We like Junín. We have been here about a week and had planned to leave in a couple of days, but have now extended our stay another week. Our hosts are Alicia and Natalio. Alicia has warm, Latin blood. We can’t make it through the gate to our cabaña without enthusiastic greetings complete with kisses on the cheek. Natalio took us on an excursion up in the mountains in his truck (king cab, very comfortable). Our cabaña is nice: living room, private bath, two bedrooms. Also, TV, microwave, bidet and a kit for making mate. Until recently, it lacked a coffee pot; I have now purchased a new drip filter. I had been cooking coffee cowboy (perhaps gaucho) style, but the grit got to me.
Patagonia is reminiscent of Colorado, except it’s warm in December and there are few people. Yesterday, we climbed a volcano, Volcán Lanín (3776 m.s.n.m.), in the national park. We did not climb it to the top. It is a technical climb requiring crampons, pick axes and an experienced guide. There is plenty of ice and snow. We climbed just short of the snow along a ridge known as Espina de Pescado. The volcanic rock was black, the snow white, and the sky intensely blue. The patches of shrubs were green. We climbed high enough to get an excellent view of the surrounding snow capped peaks.
The air is very dry here. During the afternoon, the sun is fierce; it is easy to get hot and burned. After dark, it cools off quickly. We use our down jackets for evening walks and turn on the gas heaters in our cabaña. Even during the afternoon, it is cool in the shade. It is early Spring here in the mountains.
To the west of Junín lies the Andes. Our hosts took us to Lago Huechulafquen. From Puerto Canoa (on the lake), we took a cruise around the lake to see lava flows and rock formations. The cruise was narrated by an enthusiastic docent speaking in Spanish and aide by lout speakers. When it started raining, his assistant used a squeege to clean the windows!
On maté. It was on this cruise that we first became acquainted with maté. The couple behind us were friendly. The woman was sipping a beverage. It appeared to be a type of metal straw inserted into a gourd or brown hand grenade. They asked if we liked maté. I had just stood up to buy some beverages and replied that I was going to find out. I went to the back counter and looked at the soft drinks and candy. I noticed the stove was going for hot drinks. I asked the man for two matés. The waiter was somewhat dumbfounded and replied he couldn’t do that. He called the Tour Guide who explained mostly in Spanish with some English that you can’t buy
maté; you can only be given maté. You can buy the gourds and other equipment, but not the drink itself. I said I understood and asked if I could buy a soft drink; he laughed.
When I returned to my seat, Dawn was sipping on a maté. She handed it to me. It was at once astringent and sweet. The straw was stainless steel and flat at the top. The herbs appeared stuffed into the gourd which was made of pottery. The man had a thermos of hot water to refill the gourd. As we disembarked, we noticed most parties had maté kits. Some were modest elongated plastic bags while others were ornately carved leather cases. After our excursion, our hosts invited us to ¿Toma maté? Again, a gourd stuffed with herbs was passed around. A thermos provided additional hot water. You slip slowly from a metal pipe. As I sipped, I kept wondering if the herbs contained something more than caffiene. Somehow, it reminded me of late night rituals in my college dormitory. At the grocery store, I now see there are more kilos of maté than coffee and there are all sorts of related paraphernalia.