Welcome to my “Central and South America Food Saga“! The final chapter to this saga will, of course, be the drinks: after all, when it’s over 30C, you do drink a lot!
I’m not a beer drinker myself, but it seemed to be very cheap by Western standards. The most popular cerveza brands were Atlas in Panama, Imperial and Pilsen in Costa Rica, Quilmes in Argentina and Brahma in Brazil. The legal drinking age is 18 throughout South America and alcohol is sold pretty much anywhere, including supermarkets. The best wine we had was in Argentina, but Chile also has some nice ones.
As for soda, Coke and Pepsi are widely available (even in very remote places). In Peru, we were introduced to Inca Cola, a bubble-gum tasting drink, which is actually owned by Coke. What else is new… but the name is quite cool!
In the Andes, especially in Bolivia, mate de coca was a great option. It is basically a tea of coca leaves: as the Bolivians say, “la hoja de coca no es droga” (Coke leaf is not a drug). Maybe not a drug, but it is supposed to help with soroche, altitude sickness. I’m a big tea drinker, especially of green tea, and I did like the taste of the beverage.
In Brazil as well as in Central America, coconut water was a good option. It’s cheap, it’s supposed to help you sweat less, plus drinking directly from a coconut is kind of cool, isn’t it?
In Argentina and Uruguay, mate is the preferred beverage. Okay, let me rephrase that: locals are addicted to it! Mate is an infusion, prepared by steeping dried leaves of yerba mate in hot water. The beverage is drunk from a small calabash gourd (mate) using a metal straw (bombilla). It is necessary to carry hot water in a thermos to pour over the yerba periodically to refill. Mate is a social custom and is usually shared among friends or family: a first person start drinking, and then pass the gourd to another person, refill and then pass to another one etc. The beverage tastes of green tea and coffee, it’s quite strong at first but you get used to it. Argentinians and Uruguyans carry their gourd, bombilla and thermos absolutely everywhere, and it’s common to see people refilling their mate at the supermarket, at the bank, in the bus, at the movies… !