El Galope: Uruguayan Ranch Life

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Adam, trying to escape the heat of the countryside

After a couple busy days in Montevideo, checking out the city and enjoying the beach, we decided it was time to escape civilization. We found an ADORABLE hostel inland called El Galope. El Galope is a little farm-home turned guesthouse that holds about 10 people in several rooms; this place was UNREAL!

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 After my slightly challenged directions to the place, we picked up some wine, cheese and grapes for an evening snack and set out on the bus to km 114.5… Not a bus stop, but literally just the side of the road. 
 The woman who ran the place picked us up from the side of the highway and drove us along dusty dirt roads until we pulled up at the ranch. The temperature must have been close to 38 degrees and we were all very thankful to run into the shade of the building.  The place had a cute little shaded patio, fully equipped with hammocks and comfortable beanbag chairs! 
After checking in, we grabbed an icy beer and hopped in their little pool! The water only came up to my waist while standing, but it was the perfect size and temperature for sitting down and cooling off from the heat of central Uruguay. Even the owners joined us for a dip and caught us up on the happenings of the ranch and the history of the area.

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El Galope hostel

Once we were cooled off we decided to go for an evening horseback ride with a friend of Miguel’s (one of the owners). So a half hour or so later, this truly traditional Uruguayan “gaucho” named Hugo picked us up and drove us towards his ranch. It was a 25km drive further inland to Hugo’s ranch.  We crawled along in his beater of a van that clunked and jolted over the dirt roads. We passed through gorgeous expanses of countryside and through traditional little towns along the way. The towns were incredibly simplistic: definitely no extravagant European influences that are so prolific in the major cities down here. All the shop owners sat out front of their stores with their mate tea and their thermoses of hot water (just like every single other Uruguayan in the country) and each person gave a wave to Hugo on the way by.

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Getting all saddled up!

Hugo’s ranch was much larger than Miguel’s; they had several dogs and cats that roamed freely on the property and a bunch of horses in the fields. Three horses were already saddled up and ready to go for us when we arrived. So we set out into the countryside just the four of us! It was clear Hugo spoke almost zero English, but after a week in South America our Spanish was good enough to have conversations about the animals, our homes, jobs, and of course, the wonderful mate tea we were quickly getting hooked on!
  We rode for about 45 minutes before we came to a quiet river and a pool of water that looked so refreshing! Unfortunately Miguel had forgot to mention to bring our bathing suits, or we would have gone swimming.  Nonetheless, we had a lovely time dipping our feet in and watching Hugo swim around with the dogs to cool off.
  The whole trek took a little over two hours and was endless amounts of awesome! When we got back to Hugo’s, we were greeted with a pitcher of icy lemonade and Hugo mixed us up his special mate frio – a cold version of the traditional hot liquid with lime and lemon juice added. Needless to say, it was beyond delicious! We all shared the drink, then began the trek back to El Galope.

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Hugo, our guide, taking a refreshing dip in the lagoon with his dog.

By the time we arrived it was dinnertime! Miguel’s wife cooks dinner every night for the guests of the hostel, and that night it was a Uruguayan meat pie with mashed potatoes and coleslaw – with chocolate ice cream to top it off for dessert. The unique aspect of this hostel is that all the guests eat together at the same time. The long wooden table in the kitchen was set for the 9 of us; wine or beer was available, and everyone got to catch up on their day and meet. It was a bit unusual, but such a wonderful way of meeting the other guests!

When dinner was over and dishes were washed, we had showers and set up for our evening of stargazing. This was my first experience seeing stars in the Southern Hemisphere and I could not have asked for a better place to do so! Adam, Nikki and I dragged bean bag chairs out into the field, brought a couple bottles of wine, some cheese, grapes, and a baguette and studied the constellations that Miguel had briefly tutored Adam about. It was a PERFECTLY clear night with a bunch of shooting stars and an unbelievable view of the Milky May (having no cities around for kilometers). 
Hands down, this was my favourite day of the trip thus far. We could have stayed at the hostel for weeks, but there’s more world to explore, so we had to head out the next morning. According to the owners, a young girl from Vancouver came for just a couple nights last year.  Turns out, she ended up living and working on the farm with them for over 2 months! This does not surprise me in the slightest.

Anyways, after a small extravaganza trying to catch a boat back from Colonia to Buenos Aires, we did make it! And we are now en route to Rosario, a small city, 4 hours north of Buenos Aires and the birthplace of Che Guevara! Pretty exciting!  More on that later I’m sure 🙂

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