March 20, 2012

Moonlighting Cowboys

Hostel Empedrado in Mendoza came by recommendation from our Carnival friend Bella, and it is a true gem in the hostel world. Every day you get one free glass of wine, and just like prison, one free international phone call. They have a washing machine and a trellis where you can climb up and pick your own grapes.

They also have a bustling social calendar with lots of organized events every night of the week. One night we took an empanada making class. The South Americans aren’t guarding any secrets…it’s as easy as it looks.

We also sat in on a cultural class where a nice young man taught us all about mate, the herbal drink that I wrote about in our Uruguay post. There are lots of unwritten social rules when it comes to mate drinking. First and most important, you will almost never see anyone drinking mate alone. Mate is not so much about the drink as it is about drinking it with someone.

The yerba mate leaves take up about 60% of the gourd, and they are used for roughly 6 rounds of water. There is always one person in the group designated as the server. Once the server pours hot water into the gourd, they are responsible for taking the first drink until his water is gone. Every person must always drink until their water is gone. Then the server refills the water into the leaves and passes the gourd and bombilla (metal straw) to the next person. Once they’ve drank all of their water, they pass it back to the server for a refill and it’s passed to the next person, and so on.

You should never touch or adjust the metal bombilla straw itself. Even if the bombilla seems blocked with the mate leaves, you just tap the bottom of the gourd until the blockage clears up. Also, you should never let the gourd go untouched or abandoned. Ahhhhh, this explains why everyone is walking around town cradling their gourds.

Children do not drink mate because the metal bombilla gets quite hot and there’s a concern about burning their lips. Around the age of 15, children begin drinking mate. I can just image the conversation at school…“Oh yeah? Well, my mom let me drink mate last night”.

Argentina is also well known for its gauchos. Mendoza sits at the base of the Andes Mountains, so what better time to become cowboys! One night we went with three fellow travelers on a sunset horseback riding trip. Our head gaucho was Gaston, a very nice Mendoza native who has spent years perfecting his mullet braid.

We rode for about two and a half hours through the foothills with our trusty horses,
Falucho (Steve) and Solito (Katie).

The night was topped off with an outdoor asado dinner – the kind where the meat just keeps coming – a starry sky, and lots of Malbec drinking around the fire pit.

Alas, we are all wined out. We’re off to northern Argentina to detox for awhile.

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