Marijuana is legal in Uruguay.

You don’t see much of it on the streets. A few surfers under palm trees indulge themselves, the pungent smell immediately detectable. You see tourists enjoying the herb in public, flaunting authorities. However, the real national addiction here is Mate, a natural tea.

Juan Carlos owns the Hotel Playa Brava in Punta Del Este. This afternoon he is talking with a hotel guest and I snap a quick picture of him and his Mate. You can’t visit this country without seeing citizens walking while holding a strange shaped little pot filled with green tea, a long curved silver spoon through which they sip the tea, and a thermos of hot water with which they fill their pot throughout the day.

Juan explains that the tea has a calming effect if you drink it all day and it is used in this entire region. Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay all have their distinctive brand and one country wouldn’t be caught drinking the tea of another country.

Juan Carlos enjoys his Mate.

Marijuana gets all the attention. But here, Mate is the drug of choice.

His hotel is close to Emir beach, is clean and secure and quiet. The family all contribute to the business. While the rooms are basic, the service is great. Best of all, the price fits the budget traveler and includes a continental breakfast each morning.

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