Mate Musings

Ben and I are spending our last few days in South America volunteering on a WWOOF bed and breakfast in Tigre. The life in the Delta is wonderful. We work in the morning and have time to relax in the afternoon with the river, kitten, a cup of tea and the pecan trees. The chance to reflect on the trip as a whole is needed. Maybe, a vacation from the vacation?

The point of travelling is not only to ‘see the sights.‘ Travelling serves to exchange ways of life. At the end of a trip, hopefully the lens out of which we view our own home is changed a bit for the better. I was thinking about this on one of the lazy Delta afternoons and realized that I have only conveyed in my blog the ‘sight seeing’ aspects of my travel.

Sure, that’s fun to see great photos and to get a glimpse into what travelling the other end of the world must be like. But if I shared only photographs and travel itineraries with the folks back home, everyone would be cheated out of the experience. People travel to improve their world-lens, but more importantly, the impact travelling makes on an individual should positively be shared with friends and family back home.

As a reader, you can also interpret this as a warning. I have one week left in South America, so my travels will come to a close; this blog will no longer be an active travel blog. Rest assured, I will do more travelling, more photo taking and more live blogging but that will be a ways off. In a week, I will return home, and this blog will become a space for my reflections on what I have seen and where I have lived in for the past 111 days. If you want to un-subscribe from this blog because you don’t have the time or interest in reading the reflections of a 20 something year old vagabond, I completely understand. If you want to hang on, then I hope you will find these ideas as interesting as I do.

So, to start off the reflection period: Mate. 

Mate in America is a tea, usually steeped inside a commercialized bag. The Co-op that I worked at would pull esspresso shots with Mate, producing a dark green, grassy tasting liquid.

Mate in Argentina is a ritual that borders upon a religious practice. The plant itself is referred to as yerba or the weed and mate is the word used for both the beverage container and the act of drinking it. The herb inside the cup, usually a cured gourd, is doused with hot water. A bombilla is the straw out of which the drink is sipped on. The bombilla is a straw made of some sort of metal or bamboo with holes in the bottom to filter the weed.

The ritual varies across different regions of Argentina. For the most part though there is a server who is in charge of handing out the Mate. He or she prepares the yerba and takes the first drink. Then they re-fill the Mate and pass it to the next person. This person sips on the straw (yes, the same straw that the server used) until the water is gone and passes it back. Some Argentines like their Mate with sugar, but most prefer it bitter. The Mate can be passed around for hours and hours, theyerba lasts a long time.

That’s the mechanics of Mate. The taking of Mate with friends or family though can be universally found throughout all of Argentina. It’s a social custom unparalleled by anything we have in the US. At first, it appears to be like sharing a cup of tea with with your family or friends, but it is more than that.

“Mate is somewhere between smoking and drinking coffee” my boyfriend so eloquently described the ritual. Mate is like smoking cigarettes with co-workers during a smoke break because the act gives both the excuse to stand around and socialize and the individual something to do with their hands (and just as a disclaimer I have never smoked any form of tabacco, this has only been described to me). Mate is also similar to drinking tea or coffee with friends because they are both a beverage and a caffeine stimulus. Mate in the Argentine style, not the US tea style, has more of a stimulating effect than a cup of strong black tea but less than that of an espresso drink.

Mate is it’s own entity. Argentines will partake in Mate at least once a day. You will find couples, groups of friends, families, co workers and lone mate drinkers everywhere throughout the country. On park benches, in lawn chairs in front of homes, in front of beautiful vistas or behind a store. Saying to someone ‘let’s go take a Mate together’ is saying ‘let’s go be idle for a while together.’

The word ‘Idle’ may be the key to understanding the Mate ritual. There’s no staring at the computer while taking mate with friends as many of us do at coffee shops. For the most part, Mate takes president over everything else going on. It’s a time to sit, relax, have good conversation and leave the rest of the world be for the moment. Mate is therefore used as an excuse to go some place other than the home or office. In Argentina, public parks and city center squares are used to their full potential at all hours, day and night. In places of natural beauty you will find groups of people next to a lake, river or in front of a beautiful mountain vista sitting together, sharing a mate.

I will bring back a Mate, bombilla, and maybe even some yerba if customs will let me. But most importantly, I will try to return to the US with the mentality of the Argentines: that every day needs a time to sit down, be idol and share a guilt free Mate with your friends and family.

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3 comments on “Mate Musings

  1. GF says:

    FYI, we have the gourd and the metal straw, so come and see us and we will share a MATE!

  2. Gimena Campasso says:

    The argentinean culture is precisely described. In addition, Mate is an icon or kind of identification for those who are living abroad. It s good to take something that reminds your country to any place you are… :-)

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