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Posted on March 18, 2019
In November 2017 In The Saddle’s Chris Day accompanied the inaugural Ultimate Uruguay ride, which combines the Painted Birds Trail with Jose Ignacio and the inland estancia Balcon del Abra. This was her first visit to South America and when you read her diary below you will see just why she enjoyed Uruguay so much.
Saturday 4th November
The group met up at the Don Boutique Hotel in Montevideo, where we will be spending our first night. Our guide, Paola, took us to the Old Port Market where we had a fabulous three course lunch; Uruguayan beef at its best! After lunch we had a guided tour of the Old City of Montevideo, which was very informative and gave us all the leg stretch we needed after our long flights.
Sunday 5th November
Leaving Montevideo we drove to Rocha, close to the Brazilian border. We met our gauchos, Alexi and Andres, at Estancia La Rosada, where our hosts gave us a warm welcome and amazing lunch.
After a careful introduction to our horses we rode around the estancia, through the cattle and past the wetlands. The pace was varied to give us the opportunity to get to know our horses and to get used to the different style of riding. As we rode we saw lots for different birds, including Rea, heron, storks and flamingo. One of our gauchos, Andres, also introduced us to ‘armadillo jumping’; it was amazing to see these creatures up close.
Monday 6th November
After breakfast, the horses were waiting for us outside the hotel. We took our time mounting and familiarising ourselves with our horses again before riding straight onto the beach. It was beautiful. We searched for whales and dolphins, but with no luck, although we did see turtles in the sea.
Leaving the beach we headed inland where the terrain was very varied with estancias, woodland and wetland. Amazing! The trail took us past the fort of Santa Teresa to our picnic spot. After our picnic, a little siesta and time spent exploring the fort, we continued to ride through forests and estancia land where we saw capybara, deer and lots of birds. Finally we were back on the beach where more long canters beckoned.
Tuesday 7th November
Today we had to drive for about an hour from our hotel to where the horses were waiting for us. We mounted up and rode to Cabo Polonio, a town surrounded by sand and only accessible by 4wd or horseback! It was a slow but pleasant ride through very soft sand, and when we arrived it felt odd to be riding through a rather Bohemian town.
We took a long time over lunch, where seafood was highly recommended, and then a few brave guests had a swim in the South Atlantic! After this adventure we walked up the beach to see the sea lions and most of the group went up the lighthouse.
Back to the horses, and we rode on again along the beach, with some nice canters as a dolphin followed us about a 100m out through the waves.
Wednesday 8th November
The horses were brought to the guesthouse this morning and we rode through the town to the beach, past the restaurant we ate at last night and then on along the beach. We then turned inland again heading towards the estancia where we will be staying tonight.
We rode past many lone palm trees, which are now protected. The youngest is about 200 years old and the oldest are about 400 years old. Apparently, when the Portuguese invaded, the native Indians moved away and the line of palms marks their retreat from the SE to the NW, the trees growing where they left the stones from the fruit they ate.
It was threatening to rain and so we didn’t stop for lunch. We arrived at Estancia Guardia del Monte in the early afternoon where we enjoyed a relaxing lunch whilst the storm gathered around us. It was a spectacular setting and a beautiful place to sit and stop for a while.
Thursday 9th November
Today we rode through the wetlands to Estancia Barra Grande for lunch. As we returned to the beautiful Estancia Guardia del Monte, we helped move some of the cattle to another pasture, and then enjoyed a final blast on these lovely horses.
Saying farewell to Andres and the horses, we left for Jose Ignacio in the early evening for the next leg of our adventure in Uruguay.
Friday 10th November
We met our new horses at the hotel this morning and rode from there to the beach and into some coastal farmland. We tried out the paces of our new horses and then returned to the beach and a lagoon where we could swim with the horses. Leaving the lagoon we rode through the woods to a clearing where lunch was waiting. All very idyllic!
Saturday 11th November
Leaving the hotel after breakfast, we rode through Jose Ignacio to the lighthouse, nosily looking at all the different houses and properties we saw. The architecture was very diverse in this affluent area. Following the coast we had some long canters at the side of a gravel track. It was very windy today and so we decided not to stop for lunch, but rather continue straight through to Chacra la Magdelena. Arriving early we had a leisurely late lunch when we arrived followed by a restful afternoon; short walks around the beautifully manicured gardens, onto a little island in the stream, bird spotting – all very peaceful.
Sunday 12th November
After a relaxed breakfast (meals are not to be rushed in Uruguay!) we left the manicured lawns of Magdelena riding down gravel roads and enjoying long canters. As we headed towards the sculpture park we had to follow a main road for a time, but it wasn’t busy and the verges were very wide.
The sculpture park was delightful, peaceful and interesting. We had a picnic in a lovely setting in the shade of the trees by the lake, and there was time to walk around and look at the sculptures. As we left the park we rode on green lanes and were able to pick up the pace again as we cantered between tended fields and estancias.
Another farewell to horses and gauchos as we drove inland to end our journey at Balcon del Abra.
Monday 13th November
I woke with the sun at 05:00 to a beautiful view from my bedroom window. After breakfast we met Ronaldo, our new gaucho, and the estancia’s horses. Riding round the estancia this morning we got to know our new horses; the hilly terrain was very different to that of the coast.
There was time for a quick dip in the pool before lunch and then, after a little siesta, we rode out in the evening when it was cooler. We spent time checking the sheep and cattle for a neighbour, which was fun and informative.
Tuesday 14th November
A longer ride than was expected this morning, but pleasant in the rolling countryside. There were some steeper sections and so the pace wasn’t always fast. Returning to the estancia for a late lunch, some decided to take advantage of the beautiful location to take the rest of the day off and just relax, perhaps having a massage. For the rest of us, it was a lovely evening to be out riding. We had lots of fun, cantering when we could and checking on the sheep and cattle again.
Wednesday 15th November
Almost everyone opted to ride this morning for the final time. It was a great ride, but sad that this would be our last one. After brunch we were saying our goodbyes again and finally boarding the minibus for our journey back to Montevideo and thence home.