Along the Paraná

Vacation Homes Along the Delta of the Paraná

I was talking to my friend Bill Korn a few minutes ago. When he happened to mention that there were massive fires in the delta of the Paraná River, I was shocked. I was familiar with the Paraná Delta, having taken a boat tour of the area in 2006 and 2015. I pulled up an article The Guardian, which described parts of the delta upriver from Tigre, around the city of Rosario: The area with which I was familiar was where the river feeds into the Rio de la Plata. It is an a weekend getaway for the residents of Buenos Aires that is densely vegetated, very pretty, but full of mosquitoes.

The Drainage Area of the River Paraná

The Paraná is the second longest river in South America. Its drainage area includes Argentina, all of Paraguay, and parts of Brazil and Bolivia. As you can see from the above map, Rosario is not far from Rosario, a city I went through on a night bus on the way to Puerto Iguazu, where the boundaries of Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina meet, The river is some 3,030 miles (4,800 km) long and is navigable for much of its length with several deep water ports along its length. In Puerto Iguazu, I dined on surubi, a fresh water fish caught on the river.

View from a Boat Ride on the Delta

I have been to Argentina three times and fallen in love with the country. I hope that, what with Argentina mired in the coronavirus, they manage to save some of the beautiful places I have seen. It is along the river that much of Argentina’s Yerba Mate crop is grown. I remember from that bus ride passing through almost a hundred miles of fields where the tea leaves are grown.


The Only Way to Survive in the Jungle

Having a Beer in Puerto Iguazu

Having a Beer in Puerto Iguazu

When I went to Iguazu Falls last month, it was the first time I had ever been in what I call a “monkey jungle.” There isn’t much jungle in Argentina, but the northeasterly states of Corrientes and Misiones readily qualify. Many of the trees have been cleared to make room for the Yerba Mate crop, of which most is consumed within Argentina itself (and sometimes in the United States by strange people like me).

Although I had Yerba Mate even for breakfast in the jungle—in the form of teabags, usually referred to as mate cocido—the drink which kept me going during the day was ice cold beer. In the above picture, I am enjoying a Quilmes, which is as popular down there as the various Anheuser-Busch productoids are here. You can see the edge of the pool at the Posada la Sorgente on Avenida Córdoba in Puerto Iguazu. In the late afternoon, I enjoyed having a cool one by the outdoor bar while reading my Kindle.

My overwhelming impression of the selva was that it was hot and humid, especially as it was getting ready to unleash a Biblical thunderstorm on the evening of the day the above picture was taken.

Bananas on the Bar at Posada la Sórgente

Bananas on the Bar at Posada la Sorgente

Here is another view of the bar, which had a handy basket of home-grown bananas at its edge.

I don’t know if I will ever find myself in the jungle again. For the Iguazu Falls, though, it was worth it. My greatest fear going there was the possibility of getting bitten by disease-carrying mosquitoes. Not too far north, in Brazil, the Zika fever (carried by the same Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that carry malaria, dengue, and chikungunya) is so prevalent that residents of the State of Pernambuco and surrounding areas are being urged to avoid getting pregnant. The danger? The children are in danger of being born with microcephaly.

Fortunately, not only was I not bitten: I did not even see any mosquitoes.

Ilex paraguariensis

Traditional Yerba Mate Tea Popular in South America

Traditional Yerba Mate Tea Popular in South America

When cooler weather returns to Southern California, in about twenty years or so, I will resume my habit of drinking yerba mate tea. In the meantime, I will enjoy Robert Southey’s poem “Introductory to South America Yerba Mate.” I was pleasantly surprised to see a 19th century British poet conversant with the Ilex paraguariensis, or yerba mate.

Introductory to South America
Yerba Mate
Robert Southey (1774–1843)

(From A Tale of Paraguay)

AMID those marshy woodlands far and wide
Which spread beyond the soaring vulture’s eye,
There grew on Empalado’s southern side
Groves of that tree whose leaves adust supply     [scorched
The Spaniards with their daily luxury;
A beverage whose salubrious use obtains
Through many a land of mines and slavery,
Even over all La Plata’s sea-like plains,
And Chili’s mountain realm, and proud Peru’s domains.

