We drove to the small town of Fray Bentos . Those of you old enough to remember, Fray Bentos used to make tinned processed meat products- pies, corned beef and the oxo cube. In 1865, Liebig's Extract of Meat Company was founded in Britain by German chemist Justus von Liebig. The company established a factory in Uruguay to manufacture a beef extract product that would later be sold under the name Oxo. In 1873, the factory began manufacturing tinned corned beef, which was sold in Britain under the name Fray Bentos, where the factory was located.
Fray Bentos was trademarked by Liebig in 1881 for the purpose of marketing glue and "extract of meat", although, in practice, it was used principally for marketing corned beef. In fact, Fray Bentos became synonymous with corned beef.
Fray Bentos corned beef was targeted at a working-class market. The tins were also ideally suited as army rations as they weighed just one pound and were easily transportable. With the outbreak of the Boer War, the company's profits were significantly boosted from supplying corned beef to the British Army in South Africa. Fray Bentos corned beef was also supplied to the troops in World War I. Its popularity was such that the term "Fray Bentos" was used as slang by soldiers to mean "good". One of the early British tanks that fought at the Battle of Passchendaele was given the nickname "Fray Bentos", because the men inside felt like tinned meat!
In 1924, Liebig Extract of Meat Company, together with the Fray Bentos brand, was acquired by the Vestey Group who renamed the Uruguayan operation the "Anglo Meatpacking Company". Fray Bentos's heyday was in World War II. As a supplier of meat to the allies, Fray Bentos shipped more than 16 million cans of corned beef to Europe in 1943 alone. The Anglo factory in Fray Bentos, at its height, employed over 5,000 workers from more than 50 countries to process 400 cows an hour. As a result of the demand for Fray Bentos products at this time the Uraguayan currency became more valuable than the US dollar.
In the immediate post-war years, the Fray Bentos products were a staple food in Britain. The product range was expanded to include canned meat pies such as steak and kidney and minced beef and onion. In 1958, Vestey began manufacturing Fray Bentos pies in England, and production was moved to a plant in the London borough of Hackney.
In 1964, the use of the brand for corned beef was significantly damaged when an outbreak of typhoid in Aberdeen ,in which three people died, was traced to a tin of Fray Bentos corned beef imported from South America. The corned beef had been contaminated as a result of the cooling process during manufacture. The untreated water used in the process had come, according to the BBC, "from a river into which an estimated 66 tonnes of human excrement and 250,000 gallons of urine entered every day". At the end of the 1960s, Vestey disposed of the Anglo factory to the Uruguayan government who eventually closed the factory in 1979.
The site is now a museum dedicated to its former production of meat products. It was a huge and impressive place, situated on the river Uruguay. We wild camped in its grounds for 2 nights and went on a tour of the factory. The tour took us through the main parts of the old factory-it was in great condition and contained a lot of the old machinery. We saw all of the rooms where the different stages of the process took place, including the canning, the labelling, the slaughterhouse and the marketing. There was a lot of British machinery in the factory-including 2 cranes from Leeds, our home City and other machinery made in Wakefield and Bradford.
Whilst camping here we met Ping and Noel, from Dorset-our first British overlanders! They were travelling with Sandra and Timo from Germany-all of them had only recently shipped their vehicles to Montevideo. We spent a lovely evening chatting to them over a BBQ and were impressed that Ping and Noel were on their third overland trip-the first being in the 70s through Asia. They were a lively and inspiring couple and we also really like the title of their blog " One more adventure before dementia"!
We also went to two excellent museums-one called the Museo Andes 1972. It is a museum on the story of the 1972 Andes flight disaster, which related to a plane accident that took place in the Andes in 1972 involving a group of Uruguayan high school rugby players, their friends and relatives that were traveling to Chile, when the airplane crashed. Some of them belonged to the Old Christians rugby club. Their story on how they survived the tragedy was transmitted worldwide by means of books, documentaries, pictures and conferences and it has been an inspiration to the film Alive and many books. The museum pays homage to the memory of the 29 people who died due to the plane accident in the Andes and to those who risked their lives to save the rest. It is a reminder of those 16 Uruguayans who came back to life after the 72 days in the Andes freezing weather conditions with no food and proper clothing. It was a interesting and inspirational museum-portraying the huge strength of the human spirit. The other museum was one dedicated to the Carnival in Uruguay and contained lots of intricate costumes.
On one of our wild camps-we camped in a small car park outside the tourist office in a very small place called Valizas. It was in the middle of a small community and all of the local people who walked, cycled, rode past would smile and wave at us. As the evening progressed-their friendliness levels increased-with one lady coming out of her house, flinging her arms around me, hugging me, kissing me on both cheeks (she only had 2 teeth!) and telling us that if we needed to shower or if we needed anything we could go to her house. I hugged and kissed her back and thanked her profusely-whilst explaining we had everything we needed. Then another man approached Gav offering us a bag of food! Imagine what would happen in the UK if 2 strangers decided to camp near someone's houses-certainly not the warm hearted welcome that we got.
We had a day trip to the hamlet of Cabo Palonia. This is a protected area-and it is only possible to access on foot or by a huge off road truck-which drives you there through the sand dunes. We opted for the truck and had a great half hour journey there and back-bouncing through the dunes. The area is famous for its wildlife, having one of the largest sea lion colonies in south America, and we spent a hour or so sitting next to the rocks on the coast watching the antics of the lion seals. We also climbed the huge lighthouse and had great views of the coastline and village.
We are now heading back along the coast to catch the car ferry from Uruguay to Buenos Aires. It's been a short but very sweet visit to Uruguay!