Photos courtesy of Michelle Winner.

ride jungle

Michelle enjoys her ride on a Paso Fino in the foothills of El Yunque jungle. Photo courtesy of Gonzalo Estefania.

Last month in Puerto Rico I attended the Saborea (savor), a “culinary extravaganza.” The event is a series of tastings and parties that culminates at Escambron Beach, ocean side under enormous tents. One tent showcased tastings from island chefs and Puerto Rican rum. Yum! The other tent was set up as a food theatre where two chefs had 45 minutes to create their own signature dish that was then judged side by side by a panel. The chefs were either Food Network or Bravo TV stars, or stellar local talent with impressive resumes, rounded out with other chefs from the U.S. and Europe.

The journalists and media that covered the event came from all over the world too. The media judges included Maralyn Hill, President of the International Food Wine and Travel Writers Assoc., Stephen Bassman of Frommer’s Travel Guides, travel guide writer Zain Deane of Vis A Vis Magazine, French travel impresario André Gayot, Laura Kalehoff Senior Editor of Self Magazine, Jolene Thym of the Oakland Tribune, Tara Bench Food and Entertaining Editor of Ladies Home Journal, Aldo Vogrig Creative Director of Argentina’s Vinos y Sabores, Katie Kackenmeister Associate Editor of Prevention Magazine, and oodles of local or imported foodies and little old me. I have the pleasure of being a food and travel writer in addition to being horse crazy!

After the spectacular Saborea concluded, Puerto Rico Tourism showed us their island. We visited the charming Old San Juan section, a decidedly Spanish influenced town replete with curly iron scrollwork gates and balustrades, cool plazas and a fort. We took surfing lessons. We danced salsa. Of course we were wined and dined. And one morning we flew into Ceiba, on Puerto Rico’s eastern end, to ride horses in the foothills of El Yunque Rain Forest nearby in Carabali.

Billed as an “adventure ranch“ Hacienda Carabali has horses, horse boarding, dairy farm, ATV trails, go-carts, mountain biking, an inn, and residential equestrian haciendas. I had never seen so many Paso Finos! Our guide said they are all people have in Puerto Rico as they are descended from the Spanish horses. They were really cute and much smaller than Drifter my Quarter Horse.

isla verde

Isla Verde has gentle waves, lots of sun, and is popular with tourists and locals alike

It had been raining all day so they passed around some plastic bags to wear. Wrong! Many of the horses became skittish at that proposition, so the bags were soon collected. Besides, I wasn’t going to wear one anyway – I live in Oregon . . .

We took off down the trail and crossed some water. It was either a creek that had swollen or a small river. Whatever it was, it was almost cresting over the road. The trail went from hard-packed earth to a muddy section and then a lush fern forest under giant trees. We slowly climbed up a hill and I realized how high up in elevation we were! At a viewpoint looking out to El Yunque we just sat on our horses appreciating the view of the green mountain covered in tropical jungle. Were those the famed indigenous Puerto Rico parrots flying up out of the canopy?

The sun made it’s way out from behind the clouds as we were heading back. And then just as quickly, it began raining again. One of the guides tapped his horse and all of the little Pasos quickened up their gait and ran toward home. What a beautiful ride I had on a very sweet horse. And I have to say I did love the famed smooth gaited Paso Fino ride. Happy Trails!


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