The Year in Mate

It’s been another fulfilling year and I’m celebrating by looking back at my favorite moments with mate during various adventures around North and South America. Get your mate ready and read on to join me on the journey. (And if you’re really into maps, check out the Year in Mate Virtual Tour I created on the Google Earth Tour Builder. It’s pretty neat…)

mate in Colonia, Uruguay

Colonia, Uruguay

This particular mate event happened at the tail end of 2012, but I want to include Uruguay in this year’s roundup. Mostly because I am inspired by the words and actions of José “Pepe” Mujica, the president of Uruguay. It is also worth noting that mate is taken very seriously in this tiny little country. It is a common sight to see Uruguayos riding on their scooters with a thermos slung over their shoulder and a mate in one hand.

On this particular day in Colonia I’m getting a new passport stamp to renew my 90-day tourist visa in Argentina. There is absolutely nothing to do in Colonia except watch the Río de la Plata and drink mate. I find myself a good spot in the sand and get to it, reading a chapter of Walden for good measure and scribbling furiously in the margins.

Walden by Thoreau

I’m not sure I can say that Thoreau alone inspired the events that follow in 2013, but he gets a major assist.

When we are unhurried and wise, we perceive that only great and worthy things have any permanent and absolute existence, – that petty fears and petty pleasures are but the shadow of reality.

-Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Sin Raices documentary

Buenos Aires, Argentina

This is the Mate Corazón office (i.e. my kitchen table) in Buenos Aires. Today I am starting to review footage from the first interview for the Sin Raices project. What you see on the screen is the first interview I shot with Mate Corazón’s new camera equipment. The day of the shoot was a heavy hot summer day, so I was sweating while pedaling my bike to Maria Antonia’s house. The whole thing felt suspiciously like shooting Tracking Patagonia and I wondered just why I was plunging back into voluntary insanity yet again.

(If any of you are documentary filmmakers I’m sure you know exactly what I mean.)

The interview with Maria Antonia is outstanding and she shares stories about growing up in Venezuela, living in New York City, and feeling like an outsider in her home country of Argentina. My latest idea is to expand the Sin Raices project to include a video blog, a written book that includes photos, memoirs, and interview transcripts, and a possible performance combining spoken word, video, and music elements. (I’d love to hear your feedback on this idea and you can drop me a note here.)

Mirrors should reflect before sending an image.

-Jean-Luc Godard

Diamond Sangha in Argentina

Capilla del Monte, Argentina

Now we’re in the midst of a grand event taking place in the small town of Capilla del Monte, located in the Cordoba province of Argentina. Here several Zen teachers from the Diamond Sangha have gathered for their teachers’ circle meeting; at the same time, we members of the Viento del Sur Sangha have gathered for an intensive training. I had offered to bring my camera to help document this momentous event: it is the first time to our knowledge that so many Zen Buddhist teachers have gathered in Argentina.

As the events unfold before me, I realize I am in that dangerous and exciting place of falling in love with the subject matter, and the documentary project Viento del Sur is born. I spend the week navigating between the roles of participant and observer, similar to the peculiar dance we do when we practice zazen, or when we live our lives for that matter. In the above photo I am filming a mate workshop, in which sangha member and mate aficionado Santiago Candusso teaches the Zen teachers how to properly prepare a mate. Specifically, they are learning how to shake out the polvo and position the yerba at a 45% angle.

At first, as a beginner, you will be conscious of each step in the procedure, but eventually you will become the procedure itself. The practice will do the practice.

– Robert Aitken, The Morning Star

mate in Bariloche

Bariloche, Argentina

I hop on a flight south to Bariloche after the happenings in Cordoba. I am completely exhausted from seven days of intense filming and Zen practice. On this blustery, rain-spitting day I’m admiring the trees along a a hiking path by Cerro Llao Llao, when I run into a peculiar man from Massachusetts racing anxiously down the path with his head bent into the wind.

cerro llao llao

Adam is a professional cyclist it turns out, and he is in Bariloche guiding a cycle tour. For the next two hours he barely stops for a breath of air while he tells me about cycling, the origins of the universe, how to purify water, and Masonic conspiracy theory. He must somehow sense my freakish ability to listen in attentive silence for long periods of time. Rain is pouring down  in sheets by the time we walk back out to the road and he continues to talk, not missing a beat, while I fumble in my backpack for my rain pants.

