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Take Two – London

“I can’t believe we met you once, a year ago, and now you’re here,” Suzanna said.

“Ha, yup.” I replied as we walked through the airport together. Can you spot the theme of our last month on the road? 

It was true. We met Suzanna and Simon on the Inca Trail in Peru on the first leg of our around-the-world trip.

Machu Picchu, Inca Trail, Peru, adventure travel

Our group about to descend to Machu Picchu. Simon and Suz are in the back row all the way to the left.

They did the hike to Machu Picchu as part one of their honeymoon. Part two included some quality beach time in Cuba. (You read that right—a beach honeymoon in Cuba. It’s certainly a strange thought for those of us who think Castro, communism, and embargo and forget that Cuba is also a Caribbean island.)

When Suzanna and Simon came to visit New York this past summer, I caught Nellu describing our friendship weirdly to strangers: “We were on their honeymoon,” he told them. It’s true. We were.

Nellu Mazilu

The cake the chef made for Simon & Suz on the Inca Trail for their honeymoon. Photo by Nellu Mazilu.

Over the year since we met Simon and Suz, we bonded via Facebook over our shared experience, a love of travel, and an interest in photography and design. When we headed through London the first time for a long layover in last February, Suzanna casually suggested the next time we were in town, we should give her a shout. We, of course, did.

I can best describe Suzanna and Simon as the type of people who are so good-natured and generous that they will offer to let two people they met in person once, a year ago, stay in their house AND THEN drive to the airport at 10pm on a school night to pick those people up. Those people of course were us.

I’ve been in love with London for as long as I could remember. It was my first European city. The first two times I went, the weather was uncharacteristically wonderful. I spent two weeks there during my post-college month abroad. But it was funny going back with Nellu. He kept asking me where things were and if it was the same.

We did the Tower of London and visited the Tate Modern.

Yeoman, Tower of London. Nellu Mazilu

A Yeoman at the Tower of London. Photo by Nellu Mazilu

We saw Damien Hirst’s comprehensive exhibition. I know that critics have mixed remarks for Hirst and his commercialization of modern art but his show was my favorite of all the exhibits we had seen around the world. And it’s not just because of the diamonds. One of his pieces was a commentary on smoking entitled, “The Acquired Inability to Escape.” Brilliant.

We walked back and forth over the bridges that cross the Thames to say we covered them all.

Nellu Mazilu, Tower Bridge, London

Tower Bridge, London. Photo by Nellu Mazilu

And Nellu took pictures of Cleopatra’s Needle, apparently a sister to the one which resides in New York’s Central Park. (Nellu is utterly infatuated with these obelisks. I am trying not to read too much into it.)

Cleopatra's Needle, London, Nellu Mazilu, obelisk

Cleopatra’s Needle in London. Photo by Nellu Mazilu

Suzanna wanted to do a big night out while we were in town. So we met them, a few of their friends, and Suz’s brother Mirko at this great restaurant, Madison, for dinner and sunset views of St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Nellu Mazilu, St. Paul's Cathedral, London, England, UK

(L-R) Mirko, Simon, Suzanna, Nellu, me and St. Paul’s Cathedral. Photo by Nellu Mazilu.

We then proceeded to go to a few more bars and then to a club. I can’t remember the last time I’d been to an untz untz club. I was feeling a little under-dressed in my traveler’s clothes but I didn’t let that get in the way of our hilarious button-popping night.

When we got back to their house, Nellu and Suzanna traded traditional, old-country moonshine. Suzanna is Slovakian and had a bottle of slivovica. Nellu, had his Romanian, țuică (pronounced: swee-ka).  This is the point in the night that I probably should have said, “No I’ve had enough.” But I’ve never fully mastered that skill. Per usual,  I kindly accepted the slivovica, shooting it quickly. I can still recall the burning sensation it left through my throat and nasal cavity. It was familiar, much like the feeling of drinking țuică. (I have to be careful about bad mouthing țuică because Nellu has a strict policy that he only shares his stash with people who appreciate it.)

