Yerbe Mate Craze

Mate is not only a Chilean horseman’s mountain tea, it is a craze all throughout Latin America. When I went to Uruguay my host family would carry around a cup of mate wherever they went. At the beach when they were roasting out in the sun, they would sit their and sip from the silver straw “bambilla.” I will never forget that taste, it’s like a bitter herb, warm and soothing. Read more below about Peter Heller’s encounter with mate in the article, Horsepacking Across Patagonia.

Yerba Mate Tea

We built a fire outside and passed around a small enamel cup of yerba mate, the strong mountain tea that every Chilean horseman carries in his saddle bag and that has a kick somewhere weirdly between a triple latte and a joint.

I loved this. It could have been Montana or Colorado, except there was plenty of rain and no roads, just horse trails linking the remote farms. And when we emerged next week, we would be only a few kilometers from the sea. We were in the thinnest of countries. I thought about one of my favorite poets, Pablo Neruda, Chilean and a Nobel Prize winner, how he wrote: Night, snow, and sand make up the form/of my thin country,/all silence lies in its long line,/all foam flows from its marine beard,/all coal covers it with mysterious kisses… And here, on the Manso, we were back to a simpler time.

No electricity or phones, and messages traveled down the valley saddle to saddle, homestead to homestead. Zach told me that night that when he needed horses for a trip he’d go to the radio station in Bariloche and put a message out on the daily bulletin board, Ciro, so many horses at such and such a date at such and such a place, for so many days.

Everybody had a battery powered radio. Somebody in the Manso valley would hear it. They happened to be riding up the Rio Los Morros. They would tell a Montero whose brother-in-law was going over the pass to Cochamo the next day, who would tell Ciro’s neighbor. Zach said the horses would always be there.

That night I slipped out of my bag and stepped out on the cold dew-wet grass to take a leak. I heard a horse blow in the dark and saw their shapes scattered over the bench. I looked up at a deep river of stars, and down valley I saw the Southern Cross hanging in the notch of the canyon. The world of horses and men turned in silence.

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