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A flying adventure across the River Plate to a large estancia

After clearing outbound Customs and Immigration we took off from Don Torcuato International Airport around mid-afternoon on this gorgeous day with temperatures in the low 70s and absolutely CAVOK conditions and headed directly for Colonia, Uruguay across the Rio de la Plata – by far the widest river in the world. Intentionally we stayed at low altitude for maximum sightseeing initially overflying the Tigre of the Delta created at the confluence of the mighty Parana and Uruguay rivers. The total distance of this leg was almost 50 miles mostly over the brownish waters of this great river.

On an international flight plan we contacted Colonia, Uruguay approximately 20 miles out and were promptly welcomed amidst a very busy radio chatter resulting from all the inbound traffic for the weekend airshow here. Landing was uneventful and we taxied to the transient ramp parking in front of Uruguayan Air Force C-130 Hercules. We noticed over 100 parachutist preparing for a mass jump and saw Jorge Senn, Air Force Colonel Aeronautical Attache at the Argentinean Embassy in Montevideo. He was at the airport to help coordinate the expected influx of Argentinean show performers (including two supersonic Mirages) and many fly in visitors. I had the pleasure of meeting Jorge in the past when I arrived at Eseiza Intenational Airport last year. He flew Mirage supersonic fighter jets armed with Exocet missiles against the British in 1982 during the War of Falklands (Malvinas)  We promptly cleared immigration/customs while Jorge tried to get us to ride on the Hercules to witness the massive jump. Unfortunately we weren’t able to get on  (who would trust an airplane that has 4 engines already on fire anyway!!). Soon it taxied out and climbed to a great altitude and we only noticed the jumpers when their colorful canopies opened all over the perfectly clear sky…

We took off heading northwest to almost the center of this small country with 3.5 million inhabitants. Uruguay maintains a fairly high standard of living depending on agriculture, tourism and foreign banking (from wealthy Argentineans). Flew low over mostly beautiful rolling pastures. The highest point in the entire country is only 700’ at only one hill. We’ve taken off a few minutes before sunset and the 95 nautical mile trip required us only a bit more than 30 minutes to cover. Within 20 miles from destination we reached Diego and Eric on a discrete frequency on the radio and they assured us that farmhands were in the process of clearing animals from the large and well maintained pastoral runway. It was quite dark by then and the estancia’s vehicle helped guide us with its headlights.

Eric Heuser, his friend Capt. Fabio (Airbus 340 captain), Diego and spouses were there to greet us and soon we were on our way to check into this great place. Josefina was very fluent in English and we were greeted with warm hugs and kisses by her and the other beautiful girls working there…

I was assigned a large nice room by myself and Arturo and Guillermo stayed together.

Soon we were rushed to go on a night safari photo-hunt riding on the back of a wagon with other guests. We saw several adult and piglet Jabali (boar), Carpincho (very large, 300 pound weight water rodent called Tapibara in Brazil) including a large sow and her babies. During this action we documented some video in infrared since it was a moonless night and totally dark. We then cruised through the large thick forest of different trees from all around the world imported by its original owner in its heyday when this ranch covered 100,000 acres (35,000 hectares).

Upon arrival back to the “Casco” (main compound) where we were staying, we proceeded to the restaurant and gorged ourselves on a feast of many delicacies and young lamb rivaling the quality of the best restaurants in the world.

Later that evening Diego, Arturo, Guillermo, Eric and I played pool, table tennis and “foosball” until 2 in the morning.

This place was too exciting to sleep in late and I got up at 6 AM to witness some of the typical life at an estancia. With camera in hand I documented the normal activities that take place in common life here. I also got to talk to ?? who was classifying a large herd of young cattle and bulls in preparation for an auction to be held that afternoon. I’ve interviewed him for quite a while and documented many facts about the history of San Pedro D’Timote and current bovine prices. The original estancia was founded by San Pedro de Timote was founded in 1854 by Pedro Jose Jackson, an Englishman emigree on the lands of an ancient cattle farm of the Jesuit fathers. Initially it encompassed about 300,000 acres. Through the years it has remained one of the important cattle ranches of Uruguay.

The last owner was Dr. Alberto Gallinal, who was a philantropist and renown political figure in Uruguay who started a social movement, which remains to this date, that provides housing for all ranchhands. This is financed by a 2 per thousand tax of all sale of cattle to this date. There are now over 15,000 homes built under this plan. He had 9 children and each parted ways and San Pedro dTimote remains nowdays with 5,000 hectares. Dr. Gallinal was the first person to introduce Phosphate based fertilizer to Uruguay at the location near the airfield marked by the round rock. To this date some of his grandchildren own some of the adjacent lands which were part of the original San Pedro dTimote.
In 1982 Dr. Gallinal brought some exotic African animals and had built a large fenced compound for them here. The military dictatorship of that date intercepted the ship off territorial waters and anhiliated the animals dumping them in the high seas fearing an animal epidemic that could have affected the cattle in Uruguay.

