Maté at Dawn


We were flying around curved roads in what looked like the middle of the night, but it was actually 5am. The only thing you could see was snow swirling through the headlights and the occasional flash of another car’s lights coming toward you. The rest of the van was asleep as we made our way to the Base Trek of Torres Del Paine. Ben and I were trying to sleep, but failing miserably. One of the guides took the third seat in our row and the other one was in the front seat by the driver. The one next to us started pulling things out of his bag. It started with a bag of green leaves. Ben and I exchanged a look, then was a wilderness trek after all. Next up was a beautiful cup with a metal frame around the bottom portion. At this point, the guide noticed our looks and explained maté.

Maté is drank in various parts of South America. However, each region does it differently. It’s a cold drink in Paraguay, but a hot drink in Patagonia. Similar to tea, you need to steep the leaves in water. The guide pulled out his thermos last. He filled the cup with maté (the green leaves from the bag) and filled the cup up. He filled the remaining space with steaming water from his thermos. The last piece was a spoon. Or, maybe a straw.


Turns out it was both! He slowly drank from the spoon/straw that was actually a filtered straw  allowing him to drink the maté without getting any leaves. As he drank he explained that maté is a social experience and that you pass it from friend to friend. There were a few rules though: First, if someone offers you some maté you should either accept it or say “gracias” (thank you). Saying “gracias” will signal to the person passing to you that you do not want any and they will skip you. This was particularly difficult for two boys from the midwest who say “gracias” at every social interaction like this, but we eventually figured it out. The second rule is that you drink all the water before passing it back to be refilled, and then passed on.

As he finished the explanation, he turned to me and offered some maté. I nodded, accepted the cup, took a sip, and realized his thermos worked really well as the metal spoon burned my lips. I drank the rest much more slowly until every drop was gone. Once emptied, the cup went back to the guide for a refill, and then it was Ben’s turn.