As we leave Argentina there are so many things we are thankful to have been able to experience and that we know we are going to miss.
dulce de leche
Most of all we’ll miss the Argentinian people who were always friendly, patient with my bad Spanish, helpful, and welcoming. We’ll miss Argentina, but I know we’ll be back.
Next stop is Chicago to visit friends, family and attend our nephew Matt and his fiance Melissa’s wedding. I’ve also challenged Jeff to a White Castle slider eating contest. I’m pretty sure I know who’s going to win.
I’m totally obsessed with yerba mate. Not only do I like drinking it, but I LOVE to see people with their mate gourds drinking it. I constantly am on the lookout for people with their gourds.
We’ve been invited to drink it with others several times now. When this happens I am so torn. I’m always dying to drink mate with Argentinians but, I can’t drink hot stuff. It burns my throat, lips, tongue. I can’t even fake it and just pretend to take a sip. When you are handed a gourd of mate, it’s polite to drink the entire gourd, no matter that you might be setting your throat on fire. I always go home from mate drinking with a mouth so burnt I can’t taste anything for a week.
So, when our friends Nati and Frankie suggested a picnic in the park, I was super excited for several reasons.
1. Nati and Frankie are really cool and fun to hang out with. Moving around always makes us the new kids on the block, and my poor Spanish makes me the dumb new kid on the block. So it’s really fun to have friends.
2. Frankie is from New Jersey and Nati is from Paraguay but spent a lot of time in the US, so the picnic would be conducted in English.
3. There was a rumor of guacamole filled deviled eggs. Not a traditional dish of Argentina, but you can’t eat steak at every meal.
4. Nati was going to show me how to make tereré which is cold yerba mate, something that is very popular in Paraguay.
First, we ate the eggs (among other things). To say guacamole filled boiled eggs are good is like saying there is a little bit of meat eating going on in Argentina. They rank right up there with dulce de leche (the best food in the entire world). If there is such a thing as guacamole-deviled egg rehab I will soon be checking in. These things were addictive.
Then after eating we got down to the business of making the tereré. Preparing tereré is similar to preparing yerba mate except you use cold water instead of hot. First, Nati filled my gourd with the yerba.
I really like the kind that comes with stems and twigs.
I’ve read online how the bombilla (fancy metal straw) has to go in a certain way. Nati showed me how you put it in when the gourd is half full.
For sweeteners you can do several things. You can drink it without sugar. You can add sugar, or you can add stevia. Nati had bought stevia in it’s natural form at the market and we added that. It was sweet but not refined sugar. Then she also added chamomile but explained that you can add any other herbs you want.
Then we added cold water. In Paraguay the water is usually ice cold, but since I didn’t have a cooler the water was sort of room temperature. But,still about 100 degrees cooler than boiling hot water.
And then we did something that would strike terror in most Americans. WE ALL DRANK FROM THE SAME STRAW! That is the way you drink yerba mate. Drinking yerba mate hot or cold is a social thing. Sharing the gourd and straw is part of the mate drinking. The head mate maker fills the gourd then passes it to someone. That person drinks the entire gourd hands it back, the head honcho fills it again passes it to the next person etc. There is no Purell. There is no sterilization, there is no switching out straws. Everyone shares the same gourd and straw.
Here’s the thing. You drink this with friend and family. It’s not like some stranger off the street is going to hand you a mate . If they are friends and family, you’ve already cheek kissed them and shaken their hand. You already shared germs. What’s a little shared mate drinking? And, I think if people are sick they don’t partake. We were at a picnic and someone said they had a cold, so they didn’t want the gourd passed to them.
So tererè is my new favorite drink. It goes down really easy on a hot day. It’s really fun to drink with friends, and it tastes really good. The only problem is that I now drink a lot of tereré but haven’t given up my coffee habit. It’s not a problem until 3:00am when I’m wide awake and have no idea why. Then I remember that I’ve had several cups of coffee and several gourds of yerba mate during the day.
Here’s a video of us drinking it. It was little boring, like watching people drink coffee, so I added music to liven it up. Now it sounds like we’ll be passing the mate to Benny Hill next.
You would think going to the gym would be sort of the same everywhere you go. Sure, far off exotic lands don’t even have gyms, but you would think any place that has a gym that you can join as a tourist must be about the same. But, there are some things at my gym that are different.
The first thing is the name. I just don’t think a gym in the US would be called XX anything.
