convincing badge - I repeated that no one would see my passport or baggage without proof of authority. Again we were at a stalemate, but my situation had worsened. I was no longer moving, and the other five men were getting in position to surround me.

Obviously I came through my run-in with the bandits, but not before it took some unexpected twists and turns. You'll enjoy reading about them in The Long Way to Los Gatos.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Any individual or organization is welcome to reprint or otherwise distribute the above material under the strict conditions that the author be credited and that the Internet addresses of this Web Site and the American Association of Owners and Breeders of Peruvian Paso Horses appear at the end of the article (see below).

The Long Way to Los Gatos

For more information on Verne Albright's books, visit this page:

For further information about Peruvian horses, visit the Internet Web Site of the
American Association of Owners and Breeders of Peruvian Paso Horses at: 

This page was placed September 21, 1999

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