Adam and I say our farewells and he walks up the hill to the mighty resort hotel where his clients are staying. I slump against the wall of the little wooden shelter at the bus station, pour the last drop of hot water into my mate, and watch the rain fall outside.

conocer una vida / no es bastante / ni conocer todas las vidas / es necesario, / verás, / hay que desentrañar, / rascar a fondo / y como en una tela / las líneas ocultaron, / con el color, la trama / del tejido, / yo borro los colores / y busco hasta encontrar / el tejido profundo, / y así tambíen encuentro / la unidad de los hombres

-Pablo Neruda, Oda al Hombre Sencillo

Daniel Terragno

La Unión, Chile

A lovely farmhouse deep in the green, rolling country of Chile’s lakes region, in a town called La Unión. The interview I shoot here, with my Zen teacher Daniel Terragno, is one of my favorites. Against the backdrop of dairy cows and the call of the Bandurrias (Black-faced Ibis), Daniel talks about his path, practice, becoming a teacher, and sharing the abundance of the Dharma. The rain is falling in a light mist as we finish up, and Daniel reads a favorite poem by Cape Cod poet Mary Oliver:

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

mate in Cerro Castillo

Cerro Castillo, Chile

The rocky spires of Cerro Castillo have been commanding a significant space in my mind and heart since we filmed Tracking Patagonia here back in 2007. It was then that I learned of a multi-day backpacking route that climbs to the base of the cerro itself, featuring glaciers, rivers, steep scree fields, and a hearty population of my good friends lenga trees (the Mate Corazón logo is a lenga).

At 3pm I am just passing the ranger station and it starts to pour. I stop to sit under my tarp and sip mate, hoping the rain might stop. The lengas huddle around me, providing shelter and emotional support while the rain pitter-patters into the soft ground. By 4pm I am in the tent, staring at the ceiling, and by 5 pm I realize the tent has a leak. At this point I am having serious doubts about my ability to select fun “vacation” activities.

José, the ranger on duty, tells me not to continue over the ridge if there is low visibility in the morning. I crawl out of the tent and walk down to the river in the morning to take a look.

Cerro Castillo trek

Thin clouds, but they appear to be lifting. I’ll walk as far as the base of the climb and see what happens.

The clouds lift just enough and soon I am descending over the other side of the ridge in a massive lunar landscape of rock and ice. At the end of the day, I set up camp in an alpine valley that has to be the most beautiful place in the universe. I later learn that this spot is known as “la tetera,” so named for a tea kettle left there for those in the know to prepare their mate in the wise company of the mountains.

la tetera

Alone at la tetera, watching the alpenglow light up the peaks, I become so lost in the view that I spill my boiling pot of spaghetti water and burn my foot. (Note to self: life never becomes so transcendent that you have permission to ignore what you are doing.)

It is my fear that if we allow the freedom of the hills and the last of the wilderness to be taken from us, then the very idea of freedom may die with it.

-Edward Abbey

mate Canoa Ecuador

Canoa, Ecuador

Some moments in Canoa are sublime. Early each morning I paddle out into the grey horizon, the sea and sky blending together into a vast eternity that makes me feel as if I have disappeared forever. At this time of day I am alone with the local fishermen, pushing their boats bravely into the surf and motoring off into the open sea. The beach at Canoa is long, wide, wild, lonely, and spectacular, and the gaviotas carve hypnotic lazy spirals in the sky that make the whole place feel magical.

Canoa, Ecuador

In other moments I navigate the poverty and alcoholism surrounding me and ride my own waves of anger when I brush up against local machismo. It is the machismo, or the general attitude towards women, that eventually drives me back north. I leave abruptly, and the sensation of wading out into Canoa’s lonely waves stays with me as a reminder that while some battles are lifelong, others are best left behind.

And the earth became, for the only time in its history,
The place of her shadow, and the possibilities
Lying far away between the stars were suddenly
The unwitnessed boundaries of her heart…

-Pattiann Rogers, Transformation


the Wall, NH

Hampton, New Hampshire

And so I find myself back in New England on a crisp October day, plunging into the whitewater of the cold Atlantic. Cold water has a sparkling property that warm water does not. So when the sun breaks through, it lights the whitewater and creates a dazzling, otherworldly glow. It is one of the most beautiful things in the world, and worth the price of admission alone.

I feel clumsy and strange in a 5 millimeter wetsuit after surfing the warm waves of Ecuador. I get caught on the inside during a big set and the blows of freezing foam toss me around relentlessly.  Looking at the birds heading south in their regal formations, I wonder if I am the only strange species who has ever migrated north for the winter.

The bus roared on. I was going home in October. Everybody goes home in October.

-Jack Kerouac, On the Road

bird migration new hampshire

And so we mark the end of another year of migration, documentation, observation, and participation– all a part of that peculiar dance of living. I am grateful for each project, adventure, and sip of mate I’ve enjoyed along the way. Thanks to all of you for reading, sharing, and supporting this experiment called “Mate Corazón.”

I thought often and seriously of picking huckleberries; that surely I could do, and its small profits might suffice, – for my greatest skill has been to want but little…

-Henry David Thoreau

I leave you with this final thought from Lawrence Pearsall Jacks, a prolific writer, Unitarian minister, and outspoken critic of the “mechanical mind”:

A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play; his labor and his leisure; his mind and his body; his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing, and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing. To himself, he always appears to be doing both.


May the following years bring you happiness in your work and play, wonder in your adventures, and peace in your heart.



  1. Jessica Weiss says:

    And I’m tomando mate as I read this. Wow, my love – so inspiring, connected and beautiful. I miss you so much, Sarah. I love and adore your heart and am so proud of you. See you soon for some mate in BsAs!!! xoxo

  2. Wow what a year! Cheers to more travels and great projects in 2014!

Speak Your Mind