Horse Power

That there are horses in South America should not be a surprise to anyone. These beasts were introduced by the Spaniards in the 1600’s and they have been adjusting to their new environment and multiplying ever since while becoming invaluable in many agriculture-related tasks.

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The bushsnob pointing towards Carmelo at the origin of the River Plate in Punta Gorda.

Carmelo is located in the South-West of Uruguay, just downriver from the joining of the rivers Paraná and Uruguay, the start of the river Plate, “discovered” in the 1500’s. This is the place I was born and I am a proud member of this small town, full of character and characters. Carmelo is the only city in Uruguay founded by our national hero: José Artigas, a man far too advanced for his time.

It is here that a well-known barber, after having won the small local lottery, closed the shop and went home to rest. Before leaving, he placed a sign on the door that read: “CLOSED DUE TO EXCESS OF CASH”.

Carmelo was two hundred years old on 12 February 2016 and I happened to be there to enjoy the celebrations. I was an adolescent fifty years ago when its one hundred and fifty years were commemorated and I still keep some memories from that time.

I recall that we had an excellent home delivery system for many services, mainly food items but other services as well. The fishermen (no fisherwomen then) would carry their catch hanging from stick tripods and shout “Pescadooooor!”[1] while walking through the many streets of the town, selling their catch to the housewives that would wait for the calls to come out of their houses and argue the price for, usually, half a fish. There were also knife sharpeners, pot welders and kerosene-stove fixers doing their rounds either on foot or on bicycles.

There were also lots of horse carts. They came in various models: open or closed, with rubber or wooden wheels each delivering their goods: fruits and vegetables, meat, bread, firewood and milk. In particular I recall the time my mother got extremely upset when she found a small fish in the milk that was rather enthusiastically watered down from a small stream by the milkman! There were also carts to collect your refuse and those unwanted objects from your home.

Fifty years have passed and the horse carts are still here, together with the odd knife sharpener still playing its tuneful whistle up and down the musical scale to announce its arrival! They all contribute to build Uruguay’s reputation as the greenest country in South America[2].

In light of the above, I was not surprised when I read an article[3] found by my wife describing the vegetable sellers of Baltimore in the USA. Although they look more “upmarket” ours also have a few notable features worth mentioning!

Today, horse carts (from one to three horse power!) ride through the streets of Carmelo offering a variety of home-delivery services. Over the years they have incorporated notable improvements: better brakes and more asphalt-friendly rubber wheels, the accompanying dogs are better trained: they now trot under the carts rather than after them! Other notable advance is the displaying on the carts of cellular phone and even e-mail addresses where they can be called!

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A 1-HP model used for bread delivery.

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A more rugged 2-HP version.

Apart from those selling fruits and vegetables and the bakers, there are also others that can bring you firewood or building materials as well as removing unwanted items from your home such as rubble and rubbish. There is even a category that I would call “Man With a Cart”, able to perform tailor-made tasks for the customer.

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The tool of the “Man With a Cart” Note the cellphone No. on the horse’s harness!

One, belonging to someone that went to primary school with me, is usually parked a few paces away from home waiting for customers. I spent some time watching it. The first thing I noted was that the horse was in good nick and “parked” unrestrained! It carried orange traffic cones to demarcate its working space as well as a spade and a luggage-carrier on one side and gardening tools on the other. In addition it had its own feed bucket for the horse and canvas and tying ropes to secure its potential cargo.

It seems that, although the Baltimore horse and buggy fruit sellers seem to be gradually going out of business, those in Carmelo are only adapting to the changing times and they will probably still be here in fifty years time.

While I can easily see drones taking over the fruit delivery in Baltimore (and the rest of the USA!) I predict that Amazon will sub-contract their goods delivery to our greener -if slower- horse powered Man with a Cart if it wishes to keep its act “green” in Uruguay.


[1] “Fishermaaaan!”




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