Schooled

I promised to stop bitching about Cordoba, and I swear I really am not being sarcastic when I say that one of the most interesting things we did in Cordoba was to attend a four-hour lecture in a Church/University.

True, the Manzana Jesuitica is a UNESCO world heritage site and it houses the oldest church and the oldest university in Argentina, but somehow, it still feels wrong when I say that I think it is the crown jewel in Argentina’s second largest city.

I’ve mentioned before that we were in Cordoba over a weekend, so there was pretty much nothing to do. One of the things we COULD do was to go for the twice daily English tour at the Manzana Jesuitica.

I know… when Jo pulled up this little tidbit from the Lonely Planet, I was also like “Huh??? Really ah?? We’re really that desperate for something to do, huh?”

But we decided to do the lecture/tour anyway because
a) Lonely Planet says it is one of the best things you can do in Cordoba
and
b) It costs just AR10 Pesos ($3)

Three minutes into the lecture, we were hooked!

It definitely helped that our guide (a current student at the University) is pretty personable and extremely knowledgeable about the history of the Jesuits and their impact on Argentina. This was especially so since our tour group of seven was a rather tough crowd to please. We would shoot out tough, insightful questions in rapid-fire succession. I contributed to the lively discussion on history and current affairs with an extremely inquisitive “Pero tienes que decirme, donde está los baños?” She was able to handle all our questions with poise and wit. This included reminding me that the proper Spanish term for toilet is actually “el baño”

One of the highlights of the tour was that we were brought to locations within the compound that are normally not open to the public.

This included the uber-grand exam hall where law students hundreds of years ago had to sit through 12-hour long quizzes by a panel of professors. More interesting for me, however was the opportunity to go through parts of the school’s library where old tomes (many pre-Gutenberg handwritten editions) were kept. Beside books, there were also original copies of old sea navigation charts collected from all around the world, and land maps drawn up by explorers such as Fitz Roy and Darwin.

Final verdict? If, for whatever reason you only have four hours to spend in Cordoba, go for the tour on the Jesuit Block. It’s definitely well worth the time and you will probably come away with a better knowledge about the history of Argentina… as well as how to say “where is the toilet” in Spanish.

Che!!

While we were in Cordoba, we decided to pay a visit to the childhood home of one of the original backpackers –  Ernesto Che Guevara.

The iconic image of Che. I think this image is recognizable even for people who had never heard of him before (you know who you are). I was gonna use another of his quote “One has to grow hard, but without ever losing tenderness” but I figured it might be just a tad too porny…

The town of Alta Gracia has a fierce reputation. Beside El Che, the little town was also home to other Argentine illuminaries such as writers Enrique Larreta and Belisario Roldán, as well as composer Manuel de Falla (ok… he’s Spanish, but he lived for many years in Alta Gracia). From these alone, I guessed Alta Gracia was worth a day trip (I am convinced that there must be something in the water)

(Alta Gracia is a “short” one and a half hour bus ride from Cordoba. There are frequent colectivos from the main bus station along Boulevard Illia in Cordoba. We took the Sarmiento bus which cost us about AR9 Pesos each)

From our viewing of the Motorcycle Diaries, I guess I was expecting to step off the bus into a dusty South American town, filled with revolutionaries, dreamers, adventurers and ermm… motorcyclists. What we found instead was one of the most suburban looking towns we’ve ever been in, complete with pastel colored cottages and a huge waterfront where the town’s children would gather around to play catching.

Waterfront playground with a Tim Burton-esque tree

Comic Store in Alta Gracia – Confirming comics’ status as a legitimate literary form. I could not understand why Jo did not want to visit a comic store that Che PROBABLY might have visited when he was a kid

Remember earlier when I said we visited the childhood home of Che? I meant that in the broadest sense of the word.

The home has now been converted to a museum of sorts (the Museo del Che Guevara). According to Lonely Planet (2010 edition), for a modest entrance fee of AR15 Pesos, we would be able to walk through the house Che stayed in during his formative years and look at some of the letters that he wrote home. When we were there, we found out that the entrance fee had been recently upgraded to an exorbitant AR75 pesos per head for foreigners.

We ain’t paying USD20 just to walk around an old house!

NOT the house of Che. We might actually consider paying AR75 Pesos to see THIS house because of how haunted it looks…

The real house of the Guevaras…. See why we wouldn’t pay so much money to go in? I mean… seriously… how much could there be to see in such a small one storey-ed house?

Cheapskates that we were, we were satisfied with cam whoring outside the house and then going on our way to explore the other parts of the sleepy town of Alta Gracia.

This was taken SECONDS before we were told we cannot take pictures of the premise without paying the admission fee… I seriously think they are actively discouraging people from visiting their touristic attractions

So what did we do with the AR75 Pesos that we saved?

Go buy water to drink lor…

Last time I checked, Coca Cola was squarely listed under the “Water” category, so it counts… and we definitely did feel a bit smarter and more illuminary sitting in this cafe/restaurant that has its walls papered with pages of old books

Sunday Lazy Sunday

Now that we have accumulated a bit of good karma through saying nice things about other people, I think I can safely do some bitching without incurring the wrath of whatever Travel God is out there.

I don’t want to be THAT guy who is always criticizing things that are foreign to him, but after experiencing first-hand the power of the siesta in Buenos Aires, we ran headlong into a weekend at Cordoba. Apparently, a weekend in most major Argentine cities is like the set of the Walking Dead, only with more empty streets and zombies (if the local football team is playing).

