C H A P T E R I I
Montevideo – Beggars – Antonina for maté – Antonina to Buenos Aires – The bombelia
MONTEVIDEO, sister city to Buenos Aires, is the fairer of the two to look upon from the sea, having a loftier situation, and, like Buenos Aires, boasts of many fine mansions, comely women, liberal schools, and a cemetery of great splendour.
It is at Montevideo that the "beggar a-horse-back" becomes a verity (horses are cheap); galloping up to you the whining beggar will implore you, saying: "For the love of Christ, friend, give me a coin to buy bread with.
From "the Mont" we went to Antonina, in Brazil, for a cargo of maté, a sort of tea, which, prepared as a drink, is wholesome and refreshing. It is partaken of by the natives in a highly sociable manner, through a tube which is thrust into the steaming beverage in a silver urn or a calabash, whichever may happen to be at hand when "draughty neebors neebors meet"; then all sip and sip irt bliss from the same tube, which is passed from mouth to mouth. No matter how many mouths there may be, the bombelia, as it is called, must reach them all. It may have to be replenished to make the drink go around, and several times, too, when the company is large. This is done with but little loss of time. By thrusting into the urn or gourd a spoonful of the herb, and two spoonfuls of sugar to a pint of water, which is poured, boiling, over it, the drink is made. But to give it some fancied extra flavour, a live coal (carbo vegetable) is plunged into the potion to the bottom. Then it is again passed around, beginning where it left off. Happy is he, if a stranger, who gets the first sip at the tube, but the initiated have no prejudices. While in that country I frequently joined in the social rounds at maté, and finally rejoiced in a bombelia of my own.
The people at Antonina (in fact all the people we saw in Brazil) were kind, extremely hospitable, and polite; living in thrift generally, their wants were but few beyond their resources. The mountain scenery, viewed from the harbour of Antonina, is something to gloat over; I have seen no place in the world more truly grand and pleasing. The climate, too, is perfect and healthy. The only doctor of the place, when we were there, wore a coat out at the elbows, for lack of patronage. A desirable port is Antonina.
We had musical entertainments on board, at this place. To see the display of beautiful white teeth by these Brazilian sweet singers was good to the soul of a sea-tossed mariner. One nymph sang for the writer's benefit a song at which they all laughed very much. Being in native dialect, I did not understand it, but of course laughed with the rest, at which they were convulsed; from this, I supposed it to be at my expense. I enjoyed that, too, as much, or more, than I would have relished areytos in my favour.
With maté we came to Buenos Aires, where the process of discharging the cargo was the same as at Montevideo – into lighters. But at Buenos Aires, we lay four times the distance from the shore, about four miles.
The herb, or herva maté, is packed into barrels, boxes, and into bullock-hide sacks, which are sewed up with stout hide thongs. The contents, pressed in tightly when the hide is green and elastic, becotnes as hard as a cannon-ball by the contraction which follows when it dries. The first load of the soroes, so-called, that came off to the bark at the port of loading, was espied on the way by little Garfield. Piled in the boat, high above the gunwales, the hairy side out, they did look odd. "Oh, papa," said he, "here comes a load of cows ! Stand by, all hands, and take them in."