Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Hello from a stinking* hot La Rioja

Evening folks!

I’m back from the wilderness (metaphorically, at least, because you could probably argue that I’m literally still in the wilderness. La Rioja has a certain wild-west feel to it). And are you in for a treat in the run up to Christmas. Oh yes! It’s going to be blog-tastic. I hope the combined excitement won’t be too much for any of you. Particularly in light of all the snow that some of you have been having. I must say that Dad’s shots of a (very) snowy Sidmouth gave me a few pangs of homesickness and the feeling of “how bloody typical?: a lifetime spent waiting for a Sidmouth whiteout and the year it comes, I’m on the other side of the world, basking under a 40 degree sun”. Oh well, I know I shouldn’t complain, after all it is lovely here, and I know that some of you would give anything to see the sun right now, but, you know what they say: the grass is always greener on the other side, especially when it has been scorched brown by the sun, or covered by a blanket of snow. The nonsense of which means that in this case I should probably say that the snow is always whiter on the other side. Whatever! You know what I mean. Still, despite the small twinges of snow-related jealousy, I am still having a fabulous time and making the most of every opportunity that comes my way (which in these days in La Rioja means eating Chinese food, trying to avoid the scalding heat of the day and experiencing life as a foreign immigrant living in Argentina!) All of which will become clear in a few days time when I get round to pos(i)ting (that was originally a typo, but it still kind of made sense, so I thought I would edit it and draw your attention to it - pedantic Ed.) the La Rioja Chronicles.

Anyway, I’m going to try to post everyday from now on, until such time that you can read my blog in real-time (well, almost), so that’ll be nice (and give you something to do if you happen to be snowed in over Christmas) . First, cast your mind back to Cordoba, in the relative cool of the late Argentine spring, and we’ll begin where I left off, on the date that follows (below):

Sunday 5th December 2010

A Sunday lie-in was followed by breakfast (for which the hostel staff are most accommodating – the free breakfast could be provided at any hour of the day). It was quite nice too: criollitos (a kind of cross between puff-pastry and bread) and medialunas (or croissants to speakers of Frenglish), with, yes, you’ve guessed it, dulce de leche! And slightly odd tasting coffee. After fortifying ourselves with sugary goodness, we headed out for the day.

And we actually had quite a productively touristy day, taking in one of the Art Galleries (really rather good for 3 pesos, with a good range of different art works (see for some examples) and a nicely converted old belle époque building). A flea market followed (good people watching) and then the nice streets which line the waterway that runs through Cordoba (can’t really call it a river because it makes the Sid look like a raging torrent!). Lunch (or tea, given the timing) was consumed in the park (full of Cordobeses drinking mate), and included the best criollitos and most mediocre sandwiches yet. A sandwich in Argentina is one thing and one thing only. It is the most thinly sliced sliced-white-bread imaginable, filled with one slice of ham and one slice of cheese. To call it bland is to credit it with more flavor than it actually possesses, but it has a certain kind of charm, that perhaps stems from the effort to make something so processed, so neat and so homogenous, as if any deviation from the formula (square and very white) would ruin the whole effect. And it fills a hole. Still, if someone could open the minds and markets of Argentina to the near infinite range of fillings available in the UK they could (possibly) make a killing.                                                                
You’re probably thinking that’s just about enough food-related discourse for one day, but there’s more, I’m afraid. We had dinner in an all-you-can-eat International restaurant. It was huge, and rather like a 3 star hotel buffet, but the range of food was impressive and included a lot of fruit and veg (the reason it was called “international”, perhaps!). Needless to say we were absolutely stuffed come the end, and for 6 quid each, you can’t really argue with that!

After dinner we played cards back at the hostel, drinking neat Fernet as a (much-needed) digestif. It has been another good day (sunny and warm, of course), in good company and in a lovely city, which seems a very liveable place indeed.                                                                                               

Monday 6th December 2010                                                                                      

Most of the day was spent deliberating what to do next. There were various options placed on the table, but we all rather wanted to do different things, so in the end it seemed more sensible to go our separate ways. Adrian wanted to go to Iguazu Falls, so him and Oscar were going to head there (back via Buenos Aires and Rosario, i.e. the long way round… for me the thought of 20 hours on a bus was a step too far!). Andres wanted to go straight back to La Rioja to prepare for an exam later in the week, i.e. the direct route. And I wanted to head over the Sierras Cordobeses towards Mendoza, i.e. the intermediate (or lagom, if you’re Swedish) option. Some of my time in Stockholm has clearly rubbed off!

I decided to spend an extra day in Cordoba first as I really like the hostel and the city, and given the length of my stay I didn’t feel in any particular rush.

