South America - a brief encounter: 6 * ARGENTINA - Cordoba and surrounds *


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South America » Argentina » Córdoba
November 12th 2016
Published: November 15th 2016
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Another ‘episode’ in 'our' travel experiences.





The collective ‘episodes’ (this being the sixth) describe our journey from our arrival in Buenos Aires (Sth America) from the 1st week of October for an extended tea-bag experience of this huge continent. Like home, the continent is huge. In the few weeks available to us, we can only experience a few locations - a (tea-bag) dunk here, another there, and so on. After a few days in Buenos Aires, we flew to Lima for a 'dunk' into a few selected locations. We then fly to Chile to do some more 'tea-bagging'. We'll eventually make our way back to Argentina and our departure home.



We attach a few pics to give a flavour of our journey, and some may 'flow over' past the dialogue. If we do this, you may need to manually go to the 'spillover' page to see them.



As always, if you want to 'see' more detail in an accompanying picture, click it to enlarge.






A summary (for those with limited time)...



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Friday saw us return to Argentina with a flight into Cordoba after dark. Saturday had us in the CBD of Cordoba where we found a thriving and clean city. We organised a hire car, found a sim card and went on a walking tour of the city. Sunday had us relaxing (Argentina virtually closes down on Sundays) and undertaking some chores in preparation for Monday. Monday had us in a hire car heading south-east towards a national park. Sadly, we saw zilch as a storm cloud white-out limited visibility. Tuesday witnessed us heading north-west to more national parks, this time in dry-land country. Staying at Valle San Augustin in Hotel Rustico has a quaint twist - but it was good. We spent all Wednesday touring through 2 national parks. On Thursday we headed back as we'd come and stayed the night at Capilla del Monte (then unbeknown to us) where UFO sightings had been reported nearby. On Friday we headed for two (ex) Jesuit estates before heading back to Cordoba, handing back the hire car and celebrating Judy's birthday. Saturday had us on a bus to the very pretty town of Rosario,



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Friday 4th November; To Cordoba...




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Waking up in Valdivia (Chile) to a dense fog after the previous day's rain, we departed to make our way to Temuco airport and hand back the hire car.



Not far from Valdivia the fog began to lift and soon we were driving in wonderful sunshine. After the previous 4 days of squalls and rain it was nice again to see the oh-so green pastures in sun.



With time on our side we decided to get off the (boring) motorway and drive some back roads to Temuco. On one, the phone satnav showed a reasonable route and though (dusty) dirt, we tootled along only to be met near the end of the road by a bridge closure (due to it being repaired).



We found another route that showed us great views of Volcan Villarrica - still puffing away. To take these roads, we had turned the phone satnav 'tollway' option to off. Imagine our surprise when close to the airport, the satnav directed us to a very minor road that ended at the tollway entering the airport. Looking at the airport and trying to figure out how to get over to the other side was frustrating. We eventually deviated, fuelled up (and in a minor confusion lost our wallet and Bruce's smartphone) got to the airport and returned the car for our 2pm flight.



Our flight to Cordoba was via Santiago and we arrived at our destination at 8pm. In the dark, we saw zilch. But the taxi ride was an eye opener; what appeared a major road was little more than a back lane.



But, after the cold of southern chile we really liked the warmth (24C at 9pm).



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Saturday 5th November; Cordoba...




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Cordoba is some 700km north-west of Buenos Aires, and close-ish to the Chilean border.

Our Airbnb host lent us a bus card, enabling us to travel to and from the city centre easily. Our first task was to organise a hire car; the Argentinian online pages were so very complicated (and almost unworkable). We found that most hire car companies in Cordoba were renting out small cars with small engines. The largest engine in the category we would normally hire (B) was 1200cc. At Avis we were offered a category D car - Toyota Etios (similar to a Corolla in Oz) - for A$98 / day. Ouch! At least it would be a reasonable drive 'up country'.



Our second task was to acquire an Argentinian sim card to 'enable' our phone satnav. But, there was a walking tour commencing at 11am so opted for that than explore the sim card. The 'tour' route took us to various city buildings and the guide offered an explanation for each. At one building, we had to chuckle at what we were told. Apparently, in the 19th century the Cordoba 'city fathers' decided that land aong this street was to be offered for sale. But, befuore the releaase, the (then) 15 metre road reserve was put up for sale. An enterprising pair of brothers acquired 200 metres of the reserve so as to have access for the later land release. For some reason, the land release was delayed to the point that the brothers asked for permission to build a substantial 'front' for their future land acquisition. We were told that corruption saw all the land (in the rear) go to others rather than put to sale. The substantial building remains and is a Cordoba 'oddity'.



