Learning About Argentine Culture

I just love learning about new cultures.  This go around, I’ll cover something the Wagoners experience learning about Argentine culture.

“Wait!  Aren’t the Wagoners traveling around Thailand?!  Shouldn’t you be talking about Thai culture?”Flag of Argentina

Those are excellent questions, and yes, we are traveling in Thailand.  Normally I would be talking about some piece of Thai culture that we’ve experienced, but on our recent train ride, we were given an opportunity, nay, a gift to experience something completely new, and it came out of left field.  I apologize to our non-U.S. readers for the baseball reference.

Let me provide some background.  The Wagoners were traveling from Bangkok to Chiang Mai via overnight train that was going to take 15 hours.  Yes…15 hours.  We didn’t book our train tickets far enough in advance, so we missed out on the sleeper car, and the air conditioning.  As we were getting settled on the train, there were three travelers, 2 brothers (Jonas and Tomas), and 1 female (Genoveva) who were speaking Spanish.  We started talking to them, and like so many travelers that we’ve met, they were awesome people.

Train Bangkok to Chiang Mai Jonas, Tomas and Genoveva - Argentine Culture and Mate

They talked to the kids in Spanish, and it turns out they are from Argentina.  They asked us many questions about our travel plans, and we did the same.  Once the train started moving, all of us were trying to focus on getting some sleep.  It’s a long journey, and I wasn’t optimistic about getting much in the way of quality sleep, but still, you gotta try, right?

The night went by a bit uncomfortably, and while it was better than I expected, sleep only came in 30-45 minute increments.  After a marathon snooze of two hours, it was morning, and people were starting to wake up.  They served us the breakfast we pre-ordered the night before, and it was a great way to get the day started.

Argentine Culture

Yerba Mate - Argentina Culture

We were a few hours away from Chiang Mai (we’re almost there!), and we are talking and laughing with our new Argentine friends, and Jonas asks us if we want to try a drink that is very common in Argentina.  It is called mate (mah-tay), and it’s like a tea.  Specifically, it’s an infusion of dried leaves of yerba mate.  I asked if it would make me crazy, and they laughed, and told me that it was basically tea.  Whew!

Train Bangkok to Chiang Mai Jonas and his Mate cup

Jonas breaks out a big package of the tea, and it looks like very coarse rough tea leaves.  And then he brought out this interesting serving cup.  It looked like it was a hollowed-out gourd, with a metal cage around it.  He poured the leaves in, and Tomas brought the hot water from the dining car.  Jonas poured the hot water in the cup, and I asked him if the mate needs to steep.  He said, “No,” and showed us the coolest little gadget (it’s common in Argentina) for drinking.  It’s called a bombilla, and it’s an elaborate metal straw that has a filter on one end, and is open on the other end.

Bombilla - Straw for MateHe used the bombilla, took a sip, and passed it to Tomas.  Tomas drank some, and the cup was filled with more hot water, and Genoveva took her turn.  I was then offered some, and it was a tad on the bitter side, but it tasted good.  Heidi tried it as well, and we went round-robin drinking the mate.  This is like coffee or tea in the U.S., and we could have been having a drink in Jonas’ apartment.  It felt like we were sharing a drink with old friends.  An unexpected experience, but very, very cool!

This is exactly the kind of thing I love experiencing.  It’s not momentus, but it provides us some insight into what the everyday Argentine people do in their home country.  Definitely the best memory for me on the train ride to Chiang Mai.

Our drinking and talking made the remainder of the trip really fly by.  Once we finally made it to Chiang Mai, we gathered up all of our belongings, made our way off the train, and said our goodbyes, but not before getting a great pic of all of us.  Genoveva has agreed to host us when the Wagoners make our way to Argentina (just kidding Genoveva!).  That’s a trip I’m looking forward to!

Hello Chiang Mai - Our friends from Argentina Genoveva Jonas and Tomas

This entry was posted in Experiences, Thailand and tagged , , , , , by Alan Wagoner. Bookmark the permalink.

About Alan Wagoner

Alan digs on technology and travel and is definitely the comic in the family. He's traveled all over the globe in search of cultural experiences. He has a fantastic wife and two great children that put up with his "humor", and luckily they all love travel as well. In Aug 2012, they sold their house and all of their possessions and moved to Spain to soak up the culture. He has written a book titled Live In Spain to help those wanting to obtain a Spanish Resident Visa. He also loves to write about the funnier side of the family's adventures.

8 thoughts on “Learning About Argentine Culture

  1. I was lucky enough to live in Argentina for a bit and the first time I had someone share mate with me so made my day. Who knew a simple gesture could mean so much. It let me know I was no longer the American girl visiting but a friend who is staying around for awhile since not everyone shares mate only if they feel comfortable or a good vibe. 🙂
    Can’t wait to hear more about your travels beyond Espana.

  2. Love your story!
    As argentinian living in Mexico, we are asked the same question when it comes to the mate 🙂
    For us is not just a drink, it’s social. It makes the family and friends get around and talk, sharing good and bad days while sipping the mate.

  3. Alan,

    That mate tea thing was hilarious. I once said the same thing with a tea brewed from magic mushrooms (Psychedelic drug) over in the villages of Indonesia.

    Yeah, kinda regret that one, haha.

    Hope all is well mate,


    • Yeah Ken. I was not interested in “wacky tea”. You don’t by any chance have video of your “tea” experience do you? I bet that would be interesting. 🙂

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