The second thing that is different is that in the US, I don’t kiss anyone at the gym. Here, there is a lot of kissing. First chance to kiss is when you enter. You go and check in at the front desk. The woman behind the desk always greets me with a very welcoming “Hola Sherillllll.” Some people lean over and kiss her, but I opt out.
Then I sort of stall while I wait for Maximo to come over. Maximo is the “on duty” gym trainer. He’s a really sweet, very ripped Argentinian that doesn’t speak any English. He comes over, kisses me on the cheek, gives me a half hug then asks me how I am. I always say fine. I then forget how to ask him how he is, so I just sort of nod. Then he asks if I’m “tranquila.” I always say yes which is a lie. I’m never ever calm because I’m always trying to remember the Spanish words for things and who and when I should kiss.
There’s only one elliptical trainer at the gym, and no one but me ever uses it. It may be an antique. I feel like if I ever got my heart rate up to 150 on it the entire thing would collapse.
Another thing that is different, there is a picture of Jesus in the corner.
In between helping people, Maximo drinks yerba mate from a gourd. If I am doing something really incorrectly he helps me with my form, usually in a series of complicated pantomimes and grunts and nods from me.
The first time I worked out I thought Maximo had the best job ever. All the women at the gym come in and kiss and hug him. All the men shake his hand, ever single of of them.
By the end of my first workout I realized the down side to Maximo’s job. He also has to kiss every woman goodbye at the end, or shake every man’s sweaty hand.
I try to wipe my face off as much as possible at the end of each workout, but I can tell you there have been times when the poor guy has had to cheek kiss me while I was dripping sweat.
If I’m unusually sweaty, I wait until I see him busy helping someone, I run to the middle of the gym shout, “Ciao” then bolt out before anyone can kiss me. I’m sure it’s considered completely rude, but that is the good thing about being a foreigner. No one expects you to do it completely right every time.
As I explained in an earlier post, Jeff and I went to the neighborhood of La Bocca for lunch. I order the chinchulines (cow intestines) and couldn’t eat them which caused the waiter great disappointment. In order to get back into his good graces, we ordered a “service of mate.”
The green tea-like powder that makes up yerba mate is sold in all the grocery stores and the mate container and bombilla straw that you drink it out of is sold in street markets all over Buenos Aires. When we saw it on the menu we were excited to order it. It’s rarely offered in restaurants, I figured I could get in good with the waiter again.
The service came with a thermos of hot water, a bowl of sugar, a bowl of green tea like herbs, and a silver mate container and silver straw. The waiter put the straw in, packed the mate full of the herbs, spooned in sugar, and poured hot water over the entire thing.
He gave us very specific instructions. We each take a sip and then pass it to the other person who takes a sip then you pour in more hot water. “Do not, under any circumstances stir or pull out the bombilla (metal straw),” he warned. He made it sound like pulling that straw out would ruin not just the mate, but perhaps the rest of our trip. I have to admit I was worried about the straw.
The waiter stood attentively as we tried it. Thank God I liked it and could smile instead of gasp for air. It tasted really good, somewhere between green and black tea with lots of sugar. Satisfied that we wouldn’t mess up the mate service the waiter left our table to stand in the doorway. He seemed pleased with our mate drinking until Jeff made the mistake of pulling the straw out. The waiter then ran over to fix it. I’m not sure what he did besides shove the straw back into the cup, but it looked very serious.
On Sundays there is a huge and I mean HUGE street market that stretches from the downtown area for block and blocks down a narrow street to the neighborhood of San Telmo. San Telmo is famous for the street market, tango bars, and people doing tango in the street. We actually somehow missed everyone doing tango in the street. Every time we came across someone that looked like they might do tango in the street, they were resting, eating, or standing on a box playing guitar.
The street is so narrow and filled with people that claustrophobia overtook us at one point and we had to go down the street to a cafe for a relaxing cup of coffee. Although for me it wasn’t too relaxing.
The vendors I found the most interesting were the ones selling mate cups and the straws called bombillas. Yerba mate is a type of drink that Argentinians are crazy for. In the grocery stores there are bags and bags of yerba mate lining the shelves. You can’t easily get it at restaurants or cafes in Buenos Aires, so we hadn’t really seen it being drunk.
Once I knew what to look for I realized every vendor, no matter what they were selling, was also drinking yerba mate.
On the walk home we passed a park where everyone was also drinking yerba mate. If you look at the guy in the background (the one that’s not Jeff) you can see he’s drinking out of a bombilla.
Makes me want to give up coffee and try mate for awhile….maybe.