I Never Really Stopped Riding
17.11.2012 - 20.11.2012 30 °C
Overnight Stays: Tacuarembo (3 nights)
DW - We didn't know what to expect at the Border Crossing between Santana do Livramento (Brazil) and Rivera (Uruguay) but it most certainly wasn't nothing at all, which is exactly what it was. We'd arrived from Porto Alegre on-time at 6am and quickly jumped in a taxi to take us across the (what we assumed to be difficult given it was Brazil and all the dramas we'd had with visas) border, expecting a hefty fare with the metre running while we were interrogated just for the sake of it. But nothing, bupkis, SFA; in-fact we didn't even know we'd crossed the border, the taxi arrived at Rivera Bus Station only minutes after leaving and cost all of about $3AUD, winner winner. What we didn't realise was what problems this may cause us down the track having not had our passports stamped on arrival into Uruguay, but more on that in a future post.
The problem with arriving into a 3-horse town (we though it was a 1-horse town until Loz spotted three horses together later that morning) at 6am is that nothing is open and there's absolutely nothing to do except wait for the sun to rise and people to follow soon-after. I did go for a short walk through the town and spotted my first sign of life, sadly it was only a group of young Latinos just exiting the nightclub, oh what different lives we live. But as the sun started to rise, people slowly started to arrive at the station and it looked like a cracker day ahead (weather wise) so our spirits were high.
When my sister Kirra and her then boyfriend (now hubby) Marcus travelled South America a few years ago they spoke incredibly highly of their stay at a traditional estancia (farm) in the north of Uruguay, raving it as one (1) of the highlights of their whole trip. With this in our mind we just had to follow-suit and with their specific ranch booked out we found another, Yvytu Itaty (I think it means 'wind and rocks' or something like that) and arranged for three (3) nights, with comical English/Spanish email exchanges in the few days prior to arrival. From what we could understand (from Google Translate) the gaucho (cowboy) was going to pick us up from Tacuarembo Bus Station around midday, and it was up to us to find our way their upon arrival from Brazil. Tacuarembo is just over 100kms from the border-town of Rivera, and the first bus leaves at 10am, so that's what we were waiting patiently for.
So the bus-company booths finally opened around 9am and we bought our tickets to Tacuarembo in the nick of time and were on our way, incredibly excited knowing that our hosts knew about as much English as we knew Spanish.
When we arrived into Tacuarembo we really didn't know what to expect: Firstly we were only 80% sure someone was going to pick us up; secondly, we had no idea what he looked like, and no idea what his name was, hmmm. After sitting for a while, looking out for any sign of someone looking for us, we eventually found a 60 year-old (approx) silver-fox, smartly dressed, wearing a moustache, and awesome beret (one of those French hats), and instantly we knew the next few days were going to be awesome and unforgettable. Once we worked out between the three (3) of us that we were looking for each other, we jumped in his car and the awkward no-conversation car-trip to the estancia began. Pedro's English was I would say probably slightly worse than our Spanish and this made it all the more awesome, and the conversations (surrounded by much silence) all the more interesting and entertaining; it was at this moment we knew Loz's drama classes in school were going to pay dividends. But despite the language barrier we straight away knew Pedro was a lovely chap, and nothing but a legend, a true gaucho, exactly who we were looking for.
When we arrived at the farm (after dropping off some fizzy drink at the neighbour's front-gate, about 10kms away), far from anywhere, we were welcomed with open arms by Maria, the nicest and most hospital human in Uruguay. She soon settled us in and served up some sensational snitzel for lunch, the first of many-a delectable meals we were to demolish over the coming unforgettable days, before we laid our heads for a four (4) hour siesta.
As we awoke Loz's not-so-hidden motherly instincts were realised as we fed a new-born orphaned lamb it's second serving of milk for the day, out of the bottle. That lamb would have to be the thirstiest creature I've ever seen, it'd swallow the bottle and all given it the chance. The next morning as Loz approached it even managed its way through the fence and approached her on her way, parenting aint easy it would appear.
Later that morning we watched Pedro collect the milk for the day, easing it out of one (1) of their dairy cattle, making it look like taking candy from a baby. But as Loz and I soon realised, it's a tough slog and nowhere near as easy as it looks. We both failed miserably and couldn't even squeeze a single drop of milk between us, while Pedro comically squirted milk wherever he pleased, even as a joke soaking one (1) of the nearby dogs, hilarious, some humour just doesn't need words, phew.
Soon after Pedro found us some suitable horses from his tribe of about 50 and we rode as he, dressed in awesome Uruguayan gaucho gear (kind of like parachute pants with his button-up shirt unbuttoned but for a poor single bottom button) led us around the farm as we got used to controlling the horses. Loz specifically asked for a very calm and tranquil horse, something she later regretted as she seemed to be on the most docile creature known to man; the horse that just wouldn't exceed a slow-walk, even on command. My horse, however, Julio (pronounced hoolio) had no respect for me at all and seemed to do whatever he pleased, whenever he pleased. I'd try and speed him up or steer him in a direction, and he wouldn't have a part of it; comical but frustrating at the same time. In the end I learned to get used to it and just go with the flow, whatever.
