South America Living

A Mate A Day….

The author making Mate in Patagonia

The author making Mate in Patagonia

Editor’s Note: This post comes from fellow traveller Ramona Marisa Rose Parrotta a student at University of California Santa Cruz who took a semester abroad in Patagonia. Evidently she liked the Mate (pronounced: Mah-tay) a lot! Read more about her experience with this traditional Argentine drink.

Forty-eight hours in Buenos Aires is all it took for Che amigo to lead me through the street markets of the steaming Avenida de Mayo in pursuit of a gourd. The reason I should be in desperate need of acquiring such a thing was inconceivable at the time. Mate was the name of the game, which had no meaning to me whatsoever. Little did I know that the day I found my gourd for 25 Pesos, it would become a token of my Patagonian adventure. Upon the steal at the market I started the gourd-curing process – an elaborate operation, if I say so myself. When Prudentius composed Psychomachia in the early fifth century, the phrase “Patience is a Virtue” came about; he may as well have been speaking of curing a Mate gourd. If you aren’t so familiar with the Latin poet, then take it from me, the Gringa, that the longer you wait the better the taste. Check out this site for step-by-step instructions on how to cure a mate gourd, or simply ask an Argentine.

I remember my first Mate… and no, it was not from a drag of my very own bombilla (metal straw). It was in a rustic cabin in Zapala, Argentina – our stopover destination in transit to Estancia Ranquilco. A fellow traveler and veteran of the art of Mate had prepared the drink for a few of us to share. It begins with the Cebador, who will serve himself with delight, and then graciously serve others. This is customary in Argentina and often happens three times a day!

Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner enjoys some Mate with fellow Argentine, Pope Francis

Argentina’s President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner enjoys some Mate with fellow Argentine, Pope Francis

I call it the Art of Mate, for it is truly a magical talent. Some of us have it down to a science, from knowing how many minutes it takes to get the water temperature just right, to understanding how one should respond to a Cebador once a gourd is finished. A couple of notes (very important information): 1. When finished, hand the gourd directly to the Cebador and, 2. Only say “Gracias” when you don’t want another; otherwise you will be disappointed when you are excluded from the second round.

For those of y’all who haven’t been to this Rodeo before, you are in for quite a treat. I initially did not understand the power of Mate. While at Estancia Ranquilco I wandered early one morning around the land and found a gardener named Lulu, who was awfully giddy for such an early hour. She blamed it on the Mate. In those early morning minutes I thought the lady was a bit crazy (in the greatest way possible), but that afternoon I understood, as I partook in a post-lunch Mate overlooking the canyon. I don’t believe I have ever laughed as hard. It is those Mate moments that make you a friend for life.

Statue of a man preparing Mate in Posadas, Misiones, Argentina

Statue of a man preparing Mate in Posadas, Misiones, Argentina

For twenty-two days I backpacked out of Estancia Ranquilco through the creation [the steppe] of Patagonia. During the dream of these days I found myself staking out the beating sun in a cave for eight hours, quenching my thirst at the confluencia, and hiking burly terrain of volcanic debris, seeing cotton-candy clouds, and seas of chivos. During the days the Andean Condor liberally flew above. And the wind did no wrong; to thrash gravel into the body in an attempt to push out my soul; these were times of adversity though accomplishment. Downtime in the backcountry was spent bathing in a running river, learning the flowers, or sustaining a fire to have Mate. I have much gratitude for the elements. When I found fresh water flowing through the rivers of Patagonia, I filled a pava set upon a rock from the mantle of earth heating its innards above a fire – with help from the Sun – and then: To have the water enter me; to rejoice in the mate; and to share with my tribemates.

Without a doubt, Patagonia left a mark on my heart. I will return for days of early morning mist creeping the walls of intrusive igneous rock with Mate in hand, overlooking the undeniable landscape. Mate births kinship among those of blood and no blood. It bolsters love and life. I warn you now, there is no return from here. In my voyage of return to the States, I stopped in Bariloche, Argentina. In my last hours there I went to the supermarcado to purchase enough Mate to fill my duffle bag. Ten kilos of Mate in the cart, and the cashier points to a sign, informing consumers that only two kilos of Mate may be purchased at a time. For whatever reason Bariloche wants to withhold Mate from me; I could not understand. It certainly did not stop me from returning to the grocery store three more times in the following hours… I hold the belief that I am set in the Mate department for a solid year now.

The author getting ready to indulge

The author getting ready to indulge




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