Three years ago for Christmas, our family went on an adventure to the Dominican Republic where our son had served his mission for our church. It was an amazing, forever life-changing trip. We saw such beautiful people and breath-taking scenery, ate such delicious food I never wanted to come home, and swam in a turquoise sea. One of the things we did was ride horses to see a waterfall. We needed horses and guides to take us on the treacherous trail. The waterfall was nestled deep in the forested jungle at the end of a dangerous trail that crossed a river twice and was covered in clay and giant, slippery rocks.
It was a beautiful, sunny, Caribbean morning. The humidity was 100% and the heat was 85 degrees. We left the hotel and hired a little broken-down taxi to take us to where the horses were. After seeing the horses and meeting the guides, we paid our pesos and were ready to go. I was a little concerned because the horses were skinny, without any shoes, and only blankets tied on with ropes instead of saddles. Our guides were small, sweet, Dominican men with big, happy smiles. They chose the horses for each of us and who would be our guides. Soon we were each on our horses, ready for the trail.
At first the trail was just a steady, even slope. Quickly the terrain changed and the trail was very steep, with large and smooth stones covered in wet clay. It was very slippery. I was feeling terribly guilty that we were on these horses while the little guides were trudging through the slippery mud and on the clay-covered stones. They just smiled and gently followed the horses, whistling once in a while, or swatting the horses on the backside with a bundle of grass.
We crossed the river and the horses stopped to take a long drink. It was pleasant and cool there in the river, but soon it was time to make the ascent back up the slippery trail. In some places the trail was almost a vertical slope, it was so steep. Large, jagged rocks covered with sticky clay looked like a disaster to me. The horses lunged forward to keep our weight properly balanced. They knew the trail and exactly where to hug the edges, where to gather speed to gain momentum, and where to take it slowly and carefully. The guides were not leading the horses. The horses were in front with the guides behind. The guides were simply encouraging the horses in a loving way with kissing sounds and swats on the behind with their plumes of grass. The horses just needed the positive encouragement to get up the rough and rocky mountain.
We finally reached what appeared to be our destination, only to have the guides show us the waterfall, still off in the distance. We were told the horses could go no further and we would have to hike the rest of the way. When we saw the trail before us, a straight decline of very steep and muddy rocks, I started to wonder how this was going to happen. The guides said they would go the rest of the way with us, to help us on the dangerous trail. We were not accustomed to it, but they seemed to glide over the danger with ease.
My little guide (named Papa) was in tune with me needing some extra help. We had been staying on the coast where the heat was not as intense and there was a steady ocean breeze, but here in the mountains, it was intensely hot with nauseating humidity. My heart was truly pounding like it was going to jump out of my chest. Papa held my hand the whole way down the trail. He moved things out of my way and pointed to the safer places to put my feet. Papa was an old man with ragged clothes, but he smiled bigger than I have ever seen and kept calling me Senorita.
It was an exhilarating experience to be so close to danger. It was both terrifying and exciting to know that if any one of us fell off our horse, we would probably be killed. We were in a third-world country, tucked away deeply in the jungle, and hours away from Santo Domingo and any hospital. Even though I am prone to be anxious, I never worried while on that horse. I trusted him and I trusted Papa. They both knew the way. I wasn't anxious for my family because I trusted their horses and their guides. I also trusted God. I felt deep humility in that place, with our new friends, surrounded by the Lord's creations. They had made me feel safe.