Thursday, January 21, 2010

Uruguay, Day 3

One of the areas I passed on horseback this morning.

I don’t know why I always start my blog entries with how much sleep I got the night before, but I think it’s because when I start to write about my day I find myself wondering why I’m so tired. And then I remember how little sleep I got, and the reason for it returns and re-boggles my mind. For example, this morning I was awakened by a cacophony of parrot screeches. It didn’t happen yesterday, so I can safely say that this is the first time wild parrot noise has ever woken me up. Unfortunately, the screeches started at 5:30 a.m. And parrots, it must be said, have got to be the noisiest birds in the world.

In any case, I dragged myself out of bed a few hours after being startled awake and had the same sort of breakfast I had yesterday. After chasing down a huge mug of coffee I headed to the horse stable to find Beto, and in a matter of minutes he was saddling up Lucia again and helping me up on her back. There was a little boy joining us, too, who was the son of an employee at the estancia. He couldn’t have been more than five or six, but he really knew how to ride a horse. In fact, he was so small that he could lie on his back in the saddle as the horse was moving, or lie all the way forward, or all the way to either side. He was really interested in watching the horse eat and drink, and I guess I was having fun watching him, as he seemed so at ease on the horse.

With only the three of us on the excursion, it was an especially tranquil morning. We went in the opposite direction that I rode yesterday, and we came upon a number of beautiful ponds, rolling hills, farmhouses, and grazing animals.

We rode for probably 90 minutes, and Beto, our leader, seemed to be doing a check on all the animals we passed.

At one point we came upon a tiny calf lying on the ground against a barbed wire fence. Its mother was maybe fifty meters away, chewing on grass. Beto told us that the calf was probably only two or three hours old, and he got off his horse and started to nudge it. At first I thought he was trying to chase it away from the barbed wire, but I don’t think that’s what he was after. The calf struggled to stand, and when it was on all fours it either butted its head into Beto’s knees or simply fell into him, I’m not sure which. But at this point it was caught in the barbed wire fence. It started crying then, which finally got the attention of its mother. I think this was what Beto was trying to do, because the mother approached, forcing our horses to retreat some, and the mother and her calf eventually made it over the fence and into a field. They walked some distance and then the calf began to take its first milk from her.

Beto seemed satisfied by this, and we were on our way again. Almost immediately after we’d left this scene we came upon the scattered remains of a dead colt, which a farmer had apparently tried to cremate in his field. It was the cycle of life come full circle in this beautiful but wild landscape.

We continued on from here, through fields of tall grasses where sheep, cows, horses, and burros leisurely fed.

After another fifteen minutes we made it to a farmhouse where Beto stopped and talked to two men.

My horse was getting antsy, and it was a struggle to keep her from eating the grass around us as we waited. I was just glad she didn’t bolt or buck.

The morning got progressively warmer, and at around 11:00 we started to head back. We passed through more fields, one of which contained stacks of firewood that must have gone on for a quarter mile.

When we got back, my legs were really sore – I’m not sure why – and I can just imagine how relieved Lucia was to be back standing in the shade among her fellow horses.

The estancia changed its lunch set-up, and rather than doing a buffet again they served us an actual menu that they’d prepared. First came carrot soup, which I was happy to have, followed by a “salad” of grilled eggplant, tomato, lettuce, cabbage, onions, ham, cheese, a small pile of shaved carrots, and a squirt of barbecue sauce.

It was nothing special. I think there was a little too much going on in it, and the ham and cheese might have been better left out. Still, I ate it, so it obviously was okay.

After that came a plate of cooked lamb medallions, accompanied by potato wedges, grilled onion, and mushrooms.

I could have used more edible green color with this entrée, and also more flavor. It was a very mild dish, and the lamb was a bit on the fatty side. Still, I ate it, so it couldn’t have been all bad.

Finally I was given a choice of desserts, and I went with whatever the waiter told me had ice cream and meringue – the only Spanish words I understood in his explanation. But when he brought it, I’m sure I blushed.

It was huge. It was made of meringue and had chocolate sauce, a yellow cake, ice cream, and frozen peaches underneath. It was really good, even though it was way, way too much dessert.

I took a historical tour of the estancia after lunch, given by Beto. I was the only one who went. The tour lasted maybe one hour, and I understood maybe 5% of what Beto explained; he talked the entire time. He occasionally stopped to ask if I understood him, and because he was working so hard and obviously didn’t want me to say no, I said, “Yes, more or less.” And then I’d ask him a question to derail his suspicion that I understood absolutely nothing. By the time he’d finished, I was utterly exhausted from trying to understand what he’d been saying.

But I couldn’t rest for long, because Beto led another horseback excursion two hours later. We went in another direction this time, and he and I were joined by a family from Montevideo with two young children who sat in their laps as they rode.

I think it’s safe to say that they were more advanced riders than I was. This time Lucia and I rode through quite a bit of mud and water, the last bit of which she enjoyed because she got to suck down a couple gallons during our half-minute stop.

We circled back to the area when I’d ridden that morning, and soon we approached the estancia from a path that ran beside Route 6.

Dinner was served at 9, as always, and I got there early when I saw that the sun was setting beyond the dining hall. I sat and watched the sun go down while a million parrots screeched overhead.

One of the waiters tapped on the glass window of the dining hall to let me know I could enter for dinner, so I came inside, ordered some wine and water, and waited for a new menu to be served – again, no buffet tonight. I started off with more carrot soup, followed by a salad in name only – it was a ham and cheese omelet cut into strips; oh yeah, and some tomato slivers were on the back of the plate, too.

After that came spinach lasagna, that was actually quite good.

I was totally full by the time I finished that, but when they offered me fruit salad for dessert I figured that some Vitamin C couldn’t hurt.

Tomorrow I head to Montevideo. It’s too bad I have to leave this place, as I could see myself staying here longer. It’s definitely the kind of place that I could see myself returning to. You get a wonderful experience here for the price you pay.

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