Leaving Uruguay was hard.
The night before we left, the sunset spilled warmly onto the river's horizon.
Children giggled as they slid down a hill on cardboard boxes.
The next day we woke up early to make the most of our day before our ferry back to Buenos Aires.
How can such old world charm still be alive and well today? I'm not sure, but I'm not complaining.
What I loved so much about Colonia wasn't one thing in particular. It wasn't the calm waters of the Rio, which surrounded the town with bejeweled splendor. It wasn't the winding roads flanked by worn, colorful facades. It wasn't the tasty food, the friendly stray dogs, the live music, or the smiling faces.
What captured me was the experience. When you're traveling somewhere far away, it's easy to get caught up in the rat race. You have limited time, and you have an agenda, a checklist. You want to see this, this, and this before time runs out. It's exhausting and it's stressful. Especially when you're somewhere you've never been before, and you're completely disoriented. You want to make the most out of everything, but somewhere in the rush of it all, you miss the aura.
I didn't feel that way in Colonia. Natascia and I didn't come here with an objective. We came with our backpacks in tow, ready to explore, ready to feel the town. And that's just what happened.
One experience in particular really embodied the feeling out of a place. And that was my first time drinking mate (mah - TAY).
Yerba mate, or mate for short, is a special tea traditionally drunk in Argentina, Uruguay, and other parts of South America. The tea was originally enjoyed by the indigenous Guarani' people. While there are many takes on mate, it's usually sipped through a bombilla, a silver straw with a filter at the bottom. The cup, which is also called a mate, is often shaped from wood (like above) or a hollowed out gourd.
Drinking mate is ceremonious. It's ritualistic. And there's absolutely no rush.
First, the bombilla gets placed diagonally in the cup, with the filter facing up. Then the yerba tea leaves are poured until about 3/4 of the cup is full. The rest of it gets filled with hot, but not boiling, water.
The tea is meant to be shared with others. One person sips the bombilla until all the water is gone, and that person pours more hot water for the next to enjoy.
Drinking it in public is common. Family and friends can often be seen walking down the street with a thermos of hot water and a mate cup. I've seen it shared on the train, at the beach, at restaurants, and even in libraries.
And after having it myself, I understand why.
The drink itself is bitter. It left me feeling warm, light, and relaxed. Really relaxed.
Nata and I sipped the mate seen above at a quaint little cafe called "Il Piu'." The place itself is tucked between other businesses, but we didn't sit inside. The owner of the cafe had set up tables in the middle of the quiet street. When a car passed through, he would leisurely move his sign to accommodate the vehicle. I was charmed by the simplicity of it all.
I describe mate to those who've never tried it like this: think about exercise. Most people don't really like it, but afterwards, they're happy they went out and pushed themselves.
That's mate. The bitterness leaves you feeling airy, more open.
After sharing with Nata for nearly an hour, I had to be pulled away from my seat. It was time to head home. I wasn't happy to go, but I felt grateful for it all.