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Published: October 21st 2014
The Sweet Sierras of Cordoba
Traveling between the popular tourist meccas of Mendoza and Codoba, I eschewed the overnight bus taken by most travelers, and spent a month exploring the charming small towns enroute, first in the state of San Luis, now in Cordoba province.
The beautiful, colonial city of Cordoba is ringed by mountains set with jewel-like towns offering cool respite from the sizzling city. The mountain towns are all built along grassy-bordered rivers with boulders in fanciful Henry Moore shapes, and shaded by tall trees--perfect for cool afternoon walks.
In the blazing hot, northern Argentine summers, the towns are bursting with refugees from big city Cordoba. Fortunately, I was there in September and October, spring, when the mountain temperatures were perfect for hiking, and I had river and hill walks and swimming holes to myself or with just a few others.
Each of the towns had a unique character with former, grand Jesuit ranches, the homes of Che Guevarra and Manuel de Falla; a wild Oktoberfest in a German town, a tiny pedestrian-only town, a hippie ville complete with UFO sightings and my first Andean condors.
I'd come from the tiny, ex-gold mining town of La Carolina, and started this leg of my visit in another mining town, Mina Clavero. I'd had visions of staying in the perfect micro-climate of Merlo enroute, but hauling my suitcase up a steep hill to a hostel drove me to cancel and catch a late bus to Mina Clavero, arriving late at night. Would I find the hostel and would they let me in? Hmmm.
By 11 pm when I arrived, the town had gone to sleep. A lingering taxi driver pointed the way, and I walked through dark, deserted streets, listening to rivers all around me, and finally found the hostel. To my great luck, Sebastiano was up and showed me to a dorm with bunks for 6 people, but in low season, I had it all to myself. What luck!
The next day, I awakened to the resident cat on my belly and sun coming in the open window. The artsy, wooden hostel was above a river with steps leading down to the water, friendly people, and a hammock swinging out over the river. I stayed over a
week and became close with the few other guests. When a hostel is full, I tend to get overwhelmed and keep to myself, but with only four others, I made friends with whom I'm still in touch.
Rivers, Bridges and Curious Canyons
Mina Clavero was at 915m/3000ft, surrounded by mountains and at the confluence of three rivers. The landscape was magical--rocky plateaus/mesas curiously cut into little canyons by rivers with waterfalls cascading below. The main river had a lovely costanera
, a river walk, where families picnicked on the grassy banks and children splashed in the water. I consider it the mark of a civilized town that creates parks for residents to enjoy their rivers, lakes and oceans.
I love small towns because it's easy to walk to their edges and be out in nature. Each day, I found new places to hike and quickly dip into nippy waterholes. A long, hot walk, getting massively lost and then a slip through a fence took me to what would become my favorite spot, El Nido de Aguila
(The Eagle's Nest). There, I saw my first majestic Andean condors with a wing spread of up to10
ft, as large as our California condors.
The town had only 8,500 people but boasted several charming museums where the proud owners were happy to have visitors and give tours. As a rock hound, I was thrilled with the mineral museum created by a German woman and her daughter, with fabulous exhibits of geology, mineralogy, and gems.
Just outside town was an Archaeology and Cactus Museum where the desert-craggy owner had collected artifacts from the indigenous Comechingones and colonial occupation and in his tour, demonstrated ancient bone and wooden flutes he'd found. It was spring and many of his cacti were brilliant with flowers and interspersed with his fanciful sculptures. Nearby, a gorgeous, new, hand-built adobe Textile Museum displayed the long history of local indigenous fiber work, held classes to perpetuate the arts and sold beautiful pieces to support the artists.
I finally left after a week when the owner showed up and ended my discounted stay. Thereafter, in these pricey mountain hostels, I always booked ahead to get the special discount. It was a great luxury to have had that room to myself for a week--back to shared dorms.
From here, I boarded a bus that wound up, down and through the mountains. I considered stopping at the town of Carlos Paz since it had a teleferico
(chair lift) up a mountain, which I adore. However, since the town was described as Argentina's answer to Las Vegas, I opted out, and continued on to cultural Alta Gracia.
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