The Gaucho Life For Us

Trip Start Jun 15, 2012
Trip End Dec 20, 2012

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Where I stayed
Panagea Ranch

Flag of Uruguay  ,
Tuesday, June 26, 2012

After spending the morning in the thermal pools in Salto, we were met by Juan - our gaucho host for the next 3 days. A very pleasant unassuming man who takes a real interest in all his guests & made us all immediately feel at home & relaxed. We slept most of the 4 hour drive to the ranch after being up at 5 & having little sleep on the bus. The drive was through what seemed acres if empty, flat land with a few clusters of eucalyptus trees.
It was 5pm by the time we arrived at the ranch. We were shown to ours rooms - so nice to be staying somewhere that felt like a home after 2 weeks of hotels - they even had proper duvets instead of sheets & blankets, which was much appreciated as it was freezing that night.
We went outside for a briefing from Juan on the ranch rules. After years of receiving guests, Juan has seen & heard out all so has taken a no nonsense approach to introducing guests - essentially, this is a ranch with 3 hours of electricity a day, it is what it is so deal with it! To this note there are also signs all over the place such as: anything labelled 'this is a table' is indeed a table, so do not sit on them! During the briefing Juans wife Susanne & their 2 little girls join us. We then having a few games on badminton as the Sun goes down & before the generator kicks in at 6pm.
Dinner tonight is gaucho stew, gaucho rice, gaucho salad & gaucho bread - all gorgeous! Luckily for Sally, Susanne is a vegetarian, so she gets just as a delicious option as the rest of us.
There are over 2,000 DVDs in the ranch for us to watch, but we didn't start tonights early enough, so the power cuts out before the end - luckily we all know that James Bond always survives!

Adam has been appointed fire marshal for our stay at the ranch, so drawing on his Scout training from 10+ years ago he warms us all up.

After a very good nights sleep we are woken by the sound of massive black birds calling! We get changed, Don our gaucho pants & gaucho boots & have or gaucho breakfast before meeting Juan in the stables. We are introduced to our horses for the next 2 days - Sallys is Falada, a beautiful black horse which Susanne rides, Adam is given a tall light brown horse, the first of 3 he will be riding. Again Juan had a no nonsense approach to teaching us about saddling & riding - he will tell us & show us once & we copy & learn! Juan was on hand to make sure everything was tide tight enough & correctly but it was mostly on our shoulders. Again the stable area is full of Juans signs for his visitors, including: 'my horse has a mind of its own' - of course it does, you're not on a carousel!
Then we're off, this morning is an introductory ride allowing us to get to know our horses & how to control & look after then. Falada has a bit of a feisty streak & likes to nip the other horses when up into a trot! After a couple of hours meandering across some of Juans 2200 acres, we return to the ranch for lunch.
Fire marshal Adam gets a fire going outside & lunch is gaucho veg stir fry & gaucho t-bone steak - all very well received after a morning of riding. Juan then retires into the ranch for a siesta & we make ourselves comfy in the hammocks in the sunshine.
Feeling refreshed we're back on or horses, the other light brown horse for Adam this time, & now we start actually helping out on the ranch. This afternoons task is to herd a flock of sheep from one field, through another & into a pen. Sheep really do follow each other so herding them wasn't too bad with 6 horses. Once they were all in the pen Juan revealed what was in store - he was castrating the lambs! He must have seen the looks on our faces as he quickly added that we wouldn't be doing that bit, all we had to do was pass him the lambs. They're quite difficult to get hold of initially as they wriggle around with their surprising strength, but it got easier as we passed the poor little lambs over to meet their fate. Surprising only a few out of the whole flock whimpered or cried, most of them just took the pain of having an elastic band over their bits in their stride, then leaping off to find their mothers. After all the lambs had gone through the process it was decided not to put them through the stress of herdingthem back to their fields just yet, so we released them into a holding paddock where they could spend the night & calm down.
We then headed back to the ranch & let the horses into their field for the night. We then thoroughly showered - lambs blood gets everywhere - & had a well deserved slice of cake.
The Sun was still out but the wind had picked up so we had a few games of volleyball until the Sun set & the generator kicked in. We were all thankful for another hearty gaucho dinner & even hit the self service honesty bar to then relax beside Adams excellent fire & watch another movie. This time the power cut out a good 30mins before the end, but we'd have to wait until tomorrow!

