Two Ranches in Uruguay

Estancia La Sirena, image by Julie Wormhoudt
By Julie Wormhoudt

In December and January (2014-15) a friend and I, (ladies in our 60s up for an adventure) drove all around Uruguay hitting many coastal towns, as well as visits to two ranches: Estancia Pinos de la Quebrada, west of the town, Triente y Tres; and La Sirena, near the town of Mercedes.

We fist visited Estancia Pinos. The landscape in this area of Uruguay is much like the rolling hills of Missouri and Eastern Kansas but with some palm trees and stands of very tall, tufted top trees (Parapiptadenia rigida) tossed in.  It's mostly grazing pastures with a variety of birds. Nostalgic for me since I grew up in that kind of area in Kansas.

Estancia Pinos is well off the beaten path. To get there, you turn a couple hundred meters past the 316km marker on Ruta 8.  After passing through the first gate, we saw big ostrich-like birds but fluffier and not quite as big; I thought Emu and assumed they were being raised as another farm animal. But it turns out they are Rheas and are wild.

We passed through two more gates before arriving at the fourth in front of the hacienda. It's whitewashed with a red tile roof. Grape vines and flowers grow along the four walls that surround the courtyard with a pool in the middle.

Tired after a day of driving, we spend our time around the pool, swimming, reading and dozing in the sun.  Estancia Pinos del la Quebrada was the nicest place we‘d visited so far on out travels in Uruguay, deserving of its 4-star reviews on Trip Advisor.

The owner of Estancia Pinos, Martin and his brother Raphael, speak English. The atmosphere was friendly, casual and relaxed. Martin gave us a quick walk through so we got to see everything, truly making us feel at home.

The house had three connected sections forming a square, where the owners, the cook, maid, and two guest families stayed. We stayed in a fourth section of the home that comprised the fourth wall of the courtyard.

The other guests during our stay were two British couples, currently living and working in San Francisco, and a Brazilian family. With a common language, we spent an enjoyable evening visiting with the Brits, John & Rebecca, Simon & Jess around a big dining table in the main house.

When we first arrived at Estancia Pinos, we were offered a meal but asked just for a salad.  Martin also supplied meat, leftovers from a previous meal, gratis. The food was very good and Martin provided whatever we wished.  In Uruguay, there is meat, chicken, and fish. But when asked if you want “meat”, Uruguayans are referring to beef.

 For dinner, we requested chicken for a change and had very nice succulent sautéed breasts with another salad, bread, and a wonderful pumpkin flan dessert.  The Brits had pork chops that looked wonderful, both mashed and sweet potatoes and finished off the big plate of salad (lettuce, tomatoes, onions and red peppers). In Uruguay salad  is served with oil and vinegar and a little salt.

Our room at Estancia Pinos was enormous compared to the hotels where we stayed in Montevideo and Punta del Este. Our room had a deep tile tub and air conditioning.

La Sirena, Image by Julie Wormhoudt
La Sirena
The other estancia we visited was La Sirena near the town of Mercedes on the Rio Negra. It's in western Uruguay, the opposite side of the country from  Estancia Pinos.

After a long day's drive, we approached La Sirena at nearly 11 pm. One of the hands at La Sirena, Talo, found us and led us the last 15 kilometers over a bridge with  5-6 inches of water rushing across it. Even though we arrived very late, the staff at La Sirena waited up to help us with our bags and prepare an outstanding dinner.

Dinner started with an excellent Argentine champagne, homemade bread, parsleyed potatoes, salad, large slices of roast beef, a beef/boar mixed sausage that was delicious, and a black sausage that was sweet.  Dessert was a flan served with a dollop of dulce de leche.  Exhausted, we made plans for a horseback ride the following morning and headed off to our beds. Our room was at the end of the six-room guest wing separated from the main house.

Image by Julie Wormhoudt 
We were awakened early by birds.  Alva, who had prepared the wonderful dinner, served an egg and bread for our breakfast along with a delicious apricot marmalade and fresh butter, coffee & tea. After snapping some photos of the gorgeous scenery, I returned to sit in the breezes of the courtyard and await our guide, Ramiro, who also helped in the kitchen. Neither Ramiro nor Alva spoke English but Ramiro was very good at charading his meaning.

Ramiro took us for a long ride and I had a lovely mount named Benjamin. We rode all around La Sirena seeing some of the crops. We stopped for a break in a shady area along the river. The two ever-present Labs waded in the water, rolled in the sand, and fortunately didn’t shake it off on us. After the river, we enjoyed a number of gallops before we returned to the ranch.

It was hot, so I took a brief before-lunch dip in their pool, a large above ground tank with a small platform and steps leading up.

For lunch, we enjoyed a freshly-made vegetable soup, bread, apples, and juice. Other guests arrived--fourteen young people from various parts of the world: Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Switzerland, Germany, and England.

The afternoon was at leisure, hotter as the sun came out and the breeze died down so we played cards, visited, and read in the lovely grounds with panoramic views.  Around 5pm, Talo gathered us up for a trip down to the river where we sipped wine and watched the young folks trying to ride (but falling off) the long inflatable hotdog pulled by a SeaDoo.  The dogs played in the water and a few people fished from the bank.

We stayed in La Sirena over New Year. New Year’s Eve dinner was grilled on a large "parilla" (Uruguayan barbecue grill) across the courtyard, not far from the barn and horse pasture.  Excellent BBQ meat, sausages and chicken, potatoes, and chimichurri (a meat relish) and bread.

After dinner, the recorded music was cranked up and stayed up until 1-2am with some dancing on and off to current pop songs with a few older rock anthems thrown in for good measure.  A nice New Year’s eve before ending our stay at La Sirena.

Comparing La Sirena with Estancia Pinos, it's my  impression La Sirena has more visitors, likely due to its proximity to the town of Mercedes. Estancia Pinos is very remote.  Personally, I preferred Estancia Pinos, which is closer to typical ranch life, quieter, and a great place for decompression.  If we'd spent another day at Estancia Pinos, we would have arranged a horseback ride. But no guarantee I would have enjoyed it as much as I did with my horse from La Sirena, Benjamin.

No comments: