We left Mercedes and headed down to Fray Bentos. Our local guide said it was open and we headed for the 11:30 tour only to find that the tour in English was either at 10:00am or 3:30pm - just our luck. For a couple who are deemed to be organised at work, these skills seem to have stayed behind in the UK!
Fray Bentos plant
At Fray Bentos, we were shown down into a visitor centre. We ambled around the displays and through the offices upstairs. You can see from the pictures that times have changed a little in terms of office design, layout and facilities. We reckoned that the tour would have only walked through these bits and that we haven't really missed out on much.
Outside there was a group of school kids and we got the inevitable "where are you from?" and "which football team do you support?" questions that you get everywhere in South America. They were very pleased with themselves that we could understand their English.
It was difficult to get a real sense of the Fray Bentos site without the opportunity to ask questions. There was a huge factory building, locked and apparently empty, but not much else that we could go around. There's the making of a great museum here but it's not happening - probably not enough visitors to make it worthwhile.
The factory is in an area of town called the Barrio Anglo. My guess is that as with Cadbury's, they built not just the factory but the workers houses, school, hospital - in essence the whole community. The whole site feels gated and contained, perhaps another way of controlling the workforce to maximise production.
This was a revolutionary site and was responsible for starting the industrial revolution in Uruguay. You can picture an elite of German and English engineers and food production specialists being moved here to manage a local labour force. It must have been very exciting but hard work also.
We have no info about happened to the factory and why it closed and its left me wanting to know more. Did they make the famous pies here and ship them to England or just process the meat?
Leaving Fray Bentos we travelled north towards Paysandu. The road stretches ahead of us for miles - no corners, no traffic, no habitation. It really is a vast empty space. We took a detour to a small place called Nuevo Berlin - a small town founded by German settlers. There's a single road heading down to the river with just one block of buildings either side. It's very sleepy - probably because its a warm and sunny Saturday afternoon. We stopped to buy bits for a picnic, including stuff for Stef to have maté tea (a national passion that drives me nuts as he slurps tea all day through a metal straw!) and headed down to the river for lunch.
Arriving in Paysandu, we toured town to check our shortlist of hotels and decided we didn't want to stay there. Having had a few days of peace and quiet in rural backwaters, Paysandu threw us back into the bustle of a city, which we didn't want. I've already teased Stef that for someone who is meant to be a city lover, he's a country boy at heart.
We decided to stop at the thermal baths at Guaviyú just north of Paysandu. On the left of the main road are the municipal baths, open air and with cabins, bars/restaurants and a shop. Bit like a Butlins style camp. They had no accommodation free and sent us over the road to the private motel style set up with covered baths.
The next few hours were spent soaking and relaxing in bath temperature water. One pool was too hot to sit in (although splashes around the outside showed that someone had been!). There's something unique about thermal water - it makes you much more buoyant and you simply want to float. There were a few others in the pool and everyone waited eagerly for the water jets to be switched on - it was like rush hour with everyone heading to the best spots when they were!
Relaxed, we ambled over the main motorway to have a look at Butlins and to eat. No traffic in sight either there or on the way back - other than a couple of horses grazing outside our motel room.