We arrived by bus at Rocha at 10:40 am, a little ahead of the scheduled 11 am arrival time. We settled into an adjacent café for a coffee and a hot chocolate and we watched the locals trying to keep out of the rain while we waited for our hosts. Lucie arrived after the bus but before the scheduled arrival time. In order to see the bus arrive and to keep dry, she parked her ute on the opposite side of the main square where she had a good view of the bus stop.
At about 11:30 she decided to leave the comfort of her vehicle to inquire about the "late" bus. Meanwhile, Eileen spotted the slim, fair skinned woman with a big mop of dreadlocks crossing the road and so Eileen dashed out to ask "are you Lucie?" With introductions and explanations over about the early bus arrival, we loaded our bags into the back of her old double cab ute which was full of the farm supplies. Eileen joined the Dalmatian on the rug in the back seat while Leigh rode up front for the 20 minute journey to the smallholding where the couple breed and train horses
for sale. Just before reaching our destination we made one stop to collect milk, yoghurt and cheese from an adjacent farm.
The properties in the community collective could have been the setting for a Peter Jackson movie. Most had thatched roofs with dormer windows while the exterior walls were made of a variety of materials such as adobe brick, rammed earth, wine bottles, stone, brick and stucco. The shape of the buildings varied and there were a number of round houses.
We met Lucie's husband, Santi, a quietly spoken Uruguayan man with kind eyes, dreadlocks in his remaining hair, and a long beard. They suggested we have a rest in our downstairs room before Lucie brought a tray with our first vegetarian meal of our stay; lunch of homemade lentil soup, home baked grain bread, three cheeses, and jam. Delicious! The rain continued during and after lunch so we spent the afternoon in our room relaxing and enjoying the quiet of the countryside while watching the occasional horse munch grass outside our window.
The sun set and at about 7pm and we started to prepare to go upstairs to the main part of the house for dinner.
Leigh was in the bathroom when the lights went out unexpectedly and he responded with a “shout” – bad timing! Lucie was quickly on the scene with candles and matches explaining that the batteries were exhausted due to the lack of wind for the windmill and the lack of sun for the solar power system. It would be dinner by candlelight!
At dinner we met Nic and Emma from Sydney Australia who had returned after three weeks for a second stay with Lucie and Santi. Nic and Emma had been travelling for the last year and Nic, an Uruguyan man, was soon to return to Sydney while Emma was due to attend a two month graphic design course in the USA. The six of us shared a delicious Indian vegetarian dinner washed down with a very nice local wine accompanied by lots of good conversation and laughter.
Earlier in the day, during our lunchtime conversation, Leigh made a throw away remark about the heaviness of his bag being due to the extra Tango shoes. This led to an invitation to a Tango lesson that night in the collective's community centre. Lucie and Santi, along with other community inhabitants,
had started attending weekly tango lessons six weeks earlier led by a woman who was visiting from Buenos Aires.
With dinner over, it was time to head into the dark night to the community house. Most people walked in the rain across the fields or on the wet dirt roads to attend the lesson so the community house concrete floor was a bit wet and muddy which was tough on our Tango shoes! The range of participant footwear was interesting ranging from Tango shoes to Ugg boots. It was great to see everyone enjoying themselves in this rather remote community. What a delight to dance Tango in a completely different setting!
The lack of wind and overcast days meant that the power dropped out during the early evening each day during our stay. We became very good at preparing for our evenings without electricity and enjoying candlelit dinners with Lucie and Santi and our fellow travellers, Nic and Emma.
Dinners were one of the features of our visit with our vegetarian hosts. Generally the meals were flavoursome and included fresh baked bread. They also stretched well into the evening as we relaxed over some local wine; the
first time we have had wine from two litre bottles!
Day two dawned a little gloomy, damp and overcast. Eileen looked out the window and said "no riding today" in a disappointed voice. After a leisurely breakfast Eileen went out to see if anyone was around. Within a minute she was back saying “quick Leigh, all the horses are saddled; we’re going riding!”
As we left our room we could feel it was warmer than the previous day and there was low cloud on the hills. Lucie suggested we get going before it rained and soon we were off with Santi leading our ride, Eileen riding "Boleto" and Leigh riding "Dulce de Leche".
Just like the horses at El Galope, these horses are trained to respond to the placement of the reins on their neck and some work with no "bit". Also, most riders use the “sitting trot” which was a bit of a challenge for Leigh after spending time learning to “rise to the trot” in New Zealand. Early in the ride Leigh had to “clarify the rules” with his horse, “Dulce de Leche”, when she refused to cross the river and turned for home. Once
the ‘misunderstanding’ was sorted about who was taking who for a ride, Leigh and his mount joined Eileen and Santi on the trail. We joked that Leigh's few riding lessons in New Zealand before our departure were paying off!
We threaded our way through the country side with Santi giving us a very informative commentary on the plants, animals, neighbourhood activities and the history of the local area. Santi encouraged us to try some berries from a wild tree which Eileen liked but Leigh did not. A little further on, we stopped at a wild mandarin tree and immediately Santi stood on his saddle on his horse’s back to pluck some ripe mandarins for us to try. They were very sweet and tasty. At an impressive vantage point, surrounded by bee hives, we stopped for coffee and we enjoyed the view over the valley before heading back, finishing our two hour ride.
Our ride on the second day was led by Lucie and was longer and faster in order to cover more distance. The weather was a lot clearer and we headed for a pass in the Sierra's. The ride was made eventful when we passed through a
paddock with a young stallion and his mares. He whinnied and snorted loudly while trotting backwards and forwards to check out the unfamiliar herd and riders. This unsettled a couple of the younger horses especially the young mare who was more interested in getting to know the stallion than taking heed of Emma’s correction. After a couple of hours we reached the pass and we were treated to vistas of Rocha out to the sea and back across the valley we had come from. Spectacular!
Our three days passed quickly in the unique community and while we were discussing options for our onward journey Nic and Emma offered to take us back to town and help us book our onward bus. The couple are interested in sustainable farming and so they wanted to learn about raising rabbits as a food source. This meant a stop at the dairy farmer’s house to purchase a rabbit and then on to another farmer to learn how to “process” the rabbit for the pot. Eileen, Nic and Emma were impressed by John’s instruction and efficiency with the animal while Leigh spent the time studying the landscape. Then it was on to Rocha.
There was no direct bus to Florianopolis until later in the week so we decided to spend the extra days a little further north in Punta del Diablo. Nic, with his excellent Spanish, helped us book both lots of onward transport. The process took a lot longer and was more complicated than we all anticipated due to computer glitches and siesta time so we “shouted” lunch; it was the least we could do to show our appreciation! We said our farewells then settled in to the bus station waiting room for the next leg of our journey.
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