By Nicola Bridges
It's Children's Day in Mexico, El Dia del Nino, and in a tiny village two and a half hours north of Mexico City young children in brightly colored uniforms are dancing in circles in a schoolyard to the sounds of mariachi music while two young vaqueros — cowboys — stand on a wall, beer in hand, and dance along with them, beaming and laughing. They're our wranglers from Rancho las Cascadas riding and wellness resort — and this is how they roll.
We're on a daylong ride-out with wranglers Jesus and Chuy, who've tied our horses to trees along the street for a welcome break from hours of galloping through 500,000 acres of open range farmland that surrounds the resort for miles and miles, past peaceful lakes to lush mountain vistas and deep valleys.
After fresh-made tacos and a Mexican beer or two served from what is basically a room in a villager's home we check our saddles, mount up and mosey out of the village. We pass through the village square by an impressive 100-year-old church with peeling yellow paint, its bell tower silent during these early afternoon siesta hours when the village is quiet.
A gaggle of stray dogs nip at our horses' hooves, while others bark at eye level with our horses from the low, flat rooftops of pink and blue painted homes, where chickens and goats wander freely through yards, scrounging for what food they can find. There's a tinge of sadness at what we see, but locals all wave as we pass. It's just the slow way of life here, far away from any hustle and bustle, and everyone seems content.
Rancho las Cascadas, meaning "ranch of waterfalls," is a slice of Mexican heaven situated at a 7,500-foot elevation between the UNESCO site of San Miguel de Allende and the famous pyramids of Teotihuacan, 20 minutes from the small town of San Francisco Soyaniquilpan. Once through the traditional red-brick-walled entrance with two large wagon wheels at the end of the dusty countryside roads that led here, the privately owned, laid-back and low-key all-inclusive resort is an oasis of color. Magenta bougainvillea, roses, orange birds of paradise, beds of fragrant lavender and rosemary bushes alive with large butterflies adorn the paths between the casitas and room blocks. Each exterior wall is themed with brightly painted hearts, feathers, hibiscus flowers or butterflies. Our corner room (the closest to the corral and, as horse lovers, exactly where we want to be) features colorful paintings of traditional Calaveras skulls, representative of Dia de los Muertos, Mexico's Day of the Dead celebration.
At sunrise we say a quick "Hi" to the horses and meander along terracotta tiled paths past a fountain-feature koi pond to the main building, through its colorful open-air center courtyard and into a poolside sunroom, where we chatter over an intimate breakfast with our fellow guests. We'd met most over (multiple) margaritas in the ranch's giant steaming hot tub the night before, watching the sun set over 500,000 acres of pristine countryside and a skyline of majestic mountains.
Resort manager Jenny, a Canadian who came to the ranch years before, married then head wrangler Max and never left, cheerily asks us what we'd all like to do today. There's no plan-ahead rigid schedule here. We're in Mexico mode. It's whatever we feel like when we wake up. My travel partner and I decide to rest from riding and do the weekly day trip to the ancient Teotihuacan Pyramids. Max drives us, and after the hour-and-a-half trip we feel like ranch family.
Teotihuacan, named by Aztecs to mean "birthplace of the gods," is the site of some of the most architecturally significant Mesoamerican pyramids built in the pre-Columbian Americas around 100 B.C. in this sub-valley of the Valley of Mexico. Supremely knowledgeable, Max is the perfect personal guide, patiently telling us the history of the pyramids (much of which is still unknown), the fading murals, and gargoylelike carved stone animal heads, serpents and shells at the Temple of Quetzalcoatl at the base of the pyramids.
After several hours climbing up the pyramids' steep giant stone steps and taking in the views over the Avenue of the Dead, the Pyramid of the Moon and Pyramid of the Sun, we head for a traditional Mexican buffet lunch at a busy market bazaar, haggling over colorful blankets, silver jewelry, leather bags and bottles of chocolate tequila.
Then it's back to the ranch and the hot tub (and more bottomless frozen margaritas), ready for the next day's trail-out with Jesus. This time we're riding over the open range, across streams, through giant aqueduct tunnels and down narrow steep paths into a gorge, where we ride between impressive 40-foot-tall pointed rocks that nobody seems to know, or care, how they got there.
WHEN YOU GO
Rancho las Cascadas is a year-round resort with daily temperatures averaging 75 degrees in spring and summer and 70 degrees in the fall and winter. They welcome riders of all abilities: www.rancholascascadas.com.
Nicola Bridges is a freelance writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
Guests from Rancho Las Cascadas take to the trail near San Miguel de Allende and the famous pyramids of Teotihuacan in Mexico. Photo courtesy of Nicola Bridges.