We're travelling to Uruguay. After a night's stay in the border town of Gualeguaychu, Argentina, we are perfectly poised to do a morning border crossing the international bridge over the Rio Uruguay into Fray Bentos, Uruguay. We want to visit the famous El Anglo, Fray Bentos museum. Little did we know the mischievous whims of politics would have the highway blockaded by Argentinians off and on since December 2005. OK so we didn't know and travel 40 kms to find that out.
Turns out some of the lads have been intermittently protesting the Finnish company Botnia for the paper mill built and operating in Uruguay, but should have been located on their side of the river. Funny how polarized views about money vs environmentmental concerns can flipflop, depending on who's getting the money. So we backtrack and spent the rest of the day driving north to the next border crossing, going through customs, then riding south again to arrive back at the end of the day 20 km directly east of where we started that morning.
Our first impressions of Uruguay are very favorable. Healthy grain fields, modest but clean farm yards and houses, and friendly, approachable people just like Chilians. We stay our first night at the lovely Gran Hotel in Mercedes, where we meet Fabrizio Vignali, gerente general and bike enthusiast. Fabrizio owns two classics, a 1961 BSA and a 1972 Moto Guzzi. Given the weekend crowds likely to invade Colonia, he recommends we stay the weekend at his other hotel in Fray Bentos. We agree.
On Saturday we take the tour of El Anglo, the meat processing factory built in 1862 by the Liebig Extract of Meat Company; later bought and operated by the Brits from 1924 to 1979. The works and yards at Fray Bentos ranked among the largest industrial complexes in South America, had the first electricity in South America, employed over 5000 at it's height and helped usher in the industrial revolution there. Think Oxo cubes and Fray Bentos corned beef (Joyce and I can remember eating the canned meat as kids) and it may ring a bell for you too. The museum claims the products aided Stanley and Livingston in African exploits, Scott in the Antarctic, Brown & Alcock flying across the Atlantic and the Allied soldiers in WWII.
The museum has so perfectly preserved the administrative offices that it looks like the office workers have just left for their lunch break.
Frabrizio, bless his heart, not only gives us a great rate on his four star hotel, but shows us around. Not only an accomplished business man but turns out he's a brilliant photographer as well. Joyce and I think, under different circumstances, Fabrizio could have worked for National Geographic, his artistic eye is that good.
After a wee tour of the local countryside with Fabrizio, we stop to take a bikes-at-sunset photo beside the massive Fray Bentos refrigerator plant.
A common theme, in Argentina as well as here in Uruguay, is the social gathering of folks while having a mate (pronounced "ma-tay") break. Sipped through silver staws, the drinker drafts up the tea produced from mate tea leaves that sit loose in the bottom of a special mate cup/gourd. It's a national pastime and we see everyone from security guards to secretaries sipping on their mates.
We sit in the park, on a hill above, and watch the mate crowd below. We are really here to have a bottle of Uruguay Tannat wine, some cheese and bread, and watch the sun set over the River Uruguay. It's a shirt sleeve evening and the sun's final moments don't disappoint. The evening sky ends a spectacular blood red.
Posted by Murray Castle at May 10, 2009 04:20 PM GMT