We learnt also that long before independence (1816) the Jesuits in Cordoba built the first school in the locality and later a University in Argentina - an event that had significant repercussions. The Jesuit (branch of) Catholics dominated (current) Argentina and invested in agriculture to produce income. So successful were their undertakings that they could offer free education to local families (of Spanish origin and of standing in the Church). Under the name Monserrat, the school continues today. The university has long moved from the original building. Even when the Catholics were ordered by King Carlos III (of Spain) in 1767 to stop their economic undertakings, the notion of free education had become so entrenched that the 'State' had to continue the provision. The principal of free education remains today. Given the state of the Argentinian economy, we wondered about the quality of the education.



After Buenos Aires, we were finding the streets of Cordoba clean and generally free of damage. As well, the older buildings had been much better preserved than in the national capital. To us, there was a sense of progress in Cordoba not evident in BA.



Following the tour, we went pursuing a sim card for the phone. We needed one for data so that our 'satnav' apps could run in 'real time' (necessary when driving). Our online research suggested 3 options, but annoyingly each adhered to the principal that 50MB was provided each day and if a user wanted more, they had to load another 50MB at a price. As the addition was a cost, the process was not automatic (ie. required an sms to execute). In Chile we had just bought 2GIG for 2 weeks. Clearly, Argentina has a long way to catch up to the outside world.



In the Cordoba CBD, most retail businesses close at midday on Saturday opening again on Monday. An exception is a central pedestrianised street (mall) housing personal goods such as clothing, etc. We found a sim retailer, but they knew as much English as we knew Spanish. They told us to go to the principal store at a shopping mall near where we were staying. This was OK with us as we had to buy some food for our Cordoba stay. The process was less than smooth, but ended OK. The manager knew English and when he went to insert the sim and set the phone, he discovered his company wasn't too flash in connecting the sim to the network. He gave us our money back and told us to come back the next day as he was sure the issue would have been then remedied. It was, and as an act of kindness ensured there was enough credit for our Argentinan stay - all without us paying anything. Sweet!



We did our shopping, returned to the accommodation and researched options for dinner. Back in the city was a Craft Beer bar (rated highly) so one guess where we went? The beer was good, the place crowded and we arrived at 'happy hour' where every second pint is free. With a few snacks and a light meal, 2 pints each was more than enough.



The trip back to the apartment was interesting to say the least! We'd researched the bus routes and found the bus number to get us back from (near) the pub. Our problem was working out where the bus departed. We could find a bus stop OK, but didn't know whether the bus was going towards our digs or coming from that direction and going elsewhere. When 'our' bus arrived, we asked the driver (using google translate on the phone) he indicated to hop on and take a seat. We later discovered he was going the right way but was about to do a loop of ther city centre before returning and heading off. But, the evening was also the annual charity fun run through the city CBD and many streets were closed. The driver took us on an amazingly circuitous route to depart the CBD. And, in the process we saw just about every historical building - all of which were well lit up.


Sunday 6th November; Cordoba...




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The apartment we'd rented for a couple of nights is on a major arterial road and the building glazing didn't offer any relief from the traffic noise. As a consequence, we slept poorly and spent much of the morning 'recovering'. We also did some research and accommodation booking for our forthcoming trip 'up country'



At lunchtime we returned to the shopping mall and got our sim-card (see above). The day was really hot so we stayed a while in the airconditioned mall before heading back into the Cordoba CBD to (a) buy a bus ticket for our departure in a week's time, (b) get some cash out of the citibank ATM (no fees for us there), and (c) join another walking tour - this time looking at interesting sites to the west of the CBD. The bank had a sign saying they had no cash at the ATM. We headed to the bus station and were more successful.



Shortly after moving from the walking tour meeting place, we came across a twisted spire. We were told that Cordoba wanted a very tall light house so that people from far around would know where the city was situated. Apparently shortly after the light was turned on, the airport authorities had it removed as it was located directly under the main flight path and was misleading pilots. The guide took us to various stops and at each recounted a story about the site. Each had an odd explanation. We English speaking 'walkers' soon learned to ask what the 'twisted' story was for each attraction we visited. About 2 hours along the way, the guide took us past the Cappuccino Church, so named apparently for the mocha coloured exterior but also the froth on top! Opposite was the brewpub we'd visited the night before. While the tour still had half an hour to 'end, we noted that it was happy hour in the pub so we bade our farewells.



