After a full day travelling by taxi, incongruously huge double decker coach and held-together fume-perfumed minibus, the asphalt disintegrated into bumpy tracks and ultimately fields…. now, 220km on, in the far depths of the Uruguayan countrside we arrived at the genuine working estancia of Panagea.
Wonderfully relaxed unpretentious no-frills but comfortable home and ranch, where Juan and his Swiss wife Susannah enthusiasticly welcomed us.
The 1000 hectare working farm nestles within miles and miles of cattle, sheep and horse filled fields with the odd cluster of rhia thrown in to remind you where you are.
The farm house runs on a beautiful blend of simplicity, rustic charm and local customs along with underlying Swiss efficiency and hospitality. They provide as much totally delicious and healthy home cooked food as we can manage which we are encouraged to help prepare in the homely kitchen.
Showers are short as the water from the well is limited, as well as brown. The generator only runs 3 hours a day so we all plug our phones, cameras and ipads in ready, and each bedside has its own candlestick and matches ready for the power cut-off time. Its amazing how quickly one gets used to no electricity and also no wifi whatsoever, which is a very strange feeling for us all. ‘No WIFI – we talk here’ a sign reminds us.
Day one we all donned hats, traditional gaucho pants and cowboy boots which not only felt good; had plenty of room in the seat for riding, but made you feel the part.
In the coral we were instructed by Juan how to saddle our horses,
and how to ride – nothing like the way we Europeans do things. Loads of sheepskins and extra girths, the reins held differently and in one hand as well as the seating stance being totally the BHS reverse. To turn you pull both reins to the side you wish to go – it works. A $ fine was threatened to anyone using two reins!
Some considerable time later we were all mounted and tentatively set forth, amusingly with some animals being hard to get going and others hard to stop. However we were shown the principle of herding sheep and set off to bring a herd back from a far away field.
When you start herding you understand straight away where the ‘follow the sheep’ expressions come from.
It was fun, and he made us all feel useful ( although the sheepdogs were quietly doing most the work alongside us).
Once penned, after lunch we had to drench and wean them.
Drenching meant deworming so first bit of fun was catching them, then managing to inject the medicine into the mouth while keeping them still and lastly to chalk them to show they’d been done.
The lambs were ready to leave the sheep so splitting them up was the next challenge. Very satisfying, good team work, huge fun and interesting to learn how it was done, best of all we had been a genuine part of completing a necessary job.
Think this cuddly one must’ve known I’m vegi!
Day two; bums slightly sore and now able to saddle up and mount our own horses, we rode out to bring some cattle in, our herding skills improving so we began to move instinctively to the right positions.
It was wonderful to be out there working alongside genuine ranch gauchos in the amazing
scenery, brilliant weather and not feel like a tourist at all. Just loved it.
Saw pink flamingos, some amazing birds and some of their strange nests, rhia (and a huge rhia egg), old volcano craters and even a tarrantula
– and yes they are h u g e!
As numbers decreased to chill back at the home-stay the remaining enthusiastic would-be gouchos worked together to bring the lowing cattle back, and had a laugh trying to round up the wayward ones. Once penned we worked in teams; wallowing in the muck waving white cloths on sticks trying to get the cows into a shute but keeping the calves behind in the pen. The cows had to be prodded down the shute (narrow run) so one of us could spray them to keep them bug free and healthy and then another let them free into the next pen. Hectic dirty work wallowing in the muck and getting splattered, catching the spray and getting covered with angry cow flies. Wouldn’t have swapped it though. Next the calves had to be caught in the shute so Juan could check if their recent castrations had been achieved cleanly and to administer anticeptic before they were reunited with their lowing noisy mothers pacing up and down in the next field.
The tight band that kills off the offending parts on one unlucky heffer had slipped off half way through the job leaving a messy smelly infected result. It took a hillarious hour for us to collectively single him out, get him out of the shute, restle him rugby tackle style to the ground
(they might look feeble and sweet but legs splayed and angry they sure stand their ground) – then to stop him kicking his legs had to be tied together, and with us holding him down Juan could then cut off the remaining part, cleanse, and apply the tourniquet and anticeptic spray. Fascinating stuff and great to all pull together to achieve it, yet again feeling we were of worthwhile help.
Day three we were allowed out on the ranch to explore unaccompanied which was nice, just enjoying riding in the vastness of the lovely scenery with not a cloud in the sky.
Loved my experience of being a gaucho.