The Misiones province of Argentina is the primary yerba mate growing region in the country.
Fanning the flames of my growing mate addiction, Luci and I went in search of a mate factory to explore.
In the small village of Esperanza, an hour outside Puerto Iguazu, relaxing on his day off (Sunday) outside the Gamarra Hermanos secadora (drier), we found Ricardo. After some gentle urging, he agreed to show us around the plant.
Ricardo gave us an authentic glimpse at the production of mate, and didn´t expect a thing for it. He was genuinely surprised when we gave him a cash tip. Which, for me, begs the question:
What´s the difference between Wine and Mate? In Mendoza, the tourist industry thrives and the upper crust lives a life of leisure. In Esperanza, blue collar workers labor in anonymity, few caring about the existence of their factories and their sweat to produce the cultic national beverage. Why?
After a week without posting, its time for a bullet point list:
-Had the supreme privilege of seeing the godfather of funk himself, George Clinton, perform in an old abandoned factory in Santiago. The show was like a 3-ring circus featuring about 20 people on stage at a time. Clinton plays the ring leader (with some assistance), introducing and promoting different members of the group as they take center stage and display their unique talents. Clothing ranged from one guy in a diaper to another in white feather pants and top hat to Clinton´s famous tie-dyed dreadlocks. At 68 years old, he does pretty well just being on stage, but in comparison to actual performers, he doesn´t do much. While it didn´t compare to Red Hot Chili Peppers in Caracas, the music never stopped once and I got to hear ¨We Want the Funk¨from the grandmaster of funk himself. The Chileans meanwhile, amused me with their various incantations of the word ¨funk¨as they sang along.
-As Peru was culturally very similar to Bolivia, so Argentina has proven culturally similar to Chile. Crossing from Bolivia to Chile, however, is like changing worlds.
-Made Rotary connections in Mendoza, Argentina, and was invited to a parrilla. A parrilla is basically an Argentinian barbeque with huge hunks of meat (apologies to Jimmy Buffett) and wine flowing freely (mixed with soda water to ensure you last the night). Rotarians have proven to be extraordinarily kind and generous.
-As Rotarians are wont to make visitors do, I was asked to stand and give a speech–impromptu–and in Spanish. I felt like a clutz, but they applauded at the end, so who knows? You lose so much in translation. I am used to being able to express myself accurately, succinctly, subtly. When I speak in Spanish about idea, emotions, etc., I lose all subtlty and can only paint using a wide, frayed brush, missing particulars and getting color on the floorboard. I need some painter´s tape…
-I´ve been exceedingly fortunate in the last week, after travelling solo through Chile, to have found some wonderful people to hang out with. Jonatan in Valparaiso. Angela in Santiago. Gabriella and Angel in Argentina. And, of course…
-I need to thank Erica for introducing me to her friend Luci. I have now met each of her 567 family members in Mendoza, and had at least that many cups of maté. Thanks to them, I´ve had the opportunity to experience a very authentic side of Argentinian culture: family meals, outings, traditional food and drink, and…
-Witnessed an Argentinian futbol match with Luci and her uncle, Rodolfo. The hometown team, Godoy Cruz Antonio Tomba faced off against the higher ranked Colon team, and unfortunately, took a 3-1 loss. Though the game was not a sell out, it was wild to see the ¨barra brava¨, the Argentinian version of soccer hooligans.
-Its amazing how EXHAUSTED I get after having to concentrate on Spanish for extending periods of time (i.e. full days of ¨family time¨).
-Mendoza is captital of Argentinian wine country. Earlier this week, thanks to one of Luci´s cousins, I had a private tour of one of the ¨bodegas¨ and yesterday, rented a bicycle and spent the afternoon cruising between bodegas on two wheels.
-Luci´s grandmothers, as well as her cousin Esequiel, have been teaching me how to properly serve maté. I´m becoming addicted. Maté is a strongly caffeinated tea that is to Argentinian culture what afternoon tea to British culture. Only cooler. It is a green herb with piping hot water that is served in a wooden cup with a metal straw called a bombilla and passed around like a bong.
-Fun fact: Older than, and thus not named for the famous revolutionary, Luci´s grandfather´s name is Fidel Castro.
-Tonight, its off to Iguazu Falls via 36-hour bus trip. Hopefully, it won´t be quite as bad as it sounds. The buses in South America have been fantastic. You pay a little extra for a lower level (out of two) seat and its like sitting in first class on an airplane. Food, movies, and the seats lay out enough to make for a manageably comfortable sleep.