Yup, we took a 10 hour bus ride into an extended siesta.

It’s 4pm on a Saturday afternoon annnnnnd… all the shops are closed and streets are empty

You know you’re in trouble when there are more birds than there are people in the main square

Ok… it’s not that there is TOTALLY nothing to do.

Lonely Planet calls Cordoba the “Culture Capital of the Americas”. There are listings of poetry recitals, film premieres, art galleries and plays everywhere.

And that is the reason why we ended up at the Dinosaur Museum!

Everybody now…. Rwaaaaaaaaaar!!!!

The Museo Municipal Carmen Funes is one of the few places that is open on Sundays in Cordoba, and with the cheap entrance fee of USD$3, it was not a bad place to spend a morning getting up close and personal with the giant lizards and Jurassic Park-ish dinosaur embryos.

What you looking at?

In your face!

Fossil imprints of dinosaur-ic shells

Now we just need a mosquito encased in amber to pop the John Williams soundtrack…

The Museo is actually more of a paleantological museum of natural history, so besides the dinosaurs, the Museo also has exhibits about the history of… well… everything…

This includes bizarre wall to wall displays of stuffed animals

eeeeeee…… snakes…. EEEEEEE… mummified snakes! We felt like we stepped into a Chinese Medicinal hall

And one of my favourite posters: The formation of the Universe in a yearly calender…. All together now: “Our whole universe was in a hot dense state,
Then nearly fourteen billion years ago expansion started, wait…
The Earth began to cool,
The autotrophs began to drool,
Neanderthals developed tools,
We built a wall (we built the pyramids),
Math, science, history, unravelling the mysteries,
That all started with the big bang!
“Since the dawn of man” is really not that long,
As every galaxy was formed in less time than it takes to sing this song.
A fraction of a second and the elements were made.
The bipeds stood up straight,
The dinosaurs all met their fate,
They tried to leap but they were late
And they all died (they froze their asses off)
The oceans and pangea
See ya, wouldn’t wanna be ya
Set in motion by the same big bang!”

And the best part? The Museo was right next door to the HUGE and pretty awesome Parque Sarmiento.

where Jo proceeded to dance around the Olympics installations (side question: Argentina got host Olympics before meh?)

and Instagrammed animals in various compromising positions

and doodie-covered benches. Hur hur. Sometimes, I really need a reminder why I am travelling with this girl

Here’s hoping everyone have an Argentinian weekend ahead!

Not so Evil

Having my pocket(S) picked in Buenos Aires was a BIG downer for the trip.

I couldn’t help but feel kind of helpless. Worse of all, I started viewing the world through “mean glasses”. I was totally paranoid and for a few days after the incident, I kept thinking that everyone around us was evil and out to get us.

It didn’t really help that we were moving on to a new city (I am not a big fan of the moving about part of traveling….) and we were going to try out AirBnB for the first time for our accommodation needs.

Buenos Aires to Cordoba –  I’ve decided I should come up with the route that we are traveling through in South America, idea courtesy of Esther Low-Tan

We’d heard of AirBnB before, but we’d never felt the prerogative to use it. We’ve been surviving quite well based on Hostelworld and Couchsurfing prior to this. While we were checking out listings in Cordoba however, we managed to find a private room for $13 a night with full facilities.

We were in!

True to the reviews, the house itself was LOVELY. It is a double-storeyed brick cottage just outside of town. It has a fully equipped kitchen, WIFI and very importantly… crazily strong hot showers.

Our rather chic living area

The most amazing thing about this house, however, was not the house itself, but the owner, Titi.

My first impression of Titi was a furious flurry of hugs and kisses the moment we showed up at her door. As she showed us around the house, she chattered excitedly in rapid-fire español, chuckling amusedly when we totally could not get what she was trying to say, then rattling off her next string of instructions even faster.

Titi sending us off at the bus station with another frenzy of farewell hugs & kisses

She went out of her way to make us feel at home, providing us with a transit card when we told her that her place is slightly far from town. She even offered to let us check out 12 hours later than we were supposed to when she heard that we were taking a night bus to our next destination.

Even though she does not stay in the house herself, she checked in on us almost daily and tried her best to chat with us about things we could do in Cordoba. She also made sure that we got along with the other tenant in the house – Ana.

Ana is a food nutrition student from San Salvador de Jujuy.

She could not speak a word of English and we could not understand her Jujuy-ian accented español, yet I am very sure that the four hour conversation we had with her would be one of the most memorable things we’ll do on this trip.

How did we do it?

The Power of Google Translate

We shared stories about our lives, and about the places to go in South America, and the most amazing thing of all? We somehow managed to “con” her into letting us join in on the romantic dinner she had prepared for her boyfriend, Matthias. Matthias is a mountain guide and (through Google Translate) told us tales of the many adventures that he’d had. Throughout the three hour dinner, we passed the laptop around the table like an insane game of four-way table tennis.

I guess what I am trying to say is that this is probably one of the most awesome parts about travelling. We get to cross paths with people we would never have met if we’d just stayed at home. True, some of the times, these people would be evil pricks like the pickpockets in Buenos Aires, but more often than not, they are old kindly Argentinian aunties, generous Jujuy-ian girls and courageous mountain guides.

The good outweighs the bad.

Along with the various offers of help when friends saw my “lost wallet” status on Facebook, it is very hard to imagine the world as an evil place.