Published: February 27th 2008February 23rd 2008
The gate to Panagea ranch
Having arrived in Salto, our first task, as usual, was finding somewhere to stay. We also needed to get some Uruguayan money, have lunch and sort out our onward ticket to Tacuarembo. Sounds easy.......
The hotel was simple enough, we checked into the Hotel Concordia, reputedly the oldest hotel in Uruguay and frequented by Carlos Gardel (the legendary tango singer) in the 30´s. It was an amazing place with a beautiful tiled courtyard and some wonderful old furniture in the bedrooms. We asked where the nearest ATM was and set off to sort out some cash. The nearest machine spat out both of our cards and no money. We asked the security guard where there was another machine and he told us that none of the machines were working (apparently all of the teachers had just started holidays and had drained the machines of money!) - we hoped our translation of his Spanish was wrong! Other passersby seemed more positive and we set off on a trek around the deserted city (that Sunday problem!) trying our luck in every available ATM. 10 banks later and we still had no money but we had found a restaurant that would take Argentinian pesos.
Katy tacking up Bayo
We ended up paying for our hotel in US dollars and just about scraped enough Argentinian pesos together to pay for our bus fare. By this time it was 10pm and the only bus to Tacuarembo for the next 3 days was leaving at 3am the next morning.....so we went to bed!
Bleary-eyed, we staggered to the bus station and caught our bus. We were lucky that we had seats as the aisle was full of people who had to stand for the 4 hour journey. We waited at Tacuarembo bus station on a bench under a blanket for Juan, the owner of the ranch, to collect us. We had left a message with our arrival time but weren´t sure if he had received it! 3 hours later we were picked up in his landrover and headed back to the ranch which was an hours drive out of town.
The farm was a beautiful place, in the middle of miles of rolling hills. The house was sheltered in a clump of trees and not visible as soon as you walked 50m away. The little water there was, was mostly from a well and the diesel generated electricity ran
Henry painting the South African flag
for 2 hours a day. In these conditions Susanne, Juan´s Swiss wife, with the help of Anna (a Swiss friend), cooked the most amazing food - delicious salads, fresh vegetables and meat from the ranch. On the first afternoon we watched a pig being slaughtered, cleaned and hung up for butchering the next day.....
Our first full day started early. Breakfast at 7am and out on the horses by 8am. Horses here are kept very differently to England, they are semi wild really and certainly not used to the fussing and petting that they get at home! The corral had about 15 horses circling around and Juan carefully cornered our selected mounts and invited us to put on the headcollars. Saddling up was also a totally different experience, 2 different girths which had to be cinched up very tightly as they couldn´t be adjusted once mounted and fearsome looking bits which barely fitted in the horses mouth. Once mounted we set off at a steady pace to collect some sheep - those expecting a wild west style gallop were disappointed, the animals are always herded very slowly to minimise stress. It didn´t take long to get the sheep back
Enjoying Schloofdoof and pizza. Katy, Katrin, Phillipe, Suzanne, Anna, Lorienne, Duncan, Ben and Juan.
to the corral, although it´s probably fair to say that most of the work was done by Juan, Belinga (the gaucho) and his dogs, than by the 5 gringo novices (Us, Duncan and Lorienne - another English couple, and Ben a German guy). Once there we got a real hands on experience. Juan showed us how to check the sheep for foot and eye infections and how to handle them to apply the medication (an alarming purple cream!). There followed an hour or so of sheep wrestling and cleaning infected wounds, leaving purple stained fingers and tired arms all round.
A delicious lunch of succulent pork chops followed (remember yesterdays pig?) and a well earned siesta. At 3pm it was time to mount up again, this time to bring some cattle back. Our herding was interrupted though by Belinga who had discovered a pregnant cow in distress. The pregnant cows are kept closer to the house and checked twice a day, but this one had been missed as she had got stuck on her back in a large hole by the river. She had been trying to deliver a calf, wrongly positioned, which was long dead by the time
Rheas on the farm
we arrived. A large knife was produced which was used to sever the calf´s head while it was halfway out and they then attempted to push the calf back in order to straighten out the bent leg. It proved impossible and in the end they had to fetch the Landrover and winch out the body whilst the cow was secured to a nearby tree by a rope around its forelegs . It wasn´t over yet, the cow was now unable to stand - Juan explained that a nerve in the back can get trapped during a prolonged labour which paralyses the back legs. At this point it was a 50/50 chance that she would stand again and survive. It was a real eye-opener into the realities of farming and a sobering experience. The next day we went back to check the cows wellbeing and discovered she was still not standing. Juan fetched the tractor and flat bed trailer - fortunately she had moved alongside a ridge and this helped us manouevre her onto the trailer. First of all two metal clamps were attached to a hoist on the back of the tractor and screwed tightly around the cow´s hip bones.
The cow was then lifted and moved to the top of the ridge with its forelegs trailing. She was then lowered onto the trailer and strapped down for the journey back to a closer field where she could be fed and watered and monitored more closely.
We settled into the routine of the farm - breakfast at 7, ride out for whichever task was needed (foot and mouth vaccinations included), lunch, siesta, afternoon ride out, dinner and film (Juan has an amazing collection of 1000´s of DVD´s!) then lights out at 11. Every day gave a new experience though and nothing went as planned as there was always something out of the ordinary with one of the animals! On one day we were dipping the cows to protect them from tics, when one of the largest bulls decided to jump back into the dip to escape from another bull that was challenging him. Whilst Ben was trying to turn him around the bull somehow managed to get stuck on his back in the channel. Goodness knows how he managed to right himself but fortunately he did after much thrashing around and gulping loads of dip - then we just
Horses waiting patiently
had to persuade him to back out of the channel or rather wait until he decided to do it himself! Fortunately he was none the worse for his experience and was soon back doing what bulls do....
The house has a wall of international flags painted by the first visitor of each country - it was missing the South African flag! Henry quickly rectified this with some nifty work with paint, a piece of wood and a tape measure. One afternoon we went for a swim in the nearby river which was hidden in the trees and felt more like a small lake. Visitors sometimes get lost going for a swim so we had offered to make some posts to mark the way which we then put up as we went.
We had a fabulous time on the farm and enjoyed the company of Juan, Suzanne, Anna and the other guests. It was a great experience of real gaucho life and sometimes made us look at life differently. After 6 days we reluctantly took a bus to Uruguay´s big smoke - Montevideo.
We arrived in Montevideo on Saturday evening and it felt like a small town. We
A competitive game of doubles badminton!
went for a walk through the old town and had a blow out meal by the port. The next day was even more chilled as it was Sunday. Montevideo has some nice beaches along the ramblas and we spent an afternoon exploring them. Even so we couldn´t handle the pace of city life and decided to head for somewhere more laidback!! We took a bus up the east coast to Punta del Diablo, which we had read was a beautiful, tranquil fishing village with stunning beaches. We planned to stay for a few days.
There are more photos below