From Acadia Brooks, July 16, 2013 – Behind the stuccoed walls of the main building at the Finca Piedra cattle ranch, two gauchos robed in heavy, woolen ponchos, faded brown sweaters, and khaki pants rounded up a group of fifteen horses. They talked between themselves about the course our group would take through the vineyards and hillsides they wanted to show us. After deciding on our course, they made a series of deep grunts, directing the horses about a long wooden fence that ran the length of the heart of the ranch.
One by one, the gauchos would lead the horses from the stable to a fence post, holding onto the reins, and offering them to the members of our group. After a few lanky-legged Peruvian Pasos and mottled mares, a beautiful, silky-haired, white horse gracefully trotted alongside a gaucho wearing a wide-brimmed cattleman’s hat. The gaucho extended his arm, welcoming any of us to ride the horse.
I perked up and sprang to my feet. I approached the horse from the side, put my foot in the left stirrup and made my way onto the saddle. Once my horse began to amble on toward the other horses of the group, I grew nervous that he would not understand my gestures with the reins, as this was my first time horseback riding.
However, the riding experience was much different than I had anticipated. We all moved together in a pack at a slow trot. When one horse would move in a different direction or at a pace that was too different from that of the pack, the gaucho nearest the horse would rush over and fix the situation with a series of deep-voiced chants, grunts, and a strict grip of the reins. Riding along in the safety and comfort of the group, I realized that if I ever needed help with my horse, the gauchos would come to my rescue, and that everybody was here together. Feeling more comfortable, I held the reins a little less tightly, sat less stiffly, and began to truly enjoy the journey. I felt a great connection with my horse, one that went beyond my awe of his majesty and developed from a newfound sense of trust and security. I was overcome by a great feeling that my journey would be one that I could cherish for the rest of my life. I captured over a hundred images with my camera during our ride, as the luminous orb of sunshine traveled several degrees westbound in its orbit, among the sea of clouds above the undulating hills of Finca Piedra, casting heavy shadows over the sprawl of golden vineyards.
I trotted with the gauchos into the halcyon hills of Uruguay, an enchanting country made sweeter by the compassion and warm-heartedness of its people. Like my experience with riding, I found that the entirety of my adventures in Uruguay had been blessed by the golden felicity of the people I befriended and of whom I grew very fond. The Uruguayans—with their smiling faces, soulful eyes, and open arms—made my experience abroad unforgettable. Cristina, Flavia, and Nicolás (my host family) were some of the kindest and most generous people I have ever met; they welcomed me into their home and made me feel like a native of this golden land, as if I had lived there all my life, even though I visited only for a month.
So as the sun approached the crowns of the distant eucalyptus trees, I couldn’t help but be nostalgic of the place I was about to leave. And while the gauchos led our group over a small creek and up a verdant hill, the cattle ranch in sight, I let my horse gallop, and my silky-haired companion travelled as quickly as his legs could carry me.