In 1997 it was declared a Historical National Monument because of its architectural style, the design of its outdoor sites, the natural scenery that surrounds it and the testimonial values that it represents.

Today San Pedro de Timote has been totally refurbished to be a "Hotel de Campo", with all the services and amenities needed for a pleasant stay.

Rooms are divided between the historic main house and the family's guesthouse.
All rooms are decorated in the country style and have heating; most have private bathrooms.

In the main house there are multiple sitting areas, many with fireplaces which are lit in the evening.

There is a small bar and a dining room, both with fireplaces. Cuisine is traditional country, served buffet style.

There is an indoor pool and two outdoor pools, a playroom, two TV rooms with one having a 61" TV and DVD player, a tennis court and other recreational facilities.

There is a Chapel for 150 persons and a small convention center.?? , an Englishman ,  bla, bla… Around 1974 he brought in a large variety of exotic animals including zebras from Africa after he prepared a nice compound to house them in natural viewing here. During those dictatorial days the ship was stopped at sea and all the animals were slaughtered however because of fears of importation of some wild disease that may affect the cattle population.

Nowadays the estancia is divided in the main Casco, which is more of tourist resort holding no more than 50 quest and has 3,500 hectareas (10,000 acres) hosting bovine, equine and ovine cattle. The other remaining parts are truly only working ranches.

After an opulent breakfast featuring specialty fresh pastries cooked here we prepared for a horse back ride led by Josefina and Beto. One by one all members of our team mounted the horses showing excellent finesse. We were led by pastures, across small rivers and thick forest eventually returning to the main complex 2 hours later.

I visited the cattle auction and was invited by the ranch hands to eat with them a giant “asado” (BBQ) that was being prepared in an open pit. We then ate at the restaurant all sorts of delicacies and the main course consisted of various cuts of common meats also cooked in a huge open fire pit. This included some delicacies as well such as nandu (ostrich) and river nutria.

After lunch we prepared to check out and headed to the nearby airstrip. Diego had offered to take Josefina and a couple of ranch hands for a baptismal (first) flight over the ranch. As they were loading while I videographed them, two large cattle trucks pulled up and a bunch of small kids up to 14 years of age unloaded. One adult spoke broken English and explained that they were from a nearby town and had heard that there were planes at San Pedro de Timote and they brought them over to see what a plane looks like (on a Saturday). I herd them cautiously since the plane’s propeller was turning and we witnessed the rolling take-off. While Diego flew around, their English teacher and some of the estimated 50+ students practiced their basic foreign language skill with me. I encouraged Diego on the handheld radio to make some low passes which where greeted with cheers. Soon Diego landed and we began loading the planes.

Soon we were on our way back to Colonia and learned of a mini-Oshkosh airshow in progress. We were told to hold orbiting at 2,000 feet over a coastal town and soon were allowed to land. Arturo and Guillermo decided to proceed on from here since it was raining in Olavarria where he was headed and feared that weather may affect departure the next day. Diego was accosted by the President of the Colonia Aero Club and they begged him to take some people on baptismal flights since they had some no-show pilots which were supposed to perform this duty. He ended up taking 3 full flights while we watched some of the flying routines typical of an airshow and conversed with Col. Jorge and ??, the Secretary of the Embassy who was here also. ??’s father flew A-4 during the Falkland’s War and is credited with the sinking of the destroyer HMS ???.

That night we joined with many other Argentine and Uruguayan pilot friends who had come over to watch the show and stay overnight. While in this beautiful historic old part of town I met Hugo and Hebe Corbella whom I accompanied in our multi-airplane trip to Alaska last year. We dined at a local restaurant and retired to a nearby hotel around midnight.

The next morning was a bit windy but uneventful weather wise and we flew back at low altitude at a leisure pace first along the Uruguayan coast and then crossed the huge Delta landing again at San Fernando. On the way we toured the presidential retreat which was at one time the main part of the Anchorena family estancia here and saw many pleasure boats and large ships.

To watch a theatrical trailer of the trip click VIDEO

Note: All theatrical trailers are onWindows Media 9 Series Player

(send me a message if you want to see the entire videos produced by Oak Canyon Studios)

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