It took a whole night to fly from Manaus to Florianópolis, where João – Elvio’s son – was waiting for us. The drive with an ancient pick-up truck took 3.5 hours from the beautiful Island of Santa Catarina to Urubici, a tiny mountain town of 2,000 inhabitants. The contrast between tourist-filled beach city Florianópolis and rural Urubici is striking, and our first thought was "what are we doing here!".
Peter came to the Urubici Park Hotel, welcomed us and explained the program. Typically, Peter prefers a group of 4-6 persons, but now it was only us. We were invited to Elvio’s – a gaucho and our riding guide – house for a simple home-cooked lunch with Elvio’s wife Rosi, daughter Rosanna, son João and his wife and a baby, and a German couple who just finished their one-week riding vacation. We felt immediately welcomed, and the feeling being alone in the middle-of-nowhere disappeared for a whole vacation.
Since this was our first riding vacation we had not been quite sure what to pack. No problem. Even though it was Good Friday, a shop selling riding gears opened just for us. We bought waterproof leather boots, hats, vests, and a knife. The prices were very reasonable, so there really is no need to carry everything from home. The boots proved to be excellent, as in many places it was muddy and wet, and cleaning the boots was much easier than cleaning our hiking boots would have been. Jeans were perfect for riding, and we preferred long-sleeved shirts to avoid scratches as the trails went through dense forests. Light wind-jackets were in the saddle-bag, but we did not use them. The new vests we used occasionally, but the temperature was 18°C-26°C, so there really was no need for warmer clothing when riding. The rain capes provided by Southern Cross kept us totally dry during the couple of rainy afternoons we had.
After our purchases at the store, we did not need money. This was definitely all-inclusive trip.
The horses were crossbred crioulos, smallish, strong, reliable in the difficult climbs. We are both tall, but it was not a problem. We mainly do jumping at home, so long-distance riding was very different. Due to difficult, rocky and mountainous terrain, the pace was mainly walk or trot. On the plateaus, the horses and riders enjoyed cantering as well. The trails went up and down. Climbing from 900 meters to 1700 meters and down again! Every mountain felt like Mount Everest – finally reaching the top, the incredible feeling of freedom, seeing the range of mountains and valleys. It felt like we are conquering a country never explored. Occasionally we saw other ranchers and stopped to talk with them, which strengthened the feeling of being a family member and not a tourist.
Daily ridings were from 5-7 hours, with longest day 10.5 hours. Every day we had our picnic or barbecue lunch. Lit a fire, cooked coffee, barbecued meat, had homemade cheese and took a nap. Water was no problem – there are creeks all over, and the water is drinkable.
We are Finnish, but have lived over one year in Amazonas. We speak some Portuguese, but relied a lot on Peter. Language is not a problem. Even though Elvio’s family does not speak any other language than Portuguese, they are used to foreigners.
Urubici Park Hotel was modest, yet tidy. Second night at Pousada (Inn) Caminhos da Neve. We shared a nice lodge (living room, two bed-rooms and one bathroom) together with Peter. Three nights at the Ranch Conta Dinheiro, owned by Elvio’s brother. Very modest, but cozy. All of us - Elvio, Rosi , their son, and Peter - stayed there. Five bedrooms and two bathrooms, with hot showers. The last three nights at Pousada / fazenda Dois Rios. Rogério and Salete are Elvio’s neighbors. Since Elvio and Rosi just moved to new ranch that will be renovated, they could not take us to their home. We had nice after-ride coffee there, but stayed overnight at Rogério and Salete’s where we had dinner and breakfast.
We liked to visit ranches and pousadas, and enjoyed living like family members. The standard of this kind of lodging is not high – e.g. the nights were cold and no heating - but the warm and kind atmosphere you cannot experience in any hotel!
In Scandinavia girls and women do horseback riding. In Brazil it seems to be much for men. The trails and riding was manly – Elvio using his machete to cut the trees to open a trail for riders, simple lunches, and sturdy horses – it was very masculine. No dressage, no fancy gears. But certainly fun!
Riding skills are not that important, but you have to have a good balance and self-confidence. And you must be able to trust the horses. Even though the saddles are good, you’ll be suffering, if your bottom has not recent experience of riding!
This was our first riding vacation but certainly not the last. The experience was not only a vacation, it was also an adventure. We saw marvelous landscape, beautiful nature, met friendly people, and best of all, we were treated like friends.