After all that deliberation, we needed fortifying, so a massive picnic-style lunch (only eaten indoors, out of the heat) was prepared (with beautiful plate-arrangement courtesy of Adrian). It comprised: bread (quite nice by Argentinian standards, which is to say much better than your average UK loaf, but not as good as continental Europe or Mum’s homemade), cheese (processed crap, not a lot of choice in that department, unfortunately), ham (average), tomatoes (good!), eggs (very good… lovely bright orange yolks). I still gain endless satisfaction from buying and eating food in foreign countries. It just says so much about a place to consider what people eat and drink and the manner in which they do it!

We didn’t bother with wine, as I was feeling a bit coldy, but there’s plenty more time for wine consumption down the road, so happy to have one meal without!

In the afternoon, I had a new “typical Argentinian experience”. Adrian needed to get some money by Western Union transfer, so that required going to the Post Office. To borrow from Craig Revel Horwood, three letters perfectly describe the experience: OMG! We waited in the queue for an hour and a half, only to discover that the number Adrian had was wrong and they couldn’t give him the money. Bugger. Thankfully, a quick trip to an internet cafe, correcting the wrong digit, a bit of queue jumping (the man who had served us waved us back without needing to wait), and a lot of slow bureaucracy (I haven’t come across such ponderous transacting since my days of local government!) later, Adrian had his money. Hooray for that!

We were then able to go the bus station to get our respective tickets. We subsequently treated ourselves to steak (lomo, which I think is like sirloin) and ratatouille for dinner, washed down with more impressive wine (still in the 2 to 3 pound range and almost always delicious). You could go for a 80p briquette, but I figure that after 10 years of gainful employment I am worth (slightly) more than that! Andres got his bus at about 11pm, so it was down to the 3 of us at this point.

Some thoughts on Hostel Che Salguero so far: great place, nice area of Cordoba, lovely staff, and some slightly odd guests (aren’t there always!). To summarise the people watching highlights of the last few days: 2 hard-partying Irish guys, almost impossible to understand; one Canadian girl who just wouldn’t shut up (I know, I can talk!), but generally quite annoying; 3 arrogant Oz “dudes” who didn’t speak to anyone else; one English couple who probably couldn’t look like they were having a worse time if they tried (think there must have been a few “marital difficulties” there); and a random assortment of other nationalities: Germans, Americans, Columbians, etc. Quite a cosmopolitan place, overall. And the major bonus of having Adrian, Oscar and Andres for company. It’s fun travelling alone and meeting new people, but it’s even more fun when you can dissect your fellow travellers and laugh about the bizarre goings on that are part and parcel of hostel life.

Tuesday 7th December 2010

In the morning I went to see Adrian and Oscar off at the bus station and afterwards walked up to the viewpoint over the city (more disappointing than it sounds). I then went to the modern art gallery only to discover it was closed for refurbishment. Bummer. I headed back for lunch and checking of e-mails (not that anybody had sent me any: gone and already forgotten!). I then proceeded to try my luck with another art gallery. At least this one was open (and free), but a bit disappointing (especially as it was raved about in Lonely Planet). There were no Lucio Fontana works, as promised, either. Still, the building was interesting and there were some okayish modern installations to ponder!

After my shot of culture I had a final wander around the city, which has been uniformly sunny and lovely. Oh, yes, there was also this weird thing with approximately 100 police cars (arranged in 4 rows of 25). I had noticed this on the way to the art gallery and thought “what on earth?” Well, it must have been some kind of ceremony to inaugurate the purchase of 100 new police cars for Cordoba’s police force. There was a brass band and a master of ceremonies, and everything, as well as 100 police officers each standing next to their new cars. Weird!

In the evening I had nice chats with two French guys (studying in Santiago) who complimented me on my French and thus endeared themselves to me instantly, two German girls (who had both studied in the UK and therefore had excellent English), a couple of Argentinians and a Basque (someone from that part of the United States of “Spain”, that is, and not a item of underwear). You certainly meet more people when travelling alone, but whether or not this a good thing is a matter of mood and interpersonal dynamics. On this occasion it was good, but I was still sorry that I had had to say goodbye to Adrian, Oscar and Andres. Oh well, I would see them again in a couple of weeks (which I am doing as I type this)…

Well, I think that is enough for today. The heat should just about have subsided sufficiently to venture outside (i.e. dipped below 35 for the first time since about 10am). I’ll be back with more tomorrow, so until then I will say goodbye.

I’ve uploaded my photos to and 12, some of which relate to what I’ve written, some of which will make more sense in the days to come...

Enjoy the snow (or sun, or rain, or whatever the sky is throwing at you).

Best wishes,
Love J xx

*also refers to Adrian's bedroom!

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