The next morning, Simon knocked on our door inquiring whether we had any interest in brunch.

“If you don’t mind, I would love to lay here and die for a little longer,” I said doing my best attempt at gracious, while not moving my head from the pillow.

We had a moving day ahead of us. We wanted to spend a week in London but we didn’t want to over stay our welcome with friends. So we divided our time between Suzanna and Simon and our friends from home, Eric and Emma.

Eric and I went to college together but we’re better friends from the years we all lived in New York right after school. He’s the type of friend that was always a witness to the shenanigans but could never be implicated in a court of law. Eric was one of the first to leave the city, taking a job in London way before everyone started to head for the suburbs. He met and married the lovely Emma a few years later and the two bought a house just outside of the city.

Which brings me to my first thought that morning, “Oh my god, Eric and Emma are going to think we’re a mess.”

In our last month on the road, I’m sure we looked like the vagabonds we were.  And now, I would have to call Eric and ask him if he could meet us at the train station an hour later than we’d planned because the inexcusably, grown-up me was too hung over to get her act together.

Eric didn’t flinch at our delay.

A few hours later, we met Eric and Emma at the train station and they drove us to their home.

We sat in the sun for a while in the backyard and talked. Nellu and I can be a runaway train of a conversation when we get started with travel stories but Eric and Emma didn’t seem to mind. Then Eric made us such a proper grown-up dinner: steak, rice and vegetables. I was so impressed and proud.

Seeing college friends all grown up is an interesting study in psychological anthropology, especially when you’ve 1) missed out on transition from kid to adult and 2) you’ve put your own adultificaiton on hold to travel around the world for a year. But it was rewarding to reconnect.

Since I had never gotten a chance to get to know Emma well, I relished the time we got to talk. And I don’t think I’ve ever had so much fun talking to someone. You may remember from a past post, I finally learned that our foreign friends, while speaking English excellently, didn’t understand me when I spoke too quickly. But Emma, as a native English speaker and city dweller, also spoke lightning-fast. Our conversation went at a breakneck speed. It was the talking equivalent of ping-pong game and we covered hours worth of material in minutes.

A few things I learned from our conversations:

1) The English don’t all have bad teeth—Emma could be a tooth model—and they think it’s odd that Americans think they do.

2) Even though the U.K. has a national healthcare system, people don’t get yearly physicals or other types of preventative procedures.

London was the first place that I started to remember what home was like. The city and its people are rushed, maybe even a little stressed. But it has an energy that I know I crave. And even though it rains a lot, I could live there in a heartbeat.

The Truth About Pudding  — Endinburgh

Edinburgh, Scotland

The view from our apartment in Edinburgh, Scotland.

“I think Louise is pregnant,” Nellu declared, glancing at his computer.

“Really?” I asked, rushing over to peer over his shoulder. Yup, Louise was pregnant alright, really pregnant.

We also met Louise and her husband Craig on our hike to Machu Picchu. Nellu bonded with Craig over jokes unacceptable for some (most) audiences, quotes from Chappelle’s Show, and a slight obsession with the neon-yellow, bubble-gum flavored Inca Cola. Louise and I bonded over the fact that we’d essentially married the same man.

Inca Trail, Peru, Nellu Mazilu

Craig & Louise staying warm in our camp dining tent.

By the time we met up with them a year later in their hometown Edinburgh, Scotland, Louise was eight months pregnant. They’d tried to keep the news off Facebook but in the weeks before we arrived, a friend tagged Louise (and consequently, her belly) in several pictures. So in our minds, she went from not pregnant to super pregnant overnight.

But the baby’s impeding arrival and some pretty hearty rain didn’t stop them from meeting up with us at Edinburgh Castle after Craig got out of work.

