So I arrived in Uruguay to learn Spanish. I hadn’t planned much more than to spend time leaning as much as I could at Herradura. I had no prior experience in Spanish and so started from scratch. After my seven weeks I was so pleased with my progress, which was almost all down to the teachers that work there. Like learning anything new, it is only over time that one becomes natural at doing the task at hand. After seven weeks I was fully satisfied with what I had achieved and simply wanted to take a break and try my hand at a new experience. One that really caught my attention was to work in the countryside. A place where I’d be fully immersed in Spanish, I’d learn more about the farming culture in Uruguay and of course I’d get to drink mate while riding a horse.

Herradura organized everything for me from Montevideo to pick up point in Colonia Valdense, and as I expected everything went swimmingly. On arrival I messaged Hugo and Maria to let them know I had arrived safe and sound and they were on their way.

I spoke to Hugo on the car ride up, a very friendly man, very relaxed and I couldn’t imagine anything really worrying him. Introductions were made to some family members who were over for the weekend, and dinner was served. There too was a lovely woman from Belgium and we spoke to each other most of that evening. I was given sheets for my bed, electing for the bed nearest the door so we could put our stuff on the middle bed in the room. The Estancia Don Miguel can host up to 3 volunteers. After I’d moved in we wished everyone goodnight and was briefed on the activities for the next day.

I woke up 6.45am, slipped into my wellingtons Hugo had lent me, ready for work finding the seven milking cows at 7.00am, followed directly by milking them by hand, then starting the process of making the cheese. The Belgian woman was to prepare breakfast and start with making the home made pasta for the lunch as we had guests. Anyway, a cow stood on my toe while I was milking it and I thought maybe I had died. The pain was unbelievably excruciating. I guess though at least I knew it wouldn’t happen a second time. When a cow stands on your toe once, once is one time more than enough.

Hugo then showed me how I was going to make cheese over the next couple of weeks so that every day I could be left alone to do it myself. It was actually very simple, adding, mixing and heating the milk with a couple other secret ingredients. The most important though is the timing, but having a watch and being organized it’s not an issue. Oh and make sure you like cats because cats love cows milk. We had breakfast, normally around 9.00am and then I went back to finish of the cheese until around 10.30am. This routine would be followed everyday except of course the one day off a week I had which was Saturday. I could easily organize which day off I wanted so that I could visit the local town, Nueva Helvecia, or go to Colonia or meet friends etc.

After 10.30am I’d be sent to do tasks that normally didn’t reoccur. Things such like, trimming hedges, collecting bones, mowing grass, strimming grass, mucking out the milking yard, setting things on fire, cleaning, collecting fire wood, food preparation and much more. I’d do this till around midday or sometimes 1.00pm when we’d have lunch. Then it was free time until around 4.00-4.30pm. In my free time, generally I’d read or have short walks around the Estancia. The others tended to siesta, and some days when it was very hot, I too took to the bed.

Four days in and the Belgian woman had now left. It seemed when I spoke with her in private and honestly, we noticed that maybe the more ‘fun’ tasks would be given to the man, myself, and the more delicate tasks given to the woman, the lovely Belgian woman. I think we still believed that equality might still be divided in the countryside as any task I had done the Belgian woman too could have done. There was no need for brute strength (I try to think of other traits a man may have the edge on a woman, it seems only being able to be heavy handed is it). I’m sure she felt her time here was relaxed, but I could also imagine boring. I was shocked to hear that one time she was asked to clean a guest’s bedroom. Maybe this is part of the volunteering on offer but it seemed to me that it was a little too far.

Nevertheless I was now on my own with no other volunteers here and none to be coming throughout my stay. I enjoyed the mornings the most now because I could chat with Hugo. My Spanish of course caused all kinds of confusion but he has the patience of a rock and I learnt a lot from his life and his attitude towards life. After cheese making though my tasks would be alone as Hugo or Maria had other things to do. It does not take two people to sweep with one brush or to cut weeds with one pickaxe. Time alone is lonely. I guess there is not much more too it than that. So from this, in my opinion, I would have enjoyed the whole experience more had I had someone to share it with. Whether it was a friend or more volunteers, any social interaction would have lifted my spirit.

So during my time there I also got to herd around 100 cows on horseback. I took some guests children fishing. Destroyed a wasps nest at night with a makeshift flamethrower and conditioned the land in the vegetable allotment for a new seasons vegetables to be seeded.

It was nice when guests came because, out of working hours, I was encouraged to socialize, and I took these opportunities gladly. Not only was it helpful to hear more spoken Spanish, people wanted to know what on earth I was doing in the middle of the countryside in Uruguay. Had they stayed the prior night I would have replied with “the food”. The food at the Estancia was to die for. Delicious, fresh, flavorful and plenty of it! Guests ranged from varying nationalities, mostly Uruguayan or Argentinean but some Europeans too. It was good to chat.

So after 4-4.30pm I would typically work doing the same one off tasks until sunset at about 7.30pm. There were a few occasions I end up working in the dark but it was solely my own fault. The four goats had to be given water, generally in the evenings, and if I had been working at the other end of the Estancia it sometimes slipped my mind. Then as I strolled back watching the sunset I’d hear the faint call of a goat. If I weren’t quick enough to do so under the falling light, I’d be hunting for goats in the dark. After dark you have free time. I’d take my book to the main house where the grandmother would always be, knitting or watching TV. As I was unable to understand anything she said I’d read if it was just she and I, and put the book down if someone else I could understand came in. Dinner was served around 10.00pm; afterwards I’d generally get an early night as with everyone else ready for the next day.

I spend two weeks at the Estancia with actually a great swing of emotions. I felt fortunate to be able to participate in working on the farm, I also felt lonely at times. I learnt many things, maybe all of which would be only necessary on a farm but a life experience nonetheless. And I managed to survive two weeks without speaking English. As I had said before, for me personally I’d recommend a partner in crime or at least the knowledge of other volunteers at the Estancia, unless solitary is your kind of thing. And as a last note, the water is taken up from a well around 600m from the house by an old wind turbine. As the saying goes ‘no wind, no water’. Shower when you can!

 

Thanks Oliver for sharing your experience with us!

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