I was sitting in a circle with my friends of Argentina, and at last it was my turn. I was passed the mate, a specially cured gourd, decorated and made attractive on the outside, but filled with yerba mate and hot water on the inside. I eagerly placed my lips around the bombilla, the special metal straw with a built-in filter for the tea, and began to drink the mate. It immediately burned my lips and my tongue, and well, just about my entire upper digestive track, and that surprised me. No one else in the circle had flinched, scrunched their faces, or “prepared” themselves before taking their sips. Obviously, mate would take some getting used to. In addition to the very hot water, the taste wasn’t quite what I’d be dying to have in my mouth. It was made without sugar, just herb and scolding hot water, but it wasn’t so bad. For me, what made my first mate experience so enjoyable (if I look past the 3rd degree burns) was the social aspect.
Mate is often drunk socially among a group of friends, or sometimes even strangers, and everyone shares the same bombilla. Yep, nothing says friendship like shared germs. I observed as the friend who’d brought all the mate supplies (a thermos, the yerba, and the mate gourd) would receive the mate after each person finished drinking all the water from the mate. She refilled it with the hot water from the thermus and would pass it to the next person. When it finally came back around to me, I braced myself, curled my lips, and ridded the mate of the water. I eventually learned that curling my lips led to getting burned. I was just supposed to suck normally.
I eventually learned to love mate, and after four months of living in Argentina, I finally bought my thermos (in Missiones), completing my set, which consisted of the mate, yerba, bombilla, and finally the therm0s. Once complete, I always had a bombilla in my mouth. Actually, my doctors told me to kind of “chill out” with drinking so much mate, because it’d make me jittery and wouldn’t let me sleep. But I felt like an Argentine, and at last, I understood why they all are constantly drinking the darn thing. Argentinians drink mate everywhere. You’ll see a women in the passenger seat of a car as it goes by, with a mate in her hand, preparing it for whomever is driving. You’ll see a family caring a special bag made to carry a thermos, mate, and bag of yerba as they walk through the busy streets of a shopping area. You’ll see a group of friends drinking it in the park or on the steps of their home. And when it’s too hot for mate, some enjoy tereré, the yerba with cold ice water or with cold juice. Mate mate mate everywhere. But I’m not complaining. I love mate, and I guess after four months of living in Argentina, that’s exactly how it should be.