We had gone to the Scotch Whiskey Experience before we met up with them that day. I tried not to taste too much because I didn’t want to be drunk when we met up with them (Not that they would mind. They wouldn’t. But I didn’t want to rub our ability to day drink in their faces. But the liquid warmth helped to combat the rain.)

Nellu Mazilu, whiskey, Whiskey Experience, Scotland, Edinburgh

So much whiskey, so little time. Photo by Nellu Mazilu

It’s funny going to a place like Edinburgh Castle with friends. We teased them that they must have done it a thousand times but apparently they hadn’t been since high school. I tried to think of some of the places we’d take friends when they come to visit New York.

The wind and rain whipped around us but our friends were troopers.

Afterwards, we went to a bar down the street where they introduced us to haggis.

Bobby's Bar, haggis, scottie dog, Edinburgh, Scotland, bar, haggis, Nellu Mazilu

Bobby’s Bar has a back story of its own but it’s also the first place Nellu tried haggis. Photo by Nellu.

Did I try it? Hell no. I only added normal people food like red meat and watermelon back onto my menu. There was no chance that I would try what Wikipedia describes as ” a savoury pudding containing sheep’s pluck (heart, liver and lungs); minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, and traditionally encased in the animal’s stomach and simmered for approximately three hours.”  But of course, Nellu was dying to try it.

Which brings me to a very serious discrepancy between our cultures—pudding. Pudding in the U.K. and Ireland isn’t pudding…well at least not the Bill Cosby-endorsed J–E–L–L–O version most of us in the States grew up asking for. Pudding on this side of the ocean, according to our friends, is a mixture of food that is often encased (sometimes in a sausage casing) and then cut up and served in cross sections.

When our friend Suzanna ordered sticky toffee pudding at the restaurant in London, I thought to myself,  “Um, your pudding looks like cake.” Sticky toffee pudding is one type of non-Jello pudding I can get behind.

sticky toffee pudding, pudding, crazy food, blood pudding, black pudding

This picture of sticky toffee pudding was actually taken in Ireland.

What I absolutely can NOT get behind is the Scottish black pudding aka blood pudding. It’s also called blood pudding because its made with blood. No joke. From Visit Scotland website: “…this mixture of congealed pigs’ blood, fat, oats, barley and a special blend of spices stuffed in a length of intestine, is popular at B & B’s up and down the country.” Yup. That would take me decades to get my mind around. But of course, Nellu wanted to try this as well.

He got the chance at breakfast the next morning. Apparently, blood budding is often included in a traditional Scottish breakfast spread. Nellu’s reaction: “It’s not what I expected. But it’s good. It was a little dry.” Nellu tells me now, he thinks it’s like eggs—sometimes they make it runnier than other times. Cough, gag. Yup. That’s never going to happen.

Nellu Mazilu, Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom

Nellu is still standing after his traditional Scottish breakfast including black pudding. Craig, Louise, me. Nellu. Photo by Nellu Mazilu

Louise gave birth to their son Daniel a few weeks later. He’s got his mom’s good looks and his dad’s sense of humor.

It’s a Small World with Big Cities — Cork

(I am going to skip through our stay in Dublin, which was lovely, but the heart of this story is our friends. So on to our friends…)

We met Patrick and Nicola in Rio de Janeiro. Our hosts Lance and David at Casa Cool Beans threw a party teaching their guests how to make the Brazilian national cocktail, caipirinhas.

I had gone downstairs to get something from our room. When I returned, Nellu introduced Patrick and Nicola. “They’re from Cork,” he said.

“Really?” I replied, asking them, “Do you know Aoife?” Nellu had asked the same question just minutes earlier.

Aoife is one of my closest girlfriends from college. After trying out a few cities, she settled with her husband, Barry, in Cork, Ireland. I had always gotten the impression that it was a small bucolic village but apparently it’s a sprawling city with a greater urban area population of nearly 200,000 people. So no, they didn’t know Aoife.

