At the beginning of this year’s South America trip I spent a few days on Panagea Ranch just outside Tacuarembó, Uruguay. Tired from the journey, recovering from a sickie bug I’d picked up at home and generally in need of some R and R, I spent the first day stretched out on the veranda doing very little at all.
And it was great!
Here’s a few thoughts on what I saw without moving a muscle (well, almost!)
Waves of sleep ebb and flow like the tide. Coming to on the lumpy leather couch, I try to shake off the fatigue which has enveloped me since breakfast. The sky is almost free of clouds and it is unseasonably warm for March, but the red and sticky earth is a reminder that rains are frequent at this time of year. The dappled sun casts a soft light on the worn out boots hanging from the racks beside me on the veranda, illuminating patches of dried mud and scuffed leather. A languid breeze ripples the wrinkled leaves of a huge shrub in the bed in front of me. It has just enough energy to nudge at the twisted limbs of an ageing aloe, though even that is more energy than I can summon up.
A pink sow ambles past the veranda, teats swaying gently. She snuffles and grunts as she pauses, systematically scouting the overgrown garden for scraps. The pig loops the farmstead, making her way back to the three chattering piglets she left foraging in the paddock. Soon she’s followed by one of the horses, grazing loose after an early morning hack, who potters around a bit before plumping for a spot outside the shower block. I follow too and rest my arms on a metal gate. From there, I can see a small group of merino sheep up on the ridge, specks of creamy white wool punctuating a sweep of emerald pasture.
To my left, a small stand of ghost gums provides cover for a rhea. It pecks contentedly in the dirt, grey feathers ruffling gently in the wind, until it’s rattled by the sound of a dog barking. Losing its nerve, the rhea skitters off across the damp leaf litter, disturbing its mate in the process. They hurry out to the safety of the grass beyond the gate, in case. The dog can’t reach them there. But later, they reappear in the same paddock where earlier, the dog had been playing with a stick. Rich pickings reward the brave.
The pitter patter of assorted hoofs and paws is accompanied by a soundtrack of bird calls. A rhythmic shooshing like fingers raking an old washboard is laid down as a backing track. Chirrups and juddering caws provide the percussion. A tiny yellow bird the size of a sparrow darts in and out of a nearby tree. Another squeaks with the staccato sound of an old bike brake that needs oiling. The trees hum, their leaves concealing what sounds like a swarm of bees though in reality to my untrained ear could be any kind of insect. Something is making the whining sound of a power tool grating on metal, but it can’t be a person; everyone’s quiet, or out riding already.
I wander back to the battered sofa on the porch and let my heavy eyelids close. The hypnotic sounds work their magic and I doze off again.
There’ll be more about the ranch in another post; find out how I got on as a novice rider herding cattle and rounding them up to go through the tick dip.
Each year, Tacuarembó hosts the Fiesta de la Patria Gaucha. It’s been held for thirty years, the first event being held in 1987. The festival celebrates the great tradition of the gaucho in Uruguay. At first, to an insider, it can seem like a fancy dress parade, but it soon becomes apparent that this is a chance for those living in and around Tacuarembó to eat, drink and be merry – while in charge of a horse, of course. The parade ground hosts a series of races, skills demonstrations and parades, but to begin with, here are some of the characters that make it a feast for the eyes.