On a late winter's afternoon, determined to fight the inertia brought on by the dreary weather, we pile into the car and head out to partake in Argentina's national pastime: drinking mate.
Down by the port in Quequén sits a squat little trailer painted robin's egg blue. It's one of those places that quietly says nothing at all. The owner, a petite, unassuming woman, serves customers in a cramped space no more than a few feet wide. At her back hang three shelves lined with neatly-arranged bags of yerba mate.
Although the faded chalkboard sign touts donuts, fried puff pastry filled with quince paste, and breaded, fried beef cutlets, we will not be distracted from our objective—churros. At this particular moment, there are no other customers at the stand, unless you count the dirty, black mutt waiting behind my mother-in-law Hilda.
Hilda returns with a mix of plain and dulce de leche-stuffed churros to accompany the mate. The aroma of freshly fried dough wafts up from the bag, filling the car.
We continue on to the Escollera Norte, the shorter of a pair of jetties signaling the entrance to the port. My father-in-law Tomás parks the car, angling the vehicle just so on the narrow jetty. In his easy manner, he jokes about us all going for a swim should he pull a bit too close to the edge.
There's a brief silence as we stop to take in the vast expanse of gray ocean before us. Six ships lie in the distance, mere specks on the horizon, each awaiting its turn to enter the port. The battered old dredge boat chugs past, performing its never-ending duty of removing sand and sediment from the mouth of the port.
Hilda prepares the mate slowly, methodically, just as she's done it thousands of times. Meanwhile, I can barely contain my urge to eat one of the churros. The mate begins to make its way around the circle, and the warmth of our conversation and laughter cuts through the dampness and chill in the air. Admittedly, I still haven't learned to appreciate the flavor of mate, especially when served amargo (without sugar) as it's offered today, but I no longer care about the taste. It's about sharing a moment together with my family.
A hardy-looking fellow appears alongside us on the jetty—fishing tackle in hand—hoping for a bite despite the unpleasant weather. He doesn't last long.
Fortified by the churros and a few rounds of mate, Tomás steps out of the car, daring to brave the elements for a few moments. I follow, camera in hand.
We both peer down over the edge of the jetty to observe the water, agitated and frothy, where it meets the enormous rocks below. I giggle as a trio of sea lions bobs up from the depths, and we find ourselves entertained by their antics for some minutes before they head out to sea.
A strange yet familiar haze hangs in the air today. Even when the sun manages to break free from the clouds, its brilliance is veiled, blotted out by the latest plume of volcanic ash belched forth by the Puyehue Volcano in Chile.
The cold breeze off the ocean whips my hair across my face and the camera lens, turning my quest for a few shots into something of a challenge. I finally admit total defeat when, a few minutes later, the camera battery unceremoniously dies. I happily beat a hasty retreat to the car for more chitchat, laughs, and of course, another round of mate.
What did you do this weekend?