In that morning ride we spotted a couple of emus sprinting twice as fast as Usain Bolt at 60km/h, such comical birds to watch. We also managed to scare one (1) away from nesting, counting 22 or so monstrous white (not green like at home) eggs, wow. Towards the end we mustered some cattle between paddocks which was great fun. Horse-riding is fun and a great way to get around, but it's so much more enjoyable when you have a task and really get to try and control your horse. This is when Julio did start to listen to me, when we had a task at-hand, but Loz's donkey just seemed to mope along, no matter what the brief was, we joked that she always had the back covered, ha.
With the weather scorching and not a cloud in-sight we, after a delicious lunch, relaxed for the arvo in a couple of hammocks, loving where we were and what we were doing, such a different part of South America. It's weird how similar the countryside was to home, but I guess it make sense when you look geographically at where we were, pretty well on the same longitude (or is it latitude? I always get them mixed up) as the south of Oz. The main difference to Oz (or at least the Oz we're used to) was that it was greener and there was plenty of feed for the stock, which there was also plenty of. After our chill-out in the hammocks we went for another horse-ride with Pedro, while Maria cooked another feast for dinner, she spent so so much time in the kitchen; but I guess when you don't have the luxury of supplied electricity (they had a little bit of solar, enough to power a fridge and that's about it) cooking becomes a much more complex task. As we rode Pedro tried to explain to us what our task was and what we were trying to do. We nodded our heads and pretended we understood what he was saying, without in-fact having any idea whatsoever he was saying. We still don't know exactly what we were meant to be doing, but we think it was something like separating the pregnant heifers from the rest of the herd, but like I said, we still don't know, nor will we ever. Pretty sure we were more of a hinderance than a help, but it was incredibly fun all the same, any excuse to ride around like a larrikin and pretend you know what you're doing. Along the way we spotted our first ever armadillo which was really cool, but the little bugger was too quick to catch or photograph. Cool little animals though, they look like they've got a full armour suit on, a good defence against predators I guess.
As darkness fell a big storm passed over, our first full thunderstorm since leaving Australia in early 2011, huge novelty value. We watched it pass over us as we tried Mate for the first time, which felt very much like a high-school party. It's a hugely popular drink in Argentina and Uruguay, and would probably be illegal in Oz (only because everything's bloody illegal in Oz), but it's basically a herb drink that looks suspicious at the best of times. It's often drunk by the locals in the arvo/evening and shared amongst friends, out of an impressive looking silver straw. This beautiful family, our hosts, just to take the gaucho-ness to the new level, drank their mate out of a cutoff cow-horn, how bloody good is that?! Loz didn't go much on the mate, but I quite enjoyed, probably more the novelty than anything else. For dinner we feasted on pate rolled in pancakes, followed by flan for dessert, all delicious and very traditional, and most of all, made from scratch by the lovely Maria. We also washed all dinners down with Uruguayan red wine which in all honesty was pretty ordinary, but bugger me if I'm saying no to traditional anything, it all adds to the experience. After dinner I tried to break the language barrier again and talk trade with Pedro, trying my very best to pick up the few Spanish words I knew. I think from that conversation, that Uruguay export soya and meat, but tourism is their biggest export, but again, I really don't know, love it.
We also saw our first ever fireflies that night, as they lit up the sky around the house, so bright and addictive to watch, simple pleasures for simple people.
Each day Loz fed her little baby lamb twice, and we went for a ride first thing in the morning, and in the evening before the sunset. Between this we didn't do a great deal, only because that's what we chose to do, just relax and chill out. Loz learnt how to make dulce la leche (caramel syrup), and we ate so so much amazing food; biscuits bread and coffee for breakfast and arvo-tea, and a huge lunch, dinner and dessert, all made fresh by Maria. This was about traditional as you could expect for farm anywhere in the world; simple, old-school, gender-specific, task-driven, yet relaxed, bliss. I expect things haven't changed much at Yvytu Itaty in the past 50 years and beyond, and expect they won't change, and hope they don't.
On one (1) afternoon ride our task was to find an armadillo, for dinner! We had no idea you could eat the little suckers, but despite Pedro's best efforts of reaching in as far as he could into several armadillo holes, we came home empty handed, perhaps we'll leave eating armadillo for another day.
Our stay at Yvytu was a time we hope never to forget in our lives; the most relaxing and traditional Uruguay experience you could imagine. Pedro and Maria are amazing people and although we laughed many times at the language difficulties between us, it was never a problem. Actually, one (1) particular instance is worth making mention of: on our last day Loz was trying to explain to them a bandaid (can't remember the context). For whatever reason, I don't know what possessed her, but she proceeded to pick up a knife and pretend to cut her arm, much to the shock of everyone at the table, me included. Not only had her charades let us down, it had scared the hell out of Pedro and Maria, both wondering what the hell had just happened, was this girl okay, was she about to hurt herself? I told her to slowly put the knife down and try a different tactic, so so funny, and to this day I still don't think they knew what the hell she was doing.
For anyone who ever visits Uruguay, this is a cannot-miss, one (1) of the best things you'll ever do. Pedro and Maria don't have a website but are always looking for more guests; the best way to contact them is by email firstname.lastname@example.org, which (if you don't speak Spanish) is an experience in itself. If you do ever visit, please tell them we said 'hola', and maybe try and find an easier way to explain what a bandaid is.