It’s official boy and girls: I have arrived at my final destination on what has been a long, beautiful and incredibly diverse journey! The fun’s not over yet of course – still a couple of weeks left to play with – but Buenos Aires has already shown me an excellent time since I rocked up yesterday afternoon. I’m the first to admit that I have barely even extended the finger with which to scratch the surface of this mind-bogglingly extensive metropolis, so I’ll save my BA round-up for a later post. For now, I am taking two slightly smaller cities as my subjects, cities which I feel deserve full and undivided attention, such was the brilliance of my experiences there.
Cordoba. I felt instantly good about arriving in this fab spot. Although admittedly this could be partly put down to relief at being back in civilisation after the Yannis fiasco (see last week’s post here), there is no denying that Cordoba needs little assistance in the charm department. The city does colonial grandeur very well, but is also a student hub where the hipster movement has found a natural groove. From its edgy antique markets sprawling along the Paseo de las Artes through to the university area with its protest graffiti and student buskers, it has a decidedly alternative vibe which has served to transform what I imagine was a collection of rather run-down buildings into an avant-garde paradise full of pop-up boutiques and artfully shabby bars, announced by twinkling fairy lights and house beats. All very tasteful.
Cola hunting, choral singing and Borscht. My Cordoba experience was made, as is so often the case, by the people I met there. Ukrainian Elena and I had stayed in touch since Cafayate, and arranged a meet-up in Cordoba along with her couchsurfing host, Cecilia, and Cecilia’s sister Flor. We spent a wonderful afternoon chatting away over a merienda of maté (traditional Argentinian herbal tea) and bread with dulce de leche (caramel-like spread), and were then joined by a few of Cecilia’s friends, with whom we scurried excitedly around the Paseo de las Artes in search of limited edition Coca Cola bottles which were being given away as part of a promotion. A visit to a free choral concert in the stunning Libertador General San Martín theatre followed, after which we settled down in a peña to round the night off with a few empanadas and pizza.
We all enjoyed the evening so much that we all decided to meet up again the following night – this time at Cecilia’s place, where Elena offered to make us all borscht (Ukrainian beetroot and potato soup) and pancakes for dinner. We were also joined by the lovely Nadia (another of Cecilia’s friends), and Anita, Cecilia’s adorably dopey and affectionate pug. We chatted and chortled through hours of veg peeling and general culinary farting about, and it is a testament to the quality of the company that I wasn’t bothered by the fact that we didn’t eat until gone 11pm (and those of you who know me well will also know the inner rage I would usually experience in such a situation). The food was magnificent, and the company even better. I left Cordoba feeling immeasurably warm and squishy, and sincerely hoping that Ceci and Flor will make their way over to Europe very soon 🙂
Rosario. After a few gorgeous days in Cordoba, new-found travel buds Austrian Eve (with whom I had escaped Yannis’ gaff) and Canadian Emma hopped on a bus bound for Rosario. My good friend Marina hails from Rosario, and had sent me a comprehensive check-list for me to work my way through, so I was eager to crack on and see what Argentina’s ‘second city’ was all about. We were in no way disappointed. Not long after our arrival, we found ourselves wandering down stately avenues overhung with delicate purple blossoms, craning our necks to take in grand villas announced by white columns and Hellenic façades. The whisper of wealth that I had begun to catch in Cordoba was raised to a distinct murmur here in Rosario; I was struck by how European it all felt, reminding me very much of Seville, Bilbao and Barcelona. Before long, we had sniffed out Rosario’s modern art gallery, which contains work by an impressive selection of worthies such as Renoir, Pizarro and Boudain, along with local talent Guillermo Tottis. The gallery visit was followed by much moseying and window-shopping in cute independent stores (not a Topshop or H&M in sight – not that European yet!) and dining out on river fish when all the wandering had worked up an appetite. Not a bad way to spend the day all in all!
Translator banter. Marina had put me in touch with her friend Cecilia (another one!), whom I headed out to meet the following afternoon at a bijoux café called Amélie. We were joined by Cecilia’s friend Agostina, and the three of us passed a delightful afternoon of chatter and dissection of the tricky nuances and translation challenges existing between our native languages (it transpired that we are all translators, and said discussion was a true classic). I wandered contentedly back to my hostel some hours later, full of cake (for which Ceci and Agos refused to let me pay) and gratitude to Marina for having introduced me to such sweet-natured, interesting people with whom to connect 🙂
Argentina’s bid for Best Country of the Journey Award is a bloody good one, all in all. The factor that may tip the balance fully in its favour, more than the magnificence of its architecture or the quality of its artworks, is the national character as I have so far experienced it; the warmth and good nature that radiates from these wonderful humans has quite bowled me over. Men kiss each other in greeting for one thing, which I find just wonderful. Everybody smiles so readily and genuinely that I imagine forming a frown must equate to a fairly intensive facial muscle work-out. In a particularly heart-warming moment earlier today as I was strolling through central BA, a scruffy urchin of a man, whom I assumed was about to deliver some lecherous comment about my appearance (I had unfortunately come to expect this in other places I have visited), simply told me to make sure I wrap up warm as it was expected to rain and get windy later on in the afternoon. He beamed widely and wished me a pleasant day, and I swiftly admonished myself for having made such a snap judgement. What smashing folk! I am of course generalising somewhat in these observations; even Argentinians have off days no doubt. But this overall impression of goodwill seems to hang snuggly around me as I make my way through this fantastic country. Long may it continue.
Coming up: my final volunteering stint (starting tomorrow – fingers crossed for an improvement on the last one!) and a return to BA, with the possibility of popping over to Uruguay! Time is slipping away, so I intend to enjoy these last couple of weeks for all they’re worth. On which note, I’m off to hunt down a tango show for tonight….
Sending loads of Argentine warmth your way 🙂 Katrina x x x x x