We decided a while ago to get to know more of Uruguay. With this in mind we began the search for an estancia (similar to ranch) in the Sierras of Uruguay near to Minas.
With the desire to get to know the country and people in it better we settled on the idea to find a touristic estancia in which to spend a weekend with some hosts, some horses and share some good food and good company. Having looked at several options we settled on one La Salamora; a posada near Minas specialising in eco-tourism.
Run by Alicia Morales and her husband Daniel, La Salamora is a wonderful place to spend a few relaxing days it is set on a large property which comprises natural spring water features, volcanic rock formations and an old settlement history (Basque). The property also boasts Neandu (Uruguayan version of an Emu/Ostrich), horses, eco-tourism projects, local fauna, renewable energy and the most amazingly welcoming, knowledgable, friendly and English speaking (if required) hosts.
The slightly odd thing (for foreigners) when booking a stay at La Salamora is that you are asked to pay a small (around 10%) deposit into a bank account to confirm the booking. I can attest to the fact that they are very trust worthy and we even moved the booking by a couple of weeks and this made no impact on the deposit or reception.
Arriving at La Salamora is a simple task even without your own transport, we took a bus from Montevideo’s Tres Cruces bus station to Minas for around 300 pesos return per person, it takes approx 2.5 hours so we left early Sat morning and were there by lunch (homemade and delicous). Alicia and Daniel met us at the bus station in Minas with a sign and charged only 200 pesos for the transfer from (and back to) the bus station which is some 30-40 min drive from the Posada. On the way you get a good view through the Sierras and a mini tour and orientation from Alicia which is very informative and useful.
The accomodation consists of a purpose built building with 5 double bedrooms all with central heating and en-suite bathrooms, they are very clean, well prepared, traditionally decorated extremely comfortable and centrally heated. The bedrooms in the photo above are to the left of the fire extinguiser (back of car).
Joining to the bedrooms is a comedor; eating area, kitchen, living area with big wood fire, plenty of seating and local information such as guides for the birds, wildlife and flora you may see on the property. Obviously the compulsory Parilla that comes with every good Posada is also found. In the photo above the comedor can be seen from the outside to the right of the car. The photo below shows the wood fire in the living area.
Outside there is a deck that runs round the entire building and a seating area which overlooks the rolling hills, perfectly situated for sampling a copatine of Alicia home made JuJu; Cane alcohol (like cachaca from Brazil) mixed with various local fruits and herbs and left to sit for several months. It is a Uruguayan delicacy best enjoyed with local chorizo, cheese, olives and home prepared mushrooms; all of which are also provided.
The final area of construction on which I intend to explain to the best of my ability is that the whole building has been constructed specifically to run on renewable energy as far as possible.
Daniel kindly explained the whole system to me. They are able to run the fridge/freezer, lights, television etc as normal most of the time from electricity generated by a 1Kw wind turbine (molina) which spins even in fairly low wind speeds, this charges a rack of 8 large batteries which feed into the building’s electrical system. Unfortunately when we were there they had to use the backup diesel generator once for a period of 1 hour because there has been several days of low wind; I can testify to the lack of wind while we were there and that most of the time we were running of the wind turbine, the generator does also charge the batteries when it is producing excess energy. The photo below shows the wind turbine and caretaker’s house/battery storage area:
In addition to the wind generation system, the electric fences that are in place on the property are powered from solar panels which charge 12v batteries and work by pulsing energy down the line every few seconds rather than having a constant charge. With the electricity sorted out and off the grid; Daniel turned his attention to the heating and water systems.
The water is all supplied from one of several springs that open onto the land and form into a reasonably sized stream with several swimming holes which if you go when it is warm you are welcome to use.
The hot water system is powered by a very efficient (locally grown) wood burning water heater which not only heats the water for showers, taps etc but also the central heating system that runs through the entire main building. The heater has a pressure switch on it that cleverly opens flaps to limit the burn to only what is required for a givenheat. Daniel stoked it with a small number (maybe 8) pieces of wood and it kept the place warm all night. The wood burning heater is a great idea because the owners are looking to return the area to the native flora; burning the invasive introduced species is a useful way to help.
So the building and energy stuff aside, what do you do there?
Alicia has worked as a tour guide (English and Spanish speaking) in Montevideo and studied eco-tourism courses and Daniel is a working vet, as a result the activities are focussed on nature based activities and experiences; exactly what we went there for!
Since moving here we have discovered a love of horses (albeit not necessarily the skill of riding them) and the hosts entire family ride, there is a small herd of horses (around 10) with all equipment to ride. The hosts make wonderful trek guides and horses are definitely the best way to see all this property has to offer.
In addition they employ a gentleman who worked his whole life as a genuine Gaucho (cowboy) in the area to help with the animals etc, the whole experience feels very genuine and natural.
For those not inclined to throw themselves on top of a large beast and ride around the countryside. Alicia is more than happy to spend time discussing the local flora and fauna (on which she is very knowledgable) and explain the process of restoring the area to the fauna that existed previously.
Another activity well worth undertaking is to have a walking tour of the historical sites of the property which include:
- A 250+ year old house built by the old landowners and restored by the current owners (the whole project is photographed in various phases if you are interested to see it
- Remnants of the slave quarters that used to server the previous landowner around 200 years ago and stoked the calcera below.
- The calera where the previous landowner cooked a local white stone similar to chalk to be used in building. The calera is a huge oven that used to be stoked manually with local wood by slaves who lived on the property. They stopped using the oven when local wood or stone ran out and moved to a new location, this was one of the 2 biggest in the area. The front of it can be seen in the photo below.
Finally, included in the price of the accomodation is breakfast, lunch, an evening meal and as much time relaxing in the house as you like; the only extra being wine from Daniel’s special wine cellar which I highly recommend you take a look at to discover the secret!
The food is all home made by Alicia and as much as possible made with locally sourced ingredients, it is all fantastic! In addition there is a choice of menu if you contact them in advance and they will try to accomodate your desires. We chose to eat Parilla for the one evening we stayed, Daniel as all Uruguayans I have met knows how to cook the perfect parilla and is happy to share a few trade secrets; I think they learn them in the hospital at birth! An in action shot is below.
The only complaint you may hear regarding the food is from the poor horses on the final day as they carry your now 5 kilos heavier but much happier food filled person around the property!
In summary we fell in love with the place having eaten well, relaxed completely and spent a few precious moments getting to know the country and people just a little more.