Argentina, a new page.
I must admit that the pending thoughts of going home sort of dampened my short while in Chile. Until having that issue decided and over with, I did not realize that it was affecting me. That said, I have flight tickets home confirmed, the rest of my travel agenda established, and now I am just riding the wave until April 25th. My only responsibility until then is to make it to Buenos Aires. Hopefully I can handle it.
First stop, Mendoza.
The Chile-Argentina border cross was one of the most efficient crosses I have made yet. We pulled into this large building with queues for the vehicles. Very ingenious set-up. Each vehicle gets its own customs building with two windows, one for leaving Chile and one for entering Argentina. You only wait for the people in your bus/vehicle, everyone is happier and thus more willing to be helpful, and while waiting in line the bus conductor and attendant take care of sending your luggage through the scanners.
From there I arrived to Mendoza in the heat of the afternoon and started walking towards my hostel. Moments later I realized that I had a 19 kilo pack strapped around my waist and a very full bladder. No accidents, but let´s just say that was the fastest mile and half I have ever walked. I went to the Hostel Estacion Mendoza, inevitably, due to its location closest to the terminal.
Mendoza is the fourth largest city, though it does not give off a huge city vibe, and the wine capital, most notably for Malbec, of Argentina. It is also surrounding by several national parks and outdoor recreation activities. This was definitely my type of place.
Staying true to the grid-pattern coverage of the cities, I wandered the main center of Mendoza in like fashion. I will admit that I have realized how little physical activity I seem to partake recently, which I directly correlate to my perception of having gained weight and lost tone over this last year. Bummer. However, the terminal is usually never that fair from wherever my selected hostel resides, so it can only be good for me health wise and budget wise to refuse the use of taxis (unless it is unsafe or late at night…). As well as touring the city center, I wandered through the Parque General San Martin, a 420 hectare park with immense areas of luscious green grass, tree-lined pedestrian paths, and other outdoor amenities. This park is easily one of the best park systems I have encountered throughout my South American wandering and remains one of the best I have found in Argentina. Thus my first day in Argentina included lots and lots of walking.
A bonus to my arrival was the fact that my dear friend, Melanie from Belgium, whom I worked with in Cuzco had been working in Mendoza and was still there when I arrived. It was great getting to see her again, and we had a fantastic last hurrah together. I got to meet people in my own hostel as well as mingle with her crowd at a different hostel. This turned out to my benefit because I was able to put together a little group of people to go on a bicycle wine tour with me. There was a brother and sister combo from Washington, Denny and Abby, who I met at Melanie´s hostel. Then two girls, Julia from Sweden and Tara from Germany, I met from my hostel. And the last girl, Paula from Texas, I actually met on my bus to Mendoza who I happened to run into again one night. We had a great, wine-filled day. We started at the Museo del Vino La Rural, a wine museum with the best collection of traditional wine making tools and history. Then we dropped by Entre Olivos, an olive tree farm where they make delicious olive oils, olive pastes, salsas, marmalades, dulce de leches, chocolates, and dessert liquors. I tried everything of course and sampled a spicy pepper liquor, a creamy liquor similar to Bailey´s, and absinthe. After this warm up to our day we made it to three different wineries in the end including the region´s oldest winery, an entirely French winery, and a small traditional family winery. The tour concluded back at Mr. Hugo´s where we rented our bikes and they had an abundance of free wine for anyone who did not get their fill. I have been on two tours of Sonoma Valley in California, but I liked to Argentinian take on the subject. I learned that U.S. wine is considered so awful mainly because we are not at good elevations for the grapes and that our vineyards are simply too young. At the wine museum we saw a field with 400 year old vines. They clone the same vine to keep younger generations coming up at the same time, so there is a mix, but our oldest U.S. vines can only be 100 years max due to prohibition. I also learned that Argentinians have obscure traditions of watering down their red wines, putting ice cubes in their red wines, and literally mixing reds and whites together to make the rose or blush wines. They are working on changing these customs.
To top off the day, there was a barbecue at Melanie´s hostel that night with bottomless wine and heaps of steak, ribs, sausage, and blood sausage, with a lone green salad and rolls to balance out the meal. I of course had to partake, not only to experience an Argentinian parrilla, but also because it was Melanie´s going away party and another staff member´s birthday. It is a good thing I had so much to eat because that was one wine filled day for me.
Moving on, Córdoba.
The following evening I headed for Córdoba along with Paula, the Texan girl from my first bus into Argentina. We arrived early the next morning and went to Alvear Hostel. I was quite pleased with the choice because they let us eat breakfast even though we had just checked in! It is always the little things that make a hostel great. Plus the breakfast was pretty descent.
