CHAPTER III. THE CRIOLLO VILLAGE.
Bound each dwelling is a ramada, where grapes in their season hang in luxuriant clusters; and each has its own garden, where palms, peaches, figs, oranges, limes, sweet potatoes, tobacco, nuts, garlic, etc., grow luxuriantly. The garden is surrounded by a hedge of cacti or other kindred plants. The prickly pear tree of that family is one of the strangest I have seen. On the leaves, which are an inch or more in thickness, grows the fruit, and I have counted as many as thirteen pears growing on a single leaf. When ripe they are a deep red color, and very sweet to the taste. The skin is thick, and covered with innumerable minute prickles. It is, I believe, a most refreshing and healthful food.
Meat is very cheap. A fine leg of mutton may be bought for the equivalent of twelve cents, and good beef at four cents a pound. Their favorite wine, Lagrimas de San Juan (Tears of Holy John), can be bought for ten cents a quart.
All cooking is done on braziers - a species of three-legged iron bucket in which the charcoal fire is kindled. On this the little kettle, filled from the well in the patio, is boiled for the inevitable mate. About this herb I picked up, from various sources, some interesting information. The mate plant grows chiefly In Paraguay, and is sent down the river in bags made of hides. From the village of Tacurti Pucu in that country comes a strange account of the origin of the yerba mate plant, which runs thus: "God, accompanied by St. John and St. Peter, came down to the earth and commenced to journey. One day, after most difficult travel, they arrived at the house of an old man, father to a virgin young and beautiful. The old man cared so much for this girl, and was so anxious to keep her ever pure and innocent, that they had gone to live in the depths of a forest. The man was very, very poor, but willingly gave his heavenly visitors the best he could, killing in their honor the only hen he possessed, which served for supper. Noting this action, God asked St. Peter and St. John, when they were alone, what they would do if they were Him. They both answered Him that they would largely reward such an unselfish host. Bringing him to their presence, God addressed him in these words: 'Thou who art poor hast been generous, and I will reward thee for it. Thou hast a daughter who is pure and innocent, and whom thou greatly lovest. I will make her immortal, and she shall never disappear from earth.' Then God transformed her into the plant of the yerba mate. Since then the herb exists, and although it is cut down it springs up again." Other stories run that the maiden still lives; for God, instead of turning her into the mate plant, made her mistress of it, and she lives to help all those who make a compact with her, Many men during "Holy week," if near a town, visit the churches of Paraguay and formally promise to dedicate themselves to her worship, to live in the woods and have no other woman. After this vow they go to the forest, taking a paper on which the priest has written their name. This they pin with a thorn on the mate plant, and leave it for her to read. Thus she secures her devotees.
Roman Catholicism is not "Semper Idem," but adapts itself to its surroundings.
Mate is drunk by all, from the babe to the centenarian; by the rich cattle-owner, who drinks it from a chased silver cup through a golden bombilla, to his servant, who is content with a small gourd, which everywhere grows wild, and a tin tube. Tea, as we know it, is only to be bought at the chemist's as a remedy for nerves. In other countries it is said to be bad for nerves.