I wake up to my alarm clock i.e. Darcie licking my face.
Catching a whiff of wet morning pampas grass and smoke, I roll over to see Carol stoking the fire.
She wakes up with the Patagonian sun, which this far south peeks over the horizon at a brisk 5 a.m. during the summer months.
Fuzzy-eyed I unzip my sleeping bag, slip on my frozen boots, and beeline over to the fire. No words needed this early as she nods and passes me the gourd filled with yerba mate. I sip until a loud gurgle through the straw lets me know it’s finished, pass it back to her, and repeat.
“Funny, your horse was the only one loose this morning,” she tells me.
Of course. Such a gringo mistake… tying him up to a bad patch of lenga.
“Lucky he stuck around. It’s a long walk home,” she half jokes.
I take one last hit of mate and then head out to move the horses to more fresh grass before we saddle up and continue on.
We ride through many puestos (homes of the caretakers of an estancia, or ranch) here in Patagonia. The gauchos are always welcoming and follow up their initial greetings with a “Tomamos unos mates?” or “Let’s drink some mate.”
Seemingly more important than my name, it’s often the first few words out of their mouths.
Patagonia has a very natural way of slowing one down. The mate culture here in Argentina creates a habitual rite amongst its people to stop, gather, and share.
If time is money, then the people of Patagonia are beyond wealthy.
The history of yerba mate (jer-bah máh-tay) stems back to the 1500’s where indigenous tribes of South America would sip mate out of clay pots used as mate gourds and hollow twigs as their bombillas (straws).
Since the preparation and ceremony of drinking Yerba Mate is such an integral part of daily life in Patagonia, learning the customs behind the art of it is a perfect way for outsiders to experience a literal taste of this culture.
How to Drink Mate Like A Gaucho
You will need:
Yerba Mate (Yerba)
Metal straw with filter (Bombilla)
Step 1. Once your campfire is hot, separate some of the hot coals to the edge of the fire. Set the pava atop the coals to heat the water.
Step 2. Pour the yerba into the mate until it is about 2/3rds full.
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Step 3. Using your hand to cover the mouth of the gourd, tip it over and shake out the powdered dust. Then be sure the yerba settles to one side of the gourd, leaving some empty space on the other side.
Step 4. Pour a small amount of warm water down the empty part of the mate and let it sit for at least 1 minute. This allows the yerba to bloom and prevents the tea leaves from getting sucked up the straw.
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Step 5: Place the bombilla in the mate at an angle with the filtered end heading down through the empty, wet part of the yerba and resting across on the bottom of the mate.
Step 6: Pour the nearly boiling water where the bombilla enters the yerba.
Side Tip: Many guachos will also add a spoon full of sugar atop the yerba and pour the water over the sugar, creating a sweet mate, known in Argentina as mate dulce. If you prefer a mate without sugar then you like it amargo or bitter.
Step 7: Sip and enjoy… preferably with good folks, mountains, and an accordion.
Thank you to our principal sponsor: Guayaki Yerba Mate
and to the associate sponsors: Zuke's, Adventure Medical Kits, Hilleberg, and Simply Native Foods.
Top image: Carol Jones courtesy of Erik Ljung
All other images and article by Stevie Anna
For licensing or to purchase a print please contact: SteviePlummer@gmail.com