Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Uruguay, Day 2

Horses in the field at dusk.

Today I woke up at 8 a.m., and although I could have slept longer, I remembered that breakfast opened then and the estancia’s morning horseback excursion started at 9:30. So I grabbed a shower and went to have breakfast. There was a fairly good selection here, and I piled on a little bit of everything and got myself a cup of very good, very strong coffee.

Breakfast of horsemen...

After breakfast I went down to the estancia’s stable of horses, where two gauchos were boiling water on a fire and making maté, which is a tea-like drink popular in this part of South America, and is made with the leaves of a kind of holly shrub.

Maté fire and gaucho on right drinking a cupful.

It’s an interesting experience coming from a coffee-culture; there a long metal “straw,” which I assume has a filter, and the cup used was bound in leather to protect one’s hands from the heat. They passed the maté between themselves, then passed it to me and told me to drink the whole cup if I wished. I took about four drinks and passed it back. It was nice – slightly bitter, but otherwise very tea-like.

Instead of departing on the horseback excursion at 9:30, we ended up leaving at around 10:45. I was given a horse named Lucia, and quickly saddled up.

My view from atop Lucia.

This was the first horseback ride of my life, and for the first few minutes, as we sat there waiting to go, I didn’t feel very safe on Lucia. But as soon as we started moving, whatever balance issues I had went away. Even when Lucia broke into a trot I felt perfectly comfortable, and soon it became an experience that I realized could be highly addicting. Especially in such an amazing setting.

Setting out with what seemed to be an experienced group.

Our first stop was here, in the middle of a field.

Our group of horseback riders.

Shortly after we set off, our gaucho leader explained some of the things we were seeing, but since it was in Spanish I couldn’t understand most of it. However, after about ten or fifteen minutes the second gaucho, who was following the group, asked me if I wanted to go a little farther with him and I said, sure, porque no. Little did I realize that I was getting a private tour of the surroundings. My guide took me through rolling pastureland, past small ponds, hillsides full of sheep and cows, and through tall, wet grasses filled with grasshoppers, cicadas, and other insects.

It was hard to take photos while riding, mostly because I needed two hands to work the camera.

It became a lot more peaceful (aside from the constant horse farts) when it was just me, my guide, and our two horses.

As the horses moved along, the many insects flew into the air, which attracted a lot of birds, particularly swallows. So as we cut through the tall grasses we were being circled by birds, some of which dared to pass in between the narrow space between my horse and the gaucho’s. It was a fantastic outing, and I’ve decided to stay an extra day here to do more tomorrow.

After about an hour’s worth of horseback riding we returned to San Pedro de Timote and I got off Lucia. Before I did, though, the guide asked me if I wanted my photo taken. Normally I don’t like photos taken of myself, but this time I figured why not. I’ll even post one here for friends and family who might otherwise not believe me…

Me on a horse. I pity the horse the extra pounds I've put on this trip.

After that I wandered around the estancia more, and entered the property’s old church, which an old guest from Uruguay told me I should try to see.

From there I came upon a herd of cows making their way through the grass in front of the estancia, eating whatever they liked.

Free-range cows, apparently.

There were parrots in the trees here, just as there are parrots all over the estancia grounds, and all morning they’ve been making a racket like no other type of bird I’ve ever known. But they’re also a beautiful sight when streaking green across a cloudless blue sky.

Bad photo of several parrots overhead.

One of the smaller estancia dogs spotted me under the parrot tree and came running toward me, barking, but once she saw it was me – I played with her for about twenty minutes at the gaucho’s maté drinking area – she immediately rolled on her back and demanded to have her tummy scratched.

This dog is a nutcase.

Two more of the estancia dogs approached then, and I had a big job of petting to do. At least until my hands got so dirty from their fur that I had to go back to my room and thoroughly wash them.

I headed to lunch, which was served from 1-3, and was happy to see two cooks grilling meats and vegetables in an oven in the wall.

Mmm, Uruguayan grill.

I learned quickly that when the cook said, “This is beef,” and I repeated, “That’s beef,” he would take a chunk of it and put it on my plate. This happened with “This is sausage,” too, but when he said, “This is chicken,” I simply said, “No,” and he moved on to the next item. The last item I got from the oven was a grilled red pepper. I also piled onto my plate a few things from the salad selection, as well as some potatoes, beans, tomatoes, and bread.

It was a great lunch, and I finished it off with more coffee. Yum.

On my way out of the dining room I was spotted by an old dog that was graying at her muzzle, and she gave me a really cute, but totally dumb, look – this is one of the dumbest-looking dogs I’ve seen in a while – so I had no choice but to pet her. And then I had to pet her more, because when I stopped initially she placed her paw on my leg and looked at me even dumber than before.

Just look at that dumb face. How can you not like it?

I didn’t do much this afternoon, at least not until 3:30 when this morning’s gauchos took us down the road to a local cheese-maker and dairy farmer whose operations are known in Uruguay as Queso Jersey.

Our transport, whatever it is.

Entrance to cheese maker and dairy farm.

As soon as we arrived we were asked to put on booties to protect our feet from the liquid cheese run-off, or whatever was on the floor – I couldn’t understand the explanation well. We were then shown one of the rooms where cheese is made and put into something like a canister, where it’s then stored in a cooler environment.

We were then led to a room where molding occurs, and the smell was fairly intense.

Moldy cheese.

Unfortunately, I just couldn’t understand the explanations being given, but I did take a lot of photos as you can see below.

After going through the different cheese rooms, and sampling some of the freshest cheese that was available – there was a lot – a few people in the group bought some to take home to Montevideo.

Here's what the final product looks like.

We were then shown an area where the cows were milked – not by hand.

This cow seemed surprised to see us.

I can't believe the cows find these comfortable...

This was followed by a quick tour of three small fields behind the main building where cows of different ages were kept and fed water and food from plastic troughs.

Mmm, cow ear. Notice that a cow on the right is also chewing on its neighbor's ear.

These calves were only 3-6 days old.

It was an interesting tour despite the language barrier, and I appreciated people’s attempts to help me understand what I was seeing.

When we came back I immediately jumped in one of the pools, then decided that the water was a little suspect and decided to take a shower. After that, tea time; after that, ping-pong with one of the guys I hung out with at dinner last night.

When it came time for dinner tonight, I had my share of what were now familiar buffet items.

And for dessert, as if to pretend that this would undo all my unhealthy eating for the day, I ended with some diced fruit.

Rather than return to Montevideo, I’ve decided to stay here an extra day. It’s just too peaceful here to move on so quickly. I must say that I’m spending a lot here – it’s $110 a night at San Pedro de Timote – but included in that price are three meals a day, tea time, two horseback riding trips (I missed the second one today because I was hanging out with people at the pool), and any local excursions that happen to be organized. To me, that’s an amazing deal and I’m going to take advantage of it tomorrow, too.

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  1. Looks like you had an authentic visit in the countryside. Isn't the beef so good? I sell it for a living in California. Check us out Nothing better than a ride on a good criollo horse on the prarie of Uruguay.

  2. I enjoyed your post very much. Gorgeous pictures!

  3. Reid: I definitely had a great visit in the countryside. In fact, I'm wondering if I'll be able to make a return visit there anytime soon. And yes, the beef has been excellent. I'm sure you're doing well selling Uruguayan beef in California! Like you said, nothing better! Thanks for your comment.

    Olivia: Thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed the post and pictures. It's been a great trip to Uruguay so far!