Jun 06 2014
My final stop before heading across the border (aka the mountains) into Chile. Arrived without much problem, an overnight bus from Cordoba, but as it turns out the weather in the Andes has the mountain passes closed all week so I booked a few more days at a hostel than originally planned to wait out the storm (a storm that must be hanging out solely in the mountains because the weather down below in Mendoza was great). As such I ended up overstaying my tourist visa (and eventually was forced to take a plane instead of a bus). So I got to experience the joys of Argentine bureaucracy as I went to Immigration to request a 10 day extension. This involved watching the case workers drink Mate (something akin to tea) together for 30 minutes after the office was already officially open, then being told I couldn't actually pay the immigration fee to Immigration (either because they weren't set up to take payments or because they didn't trust their own workers, I wasn't sure which). So the process basically involves them giving you a form which they stamp to show you're allowed to pay, you take this form across the city to the National Bank where you pay and receive another stamp which says you paid, then finally you bring the form back to Immigration where they give you a final stamp, which pretty much just affirms that Immigration saw your first stamp. Then you're ready to cross the border.
Mendoza sits at the foothills of the Andes Mountains. Founded in 1561 today the city is home to a little over 100,000 people (though with a million people in the greater area it's the fourth largest urban area in Argentina). The city is clean, safe, and beautiful, and a popular tourist destination filled with bars, restaurants, adventuring shops, cafes, and parks. The region around Mendoza produces most of Argentina's famed Malbec wine and olive oils.
|ARGENTINA • CITIES • MENDOZA|
CAPILLA DEL MONTE
Jun 04 2014
With a few days left in Cordoba I decided to check out Capilla Del Monte, a small little town just north of Cordoba in the Sierras Chicas Mountains. Capilla Del Monte is a bit worn and dusty, the mountains surrounding the town are scraggly and dry. But hidden in this otherwise ordinary mountain town are as endless array of hippie crystal stores and UFO references. Sometime in the 1980's nearby Mount Uritorco was the site of several UFO sightings and extraterrestrial visitations. Combined with a New Age belief that the mountain was already one of Earth's energy vortexes and the town's mythology grew until old buildings were converted into spiritualist treats and crystals from the mountain were sold at roadside shops (even the duende, the small trolls of Spanish lore, have made an appearance). Rather than be embarrassed, Capilla Del Monte has embraced its status as the New Age capital of Argentina. The bus from Cordoba was around 108 pesos round trip ($14).
|ARGENTINA • CAPILLA DEL MONTE • CORDOBA • TOWNS & VILLAGES • UFO|
VILLA GENERAL BELGRANO
Jun 03 2014
About 55 miles (88km) south of Cordoba is Villa General Belgrano, a small mountain village founded in the 1930's by two Germans. As the town grew it attracted a great many immigrants from Germany, Switzerland, and Austria, a sort of German enclave in the center of Argentina. Then in 1940, the German battle cruiser Admiral Graf Spee fought off three British Ships in the South Atlantic but was severely damaged and went to port in Montevideo (a neutral party during the war) for repairs. The British, however, fooled the Germans into believing a superior naval force was en route to commandeer or destroy the ship so the captain scuttled his battle cruiser lest it be captured by the Allies. He soon after shot himself in his hotel room dressed in full uniform. The survivors of the Admiral Graf Spee were taken to Argentina where they were interned until the end of the war at which time 130 of them decided not to return to Germany but instead they settled in Villa General Belgrano, where they continued the Alpine tradition of the settlement by building wood-frame homes, chocolate shops, and microbreweries. Today the town is something of a tourist novelty. From the main Cordoba bus terminal it's easy to catch a bus here, most are around 110 pesos ($14) for a round trip ticket.
|ARGENTINA • CORDOBA • TOWNS & VILLAGES • VILLA GENERAL BELGRANO|
Jun 01 2014
I've finally left Buenos Aires. With my German friend, Silke, I boarded an overnight bus to the city of Cordoba, taking a 9 hour cruise on a double-decker complete with seats that recline into beds and a tiny cafe station on the lower level. South America has some of the nicest buses I've ever seen (tickets from Buenos Aires to Cordoba can be bought online at voyenbus.com for 395 pesos ($48) each way).
Ultimately, I have mixed feelings today. I never meant to stay in Buenos Aires as long as I did. As such the city has become my home for the past six months; so it's with a mix of sadness and excitement that my journey now continues. Goodbyes are never easy. This new leg of my travels involves traveling by bus from one side of South America to the other, from Buenos Aires to Santiago, Chile; stopping in a few places along the way.