But Nicola and Patrick were cool and we ended up hanging out with them quite a bit in Rio. They’re the type of people who are just fun. I always felt like we’d known them for much longer than we actually have. They were around our age, which is unusual among travelers. They were ending their extended-month, world adventure just as we were starting ours. After Rio, they would head home.

Arcos da Lapa, Rio de Janeiro, Nellu Mazilu

Nightlife begins to emerge under the Arcos da Lapa in Rio de Janeiro. Photo by Nellu Mazilu.

Our last night in the Marvelous City, we met Nicola and Patrick in Lapa—the district known for its samba clubs, bars and outdoor party—and ended up drinking with them into the wee hours of the morning before hopping on, what turned out to be, a more than 40-hour back to back bus adventure. We were having too good of a time to go home. (Sure, you don’t want to embark on a trip like that with a killer hangover, but you don’t want to be completely sober for all of it either. )

Lapa

Nellu, Patrick, Nicola and me in Lapa.

Spending our last week on the road visiting Nicole and Patrick and Aoife and Barry was the perfect way to end our trip. Old friends and new. Two worlds coming together. The symmetry. The symbolism. It was perfect.

Aoife and Barry, meanwhile, had gotten married while we were in Japan. It was the first time I missed a close friend’s wedding. It was one of the few times on the road that I felt homesick. But I often missed my girlfriends.

Nellu is an excellent travel companion and partner-in-crime but getting an extra word out of him is often impossible. Many of our “conversations” went/go like this:

“What are you doing?” I ask.

“Nothing.”

“You’re clearly doing something. It’s so sketchy when you say you’re doing nothing.”

Silence.

I was due for some quality girl time and made up for a lot of it with Aoife. Our first day there, we sat in the backyard in the sunshine for hours. Once again, our visit happened during the first stretch of beautiful-great-to-be-alive sunny days. (Our friends would tell us that these would likely be the only sunny days they would see all year.)

Aoife and I have some serious history together but because of the ocean between us, Nellu and I had never actually met Barry in person.

The first time we (the girls) met him on Skype, I remember being taken aback by his relatively thick Irish accent. This is a pretty ridiculous idea because of course Barry had an Irish accent. He was born, raised, and lived most of his life in Ireland. But when you picture people in your head, they don’t get a speaking role, hence the disconnect. (One interesting sidebar: Barry says the phrase “do you know” as one word, “juno.” And peppers those “junos” throughout sentences the way many American girls do with the word “like.” It’s quite fantastic.)

Over the week we were there, we got to know Barry and his accent pretty well. Despite being relative strangers, he graciously welcomed us into his home with his pregnant wife.

Nellu Mazilu, Cork County, Ireland

Barry and Aoife. Photo by Nellu.

Oh, did I mention, that Aoife was about six months pregnant by the time we saw her? A lot can happen when you’re bouncing around the world. This additional detail would get in the way of my big plans to consume many bottles of wine over hours of extended conversation. But Barry made sure that our visit to Cork included a proper pub crawl with several properly poured pints of Murphy’s Irish Stout. (Murphy’s is brewed in Cork. Guinness is brewed in Dublin. Drinking Guinness in Cork is just rude.)

Aoife and Barry also introduced us to Eurovision, a bizarrely awesome song competition between the member countries of the European Broadcasting Union. It’s like American Idol (without the American part) for the European Union. (I recognize that American Idol began as Pop Idol in the U.K.) Countries like the U.K., Germany, France, Spain, and Italy get a free ride to the finals because they pay for it. There is some tremendously bad singing, costumes and stunts even in the final round. Entrants perform the same song through each round of the competition, which means you’ll have the really awful ones memorized by the end. And apparently everyone in Europe watches it.

Baku, Azerbaijan hosted this particularly year and the programming featured plenty of tourism promotional spots proclaiming, “Azerbaijan: Land of the sun!” and land of a few more elements.

