The mate always comes to you

When my friend, Lynn, discovered that I’d be going to Uruguay, she introduced to me Elian, a young woman she met the previous year in Minneapolis that was visiting from Uruguay.  Before arriving, I promised I’d contact her as soon as I got to Montevideo.  I was excited to spend some time with a local and make a new friend.

Before I left for my trip, one of my colleagues whom spent a year in Buenos Aires had told me about a drink that I must try called mate.  While in Argentina, I hadn’t really given it much thought.  And then, after arriving in Montevideo, it seemed like it was everywhere.  You see tons of men everywhere holding their gourd and bombilla in one hand, and their thermos tucked between the forearm of the hand holding the gourd and their chest.  What is this magical substance?  This link hopefully explains.  On my first day in Montevideo, I stumbled across the restaurant Facal and for dinner ordered a small pepperoni pizza and some mate.

The next day, I shot off a text to Elian and headed out to explore the old town.  Like most historical centers, the old town is an area of cobblestone streets and people from Uruguay selling their artisanal wares.  I stumbled across Bacacay Cafe, a simple, tranquil cafe and decided to have some lunch.  Afterwards, I returned to my hotel where Elian was waiting to take me out and show me around.  She explained to me that she considered herself a terrible host because she wasn’t sure what to suggest and instead asked me what I was interested in doing.  We decided to go back to Facal, have a drink and then go to the Rambla and walk the beach.  The beach was the type of beach where you could walk for hours.  Women were sunning themselves and families were frolicking in the surf.

The next 3 days were spent exploring the city and spending time with Elian.  We checked out a lot of different restaurants, including Alebrijes, an excellent Mexican restaurant.  It was there that I was able to have a michelada, a drink from mexico essentially consisting of beer and salsa.  I was excited since I hadn’t had one in about a year.  My plan after Montevideo was to go to Punta del Diablo, but Elian told me that I should spend my time in Cabo Polonio instead.  They were close by, so I thought it could be possible to do both.  So, I decided on a bus to Cabo Polonio.

Cabo Polonio

If anyone were to ask me to sum up Cabo Polonio, I’d probably tell them that it’s basically a hippie commune on the beach.  There are few hotels, and the hostels are very basic.  I was lucky – my hostel, Del Cabo, had warm showers, a kitchen, and one outlet to charge your phone.  Leave your computer and other items at home – Cabo Polonio is a place to get lost for a couple days or week.  Cabo Polonio is also a protected park and the park currently does not allow any new construction.

After arriving in Cabo Polonio, I quickly decided against going to Punta del Diablo in favor of enjoying Cabo Polonio with all the time that I had.  I’m glad I did because I spent most of the next day visiting the lighthouse, watching the sea lions sun themselves and bark at each other on the rocks, sharing some mate with friends, and of course, walking the beach.  During the evening, I walked the beach with my new friend from the hostal, Ivana.  We came across a capsized boat on the beach.  It couldn’t have been any longer than 30 feet.  The sailor was living on board and I believe trying to figure out how to get his boat back in the ocean.  Nonetheless, it provided some amazing photographs at sunset.

The next morning, I said goodbye to my new friends and headed back to Montevideo.  I would spend some more time with Elian before heading out to Mendoza, Argentina.

Back in Montevideo

Sitting in Cafe Bacacay on my last day in Montevideo, I ordered a Mate and something to eat.  While starting to sip water from my cup, I noticed an older couple situated near my table looking at me quizzically, laughing, and then talking to the waiter about something.  Not long after, the waiter approached me and starts to give me some advice on “how to drink” mate.  First off, he tells me that no one drinking mate bends over and sips from the cup.  “The Mate always comes to you.”  You always bring the cup up with your hand and then sip.  Next, he explained to me that if the taste of the mate starts to become weak, that one can adjust the straw by scooping in and then pulling it to a different side about 45 to 90 degrees.  And lastly, when you start to drink a cup of mate, you need to add just a bit of cold water first, so the mate can expand and grow.  When it’s mostly filled the cup, then you can pour hot water, near the straw and start drinking.  I’ve come to appreciate these fish-out-of-water experiences.  They’re the experiences that, while embarrassing at times, make me feel like I’m having a truly cultural experience.  Nothing is ever gained if you don’t screw it up first.

Saying goodbye and moving on to my next destination is difficult.  Uruguay has been one of the more enjoyable and surprising experiences of my trip.  It wasn’t even on my radar to go until I started hearing about it from other people.  I think this is the travel that I enjoy most.  I’ve met incredible people here and will hopefully return someday.