Tuesday, 18 March 2014


8th - 11th Mar 2014
Iglesia Cathedral, Plaza San Martin. As per all other plazas.Yawn.
A comfortable 14 hour (9.00am to 11.00pm) bus journey south to Cordoba. No great landscape to observe and mostly across flat and featureless savana, or is it pampas, type countryside. The big double-decker buses throughout South America offer three classes of seat; Cama ( sleeper. almost fully reclining), Semi-cama (half-way reclining). and Standard (not very reclining). They play, mostly American, films on TV screens (dubbed in Spanish), have a decent loo, hot and cold water on tap plus light meals and coffee/tea served en-route. It is a bit like travelling Club Class in an aeroplane. They are also surprisingly cheap (this journey, cama class, cost about £35). Competition between a bewildering array of companies at the airport style bus terminals offer lots of schedules and I have never found it difficult to get a seat, on spec and without pre-booking, to wherever I want to go. It was a mistake travelling 'cama' because these seats are downstairs and don't offer such a good view. I have learnt, travelling by day, to get an upstairs 'semi-cama' seat (even cheaper), preferably at the front, for a great vantage point. The roads are smooth and I have yet to experience roadworks or a traffic jam.

Left: Typical downstairs 'cama' class. Without much to look at I spent my time reading and kipping. It gets a bit boring after a while playing solo 'I Spy' especially when all you can see is  grass, the occasional tree, sky and at one place a small cemetery in the middle of nowhere. At some point the conductor conducted a game of bingo. We were all issued with numbered cards and there was a prize of a bottle of wine. My next door neighbour (who had somehow acquired 3 cards), a quiet and decent enough looking young chap, helped me check my numbers. Neither of us won. Just before we passed through Tucumán, or was it Santiago del Estero, there was a small drama. We were stopped at a police check-point. The cops came on board and latched onto my neighbour. They searched his bag and were giving him a bit of an interrogation. He was then escorted off the bus, and went quietly. An old, ethnically dressed woman wearing an Andean bowler hat, possibly his grand-mother, went with him. Never discovered what that was  all about.

Anyway, without further ado, we arrived at Cordobá. The hotel I had earmarked was within 100yds of the terminal, according to the Lonely Planet guide. After towing my bags around every surrounding street and over an hour of fruitless sweaty toil involving much asking and subsequent misleading directions, I found it hidden away down a small alley. It was only 100yds from the terminal. The Alex Hotel, if you're interested. Not a bad place for 250 Pesos (£20) a night.

Off to explore Cordobá the next day and, quite frankly, I thought it a fairly dull place. It is the second largest city in Argentina and seems to revolve around many religious buildings, churches, monasteries, nunneries, convents etc. and lots of universities. The first full day I was there it pissed down with rain plus violent thunderstorms in the morning. The first rain I have so far experienced in Argentina. The main plaza, unsurprisingly called San Martin, was bordered on three sides by  glass and concrete shops and businesses. On the fourth was the cathedral (at top) and the Cabildo (left), the restored colonial town council building. 
........In the middle of which was, of course, a statue of the great General Don Jose de San Martin (right).
I spent a whole day wandering around the city and even ventured into the cathedral (left). I find these over-ornate temples, dripping with ostentatious gold and silver, rather spooky and, despite myriad burning candles, a bit gloomy. They are sided by dimly lit mini-chapels in alcoves which often feature tacky painted life-size statues of a crucified and bloodied Christ and his virgin mum in front of which there is normally some old dear supplicating and crossing herself with great enthusiasm; more in hope than expectation perhaps. 
Most of the bars and restaurants that I saw seemed to lack the charm, variety and joie-de-vivre of those in Salta. Maybe I just didn't find the good ones, or wasn't out late enough. One exception was a lunchtime only eatery, the Novocento, which was in and above a splendid courtyard inside the Cabildo (right). Good nosh here and very cheery and helpful staff.
There is a large and pleasant park, the Parque Sarmiento (left), which features some modernistic sculptures and shady picturesque spots for picnics, canoodling (many were at it) or just lazing around.
There were also, as always, several statues of Argentinian heroes (right). I failed to make a note of which this one was.

There are many museums and art galleries of course. This one (left), the Palacio Ferrerya, is just outside the park and, according to my guide book, featured some excellent paintings by famous Argentinian artists (name one, I challenge you).......
....could have fooled me! I went in up this magnificent staircase (right) which led to several spacious galleries on the two upper floors in which were many, to my philistine eyes, rather uninspiring exhibits.
The only person I saw in here was a lady at the desk in the foyer.
After breakfast on day three I decided I would explore a bit of the local countryside. Talking of breakfasts, all the hotels that I have stayed in so far  provide pathetic fare at these meals. You seem only to get a cup of tea or coffee, maybe a small glass of orange juice if you're lucky and, here, two sticky dry croissants. Not even any toast and butter and I have yet to experience any hot food or even any eggs. Haven't seen any hens anywhere for that matter. They obviously don't take 'desayuno' very seriously.

So I took the bus to the small town of Alta Gracia in some foothills, an hour's journey to the south-west. It has quite a pretty town centre with a grassy plaza, a reservoir cum lake and a notable 17th century Jesuit church and estancia (left). This was closed to visitors due to renovations, or lack of Jesuits.

Right. The tourist information centre, in the bottom of the tower, by the lake. Two helpful ladies were manning it and I don't think they were overworked.

Alta Gracia is also the place where Ernesto 'Che' Guevara lived during his childhood up until when he went  to medical school in Buenos Aires and then off on his travels . He was born in Buenos Aires but the family moved here, a healthier environment, because he suffered badly from asthma. His family house (left) is now a museum.

Amongst many fairly innocuous exhibits is the motorbike (right) he travelled vast distances on throughout South America.
Photos of Che from his schooldays adorn the walls. He was, by all accounts, a bright and charming young lad, but  still frequently suffered from asthma attacks.

Left: A photo of Che with his second wife and children....after the revolutionary overthrow of President Batista of Cuba by Fidel Castro in 1959.

He was appointed Trade Minister in Castro's government and made frequent visits abroad to speak at conferences. Right: Speaking at some meeting alongside Fidel Casto. He subsequently went on to try to stir up revolutions in the Congo and Bolivia, with little success.
I may be imaging this but, in my opinion, he has a more than passing resemblance to the groom at the wedding we attended in BA.

Left: Fidel and Señor Chavez of Venezuela on a visit to the museum in Alta Gracia in 2006. 
Right: A photo of Che in a more characteristic revolutionary pose. He was wounded and captured in Bolivia by the Bolivian army in 1967 and subsequently executed by a Bolivian police chief while in jail. He would be 86 years old if alive today.

Next stop will be Mendoza, to the south-west near the foothills of the Andes. This as you are no doubt aware is the main wine producing area in the country. I expect I will be visiting a winery or two.

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