All of Ireland seemed to be rooting for or against the twins it sent to the competition:

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And apparently this happened:

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The winner of Eurovision 2012, however, was Loreen from Sweden. Warning! This song will get stuck in your head, causing you to buy the track on iTunes. It’s there. I own it.

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Seriously America, we need to get in on this.

(Nellu has just brought up the insightful point that “America” in Eurovision wouldn’t make sense. It would have to be Worldvision or something. Natovision, anyone?)

We picked up right where we left off with Nicola and Patrick, staying up joking and drinking into the wee hours of the morning, again. We ended up crashing at their place a couple of times during our stay in Cork. It worked out great because I don’t think Aoife knew quite what do with us.

And there’s just something to be said about travel friends. They understand this weird, awesome, intense, life-changing adventure in ways even your close friends just can’t. Nicola was also the only person we met who loves little Jimmy McMillan as much as Nellu and I do.

Nicola and Patrick had been home for just about a year and they were still getting settled back into their old lives and working on their next steps. I am sure our visits with them helped our transition back home a lot more than we realized.

I had started to reboot our old lives when we were in Cork.  When I tried to add money to my pre-paid cellphone account, I discovered, not only was the account disabled, but they gave my number away. This was my first cellphone number. A 917 number. Did they even give those out anymore!? I had it for more than a decade. It got me through my early days in New York and my the beginnings of my relationship with Nellu. How could they just give it away?

I called my old number and some guy picked up. I wanted to scream, “Give me my number back!” But that would have probably ruined his day too. I just said, “Sorry, wrong number,” hung up, and had a productive little cry.  Our old lives were gone, our new lives were unknown. It’s a good thing it was sunny out and we had good friends.

We did do some sightseeing between the pub crawling in Cork. Barry and Aoife took us on a driving tour of the nearby countryside. We also rented a car and headed down to the southern coast of Ireland to towns like Kinsale.

Nellu Mazilu, Kinsale, Ireland, travel, inspiration

A ledge in Kinsale. Photo by Nellu.

And we drove partially around the Ring of Kerry, which is breathtakingly beautiful. The need to finish it is just one more reason to go back.

Ring of Kerry, lake, boat, Ireland.

A vantage point on the lake on the Ring of Kerry.

On our last full day in town, we swung by the Cork Butter Museum. Why? Well, its kind of a long story. Nellu had gotten a little obsessed with the idea of doing kitchy things. I don’t remember where the trend originated but it was definitely a prevalent theme during our last month or so on the road. (He tells me now that our whole trip was kitchy.) What’s more kitschy than the butter museum? And we learned the story behind Ireland’s most important food export.

Nellu Mazilu, Kerrygold, butter, Cork, Ireland

Butter is an Irish institution. Photo by Nellu.

In the next 48 hours, we’d get on bus to a plane to a shuttle to a hotel to a shuttle to a plane to JFK, where my parents would pick us up for the short ride home to Connecticut. But at that moment, we stood in a museum in Cork contemplating the existence of bog butter.

I was ready to come home when we it came time to come home. Nellu, I think, would have stayed on the road forever if we weren’t running out of money. Toward the end, he kept trying to get me to push back our flight dates and succeeded once.

“You know, we have go home eventually,” I would tell him.

What Dreams May Come

This will be my last post on our adventures from the road. (Although, Nellu has promised a piece of his best pictures from the über kitschy Miniature Wunderland Hamburg.) I’ll keep writing updates on our off-track life, and there a few lessons I’ve learned worth sharing, but it’s time to bring our trip to a close.

I hope that by writing this post and closing the book on this adventure, I will make room for a new one.  I’ve held on a little too tightly because it’s been a dream.

Everyone who has been a part of our adventure, even offering your moral support, thank you for the ride of my life.

I leave you with one of my favorite videos, an inspiration for what may come:

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(Oh, and I hope this next adventure includes a spacious apartment with at least enough space for a cozy guest nook, if not a spare room, so you can all come visit!)

