. Juan, very funny, had travelled extensively and despite having limited electricity had built an extensive DVD collection. His wife, Susanna, was from Switzerland, her accent reminding me of Patrick Del Fatti, and the hospitality was fantastic!
Besides the food and the company, the highlight of our visit was the horses. We were introduced on our first afternoon with a saddling lesson and a trip into the stunning green countryside to feed some cattle. I was tempted to write about the technicalities of saddling a horse 'gaucho' stylee but figure that non-horsey people like myself would switch off and fall asleep. We were made to feel like real cowboys and each day, whilst we were there, we got stuck into proper cowboy tasks such as herding cattle and sheep, sheep wrestling and helping to brand cattle. All the while we tried hard to refrain from too many girly screams and squeemishness. It was hard work and the hard work made the food taste even better. Juan had a thing for badminton so in the evenings, as the sun began its descent, we played. It was a truly international affair. As far as cowboys (and girls) go, we would have looked the part too, with our gaucho trousers and boots, but despite Juan's disregard for western health and safety, our group insisted on wearing silly looking safety helmets. On the other hand Juan, our Peruvian group leader, Nigel (Wallace) and the other gaucho all retained their credibility by wearing the proper dangerous cowboy headgear. Between gaucho duties we lazed in hammocks, ate and nursed our aching limbs. The horses were free to wonder the garden and so it was normal to have a horse chomping grass just inches from the hammocks. Beautiful.
The most fun I had on a horse was after a long day
. We turned around to head back to the house and sensing that relief was near the horse broke into a canter (I think that's the word) and then a full-on gallop. Unlike a trot, which can be seriously unkind to one's rear cushions, the gallop felt amazing - smooth, effortless, a mixture of fear and pleasure, and on this occasion pleasure won over fear. I was also hoping the horse was making me look good - Gem said 'not so much. A bit like a limp ragdoll'. Anyway, on our return, after reading the rule that said 'do not gallop because this is when all accidents happen', I thought it best not to try my luck again and decided to be boring on our last day. Although when the last day came I picked a horse that I was later told had a tendency, once it gets going, not to stop. This is despite vigorous instructions to the contrary - it had actually thrown our group leader twice on a previous occasion. But despite the threat of impending doom, the day passed without injury or death and the horse behaved extremely well.
Gem tended to be given horses that had the opposite leaning - extreme slowness and a love for drinks from streams along the way - nevermind.
The ranch has been a real highlight for us and we feel a lot closer to our group as well.
Next stop Montevideo. See you there ...
IŽm writing this entry in retrospect - so today's actually the 12th and weŽre in Argentina, not Uruguay - but IŽll let you know about that in another entry. Anyway, back in Uruguay ... we arrived at the ranch via bus and were then picked up by Juan, the owner of the ranch, in a minibus. The ranch itself was located in the middle of nowhere, the minibus leg of the journey taking 4 hours along a road we only shared with 2 other cars. It was surrounded with nothing but fields and was described as the most desolate road in all Uruguay. During our stay at the ranch we drew water from a well, were allowed only 3-minute showers daily and had use of only 2 hours of electricity in the evening - but it was brilliant and aspects of it reminded me of my uncles ex-farm in Zimbabwe. We ate hearty ŽGauchoŽ(cowboy) food that consisted mainly of stews, rice, roast lamb and tasty tasty vegetables. Ironically the wife of the ranch owner was a vegetarian and so although meat was plentiful and delicious, the vege options were certainly nothing to be sniffed at