We didn’t have flat beds on the bus ride from Mendoza, so we were pretty tired when we arrived in Córdoba. We had to wait in the common room at the hostel for a few hours until the room was available.Then we crashed for a bit and headed into town to see what was going on. Our hostel was in a great location just a couple of blocks from the truly beautiful Plaza General San Martin. It was early evening when we went out and we were amazed at how beautiful the central part of the city is. The buildings are beautifully lit and restored, we just walked and gawked for quite a while. Most things are closed on Mondays in Argentina and there are very few people about, so we decided to see a movie. Let’s just say that it was called ‘Encuentro Explosivo’ then I don’t have to embarrass us by telling you what it was.
The next day we took in some of the sights. Again we were a little thwarted by closings during the middle of the day (namely the supposedly great English tour of the university which we tried to visit three times, on the final time it was open, but they weren’t running the last tour of the day, the one we had arrived for), but we managed to see the Cordóba Cabildo and the very sobering Museo de la Memoria. We certainly didn’t know much of the history of Argentina when we arrived, but found out shortly after arriving in Buenos Aires that during the late 70s and early 80s the government ‘disappeared’ a startling number of people who didn’t support it. Many of the people who were taken were frighteningly young.
In the afternoon we walked to Parque Sarmiento which was a dusty disappointment and Museo Provincial de Bellas Artes Emilio Caraffa which had some pretty uninspiring exhibitions showcased in one of the most interesting art spaces I’ve seen. We spent hours trying to find somewhere for dinner as most of the places listed in the Lonely Planet were either closed or simply don’t exist anymore.
On Wednesday we decided to get out of the city and explore some of the Jesuit estancias that are in the surrounding countryside. We took a bus to Jésus Maria and jumped out, eager to see what the town had to offer. For about an hour we felt as though we were in some kind of comedy game being played by the citizens of the town as we were sent from one end of town to the next and back again in search of the mysterious tourist information office. We never found it, but did manage to find our way to the Estancia Jésus Maria. It was a pretty impressive building and we learned a bit about the Jesuits in the area.
We had read that the most impressive of all the Jesuit estancias is Estancia Santa Catalina 20km outside Jésus Maria and that it’s pretty cheap and easy to get to in a taxi. Not so. Well, it is beautiful, but certainly not easy to get to. We jumped in a cab at the station and I was encouraged by the fact that the nice lady taxi driver called me ‘dear’. Then she said something about ‘el camino’ and ‘muy feo’. Ok, so at this stage we thought she was talking about some kind of tourist ‘way’ that people drive to look at all the estancias and that for some reason she thought Santa Catalina was ugly…. It was only once we got onto the terrible dirt road leading to the estancia that we realised she meant the road out there was ugly! But we arrived safe and sound, if a little shaken, and handed over the AR$57 plus 10% tip. The doors were locked and she wouldn’t let us out! Turns out she wanted AR$100 because the road was bad. I managed to stumble through the words to explain that we wouldn’t have enough money to get back if we gave her that, and eventually she relented.
After that ordeal we were keen to have some lunch and then look around. We were pretty nervous about being able to get back as this is literally a dirt road with a couple of shops and a church. But we figured worst case scenario we’d start to walk and hitch if we could. As we were wandering around looking lost a friendly gentleman herded us into a beautiful garden surrounded by old buildings. We asked if we could have something to eat and were taken into a pretty little restaurant and told that they had pasta. Fortunately Anthony had the foresight to ask how much it was… AR$50 for a plate of pasta!!!! Usually somewhere nice it MIGHT be AR$30. So we told him we could only afford one portion! He was a little frosty after that, so we ate and ran. We joined the Spanish speaking (and only) tour of the estancia and managed to understand bits and pieces. I spent most of the time chatting to a nice girl from Buenos Aires and was secretly hoping that she and her family might be able to give us a lift back to Jésus Maria at the end! Unfortunately they had a full car. Our faith was restored at the end of the day by the guide, his friend and a lady who ran a sort of general store who really went out of their way to get us a lift back to town and wouldn’t accept any payment for making the calls for us. Needless to say, we were pretty glad to make it back to Córdoba that night.
On Thursday we checked out of the hostel and leaving our big packs behind headed for La Cumbrecita for a bit of trekking and riding. We had to change buses in a place called Villa General Belgrano. We knew that it was a town founded by Germans, but nothing could really have prepared us for it. It’s like a permanent Weihnachtsmarkt. There are even loudspeakers in the street playing oom-pa-pa music and the main street is lined with shops with Germanic names selling steins, bretzels and tablecloths covered with edelweiss. We stopped for some food and then jumped on the bus to La Cumbrecita. It turns out that La Cumbrecita was founded by Germans, Austrians and Swiss, so it was sort of similar to Belgrano. Pretty much the only meal to be found was Goulasch con Spätzle, followed by Apfelstrudel. Fortunately it was pretty tasty. We spent the afternoon wandering around, booked a horse ride for the following morning and had dinner and a relatively early night.
On Friday morning we had a pretty amusing, yet uneventful horse ride outisde the town. The scenery was beautiful and the horses were great. Our guide didn’t speak a word of English, so we didn’t really mange to learn to much either about the area, or how to ride a horse, but it was fun nevertheless! We had noticed on the map that there was a 2hr hike to a peak called Cerra Wank… how could we possibly resist! Apparently you’re only supposed to go with a guide, but we were already running a bit late, so we went on our own. Got a bit lost, but eventually reached the peak at 1715m and were pleasantly surprised that there was noone else around. Tea and cake at a German bakery at the end of the mini hike made it all worthwhile! Had more Goulash con Spätzle and went to bed.
The next morning we checked out and took a final walk out to the waterfall. We stopped at yet another little German bakery on the way and ended up chatting to the lovely, if somewhat crazy guy who runs the place. He was obsessed with Carlos Núñez, and insisted on playing us his music while looking at what seemed to be his personal album of photos taken around La Cumbrecita. It was pretty funny. Jumped on a bus back to Belgrano to take some snaps and eat more German food and then back to Córdoba.
On Sunday morning we checked out of the hostel again and made our way to the university for the 4th time to see if we could do the guided tour of the university. We were a bit early and it was closed again, so we had some breakfast and made it back just in time for the tour at 11am, only to be told that it was in Spanish. Luckily they told us the 5pm tour was in English, so we headed to the cinema to see the newly released ‘El Origen’ I don’t mind telling you that that’s the Spanish title for ‘Inception’. After the film we headed to the university for our tour. It was surprisingly pretty interesting, Universidad Nacional de Córdoba is either the 3rd or 4th oldest in America, depending on who you speak to and was founded by the Jesuits. It has some incredible old books including a version or the Bible in 7 languages from the 17th Century. After the tour we headed to the weekend antique markets to have a look around, then a bit more evening sightseeing before heading back to the hostel to wait until it was time to catch the bus to Tucumán.