~ Molly

One of my goals on this trip was to work on a few pieces of digital video journalism. It’s been a little bit more of a process than I anticipated but tonight I would like to debut the premiere Life Offtrack DJ interview! Lance Horsley, co-owner of Casa Cool Beans, graciously granted me my first interview on the road. (Full disclosure: Nellu and I stayed at Casa Cool Beans during our time in Rio de Janiero and loved every minute of it.)

Taking on the Cidade Maravilhosa

Just over five months ago, Lance, his partner David, and their dog Mousse set off for the Cidade Maravilhosa, or Marvelous City as Rio is often called. The plan: transform an existing pousada into the Casa Cool Beans. Already a successful business owner in the United States, the opening of this guesthouse was the realization of a 25-year old dream for Lance. While the timing of their move had little to do with the city’s move to the international stage (World Cup 2014, Olympics 2016), the booming Brazilian economy certainly encouraged them to take on Rio.

But enough from me, I’ll let Lance tell you his story:

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It’s customary for journalists, at the end of an interview, to ask if the interviewee has anything to add, mostly to make sure you’re not missing a critical part of the story. When I asked Lance, he gave me a response that needed to stand on its own. (If you’re a budding entrepreneur, you might want to keep this video close at hand and listen to it every morning you need a pep talk.)

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One unexpected advantage in the whole process: While Lance and David had originally planned to close the guesthouse to renovate, its previous owner encouraged them to buy out bookings already on the calendar. Five months in and Casa Cool Beans has been at full capacity the whole time. Lance says its been nice having income coming in, “But even more important is the ability we’ve had to meet people, which at the end of the day is the reason I got into this business and why we got the pousada. It’s been a fabulous blessing.”

~ Molly

Before I left on this trip, I told people that one of the things I would write about is the food and drinks I would encounter along the way. As an avid fan of Zane Lamprey (‘Three Sheets’ & ‘Drinking Made Easy with Zane Lamprey’) and Kevin Brauch (The Thirsty Traveler), I had become educated in much of the world’s beverages, without actually tasting many of them. I thought Brazil would be the start of the great rectification. Sadly, Brazil did not have much that I hadn’t seen before. The cervejas, while delicious on a hot tropical day, didn’t add any new taste that dozens of other beers had to offer. That’s right, I’m staring at you Bintang.

Molly already addressed our acai addiction, so Brazil’s other well known libations would revolve around cachaça, which is basically rum except instead of being distilled from molasses (a byproduct of sugar refinement) like rum, it is instead distilled and fermented from fresh sugarcane. It is also the main ingredient in Brazil’s most famous cocktail, the caipirinha, which I have often described as Brazil’s answer to the mojito. I had never tried straight cachaça before, but it tastes very much like good rum. As for caipirinhas, I had tried on previous occasions at various churrascos in the states and found them to be typical cocktails chock full of sugar and a hangover in waiting if you have more than 3. Nonetheless I did try a “special” caipirinha at the Santa Teresa Hotel to see what was possible :

A strawberry & chocolate mess (Photo by Jack Zalium)

What sounded initially delicious turned out to be a pulpy & somewhat disgusting mess (think of a smoothie with large chunks of mashed fruit floating in, on & around ice cubes). I am not sure Molly’s red-fruit caipirinha was any better.

Lance makes a caipirinha while recounting stories of stray dogs. (Photo by Jack Zalium)

Thankfully our host (Lance) at the Casa Cool Beans taught me how to make a traditional and quite “fierce”, as he would call it, caipirinha. Brazil, for all its good parts, was lacking any outstanding alcoholic beverages (or one that I did not encounter). Argentina would fare a little better.

While Brazil seemed to flourish in cervejas and caipirinhas, Argentina has Fernet, yerba mate and red wine. The red wines of which the Mendoza region is famous for Malbecs and Cabernet Sauvignons, I had sampled at various wine tastings in the states. My surprise was the cost & quality. We easily found wines less than $40 pesos (~$10 USD) that were exceptionally delicious and smooth. There were definitely much more expensive wines as well, but sadly our budget did not permit that sort of luxury. Perhaps on a return trip.

