We left our subpar living arrangements behind in Mendoza and decided to step it up as a New Years treat for us both! First up, a ten hour overnight bus trip, in nothing less than first class.
Bus travel is really done well in Argentina. First class meant fully reclining seats, a flat screen TV and a full service menu with wine. Being that the bus left at 10:30pm, the only thing I really took advantage of was the fully reclining chair, but it was still totally worth it (Pete, however, took his fair share - and mine - of the free wine!) Given that it was only about $8 more for each of us, you can count on us going first class the rest of our way thru this country.
We arrived in Cordoba at 7:30am and hopped on another 1 hour bus to the small city of Alta Gracia for two nights. We continued our "New Years treat" to ourselves by booking into an actual hotel (not a hostel) for the first time since we left home. We were thrilled to see the immaculately clean room, and the matching immaculateness of the outdoor pool. Our little piece of heaven for a couple of days.
Apparently not everyone thinks of Alta Gracia that way, especially the locals! Twice on our first day, we had residents ask us WHY we had gone out of our way to visit this city - they were pretty shocked that we were here strictly as tourists and not just to visit any friends and family.
And after our two days here, I think they are underselling their city. It is very much off the tourist path, but it is a perfectly laid back and quiet place to recharge for a couple of days. There are many beautiful parks and interesting statues, a Jesuit Estancia Museum that is now a UNESCO World Heritage site, and also the childhood home of revolutionary Che Guevara which has now been turned into a museum. Lots to see and do, and we easily filled our two days!
After a quick nap in our immaculate white room after our arrival, we took in some sights and explored a bit of the town, but we were foremost in search of where to go to see the world famous Dakar Rally as it rolled through! For those of you who don't know what it is (I didn't!), Pete explained it to me as the Super Bowl of rally racing for all kinds of vehicles - cars, motorbikes, quads, etc. It happens annually since 1978 (usually from Paris to Dakar), but is being held in South America for the second time. Starting in Buenos Aires on New Years Day, the race will go over the Andes into Chile to finish in Santiago. This is apparently quite a big deal, and Pete was determined to bear witness to it!
The tourist info office advised us where to go, which we in turn advised a cab. We thought it was on the edge of town, and had no idea that he would be taking us 20kms outside of it. We were dropped off at a highway intersection where a couple hundred people gathered to watch and cheer as the vehicles drove by. And, that's all it was. Watching and cheering. Hmm.
Pete was enjoying himself and took some great pictures - instead I found a nice spot in the shade of a billboard beside a very nice, older Argentinian couple. After standing there for only a couple of minutes, the man went to his car to bring me an extra chair to sit on, and offered me some cold water. They were so friendly and generous (a very big characteristic of Argentinians, we have found!) and cute to watch as they dolled out snacks to their grandchildren, sang along to the songs on their transistor radio, and even tried to show me what some of the native plants were in the bushes behind us. I really enjoyed my afternoon with them, but as the day wore on, Pete and I decided we had to deal with the looming problem in front of us - how on earth were we going to get back to town?
We were 20kms out of the city with no phone and no taxi stand nearby. Walking would have been very difficult in my flip flops and with no water in the 30+ degree weather. Thus, we did something neither of us have ever done before - we stuck out our thumb and tried to hitch a ride back! It took only about 15 minutes, and an old pick-up truck inhabited by a young couple stopped to pick us up. We rode back to town in the open back of the truck, once again treated to the easy, simple generosity of these people. We were very grateful!
We ended our day with a dip in the pool at our hotel...very luxurious for this grungy traveling couple!
Our second day in town has been dedicated to checking out the museums. We started out with the museum of Che Guevara - housed in his actual childhood home of 11 years, and just down the street from our hotel. Pete and I were both very excited for this visit as we have read an awful lot about Che, and the museum did not disappoint with many pictures and relics from his childhood and later years.
For those who know nothing about Che (Margo), check out this website by clicking here (Margo). Everyone should know who he is. Margo.
On our way to the second museum, we found a little store with all the ingredients necessary for an awesome picnic in the park - bread, different cheeses, sausage, and wine! Love the lack of open alcohol rules in this country!
A beautiful place for a picnic
Our last stop was a museum in a former Jesuit Estancia - a large ranch built and operated by the Jesuit missionaries in the 17th century to economically support the first university in Argentina. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage site and has a beautifully preserved residence and church.
This whole area of north western Argentina has been largely influenced by the Jesuit missionaries of the 17th century, to which I know very little about, except that they arrived to bring Catholicism to Latin America, but were kicked out by the King of Spain in the late 18th century. I've added it to the list of things I need to research - this is a problem I have found with traveling, it raises far too many questions that I must answer! That list is getting awfully long...
Tomorrow morning we are back onto the bus to Cordoba for a couple of nights exploring the bigger city - back on the tourist trail! Some of our favourite spots we have seen so far are those that we venture off the path to explore, and Alta Gracia has been no exception. Perhaps it is a good thing that the locals "undersell" their town, in order to keep it a "find" for those who are willing to look for it...