I grew up in an equestrian center community. Many of our neighbors had stables in their backyards and you could walk to the arena where people housed and ran their stallions. When I was about 6 years old, my family went on vacation to Phoenix, Ariz. My mom and I got up bright and early to go on a horseback trail ride along the ridge.
Halfway into our excursion, the horse in front of mine decided to relieve himself. This freaked out my horse. Suddenly my horse took off at a gallop â€“ racing toward the nearby cliffs, practically hurling us both to an early death. (In reality, my pony probably held back a few steps and then trotted around the fresh droppings at a slightly quicker clip.) Regardless, I was terrified of horses after that.
So it was with great trepidation that I agreed to a sightseeing tour on horseback three years ago. I opted for the lazy horse. Turns out, I had a blast!
So on the second day of our vacation, we loaded into our upgraded 4-wheel drive Jeep and headed out to the Waipiâ€™o Valley â€“ the â€œValley of Kingsâ€ as it was the boyhood home of King Kamehameha â€“ for a horseback tour of the valley.
Our guide was Gandolf the Paniolo â€“ a sun-worn cowboy with long white hair down his back who was part of a long line of Waipio Valley residents. â€œThese horses know the routes, yeah? So donâ€™t worry about me, yeah?â€ he intoned.
This time I wasnâ€™t afraid. And Paradise had my back. I didnâ€™t even mount from the step. I placed my sneaker firmly in the stirrup and hoisted myself into the saddle of my horse, Cupuâ€™a. â€œHe should be okay, yeah?â€ said Gandolf.
Jon was riding Flash. Flash and Cupuâ€™a didnâ€™t really like each other â€“ which made it really interesting when we tried to take pictures in front of the scenic vantage points. â€œDonâ€™t worry. The suicidal horses already all jumped, yeah?â€ Gandolf assured us as we approached the lookout over the valley.
We stopped and secured our rides to posts to enjoy a snack â€“ tart guava strawberries, guava apples plucked right from their trees and fresh macadamia nuts carved from their shells.
After our adventure, we journeyed down the 900 feet to the valley itself. Canvassing over rugged terrain and dirt roads with puddles of unknown depths we rocked and rolled our way toward an expansive black sand beach that stretched along the coast in front of us â€“ spilling out over the resting lava rocks as the pounding surf transformed the cooled molten land into a silty sand much beloved by turtles, surfers and tourists alike.
It was a good day. We were ready to tackle the next day of spewing molten lava. And also, I finally want my pony.