Learning to lasso with the gauchos of Uruguay

In the shadow of the gauchos

Eyes transfixed on Sophie’s mesmerized gaze, a frightened animal is breathing fast.

A dark-featured cowboy clad in dirty black boots and a beige felt hat is battling to prise apart the struggling five-day-old calf’s hind legs.

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Looking on as a calf is sprayed at the estancia

Finally the grappling stops and the tough roughneck whips out a aerosol can from his leather belt and sprays the young cow’s nether region.

Like a South American version of Indiana Jones, the rugged farmer coolly releases his whip from the spindly legs it has been gripped to and the small, creamy-furred animal bounds off to fight another day.

Señor Indie wipes his brow, re-adjusts “el sombrero” and leaps back on to his horse.

Gonzalo lassos a calf

As he gallops towards the sun, chinks of light catch the metallic seven-inch knife that dangles from his side.

As our trusty steeds gently trot along behind, we have plenty of opportunity to take in the gorgeous surroundings. In every direction I can see plump cows lazily grazing among the 145 acres of lush pasture.

“Look there,” says Gonzalo, a 60-year-old gaucho and owner of the ranch.

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The stark white slaughterhouse looms on the horizon

On a hillside in the distance I can make out a large white building.

Frigorífico,” he adds.

In a cruel twist, it emerges that these huge beasts pass their days in blissful ignorance that the slaughterhouse where they will spend their final moments rests ominously on the horizon.

Gonzalo sees our distraught expressions and quickly chips in:

“You know these cows have it much better than their European counterparts,” he says with a slightly defensive tone.

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Riding high: Sophie gets into the gaucho spirit

“They have much more space in which to roam and they live to nearly four-years-old, as opposed to just two years in Europe.”

In blazing sunshine we trot on until we stumble across some wild horses.

Indie, real name Julio, leaps off his horse and slowly creeps towards a dark brown stallion.

The untamed horse appears nervous as Julio tentatively approaches, his eyes looking directly into the animal’s.

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Horse whisperer: Gonzalo tries to calm a wild horse

He tries to calm the startled creature by softly whispering “Shhs” to it. Then he slowly reaches out a hand and begins to stroke its long face.

Magically the animal doesn’t get startled, he seems to relax. Gonzalo tells me this is the first stage of taming a wild horse.

There are 30 horses on the farm, all of Arabian stock, used in rotation to round up cows in the fields by the gauchos.

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Billy big balls eyes up his next lady friend

We are also shown the estancia’s solitary bull, who has the toughest gig on the ranch – to impregnate more than 1,000 females.

After four hours the gauchos’ daily chores are done and we arrive back at the farm house.

There we help to hose down the animals we have just been riding.

Once washed, my ride makes for a funny spectacle as he rolls around in the grass to dry himself.

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I try and fail to lasso a bin

In the afternoon Gonzalo tries to teach us how to lasso, but instead of a cow we practise on a bin!

It’s a tricky manoeuvre and both of us repeatedly fail in our attempts to reel in the rubbish container.

That evening we are treated to the finest beef I have ever tasted.

Thinking that I might be tucking into a bit of SeñoritaDaisy, at whom I’d smiled in the fields just a few hours earlier, did make me feel slightly bad. But my word it was good!

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Beautiful beef reared on the estancia

Gonzalo tells me the meat is so good because the cows are organically reared.

I suspect the beautiful scenery and the happy lives the cows seem to live has something to do with it as well.

As we head for the bus station Julio gallops past on his horse.

A snapshot of a lifestyle that has remained almost unchanged for a century.

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Chillin’ out on the estancia

About travellingtoothbrushes

We are a couple of journalists with restless toothbrushes. Our teeth scrubbers seem unable to leap out of their respective washbags to take up a permanent residency on the bathroom shelf. So, we've decided to let them live the way they want to and take them on a trip around South America...
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