Experiencing Argentina through the Wonder Plant
For the month of November, I decided to fulfill a lifelong dream of moving to Buenos Aires. The Argentinian culture has mysteriously seduced me into its vibrant capital. Most travellers that I meet only get a glimpse of the city over a few days, but I believe that the best way to get to know a place is by immersing myself over a longer period of time. Aside from speaking Spanish, taking tango lessons and going to art galleries whenever I feel like it, I have taken up the true Argentinian pastime of yerba mate. I will admit, when I first started drinking it, I found it awfully bitter. I surely must have prepared it wrong, because I could not understand how everyone was happily drinking this all day long. Through experimentation and a bit of persistence, the wonder plant finally grew on me and now it is part of my daily practice.
When you give yourself a month in a new destination, you get to slow things down and spread out your daily activities in a special way. You get to run into the same locals on a regular basis and explore some of the less visited areas in the city. For me, immersion is really about blending in. I will often take a daydreaming stroll in Recoleta, use the city’s amazing free shared bike service or just sit on my balcony and watch the world go by. The city definitely has its own character and the multicultural people charm you with their expressive way of being. Whether it’s the friendly kiss on the cheek or their Italian hand gestures, it is hard not to be engaged with the people in front of you. Sometimes I am not sure if someone is passing me the mate or if they just can’t help moving their hands when they talk!
How Yerba Mate won me over
In my opinion, understanding the food and drink of a culture is as important as understanding the local language. It is the diet that brings people together and adds in a colourful layer to the identity of a people. As a non meat eater, I thought that I would have to compensate for my lack of cultural indulgence by purchasing my mate as soon as I could. I have to say that as a coffee drinker, mate has kind of won me over for multiple reasons. First off, it is far more social than coffee is. There is a warmness in the people here, and mate seems to be the unwritten rule for bridging interactions. Aside from the sharing, mate just lasts longer. I can sip on it all day and just keep filling up my hot water thermos. I also really enjoy how it doesn’t give me the shakes or make me feel groggy in the morning. Personally, I enjoy cutting up a bit of ginger and putting it at the bottom of the mate. I think it adds a bit of a spice to it and I get the benefits of ginger as well.
The future of Yerba Mate
I do think that we will see it become more popular world wide in the next couple of years. As more and more people are exposed to it, I think that people will enjoy the light lift of energy is brings and the social aspects of it. It does take a bit of time to wrap your head around how it works, and you almost certainly need to have the cup to play along, but it just requires a small adaptation. I believe that coffee shops will likely start serving it much like they do tea and that people will enjoy starting their own practice with their friends. Nothing seems to be more fitting than going to a park and sharing a mate. That’s what it is really. It creates an excuse to get together with friends and have something to do while you sit in beautiful settings.
I hope to keep learning more about Mate on my long stay here. At the moment, I am drinking Taragüi which was recommended to me by one of my first Argentinian friend’s I met. I will likely try different flavours and continue to experiment with adding fresh herbs such as mint or orange peels. In the meantime, I look forward to meeting new people and sharing moments of time together. It is the simple things sometimes that make your experience memorable, and mate although simple, seems to be the perfect way to connect and feel like a local.
Tory Wiwchar founded The Lifestyle Project www.thelifestyleproject.ca and organizes culturally immersive living experiences for his clients in all parts of the world. Their personalized concierge services focus on the unique interests of the traveler and allow them to get involved with the locals, acting as participants in the fun as opposed to just being outside observers.