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Notes on the Geography of Uruguay: Fray Bentos

Fray Bentos, which takes its name from a reclusive friar who apparently lived nearby, is the source of a once widely known, almost world-famous brand of meat products extending from the original Liebig's Meat Extract to Fray Bentos Corned Beef, OXO bouillon cubes, and, with the development of refrigeration technology, chilled and frozen meat shipped to Europe.

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Uruguay: Fray Bentos picture 1

The town is about three hours north of Colonia. It's still on the same river system as Colonia, though here it's the River Uruguay, not the Rio de la Plata.

Uruguay: Fray Bentos picture 2

A fair number of streams, but not much topographic relief.

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Easy going for bicycles.

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Sure beats old one-room schoolhouses in the U.S. Is this another expression of Uruguay's Progressive moment?

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A newer school in the same neck of the non-woods.

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The pioneer past is long gone if one judges from this shredder-crusher, made (shush!) across the river in Argentina.

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Prefer a disc harrow made in Turkey?

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The Turks, too, celebrate peasant virtue.

Uruguay: Fray Bentos picture 9

Spiky.

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Welcome to the Uruguay River at Fray Bentos. Just upstream, the river narrows greatly--and stays narrow--but here it looks like the Amazon.

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Here's the town's original economic center, the meat-extract plant that is now partly a museum and partly a technological university housed in old factory buildings.

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Once we could have taken the train here from Montevideo, 341 kilometers down the track.

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Why do I expect to see a fellow with jangling spurs?

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There's something up ahead. Straight ahead.

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By golly, it's a steam-powered crane.

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There's still an active grain-loading dock.

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There's a grain elevator, too, just no active rail connection.

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Even a you-know-what.

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A powerhouse has been converted to offices.

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A shady park across the street. Fray Bentos may have been nearly a company town, but it wasn't strictly utilitarian.

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Proof? A five-minute walk uphill, and you bump into the Teatro Young, named for an Anglo who lived nearby and apparently shelled out for culture and/or recognition.

Uruguay: Fray Bentos picture 22

The fellow on the left might as well be haranguing us for our city-slicker prejudice. In fact, he's likely a poet.

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Eek! Tragedy overlooks Joan Zorillos de San Martin, the national poet of Uruguay, who recited here in 1925.

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A church faces the main square.

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The square has a bandstand kiosk.

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The kiosk was donated as a reminder of the dominating role played in the town's history by Liebig's company, which closed in 1979.

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Another monument recalls that the father of organic chemistry had many practical interests, including "Extractus carnis." Too expensive to make in Europe, the extract industry boomed when a German resident in Uruguay began using beef otherwise worthless apart from its hide.

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Also facing the square, the Cine Stella was built as a theater in 1892.

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Not everything's classical. Here's a bit of Deco or Art Moderne.

Uruguay: Fray Bentos picture 30

Here's Liebig's name in a stylish font over the entrance to a soccer field.

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The meat-packing factory stayed in business long enough to justify this modernist block facing the soccer field.

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The town's not a fossil, either. Pick up a slab of this material.

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It's much lighter than plywood and offers better insulation.

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Coat it.

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It's all part of a presto subdivision.

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Better than the heavy materials used a century ago? Maybe.



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