Monday, 1 October 2012

Uruguay continued...

As is always the case, a week is never long enough. Although Uruguay is a relatively small country, there is a lot to see, and the agriculture is developing fast. Land prices have risen dramatically over the past few years, 6 to 10,000 US per ha were quoted, with even higher prices for the best arable land. (The cheapest land is apparently in Paraguay, at around 250 US a ha, however the business environment still sounds a bit "exciting" although it is improving)
From what I could gather in my brief time, there is still native grass land covering vast areas, and this can be improved at a relatively low cost. Investment has come in from Argentina, and with it, technology in terms of crop production, leading to rapid growth in soy, corn and wheat. The soils lack the depth and fertility of neighbouring Argentina, and are quite variable in the geological origin.
Traditionally, the agriculture was based on extensive grazing, and there was a strong opinion that a rotation including a pasture phase is vital to long term sustainability. It is perhaps worth noting this opinion came from people more involved in livestock production, and I wonder if is common to hear this when any area is undergoing land use change.
Infrastructure is at a reasonable level, the major roads were good, and I suspect it will continue to develop as production rises. There seemed to be no postal service, I was told a strike had been running in excess of five years...
It is said you can tell a lot about a society by the cars people drive, here there is a big mix. From the latest toyotas to every conceivable Chinese import, right through to ancient European small cars such as Fiats, made largely of rust, the wheels maintaining odd angles to the road as their drivers swerve traffic and cavernous potholes in the narrow tree lined streets.
Other curiosities include the fact that milk comes in bags, once the corner has been snipped open, the bag is placed in a plastic jug, and carefully poured out.
The national pastime, apart from cooking vast slabs of meat and long strips of ribs on large mesh barbecues, both inside and outside, is the preparation and consumption of mate. A tea like infusion, consumed through a kind of silver straw with a sort of paddle in the end. A dried, hollowed out type of squash is usually covered on the outside with leather, the fine dried leaves are put in, water added from a thermos, most often carried at all times tucked under one elbow, ensuring most activities are carried out one handed. It is quite a social drink, passed around between friends as they catch up and chat. Apparently the consumption in small amounts is relaxing, greater consumption leads to increased alertness and concentration. I think it must be an acquired taste, although not unpleasant.

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