Brazilian Yerba Mate Festival February 18 2015, 2 Comments
Click here to see PART 01 of this story.
A safety net of new friends in Porto Alegre was left behind when I traveled inland to the fertile farmlands of of Rio Grande Do Sul, Brazil's most southern state. With two months of language preparation completed, it was time to downscale my life to fit inside my 85 litre backpack again. In retrospect, I felt nervous and doubtful on the eve of the journey. "Will I even manage to find yerba mate farms? How would I reach them? What are the chances that I will make a good impression on total strangers?" Despite of all the uncertainties, I knew that there was only one way to find out whether I would achieve what I envisioned, and in the end I would be blessed beyond my most farfetched dreams.
The Eve of My Journey Into The World of Yerba Mate
The momentous opportunity to start the journey happened very suddenly on the eve of the annual 10-day National Festival of Chimarrão (maté in Portuguese) held in a small town known as the Brazilian Capital of Chimarrão, Venancio Aires. I scored a lift with Virginia, a local banker studying corporate English at VB ( the language school). I only had a few hours to pack my bag, clear my little room and bid my friends farewell, then it was just me on my own two feet with three months ahead of me to explore the world of yerba mate. Virginia picked me up outside VB where she had asked me to meet her that night. Some 200km later she dropped me off just outside the town at some accommodation facilities where I had to wake up the owners of the small holding for a place to sleep. My 2x1.5m room was cozy and there was a great view from the staircase leading up to the room of the sleeping hills in the distance illuminated by a full moon. The peace and quiet of the country side of that evening had won my trust and I slept soundly.
Treated Like a Guest of Honour
The following morning was a stark contrast to the quiet evening before: I entered the gates to the enormous fair and before I could even get my hands on a programme of events I found myself in a live radio interview. [Student from "África Do Sul" (South Africa) come to learn about the good herb"], they announced, before commencing a five minute interview with me. Everything from that point onward happened just as unexpectedly - an introduction to the town's mayor, gifts from Miss FENACHIM ( name of the festival), a private tour of the local museum and a full-page newspaper article about me. Just when I thought that my glass of blessings was full, it flowed over: of a couple on the organising committee, Rosa and José took a liking to me, and I to them. They offered me a luxurious room in their splendid house for as long as I needed. The kindness shown to me in Venancio Aires would be repeated time and time again over the entire three months to come.
Price Boom of the Decade
With a feeling of having the red carpet rolled out for me, all I had to do from that point onward was to make the best of the opportunities offered to me. Among my most memorable encounters was with an agri-economist who studied the yerba mate supply chain all his life. Mr Fin taught me that there were eight sectors in the yerba mate supply chain, starting with the botanist who sells the little seedling to the farmer, who then in turn plants and maintains it. Next, the farmer contracts harvesters in the season and sells the raw material to factories where the leaves should get processed on the same day as harvest. Lastly the dried leaves are sold to a yerba mate miller who grinds the leaves to the desired coarseness before the yerba finally gets packaged and distributed. He explained that there was a major spike (60%) in the yerba mate price over the previous two years caused by masses of yerba mate farmers exiting the market simultaneously, attracted by crops which seemed more lucrative at the time such as tobacco and soybeans. Of course, the farmers that remained loyal to the yerba mate market were well rewarded by the price increase. By total coincidence, it was most fantastic to realise that I happened to find myself in the yerba mate farming capital of Brazil during the first yerba mate price boom since 1998.
My next destination was Montevideo, Uruguay, 1000km to the South-West to attend the 6th quadrennial South American Yerba Mate Seminar.
Um agradecimento enorme a Rosa e José, A Escola do Chimarrão, Folha do Mate, Lucio, Flavio Seibt, Airton Artus e a prefeitura municipal de Venancio Aires