Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Gaucho life becomes me

For the last week, I lived the life of a gaucho (South American cowboy) on a rustic estancia (cattle and sheep ranch) in northern Uruguay, about an hour from the town of Tacaurembó and far, far from the mechanization and over-commercialization of modern life. These were days I felt happy, full and free and were some of the best times of my trip!

The name of the estancia is Panagea, which means the mother, omni-continent of the earth when all continents were one landmass. Panagea is the business and home of two long-time world travelers, a couple, one Uruguayan (born and raised on the very land) and one Swiss. Many of the estancias in South America that take tourists are landed estates with luxury hotels, but not real, working ranches. In fact the primary business of Panagea is animal husbandry, with hosting of visitors as a side activity. And so daily rhythms are based on the sun, the land and the animals, in the manner of real life of this region of the world as it has been for many years now.

Though I learned about Panagea because I happened to be browsing a travel site online and went spur-of-the-moment (even to the surprise of my hosts, hee hee), I had the sneaking suspicion that I would love it, based on my own long term plans after New York City to live on a farm in the countryside where I will cultivate butterfly gardens, make my own wine and grow my own non-GMO food...with animals all around me.

I began my days with the sun, crooning roosters and scores of birds who nightly inhabit the tallest tree not too far from the house. Day's work began by leaving the house at 7:30am under a new morning sun to ride through vast fields of low, grassy hills carpeted with pinky-finger-tall pink and yellow and wild flowers. We had shallow creeks to cross on an otherwise rocky and thinly soiled terrain to various fields to round up and herd the cattle or sheep for various activities. We could be found checking sheep for sores or wounds (which if left unattended during the hot, wet season would fell the animal in as little as 4 days), vaccinating the cows against worms or "dipping" the cows in an anti-tick repellent (impelling them through a corral at the end of which is a pool of repellent through which the cattle swims briefly to the other side).

Driving cattle or sheep with 2 expert gauchos and 3 ranch dogs (the smartest and best of whom was the worth of 2 people more) while riding very smart horses who knew exactly what to do in their 8 or more years experience meant that little thinking or skill was required of me. Though we were well resourced, we knew full well that one minute the procession might look orderly and then suddenly and quickly all could be lost (which almost happened once with the sheep but we prevailed!) I participated and could be helpful, and I had copious appreciation of the skill and fast reflexes of the others around me.

We returned to the house for a long mid-day lunch break (always scrumptious, nutritious food, homemade bread and surprises of sweet treats for us) and siesta which during the summer months is an absolute necessity in the heat and humidity. Afternoons of another few hours in the field completing the day's final tasks meant that we were heading back to the house under a tinted pastel, setting-sun sky along with the birds returning to their roost in the one tallest tree, calling and gossiping about all the days' events. I found the land to be so beautiful, wild and natural, an exceedingly rare place in that the land is healthy, working, harmonious and balanced.

Being on the farm meant we had plenty of sweet, clean well water to drink with running water powered by a windmill (no wind could mean no running water, a non-issue during my stay). Hot showers could be had when the fire in the kitchen stove had been stoked (and because dinner was in preparation upon returning in the early evening, I always had as I wanted). Because of the remoteness, evenings began and ended by candlelight, with electricity for 2 hours each night by generator-power, which ran the movies (of the 921+, ever-expanding collection) we watched after dinner. Nights were million-star skies.

One day we went to a horse auction where healthy, ready horses could bought for $230USD! A trip that I am dreaming about for the future is a 1-2 week ride to and along the Atlantic coast with my own horses bought at auction, camping at the beaches all along the way.

I stayed over one week (and I wanted and would have stayed longer were my trip not very soon ending!), and so I had the chance to see a few aspects of the process and help close a chapter. For example, the cattle on whom we had worked that week, on Friday we loaded onto a truck to close a sale. I felt a satisfaction that comes with completion. And in that time I think I became a better rider, at least I am not always white-knuckle-gripping the saddle handle (riding on a South American style saddle was helping me to break this bad habit).

The time at Panagea felt rich in so many ways. We had long talks, lots of laughter and I even cooked Korean food one night! My gracious hosts treated me fondly like family or old friends.

These happiest, fullest and freest times will I carry in me. When life gets rushed and hectic as it surely will soon, I will look within for that immense quiet and harmonic, natural balance that was all in a day's ranching at Panagea.

Ready for work:

An orderly procession:

Cattle awaiting treatment in the corral:

Silly-looking beasts:

A doe-eyed cattle:

Sheep in their corral:

Lambing season has just begun!

Dr. J. saving sheep from dying:

Sheep in the light of the rose-lit dusk:

No wonder sheep are so dumb, they can't see!:

A river flanked by forest and rock for climbing:

At the horse auction:

One of the house gates:

Horses and prayer flags:

Sweet sunset:



Anonymous kimmy said...

Hi Christine! I loved your blog about living on the Ranch in Uruguay!!! I'm thinking about going there, and they sent your blog to me :) Now I really want to go!!! Would be great to have some contact with you to know a little bit more :)To live like a comboy have always been a dream :)

8:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Christine! I'm thinking about go there! They sent me your blog and now I really want to go! Have dreamed about "cowboaylife" since I was a child! Would be great to get some more information from you... please answer :)!

8:10 AM  
Blogger Christene said...

Hi Kimmy,
You should definitely go! Life in Uruguay on Panagea couldn't be more simple and real. If you send me another comment with your email address, I'll email you directly (and I won't publish your email address).

9:40 AM  

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