Fernet Branca I had also sampled before, thanks to Zane Lamprey’s trip to Argentina. Though it is Italian in origin, the Argentinians have embraced it as a national beverage. Ordering it, would be a more complicated matter. It is commonly served here over the rocks in a tall glass; 1 part Fernet to 2-3 parts soda. My first attempt came at a nearby parrilla, as we were attempting to kill some time and waiting for the rain to pass. I had cleverly asked for all the main ingredients in the drink: 1 part fernet to 2 parts soda and some ice. I received Fernet in a tall glass, a 16 ounce bottle of Pepsi and a bowl full of ice and tongs. It took a trip to the tango club and a look at a menu, to realize they refer to the concoction as ‘fernet cola’.

Fernet Cola: a refreshing mix of bitter and sweet. (Photo by Jack Zalium)

On a trip to Tigre’s Puerto de Frutos (an artisanal market mostly known for furniture, decorations and paper flowers), I found a nice and relative inexpensive bottle of locally made artesanal Fernet (about half the price of the commercially and Italian made Fernet Branca). I wanted to taste the difference and was willing to risk blindness to do it. Thankfully, I can report my sight has not diminished and even our host, Norman, enjoyed a glass of it. I would describe it as smoother and less bitter than the Fernet Branca I had tried before and well worth the price.

Delicioso! (Photo by Jack Zalium)

Speaking of bitterness, you have probably already seen one of my earlier pictures of the first souvenir of the trip : a guampa (hollowed out gourd), the accompanying bombilla (metal straw) and bag of Rosa Monte yerba mate. These were all needed to prepare the traditional infusion of yerba mate, which you will see on just about any street here in Argentina and was initially described by Molly as smelling like “minty green tea”. It is a drink and a social outing all in one, but do not expect to get the experience in any store or coffee shop. This is a personal experience shared with friends & family unless you have your own guampa, which I now do.

My guampa and me (Photo by Jack Zalium)

The process is a little different than your run-of-the-mill tea preparation. Instead of creating a device to hold the leaves and yanking that out of the water when done, the traditional yerba mate infusion is done in reverse with the straw being the strainer itself. Since my gourd (some of which are made of wood, metal, stone and now even synthetic) is made out of a plant, it needed to be cured to remove any odd tastes. This was accomplished by filling the gourd with yerba mate and cold water, with the material being sufficiently moist and leaving it for two days. The gourd would be emptied and scrubbed. This process would be repeated twice more. I was happy with the results after day four.

Argentinian Preparation

There are variations on the actual preparation (just like any beverage), but I used this site for reference. Stick the bombilla inside the gourd and fill it approximately 3/4 full with yerba mate and then add some water (either cold or lukewarm & never boiling), to moisten the leaves. Wait for the water to be absorbed and then add more water, incrementally increasing the temperature (to a max of 70 degrees Celsius, or ~158 degrees Fahrenheit). Once filled, then start drinking immediately. If one waits too long or the temperature gets too high, the water will infuse with too much yerba mate and it will taste quite bitter. My first attempt, I believe I either used too much material, had the temperature too high or infused the material for too long. It was quite, quite bitter. My second attempt was to give Molly a taste several days later and sadly resulted in much of the same.

I had given up on yerba mate, when I remembered that the housekeeper/cleaning lady/cook here, Roxana, drank yerba mate regularly. Using Google translate, I proceeded to ask her for her assistance in this endeavor. Strangely enough, my procedure was generally correct, except she used boiling water. She also revealed the great rectifier… that some people add sugar and that you can basically go back and add more water and re-infuse almost indefinitely. Armed with that information, I can say I have gone through 70% of the bag of yerba mate and have drank it consecutively for three days in a row.

Next stop Chile. See you soon, gourd- in-hand, somewhere in the Americas.

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