After some more great ales, we toddled to a nearby restaraunt for some goat Asado (grilled meat), salad and (a really good) wine. We caught a taxi home to sleep and prepare for picking up the hire car in Man(y)ana (the morning).




Monday 7th November; From Cordoba...



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Bruce went by bus to collect the hire car while Judy stayed back to clean the apartment and read her book. Bruce also went to the citibank ATM to get some more cash. It was still out of cash!!!



At the Avis office, the 'selected' Toyota Etios had been replaced with a Chevrolet Cobalt; Holden has the same car - called a Monterey. After ensuring it had power steering and would do the same job as the Toyota, Bruce went to collect Judy. The collection process took nearly an hour and a half. The 'paperwork' executed by the sole customer attendant appeared onerous.



Now 11am, we again tried the citibank to be told - still no cash. We had to use another brand at the cost of A$9.40 for the maximum allowable withdrawal of A$150 .



We'd planned to drive to Mina Clavero via the (previously Jesuit) town of Alta Gracia and Parque Nacional Quebrada del Condorito. The former still had the original Jesuit administrative centre that once controlled the grain production and cattle grazing across the vast plains; but our luck was out as it was closed on Monday. The national park is the top of a mountain and the road up was a continuous set of switchbacks. As we departed Alta Gracia, storm clouds began rolling in. Soon we were driving in torrential rain. Before we got to the top, we entered cloud. Visibility was just enough to keep driving (slowly). We eventually arrived at the tailgate of a very slow truck. Fortunately, a passing lane after 10 minutes allowed us to proceed more quickly.



Occasionally the cloud thinned and we could see the national park was but a massive outcrop of granite. It seemed the 'attraction' was the continuity of granite boulders. After a while, the road began descending and we entered the Pampa de Achaia; same granite rocks, but degradation had allowed grasses to take hold between the outcrops. From time to time we would see a small humpy type hut suggesting that there was little profit for those using the area for grazing.



Our accommodation at Mina Clavero was delightful. Dinner was, well, 'interesting'. Given the size of Argentinian meals, we ordered one Bife de Chirizo (Porterhouse), Papa Fritas and some salad. The salad was lettuce, tomato, onion, grated carrot and cheese sprinkled on top! We came to learn that Argentinians love cheese on everything. The steak was about 500 grams - we normally have about 150 grams each - and though we'd asked for medium (Judy's preference) it was overcooked. Language!, we thought.




Tuesday 8th November; The plain...



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We didn't know the condition of the rural roads in Argentina. The road yesterday was well paved, but relatively narrow. We had planned to visit more national parks in the north-west closer to the Chilean border and near La Rioja; our phone 'satnav' indicated a 4 hour drive to get there. As we left the 'oasis' of Mina Clavero, the tree-scape soon changed to a low scrub. After an hour or so, the scrub became quite thin and what looked like poor grasses dominated the landscape. As we neared our destination, the exposed dry dirt offered little support for grasses.



The drive was largely on long straight roads across a flat landscape. So long and straight we welcomed the occasional bend! At the margins of the landscape were rugged and substantial mountain ranges. Rarely did the road get close.



Near our destination, the road actually crossed through a range pass. The road became very windy for about 2 KM'S - that was it! On the other side was a most spectacular sedentary rock outcrop (uplift?). The now late afternoon sun on the rock generated appealing colours. We later learned it was Parque Provincial El Chiflon and part of the same national park geology to which we were headed tomorrow.



We'd booked 2 nights at Valle San Augustin at Hotel Rustico! The accommodation was great. Once cleaned up and relaxed, we went to the tourist office to inquire about the national park. We were told the details, but the 'killer' was that there was a large entry fee and we'd not enough cash to gain entry. The local ATM was a brand that didn't accept our citibank card. The manager told us we could take some cash out at the local (only) petrol station. We asked him to write a letter explaining our predicament and that we wanted to withdraw 2000 pesos. We went to the servo, Bruce showed the letter and both passports. After a conversation between the attendant and manager, Bruce was asked if he wanted some fuel - "yes, fill it up" he typed into the phone translation app. Success!



