If you haven’t yet done it, visit Tigre. All riverside cafés, rowing boats and the smell of asados mixed with river air and hot popcorn. Although in my case, an overwhelming smell of mosquito milk; given that I’d decided to travel up the Delta with dengue in the headlines. Lots of water, in Tigre. Good mozzy breeding ground. But I was on a mission. I was in search of the mate museum, the only one in the world. And I like mate, a lot.
Located about ten minutes from the station, the museum is more of an open house than anything hugely grandiose. But it’s very pretty, and the guides are very amicable. We started with a short video on the production of mate, which was in Spanish but with interesting English subtitles. The terms “general psychophysical welfare” and “iencouraging and fastering” were among some of the phrases that brought a smile. My mother, accompanying me on my mate mission, was also convinced that there was some sort of subliminal message from the video. (“Did you not hear nice flavour being repeated at odd intervals?”)
After the film, which was a step-by-step guide to the production of mate, we were shown around. The whole place consists of five rooms, with varying yet overlapping displays. There are glass cases exhibiting a wonderful array of yerba brands, most of which are now defunct. Some of the titles are great though; Gold Dust and Noble Cowboy were along my favourites. You can see an ancient thermos, the smallest gourds in the world, crystal bombillas, old packages of mate in barrels. (If none of these words mean a thing to you, then you have a good reason to go along and find out.)
In one of the rooms, a selection of bizarre instruments hang on the wall. Our guide described how these were also made from gourd; it’s not just for drinking mate from. In the same room, underneath a magnifying glass, we looked at miniscule gourds and bombillas which were really rather charming, but not very useful. Unless you get your pet mouse into a mate habit.
The walls are plastered in traditional mate advertisements, which I found particularly endearing. In fact, the place is full of dated trinkets and gourds galore, from the ubiquitous goat-hoof seen in every market in San Telmo to beautiful crystal ones, used only by “high society”.
You also get the chance to sample a typical mate, sweetened or not (the ‘not’ hosts a bitterness rather like a cross between green tea and coffee; many people love it, but for the inexperienced it can be a little overwhelming.) This takes place under a straw-roof in a lovely little garden sitting behind the museum.
Given the national love for the infamous herb concoction, it seems a missed opportunity not to explore its history. This charming little museum is interesting and tells you everything you ever wanted to know about mate. However, the place is small. If you are in Tigre for the day, and mate is your cup of – well – mate, I would recommend popping in. I don’t know if I would make the trip just to see the museum; but as I’ve mentioned; Tigre’s nice. Even if you’re not au fait with the drink, it’s nice to learn a bit about it. For the die-hard mate fans, the mate museum is a must.