After breakfast and some freshening-up, Paula and I headed out to explore the city. Córdoba is supposedly the cultural capital of Argentina with a plethora of museums, galleries, and theatres. Of these endless options, I had chosen three museums that I really wanted to see. Two of them were closed for the entire duration I was in Córdoba. None-the-less, Paula and I walked all over the city center and saw the Iglesia y Residencia Compañia de Jesús Museo Historico UNC. There is a huge history of the Jesuits in Argentina in their mission to convert everyone to Christianity. They founded this university and school of the Montserrat in 1610 with a grand library and accompanying church. However, Pope Clementius XIV dissolved the Society of Jesus in 1773 and when the Society returned to Córdoba in 1860, the place was under Federal State ownership. However, it is now a museum which displays the old hand-written and hand-bound leather covered books from the library as well as numerous old maps depicting the changing provinces and cartographic ideals of those times.
My third museum option (at least one was open) was the Museo Superior de Bellas Artes Evito in the Palacio Ferrerya. An art museum, it contains some 400 pieces over twelve rooms in three floors. The art was interesting but only one exhibit really drew me in. That was of Manuel Molina with Copies of Famous Art Pieces. He showed some well known pieces (such as the Mona Lisa) and how they have been replicated and reproduced over time with changes in fine details, paint type and quality, and brush stroke technique. I was truly intrigued by the exhibit. Though maybe that is because I recently read a book about Interpol and they had a section dedicated just to art theft and falsified copies. Other than that, I mostly went just to investigate the remaining semblances of the palace, which was built in 1914 by Ernest Sanson in a Louis XVI style. Some of the original hand-laid mosaic floors, silk walls, ceiling frescoes, and other designs still remain.
Then we walked towards the Parque Sarmiento and were able to enter the Museo Provincial de Ciencias Naturales for free as we quickly rushed through in the last ten minutes before closing time. It turned out to be quite a good display with excellent collections of fossils, taxidermy animals, rock and mineral samples, etc. To end the long day, we went to the Paseo del Buen Pastor for a live music concert with lighted fountain water show as the sun set.
The following day we headed to Alta Gracia, a tranquil town of winding streets and shady parks. We first took a leisurely walk along the river towards the main park before heading to the Museo Casa del Che. This is Ernesto “Che” Guevara´s childhood home called Villa Nydia. Despite having been in South America for eight and one half months, I know very little about this iconic political hero. I liked the museum because it was full of information about Che´s childhood and young adult life that lead up to his later activities. I will share a few random facts with you.
1) His South American tour by motorcycle with friend Alberto Grenado–most of you might recognize the reference to “The Motorcycle Diaries,” yes that is about Che Guevara–was actually his second time out in the world to witness the blatant social inequalities prevailing not on in Argentina but all through South and Central Americas. Only a few years after this second journey was he given the nickname “Che” and began his associations with Fidel Castro.
2) Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez visited this museum on 22 July 2006, as part of the Presidential Summit held in Córdoba.
3) I finally made the connection to the “Che tour” in Valle Grande, Bolivia. In November 1966, Che entered Bolivia to lead the revolution there. After a few successful skirmishes, the Bolivian army hunted him down. He was caught after receiving a leg injury and taken to La Higuera School for interrogation. On 9 October 1967, at 1:10 PM, Ernesto “Che” Guevara was shot dead by officer Mario Terán, acting under orders from Bolivian President René Barrientos. Che´s body was found 30 years later in a communal grave in Valle Grande, Bolivia. Hence there is a “Che tour” out of Samaipata for Vallegrande in Bolivia.
4) The final tid bit of information. Cuban photographer Alberto Díaz Guttérrez, under the pseudonym of Alberto Korda, took the most famous of photos of Che ever taken. On 5 March 1960, at the funeral of the 186 Cuban citizens killed in a raid on the French vessel La Coubre. Rising from his seat in the back, Che appeared on the dais with his gaze lost towards the horizon. In one instant Korda took the most famous and celebrated photo, which is reproduced innumerable times. Years later, the Italian Communist editor, Feltrinelli saw the photo on Korda´s wall and edited it, thus making producing the famous profile image most people would recognize even if unaware the image is of Che.
After this museum we relaxed for a picnic lunch on the grass alongside the Tajamar, the still-standing dam and reservoir from the 1659 Jesuit community. After are rest, we walked around the reservoir and passed the Reloj Publico (a pronouned clock tower built in 1938 to celebrate the city´s 350th anniversary) to the Museo de la Estancia Jesuítica de Alta Gracia y Casa del Virrey Liniers. This is a Jesuit residence of 17th century, then the viceroy´s home in 1810. It has a connecting church, Parroquia Nuestra Señora de la Merced, which is supposed to be stunning but is currently closed for floor restoration. After the estancia (ranch) we headed away from the peaceful and beautiful Alta Gracia back to Córdoba. I left that evening for Tucumán. Paula was heading for Buenos Aires, thus did not continue with me, but I had a great time having someone to see sights with again.