We meandered around the village in the car and eventually found a mini-market so we bought a couple of bottles of beer (one for tomorrow) and were charged 40 pesos as a returnable deposit (about A$3.50). We rarely saw discarded bottles, so the relative high price works well. After a queit ale and peanuts in the garden of the hotel, we headed for the suggested restaurant. Again we ordered a steak - that came with chips - and a salad. The salad was better, but the steak was about 700 grams!!! Tasty, but way too much.




Wednesday 9th November; Cordoba...




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As indicated, the 'purpose' of our being in the far north-west was to visit a national park. We'd been told by the tourist office that the main park - Parque Nacional Talampaya - required us to be taken around in a vehicle. The second - Parque Provincial Ischigualasto; Valle de la Luna was a self drive. We'd planned to take the 10:30 am tour but as it transpired, we arrived just on 9:30 and after paying the A$60 / pp entry wqe boarded the bus.



The previous day had been clear after the storm. Overnight a fierce wind had created a thick dust blanket over the region. We were disappointed, but that's the vagaries of travel.



As noted, the terrain is so dry. The bus initially travelled on a bitumen road but this soon changed to hard gravel, and a bit later we were on sandy tracks crossing wide braided water courses. The 'attraction' is a massive canyon in a red sandstone outcrop. Soon the bus entered the canyon and stopped at a boardwalk. While the day was getting hot, in the shade of the cliffs it was decidedly cool. We learned that the canyon was initially created by a watercourse but over the millenia it was wind and rain that did the work.



The tour guide only spoke Spanish so we just entered the path and read the signs (fortunately all had an English statement) explaining that about 2500 years ago, local natives had inscribed drawings and symbols on the rocks. While waiting for the 'Spanish' group to catch up, we noticed Condors soaring overhead. These birds have wingspans up to 3 metres. Not only were they just catching the thermals off the cliffs, occasionally one would swoop down to a much lower level and catch the breeze back to the top.



Back on the bus, the next stop was the 'garden'. Here, the original inhabitants had carved symbols showing plants that were important to them. Perhaps there was a well there, or close sub-surface water as the vegetation remains today. The signage explained the uses made of the plants currently growing in the 'garden'.



The remaining stops were not instructive, rather, they were for photographic opportunities of 'interesting' features created by wind of the sandstone.



After a return to our hire car, we had a bite to eat and made our way to Ischigualasto. Along the way we were treated to various animal 'sightings; a desert fox, Guanaco (Vicuna in Peru), Mara's and Condors.



At Ischigualasto we discovered that though the park lies in the Talampaya NP, there was still a A$20 entry fee; as Argentinians get in for free, we were learning the hard way that the government 'loves' hitting foreign visitors!



Ischigualasto - or Valley of the Moon - is a great big sandstone bowl with extremely little vegetation. Aside from the wind sculptured outcrops the main claim to fame is that an American (US) paleontologist discovered dinosaur era skeletons in various locations in the park.



The self drive was actually a tag-along with a ranger stopping at various locations and giving educational 'lessons' in Spanish. From one attendee who knew English, most of the 'lessons' were about the historical formation of the geology. Being the last car, we had the fortune to be able to stop and take photos of features that caught our attention.



We departed the park about 4pm and noted most of the dust that had earlier darkened the sky had dissipated. A cold beer, a good feed and bed beckoned.




Thursday 10th November; back the way we came...




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When booking the car back at Cordoba, we'd considered our options and decided 5 days would be enough. There are more national parks to the north we'd have liked to visit, but it meant another 12 hours driving north (beyond salta). We'd also considered flying but airfares for foreigners in Argentina are prohibitive. A flight from Cordoba to Buenos Aires (700 km) cost nearly A$500 each. From Cordoba to Salta (some 900 km north west of Cordoba) the flight cost is A$465. Given this, we had decided to wend our way back to Cordoba and take in some views along the way.



For most of the day we drove back along the same route. Nearer to Cordoba we deviated eastwards to our destination - Capilla del Monte. We were really caught by surprise at this town. After checking in, we wandered the clean streets to exercise and take in the scenery. Being near 5pm, we found a (lunchtime) cafe still open and we were able to get a (Chilean) Craft beer and some delightful Empanada's. The street looked like it was for artists. The buildings were decorated in that 'artisty' style and the retailers were of a similar 'vibe'. Round the corner and into the main shopping street, 2 attributes dominated the shop stock; (1) incense and hippy style clothes and (2) ET lookalike objects. We later learned that a nearby mountain was the supposed site of UFO and an extra-terrestrial sighting. The same mountain is also home to alternate lifestyle seekers.




