Call it a national obsession. Everyone (and I mean everyone) around here sips maté, a traditional caffeine-rich drink. It’s the national drink of Argentina.
The obsession makes Americans’ fascination with Starbucks look like a passing fancy. Argentinians sip maté from sunup to sundown. They may even wake up in the middle of the night to take a hit or two. Many of them carry maté kits — elaborately decorated leather pouches with thermoses full of hot water — everywhere they go.
Every couple minutes they stop to pour a little water into a gourdful of dried, chopped, and ground Yerba maté leaves, let it steep for a few seconds, then sip the mixture through a long, silver straw.
That’s where it gets odd by American standards. It’s quite common, expected even, for an Argentinian to then hand the gourd to a friend or stranger or whoever happens to be sitting nearby so that person can take a sip from the same straw.
Seems a bit unsanitary, but I guess it’s no different than passing a joint around a circle of friends, acquaintances and complete strangers. (I, of course, have only read about such behavior. Bill Clinton and I are probably the only people alive who have never actually figured out how to smoke weed.)
Leave it to Jamie to find the most handsome man in Ushuaia to explain the custom and share his maté with her.