Foodie Friday- The Enjoyment of Mate

I first heard of Mate traveling in Guatemala on my semester abroad from college. I didn’t try it but I did remember it and when I saw it again, and had the opportunity again, chose not to try it again. I figured that since I was going to Brazil, Argentina, and Chile I should wait to try it in one of those countries.

Mate itself is basically a type of herbal tea (sort of looks  like oregano or crushed tea leaves) that is very popular down here. Rather than filling a coffee mug with water and dropping in a small filter bag with tea leaves inside, with Mate the cup itself is special. No ordinary mug will do. The  mate cup (actually just called a Mate) is actually a hollowed out gourd. Since the inside is an organic material (the outside is often decorated) that soaks up the flavors of your Mate overtime so the gourd collects more flavor. Sort of like a caste iron skillet.

To drink mate you also need a special metal straw enclosed on the bottom with a  strainer. The entire mate (gourd) is filled up with the yerba mate, what we in the north would call the tea leaf. Since there is no filter bag, the straw has to do the filtering.

To drink, you fill the gourd with hot water (often kept in a thermos), a little bit of sugar and sip it down, adding more water only when you want to drink it. This however does take some practice as drinking hot water through a straw is not exactly the best of ideas…and that’s forgetting the fact that this is a metal straw. Whatever you do, don’t jiggle the straw…metal doesn’t exactly make the best filter and that can make it so some leaves come on down your throat.

Mate is a social beverage and often the mate gourd is shared among friends. One person finished the “tea”, fills it with more water and passes the gourd to another person. Like an herbal tea, mate has a bitter taste and often people add a little bit of sugar to the mixture to soften the flavor. Mate is often referred to as a stimulant, and its use is similar to that of coca leaves in northern andean countries. If you can find it in the US I highly recommend trying it!

15 Hours in Uruguay

0530 – Wake up after 4 hours of sleep on a rather comfortable bus to discover that even though it is dark out, we’re at the border and since we went cheap and only paid for bus fare to the border, its time to get up and get out.
0532 – Handed our passports, stamped Exit from Brazil and Entrada to Uruguay.
0534 – Find a bathroom at the border post and begin our pre-dawn walk into town to find another bus to take us the rest of the way to Montevideo
0640 – Find bus station with 7am bus. They do not take credit cards.
0642 – Discover the ATM does not like my card.
0650 – Return to bus station after sprinting around the block in search of ATMs. While looking for the other ATM card (that likely won’t work either) beg the man to accept our Brazilian Reals as payment.
0652 – Run back to ATM to make attempt #2.
0654 – Hear Jill chasing after me. She is yelling that they will accept dollars. Yay. We save $47 by getting off our comfy international bus and dealing with this change…even better!
0657 – Purchase busfare.
0659 – Discover bread and coffee vendor will not accept dollars nor reals….damn.
0700 – Depart
0936 – Arrive at Rocha to switch to the 0940 bus.
0938 – Jill realizes that she left her water bottle on the bus that just pulled away.
0939 – Get on the new bus…sans H20 bottle.
0941 – Fall asleep.
1230 – Arrive Montevideo bus station, three hours later than we would have if we’d just paid for the international bus to take us the whole way. (but we saved $47….that’s $7.5/hour/person…and we’re unemployed….nice)
1315 – Depart station for a few hours on the town after purchasing bus fare to Colonia for 1630 and boat fare to Buenos Aires for 2030.
1330 – Sit down to our first meal in awhile.
1400 – Visited by the waiter who is finally ready to take our order.
1515 – Finish with our Gaucho (free) museum downtown. Discover it is past 3pm. Shit, we have stuff to buy.
1540 – Purchase Mate cups that we wanted to buy
1550 – Purchase bracelette for Jill…..made of a fork with a purple rock. Muy importante que es purple. Vendor did not believe we were from the USA, our Spanish that damn good…..or he wasn’t so smart, one of the two.
1555 – Hail a cab. Not enough time to walk/run/bus back to station.
1605 – Arrive at station. Jill goes to retrieve our luggage from storage while I run across the street to buy a cool looking boat made with a cow’s horn. I hope they take credit cards.
1607 – They don’t take credit cards.
1609 – Jill loads all of our luggage (+30kg) onto her body and waddles to the bus.
1611 – Wait as woman argues with money exchange man that she doesn’t like the rate. ATM line too long. She begins to change $1500. Still doesn’t like rate.
1614 – Now she likes rate. Hits on money changer to make up for being a pain in the butt before. Great.
1615 – My turn to change money.
1616 – Money changed, back at the store, item being purchased
1619 – Start running to bus station, damn traffic light.
1627 – Find Jill at bus, bags loaded. Time to breathe.
1630 – Bus departs.
1915 – Arrive Colonia.
1925 – Discover that 2030 boat actually leaves at 2130….damn.
2130 – Bye Bye Uruguay. It’s been real.

Galaxia Expeditions (Huaraz, Peru)

Llangaduco- Santa Cruz 4d/3n

This is an incredible trek. Although the hike goes through a pass at almost 4800m, it is a relatively easy trek, with the last two days being down hill. The trek could be easily compressed into three days or two long days. That being said, we lacked the necessary camping equipment and instead of skipping the trek joined with Galaxia Expeditions. Gear, guide, and food, the total was about $120 per person plus a 60 sole entrance fee to the park. If you go, a lot of the local villages are trying to tack on additional fees to help support their communities. It’s up to you whether you pay or choose to dispute the fee, but either way be prepared with small bills.

Our trek lasted 4 days (from Llangaduco to Santa Cruz), with the longest and hardest day being day number two when we cleared the pass. The tour was handled professionally and our guide even spoke a little english! Each day we carried a small backpack with our water and layers of outerwear which were rapidly changed seemingly every 200m or so in altitude. The rest of our gear was brought to the next camp by mules.

With temperatures below 0 degrees Celcius, individual camping gear was extremely important. Luckily we had excellent gear through Galaxia Expeditions, appropriate for the climate and altitude and in good condition. Hot breakfast and dinner were prepared for the group by Emilio, our camp cook and mule driver, and each morning we were given a high calorie bagged lunch. Each afternoon upon our arrival at camp we were greeted with hot beverages and snacks. Overall it was a great experience.