Friday 11th November; to Cordoba...




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We'd planned to visit a few 'sights' on our way to take the car back to Cordoba. The first was the (ex) Jesuit estate of Santa Catalina. From our lodgings, we either travelled south-west nearly to Cordoba and headed north-east. Or, we drove by back roads over the nearby mountain range. Knowing the history of UFO and extra-terrestrial sightings and hippies, we took the rough road. Narrow but pretty, the cloudy day didn't make for good photography.



Near our destination, the road travelled through a beautiful and productive landscape. at the bridge over a brisk clear river, some cattlemen (Gaucho's) sat on horseback yarning. The substantial land holdings revealed why the Jesuits had secured the land.



At the Santa Catalina estate the Jesuits not only developed a Novitiate, but on their surrounding holdings were able to provide the livestock and food needed by Spanish authorities to wage war further afield in Bolivia. Today, the administration buildings and church remain. The grounds are beautifully maintained with wonderful stands of European trees set amongst verdant lawns. Following the late 18th century royal ruling that the church could not hold productive land, the then Mayor of Cordoba bought the estate. The site has remaining with the same family ever since and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.



About 20 km's away is the (ex) Jesuit town of Jesus Maria. Aside from an original convent estate, little remains of the Jesuit connection to this town. We read it hosts a folklore festival and as we drove through we also noted it has a large military training base.



We took stock of the time and the possible alternative sightseeing options. We felt we'd had our fill and headed out of town. At the outskirts, we encountered the ubiquitous police roadblock. This time it was our turn to be stopped. When the policeman asked something in Spanish, Bruce replied with "No hablo Espanol" I don't speak Spanish. the young officer yelled something to his superior and Bruce was directed to the roadside. The older officer again spoke in Spanish, to which Bruce replied as before. The officer demanded "licencio" which Bruce took to mean licence. handing over an Australian licence was met with laughter by the officers. Some 10 minutes later, and after filling out pages of 'paperwork' the licence was handed back. No pleases or thank-you's.



We arrived at our Cordoba accommodation around 3-ish and after cleaning ourselves and preparing for a meal, we took the hire car back to Avis.



A pleasant walk along the treed avenue to the Craft beer pub had us in 'enjoymentland' reasonably quickly. After a couple of pints we used shanks pony to get to the planned restaurant; a nice place to celebrate Judy's birthday.


Saturday

12th November; to Rosario...


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We'd previously decided to make our way back to Buenos Aires by bus, staying overnight at Rosario. The 6 hour trip to Rosario was along flat cereal cropping land; wheat, maize, corn, canola, feedlot cattle, etc.



We'd read in Lonely Planet that Rosario is a nice city. We were quite surprised at the cleanliness, the mature street trees and the well cared for buildings. A walk from the bus terminal to our hotel filled us with joy as the flowering Linden trees rekindled the enjoyment we gained from the wonderful perfume we'd so enjoyed in our recent trip to Italy.



We found a Craft beer brewpub - a replica of the Cordoba site - and again enjoyed a tipple before making our way to bed.



Tomorrow, another bus trip, this time to Buenos Aires.




Reflections...




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When we booked airline tickets from Temuco to Cordoba, we had in mind to explore some of the drier areas of Argentina before heading back there for our flight home. After our entry into Buenos Aires, and the experience of that (very) 3rd world city, we were apprehensive about the 'planning' decision.



As noted, any concerns were swept away by the clean city of Cordoba the many rural towns and also Rosario. Whether we are correct, we don't know. But, we hunch that the Argentinian economy appears dependant on primary produce and we'd now travelled to the source of that national wealth. And, with a consistent economy - rather than the recessionary impact being experienced by Buenos Aires - these folk appear to be doing OK. At least their cities are not languishing.



Our trip to see national parks was enjoyable, though a long drive. Along the way we got to see some great countryside and experience the 'way' Argentinians eat; bulk meat, chips, sugary pastries and sweet drinks. Except for the rural horsemen, most Argentinian adults are very overweight.



Cheers


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