We just treated ourselves to a few days of luxury living at an estancia in Uruguay, called La Sirena. Though it was above our daily budget for our year long trip, it was a great experience and worth the extra cost. Our hosts were great and it was a nice experience to ride horses and see some of the countryside here in Uruguay.
The estancia is a old ranch, that has been nicely restored for tourists now and is run mostly by the owners. The old buildings were built around a well, and doors and windows could be barred to form a protected compound in the event of some kind of assault.
There are some out buildings including an old stone barn that has a grill and now holds all the equipment for the horses. The rooms are nice and in a restored and remodeled old barn. The dining room was old fashioned, with iron chandeliers, antique furniture, awesome views of the countryside, and great food. The estancia is located in a big bend of the Río Negro, in flat but also rolling terrain, perfect for horseback riding. The estancia itself has enormous old trees (mostly introduced species) and the forested areas surrounding the estanica have the native, low vegetation and trees typical of the flat Uruguayan countryside.
The owners took us down to the river for a quick boat tour of the main river and some side canals. Uruguay has many rivers and lots of surface and subsurface water, much more than we had expected. The result is that the rolling flat lands are green and fertile, with wide floodplain areas, so most people build their homes in areas with higher ground. Then we spent the rest of the hot afternoon on a nice private sand bar, swimming in the river and relaxing as the sun set over the river, with the moon rising in the opposite direction.
We did a series of horseback rides to different locations in the rolling landscape, to viewpoints and to a grove of old (about 200 years) trees that grow very slowly. The rolling landscape and patchy trees and bushes are perfect for horseback riding. We’re no experts by any means, and on the first days, our horses didn’t seem to take to much direction from their timid drivers. Regardless, they weren’t frantic or out of control and plodded along, used to taking tourists out to see the countryside.
The next day we had more confidence and both of us we able (at times) to steer them and at least have some semblance of beings masters of our own paths. We had a great gaucho who helped us with the horses and who really made the whole Uruguayan estancia experience complete. This guy was decked out in the full gaucho garb (leather boots, a shoulder poncho, small knife tucked in his pants, a decorated wide belt, felt cap, beard, etc.) and really seemed to fit the role perfectly. He helped with the logistics of getting the saddles set up and us tourists up on top and facing the right direction, but it was the whistling and singing (what seemed to be some traditional gaucho songs) as we tromped through the brush that made the whole experience unlike any other horseback riding we have ever done before.
We had great meals, played with the dogs, swam in the river and read in the shade, soaking in a little luxury in our travels.
Now we are back in the Uruguayan town of Mercedes, doing some research and preparing for our flight from Buenos Aires to Prague, for the start of our travels in eastern Europe. To make up for the last few days of luxury living, we’re staying at the nice campground on the island right near the center of Mercedes, in the Río Negro. It is Santa Semana week here, and many people in Uruguay traditionally take the opportunity to go camping on the river, so our campground is full and lively.
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