Journey America Part 2

Tears of Thirst

With heavy smoke filling the air and my lungs and the wind blowing ashes up, I rode out of Medanos.
The fire had completely burned the terrain ahead and now with nothing else to light on fire, it was safe for us to ride through.
The scene was an apocalypse. Swollen, blackened carcasses of cows, wild cats and armadillos dotted the roadside. Officials estimate more than 80,000 head of cattle were killed and over 2 million hectares of land were burned. Horses, dogs, and houses were also lost in the fires lit by electrical storms.
For 170 kilometres, smoke blocked the sky, yet the sun seeped through, a deep orange above us. The ponies and I fought to breathe as strong winds blew smoke and ash into our faces all day. My eyes stung. The back of my throat burned.
The night before arriving in Rio Colorado, I had only one 500-mL bottle of water left. I found an unlocked corral, where I set up my tent and then sipped my water slowly. With parched lips and a dry throat, I wanted to chug the bottle, but I knew I would need water the next day.
Feeling completely vulnerable and dirtier than a chimney cleaner, I watched as an old truck drove up and parked in front of the gate. A tall, grimacing man jumped out.
“Who allowed you to enter?” he demanded as I approached him.
“No one, sir,” I answered. “I saw the gate wasn’t locked and let myself in.”
I explained my journey to him. He looked me up and down in silence.
“Okay, I guess you can spend the night, but if the owner comes, you tell him you spoke to me,” he finally said.
My shoulders dropped with relief.
I asked if I could drink the water from the nearby windmill; he said no because of sulfate levels.
We shook hands, and then he walked towards the truck as I headed to my tent, my head hanging low. Staring at the rocky soil, I heard a yell. When I looked up, the man who minutes earlier I expected to swallow me alive was holding a litre bottle of frozen water in his hand. I ran up, grabbed the bottle and thanked him.
Later, alone and sitting in my tent watching the horses graze, I cried silently, holding that cold bottle against my left cheek. It was just water. It seems ridiculous for someone to cry over a litre of water, but I had been so desperate.
When you feel thirst, when you suffer its repercussions, you learn that without water there is no life.

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