Another well deserved nights sleep & a hearty gaucho breakfast & we're back saddling the horses again - everyone is a lot more confident on horseback now after 5 hours yesterday. Again this morning we're out for a ride exploring more of Juans land. Juan & Susanne both take such an interest in us all, asking about our lives back home & really taking note of our responses & similarly being very open when we all questions. There's something nice & freeing about being on horseback & riding across these fields - we're all starting to channel our inner gaucho.
We have lunch outside again, though a lot windier today so no fire or cooking outside today, more delicious gaucho food, definitely some good cuisine here. Followed by a little 30 min siesta in the hammocks in the Sun. Though Adam may have been enjoying the gaucho food too much as he is rudely woken from his siesta by his hammock snapping & landing him on the floor! Just in time for our afternoon, & final ride.
This afternoons task is to herd cattle over a couple of fields & into a holding pen so Juan can change their ID tags in their ears. Cows are a lot more difficult to herd as they get aggressive & randy so start heading butting & mounting each other which breaks up the group. We get them to the holding paddock with relatively little trouble & Juan is able to change & update their ID tags. We then herd them back to their field which is easier as they know they're going home so behave a bit better.
Our next task is to herd some flocks of sheep into other fields so we set of across the field, fanned out & herding the sheep as we go. However, its after 4pm & our horses are getting tired so decide they would like to go home, which gives us a great struggle trying to get them across streams & to where we want them. With some force & persistence we complete our task & the horses almost cheer as we head home.
This whole afternoon Juan has had his 3 year old in the saddle with him & she is so relaxed in her dads company & on horse back it is lovely to see, she spends the whole 3 hours happily talking away to her Dad & singing songs! Juan tells us that in 2 years she will start school & will have to ride a donkey 45 mins every morning & evening to get there - what a different life!
We notice that among the usual ranch animals are lots of emu route birds running all over the place. These are not Juans, these birds are wild in Uruguay & originate from further South. There is superstition behind killing these birds so the gauchos let them be, they are not a pest, eating only bugs & leaving the other animals alone. But they sure can run when you approach them, wildly darting of across the field!
We get back to the ranch & have some cake & Mate - a kind of tea drink that everyone has out here. In a small cup made of punkin shell & decorated, then the Mate is placed in the cup on top of a metal sieve spoon straw thing. Hot water in then poured on to the Mate & you drink from the straw. Everyone drinks this stuff all the time, carrying their cup of Mate & the straw & a thermos of hot water almost everywhere! Another game of volleyball is in order to stretch after 5+ hours on horseback today. The game starts getting competitive & we continue playing even when the court lines are hard to make out. We only stop when the ball bursts on spikes in the bushes.
We choose to use the outside shower tonight, the hottest on the ranch - something very nice about showering under the stars. We have gaucho dinner, watch the end of last nights film, listen to guitar music & chat until the power goes off - all in front of Adams last ranch fire. An early night for all as we're up at 5am!

An early alarm call at 5am, we pack, have our last gaucho breakfast by candle light & say goodbye to our amazing hosts. The weather has taken a turn for the worst & although no rain, a massive thunder & lightning storm breaks out. The sheet lightning lights up the fields as far as the eye can see & the thunder rumbles over the hills. Quite a sight to leave to. Juan drops us off at the bus station in the local town 1 hour drive from the ranch.

Next stop Montevideo!
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Dad & mum on

What a fantastic experience you have had. It sounds like you were well looked after.

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