Today I arrive in Cordoba, Argentina's second largest city, known for its universities and colonial era buildings and situated in the heart of Argentina at the foothills of the Sierra Chica Mountains. Cordoba was founded by the Spanish in 1573 and today is home to around 1.3 million people. The Jesuit Block in the city center dates back to the 1600's and is a UN World Heritage Site. My first impressions of Cordoba were that it was infinitely cleaner and less chaotic than Buenos Aires. It's true that there's a magical charm in Buenos Aires, created by that chaotic sprawl of ruined buildings adjacent to glistening high rises, by sidewalks obliterated by construction crews into rubble and covered in dog crap every twenty feet, by legions of homeless men sleeping on the busy, loud, and overcrowded city streets. All this together is a stew of energy and life, a testament to the possibilities of the human spirit.
But when a rest from that chaos is needed, there's the 'other' Argentina, which is to say anywhere that's not Buenos Aires. Cordoba in particular is a very welcoming city. Much of the historic core is pedestrian only, there are colonial era buildings at every turn, the city's canal is lined with cafes, there are open air artist markets to stroll and large parks with lakes and public art to see. I've tried to capture a little of the city's charm below:
During the Military Dictatorship of the 70s and 80s in Argentina, 10's of thousands of dissidents (and perceived dissidents) were kidnapped, tortured, and killed. These dissidents included students, educators, members of opposition parties, and anyone associated with leftist politics. As many as 30,000 people vanished during this time. A great number of them were drugged, then flown over the Atlantic Ocean, and dropped alive into the sea. Neither their bodies nor official records as to their fates have ever been found. Today they are known as the 'Disappeared' and family members still try everything in their power to find out what happened to their loved ones. In Cordoba there was an installation dedicated to the the men and women of the city who vanished during what is now known as the 'Dirty War'.
|ARGENTINA • CITIES • CORDOBA|
THE TOWN OF LOBOS
May 27 2014
The clock is ticking. The moment is approaching. It's almost time to leave Buenos Aires. I've been here so long it's starting to feel like home (a rather dirty, disorderly version of home). Well, as a tiny prologue to the adventures soon to come I took a bus with some friends to the towns of Lobos and Navarro. These two tiny gaucho towns are not so far Buenos Aires, only about 60 miles, but the changes in landscape and character in that short distance is rather remarkable. The congestion, noise, and chaos of Buenos Aires, a sprawling mess of 3 million Porteños, gives way to dirt roads, grassy fields, beat up trucks, an occasional horse, and the dusty towns of provincia.
Between Lobos and Navarro, Lobos is the larger of the two, with a handsome town square, a functional train station, and more than a few lazy stray dogs (though not as many as Navarro). We hung around only long enough for a coffee (pictured below) before catching the bus to Navarro (also pictured below), which was always more or less our primary destination. As it turned out the bus was our own private limousine service; I guess no one else felt like hanging out in Navarro.
|ARGENTINA • LOBOS • TOWNS & VILLAGES|
THE TOWN OF NAVARRO
May 27 2014
The province of Buenos Aires is dotted with small historic towns, some not far from Buenos Aires, and a few of which still attempt to maintain a connection to their gaucho past. The gauchos were akin to South American cowboys and their mystique, their lives on the open ranges, their occasional run-ins with the often corrupt law, have crept their way into popular folklore and legend. Navarro, a sleepy and rural little town on a lagoon, has deep ties to gaucho history and with a little patience we were able to find a bus that would take us there. Like Lobos, I started to get the impression there were more stray dogs here than people, but the dusty streets, quiet cafes, and rural feel was a welcomed change from Buenos Aires.
THE TRAIN STATION Argentina once possessed one of the most developed train networks in the Americas. However, mismanagement followed by privatization (which as in the United States allowed the automobile industry to buy up train and tram systems and then promptly dismantle them to force town residents to take auto buses) led to a rail system that today is only a shadow of its former self. The train to Navarro was completely abandoned decades ago and the train station is now in ruins. But there can be beauty in decay.
|ARGENTINA • NAVARRO • TOWNS & VILLAGES|
CHURCHES OF BUENOS AIRES
May 23 2014
|ARGENTINA • BUENOS AIRES • CHURCHES|
MONUMENTS OF BUENOS AIRES
May 21 2014
|ARGENTINA • BUENOS AIRES • MONUMENTS|
TOWERS OF BUENOS AIRES
May 15 2014
|ARGENTINA • ARCHITECTURE • BUENOS AIRES|
CAFES OF BUENOS AIRES
May 14 2014
Buenos Aires isn't anything, if not a city of cafes. It's a common sight to see men and women, often sitting alone, reading the newspaper, drinking coffee and eating medialunas (croissants). As a testament to their sheer numbers, the cafes of Buenos Aires are almost never crowded. This cafe culture is one of the aspects of the city that I'll truly miss when I leave. I've spent a great number of hours at these cafes; writing, reading, studying, chatting... and planning the next big adventure.
|ARGENTINA • BUENOS AIRES • CAFES|