But better for the injured Indian race
Had woods of manchineel the land o’erspread:
Yea, in that tree so blest by Nature’s grace
A direr curse had they inherited,
Than if the Upas there had reared its head
And sent its baleful scions all around,
Blasting where’er its effluent force was shed,
In air and water, and the infected ground,
All things wherein the breath or sap of life is found.

The poor Guaranies dreamt of no such ill,    [Paraguayan natives
When for themselves in miserable hour,
The virtues of that leaf, with pure good-will,
They taught their unsuspected visitor,
New in the land as yet. They learnt his power
Too soon, which law nor conscience could restrain,
A fearless but inhuman conqueror,
Heart-hardened by the accursed lust of gain,
O fatal thirst of gold! O foul reproach for Spain!

For gold and silver had the Spaniards sought,
Exploring Paraguay with desperate pains,
Their way through forests axe in hand they wrought;
Drenched from above by unremitting rains
They waded over inundated plains,
Forward by hope of plunder still allured;
So they might one day count their golden gains,
They cared not at what cost of sin procured,
All dangers they defied, all sufferings they endured.

Barren alike of glory and of gold
That region proved to them; nor would the soil
Unto their unindustrious hands unfold
Harvests, the fruit of peace,—and wine and oil,
The treasures that repay contented toil
With health and weal; treasures that with them bring
No guilt for priest and penance to assoil,
Nor with their venom arm the awakened sting
Of conscience at that hour when life is vanishing.

But keen of eye in their pursuit of gain
The conquerors looked for lucre in this tree:
An annual harvest there might they attain,
Without the cost of annual industry.
’T was but to gather in what there grew free
And share Potosi’s wealth. Nor thence alone.
But gold in glad exchange they soon should see
From all that once the Incas called their own,
Or where the Zippa’s power or Zaque’s laws were known.

For this, in fact though not in name a slave,
The Indian from his family was torn;
And droves on droves were sent to find a grave
In woods and swamps, by toil severe outworn,
No friend at hand to succor or to mourn,
In death unpitied, as in life unblest.
O miserable race, to slavery born!
Yet when we look beyond this world’s unrest,
More miserable then the oppressors than the opprest.

Yerba Mate

Mate and Bombilla

Mate and Bombilla

This has been an unusually cold winter for Southern California, so I have been drinking more hot tea for my own comfort. In the mornings, I drink only Indian black teas, such as Darjeeling, Ceylon, and Assam—but at night, I have switched over to yerba mate (in Argentinian Spanish, pronounced SHARE-pah mah-TAY).

This is a direct result of my two trips to Argentina, where drinking yerba mate is an obsession. In fact, throughout both Argentina and Uruguay, people travel with the “fixings” for a serving of the tea, which they share with friends and fellow travelers. These fixings consist of the dry tea itself, a thermos filled with hot water, a mate gourd (mine, shown above, was purchased in Colonia Sacramento, Uruguay), and a bombilla, or metal straw, for sucking in the tea without getting a mouthful of the leaves. Shown below is a vending machine at the Buenos Aires Zoo for refilling thermoses:

Vending Machine at the Buenos Aires Zoo for Refilling Thermos Bottles

Vending Machine at the Buenos Aires Zoo for Refilling Thermos Bottles

Many people do not like the taste of yerba mate. Martine, for example, has tasted it but doesn’t care for it. I liked it from the start. Every day while in South America, I had a version of it called mate cocido at breakfast time: This is nothing more than yerba mate in tea bags.

At night, I switch between mate cocido and the loose yerba mate served in my Uruguayan gourd.

There are many health claims made for yerba mate, but I drink it because I like the flavor and because it makes me feel good, especially on a cold night.

In case you’re wondering about the specks on my mate gourd in the photo above, they are nothing more than small bits of yerba mate that bubble over when I fill the mate gourd with hot (but not boiling) water. They dry almost instantly and are most visible on the metal rim of the gourd.