The adventures of the Chinese pilgrim and his white steed

He bought Furión in February 2022 in the Galician town of Lalín (Pontevedra).

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
11 May 2024 Saturday 22:25
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The adventures of the Chinese pilgrim and his white steed

He bought Furión in February 2022 in the Galician town of Lalín (Pontevedra). A young, white horse of the Arabian breed that cost him about 3,000 euros. Zhixian Xu's purpose was to return home from Santiago de Compostela on the back of the stallion. Home is Shandong, a city located on the China Sea, more than 10,500 kilometers in a straight line, mountains, steppes and rivers in between.

“I told him that it didn't matter the duration of the trip, two, three years, that he should let me know, that I would be waiting for him at his house,” recalls Jacobo Pérez Paz, president of the Pura Raza Cabalo Galego Association that mediated the sale of Furión. .

One day a friend from the town of Lalín, Javier Blanco, called Pérez, telling him that there was a Chinese boy who wanted to buy a horse to go on a pilgrimage across the European and Asian continents. "I thought it was a joke. Also, if you notice, Lalín, pronounced like that, already sounds a little Chinese,” Pérez Paz begins the story. But it wasn't a joke. There was Zhixian Xu, Unas for his Galician friends and for the Galician press that has been recounting his feat.

Unas is a 35-year-old engineer who studied and worked in Genoa (Italy), attracted by the Italian language. For a time, he saved 10,000 euros and instead of investing it in a house he went to Portugal to buy a horse. He ended up earlier in Lalín where he met Javier Blanco who showed him Furión from whom he never left.

“We tried to dissuade him from his adventure because Unas did not know how to ride, much less organize such a long trip that requires GPS, saddlebags, provisioning provisions...”, Pérez continues, but “there was no way, he was very convinced that he wanted to carry it out.” ”.

Unas affirms, two years after leaving the Plaza de Obradoiro, in front of the Cathedral of Santiago, with the Galician flag that his friends gave him, that he cannot specify any special reason why he set out. A challenge, a promise, an offering? Through WhatsApp he responds: “I wanted to go from the Atlantic to the Pacific, without specific plans, I just really liked the idea when I thought about it and I didn't try to understand why.”

The fact is that Unas, before returning home, wanted to be baptized by the Catholic Church in Lalín where he also made his first communion. He asked for the blessing of the archbishop of Santiago de Compostela. And the archbishop received him. “I gave up there, I thought that the boy was like Don Quixote, impossible to stop, and that he would get whatever he wanted,” admits the man from Compostela, also president of the Association of Friends of the Horseback Riding of Santiago Equum Peregrinans.

Pérez gave him, in addition to the flag (which was later stolen in Romania), an international pilgrim passport. The novice rider put one foot on the left stirrup and climbed onto Furión's rump and, at a walking pace, began to travel the Camino de Santiago in reverse. It was spring 2022.

At first, it was difficult for him to understand some notions of horsemanship because Furión is a young animal, capable of going from a calm trot to a gallop in a short time, for no apparent reason. In reality, the stallion smells the females from miles away and his fury at encountering them caused, on more than one occasion, the abrupt dismounting of the surprised peregrine.

Europe was a two-year journey with changes in plans, such as giving up approaching the East through Ukraine, due to the war, and doing so through the south. He crossed France, Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia, Moldova... His Instagram account (furion–unas) is full of beautiful places where you can see Furión enjoying the nature running through the grass or snow, playing or dancing with other horses.

There are also images of tourists. They look out onto city streets and squares. In Paris, for example, they take selfies in a place as central as the Louvre Museum. People want to take pictures with the Chinese pilgrim and his white horse. They appear before the camera between surprised and amused. Then they leave kind comments on the account.

They always sleep on the outskirts of cities. “I look for a meadow and set up my tent.”

It's not all idyllic. “Imagine that you take a store and go for miles and miles. There is no transportation or assistance vehicle. You don't sleep in hotels, always in your tent. There is no running water. This is whether it is summer or winter. Rain, snow or shine. It's like climbing a mountain every day."

In some houses they invite him to eat (he praises the generosity of the Romanians). The children give carrots to the horse that allows itself to be ridden without complaints. Some, he says, eat butter and sausage bought in supermarkets. And he drinks water from the fountain. “I spend between 300 and 500 euros a month.” In the Carpathian Mountains he changed horseshoes to protect the horses' hooves and hooves.

Furión is great company for him. “I don't need to give him instructions, he understands everything immediately. He is capable of handling himself on any terrain and in any situation. But what I like most is his tenderness and his bravery, he is not afraid of anything.”

A couple of weeks ago, in Bulgaria, when they were about to reach Asia, a car hit the horse. He fractured his right hind leg. An ugly business.

For the president of the horse association it was clear, a fracture in a horse means a death sentence. “The most sensible thing in their situation was to sacrifice the animal.” The social network of friends along the way who follow the couple's adventures was activated. From Luxembourg they advised him to put himself in the hands of Dr. Fabrice Rossignol. He did so. He assured him that he would operate on him, but he had to take him to his clinic in Paris. He raised what was left of his savings. Insufficient. He begged his followers for some help. And this one arrived. A truck transported the pilgrims back to France.

The Grosbois Veterinary clinic, located on the outskirts of Paris, performs about 1,500 surgeries a year. It turns out that Rossignol is one of the best equine surgeons in the world. They call you to operate in the United States, South Africa, Japan or Australia. Furión underwent surgery immediately and a plate was placed above his fetlock. He will have to spend weeks in the clinic admitted to recover.

The first few days, Unas stayed camped outside the building, watching over his companion. Now, an acquaintance has given him a room in Paris to sleep in. He walks two and a half hours there and two and a half hours back every day to see his friend, who is fragile after an allergic reaction to medication. “The doctors assure me that he is out of danger,” he says, still uneasy.

He is also worried about the receipt: it will be, at least, 12,000 euros. “The clinic is more expensive than my living expenses in the last two years.” A German woman has opened an Instagram account to receive small contributions so that she can help her shoulder this large expense.

The end of the trip? “My parents ask me, ‘When are you going to finish this?’ I just turned 35 and they think I should have a stable family.” He doesn't want to decide anything. Does not know. “The journey I have begun now is that of healing Furion.”