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2nd Big Surprise at Iguazu Falls

In my last post I shared some experiences from my recent honeymoon and talked about one of two reasons why I really loved Iguazu Falls, Argentina. First, the breathtaking waterfalls. Thought you might like to see another video that shows me venturing right up to the edge of one section of falls. I couldn’t help but feel energized by the thunderous power of the falls.

Anyways, the second reason I had such a great time in Iguazu Falls is because I learned about something almost completely new to me. I say almost because I had heard of it before but didn’t really know anything about it. Having been on this earth for some 38 years and having traveled to many different places, I sometimes get lulled into the false perception that I’ve seen and done most everything out there. I know this is an oversimplified, and somewhat arrogant viewpoint – especially because I still have a really long bucket list. All this is to say that I get excited like a little kid when I discover something new to me.

Actually before I get to the BIG new thing I discovered in Iguazu Falls, I want to share a little new thing I discovered there. We had just arrived to the Iguazu Falls national park and were starting down one of the trails when we saw them… a family of them. I’d never seen anything like these creatures before – not even on National Geographic. They looked like the result of a possum and a raccoon getting together. Here was our first experience with them:

Ok, so that was really cool. How often do you go for a hike and find a new species? A new species to me at least. But what I really wanted to tell you about was my discovery a few hours earlier that same day. Kayla and I were waiting in our hotel lobby to be picked up for a morning tour. While we were sitting there, I saw the woman working at the front desk sip from an enormous metal straw-looking device. This straw was set inside of an oddly-shaped cup. And inside the cup was a heaping pile of what looked like green pipe tobacco from a distance. As if all of that wasn’t strange enough she then passed the cup to her manager who also took a sip from the giant straw. Then he passed back to her and she had some, and so on.

I’m no germophobe, and I don’t have a problem letting someone taste my drink (or vice versa). But its usually a one-time sip and that’s it. I don’t normally share an entire drink with someone. Nor do I see other people doing that very often. As a person with an intensely curious personality, I absolutely HAD to find out what all this was about. And that’s when I first began to learn about Yerba Mate. I had heard of it before, but never really understood it. So over the next several hours I asked every local I could (and those who spoke English) what they knew about Yerba Mate. Here’s the basics:

It shares some similarities and properties to green tea – but actually comes from a completely separate plant (actually a tree). The trees only grow in certain parts of the world – this region of Argentina being one of them. The leaves are harvested, and dried similar to green tea. But the ritual of consuming the brew is pretty different. The cup is called “mate” (pronounced mah-tay) and traditionally was made from a dried out gourd. Nowadays you can still get the traditional gourd, but they are made out of more modern materials as well. Though you’ll see that they will still typically have the characteristic curvy appearance of their gourd ancestors.

The mate is filled about 3/4 of the way up with the yerba mate leaves, and hot water is added on top to create a brew. The ‘tea’ is consumed through a “bombillo” – a large straw with a filter at the end of it to prevent the leaves from being sucked up. People will traditionally carry a separate thermos full of hot water with them so they can continue to add hot water to the mate all day long. It creates a sort of never-ending cup of mate. And here’s the coolest part – its very much a social drink. People pass it back and forth at work (as I saw) amongst friends or family members, etc. After I discovered this – I noticed many locals carrying their yerba mate gear around with them, and most of them sharing it with the people they were with. Here’s a woman I saw at Iguazu Falls who had all the necessities with her.

I had the opportunity to try it several times and while its flavor is similar to green tea it has a very strong aftertaste. The locals love it, but I found that it wasn’t my cup of tea (pun definitely intended). I also tried it in my morning smoothies and didn’t much care for it there either. But still I was very excited to have made such a cool discovery. I love learning about new things and making little discoveries. It makes me feel like a kid again.

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