After a stubborn haggle with the hostel owner (Hostelworld says one price, he says another) we manage to lock in a price of £7.50 each per night. It’s already over thirty degrees and the back-pack shuffle across town begins. A wiser start this time, sneaking below ground to the air-conditioned SUBTE. The SUBTE also uses the SUBE card we purchased for the colectivo and each trip costs around 30p. Our trip back across the city is painless and we enjoy the sounds of an on-board busker, rasping the perils of love to his Spanish guitar. Under the instruction of our workaway host, we take colectivo 57 to the town of Pilar. The first bus is of a standard found in any small UK village – faded old seats with chaotic designs and trampolines for rear suspension. The second – the 350 to Los Cardales – is a little more of the white knuckle ride I had anticipated. With single seats filled along both sides, we waddle our packs to the long seat across the back. Today the bus was quiet and as we helter alongside the highway our vulnerability quickly becomes apparent. With no standers filling the large central aisle, any sharp braking would launch us and our bags in a perfect trajectory down the bus and at best, straight through the windscreen. Sorry Mum.
Colectivos survived, (total cost £3 each) I use my best possible Spanish to obtain a Remis (taxi) to ‘La Sortija’, our home for the next two weeks. La Sortija or ‘Hotel de Campo’ is a polo-pony farm come hotel run by a 29-year-old Brit, Anabel. Anabel was heading off to India for two weeks to play Polo for England on Shetland ponies (one can only imagine), and so we had been recruited to help her mother run the hotel in her absence. Bumping along dirt tracks we arrive at the gates to a quaint little farmstead, with beautifully landscaped grounds. Out of the taxi we are greeted by a pack of beautiful hounds and the trill of a perfect West London accent. Jennifer Rutland.
Jennifer – 70 years old, tall, slim, fit as a fiddle and with eyes glinting of eccentricity – greets in a mild state of pandemonium. Its lunch time, the hotel is full, Anabel is due at the airport in two hours and we aren’t supposed to be there yet. She sends us off to look around place while she finishes her kitchen acrobatics. After a brief interaction with Anabel, who is curiously enigmatic, we are given our official tour, introduced to the staff, guests and menagerie.
First up is Valentine – the groom. He is a bit of a pocket sized maverick, with a pure soul, who speaks no English except What’s uppppppp! He is furiously passionate, emotive and unpredictably rouge. Next is Tito – the handyman. He’s a real grafter, reliable and honest with that rare gem of practical intelligence. Tito’s daughter Miriam works as the maid or ‘chica’ and his two sons are employed to garden, but mostly to keep Valentine sane. Finally there is Gomez, a spiritedly sixty-nine year old who’s sole role is to clear up detritus and horse droppings. Gomez is also a pyromaniac, having at least two mucky bonfires on the go at all times.
Along side 22 mares, a stallion and the scraggliest fluffball cat, there were six of the most pampered excuses for guard dogs. The striking and intelligent boxer Lula, leader of the pack, suffering no fools, we quickly learnt the scope of her intellect as no closed door could promise the safety of any unattended food. Lula’s two daughters Squeaker and Titcher didn’t share this intelligence. Squeaks was single handedly the happiest canine I have ever met, apparently born without a brain or any sense of spatial awareness, she spent most of her day chasing butterflies. No guesses as to who was my favourite. Finally there was Jesus, the iguana, living in the gaulpon. I never met Jesus in the flesh, but what was to unfold over the next two weeks had me convinced Jesus had some sort of voodoo powers over the whole establishment.
Whilst Stephen managed the kitchen, I was introduced to booking.com and the whirlwind that is managing a hotel. Juggling guests, staff and enquires, all in Spanish, along with the daily pilgrimage into town, time flew as we danced from task to task. And if the three of us weren’t stretched enough, fate decided to come at us from all angles. Simple mornings quickly became a day of endless puzzles. Guests double booked, broken toilets, broken locks, sick dogs, pregnant dogs, attacked dogs, escaped stallions, run-away grooms, mice in the house, toads in the house, birds in the house; the list goes on. There were endless -palms slapped on the side of the face, what the bloody hell is going on- moments. When we could snatch an evening of wine with Jennifer, it became clear this woman is the eye of the storm. She has lived a colourful life and is in her opinion a magnet for nutters. Calm amongst the absolute chaos. In just two weeks I could definitely corroborate this.
A frantic fortnight of laugher, madness, good food, eccentric characters and waking up to a dog on your head, our time at La Sortija was over. Jennifer almost convinced us to take Squeaker with us and she seemed to agree as she climbed into the taxi. However, next adventure was waiting – it was onwards to Uruguay.