Tag: Argentina

Travels in Cordoba

After an amazing side trip to Iguazu Falls, we arrived in Argentina’s second largest city on December 2. What a contrast to the craziness of Buenos Aires! Cordoba is still a late-night culture and the people still warm and beautiful, but everything is dialed down a notch to a more sustainable level.

General Impression

This is interior Argentina. There is no port and very few foreign tourists, so our group was a bit of an anomaly and we were very well treated. Everyone seemed to be looking for opportunities to practice their English, and would frequently talk to us for no particular reason other than friendliness.

By far, what we will remember from our month here is the overwhelming warmth of the people. We felt welcome, safe and a part of things. Whenever we went to the same restaurant more than once and were served by the same waiter, we were usually recognized and welcomed back, sometimes with an Argentinian kiss on the right cheek.

There are several universities here. We were told that some offer free higher education to citizens and that there are possibly 300,000 students here in this city of about 1.5 million. Universidad Nacional de Córdoba, one of South America’s oldest universities, is located here.

Although very different from Buenos Aires in many ways, it’s still Argentina so the Cordobes still have much in common, such as inflation, cash issues, a history of political strife and, of course, the same language (Spanish).

Working

Our workspace was called La Maquinita, a 15-minute walk from our apartment, in the business district of Nuevo Cordoba. The view from there included a massive cathedral and a former women’s prison that has been converted into a public display space and plaza. Cordoba is a hardworking city with a business attitude and strong commercial core.

Local Flavor

Somehow I got sucked into drinking a local favorite – Fernet and Coke. Fernet is a bitter, syrupy spirit from Italy.   It is definitely an acquired taste – the first sip or two are bitter, even through the sweetness of the Coke, but it grew on me! Photo is from a class in making cocktails with local ingredients.

There’s an energetic vibe, driven by the high student population, many of whom remain here to live and work. Similar to Austin!

Christmas

We spent Christmas in Cordoba with our traveling family. Gift-giving, decorating and other normal holiday activities were minimal due to our mobile circumstances, so It was a relaxed and enjoyable period. The local population celebrates quietly with family and friends without the blatant consumerism of the US observance, so we did too!

Nightlife

We spent most of our time in Nuevo Cordoba, which is simply a newer section of the city than the traditional downtown. Our apartment was in a neighborhood called “Guemes”, popular with the younger crowd, with endless bars and restaurants that provided a wide range of nightlife options. Except on Monday nights when, for some reason, most establishments were closed.

There are several former alleys and courtyards that have been renovated into what are called Gallerias – basically small clusters of 8 to 10 bars and restaurants that can only be accessed by one point on the street. The access is typically gated in the daytime and you don’t even realize the Gallerias exist until everything comes alive between 6 and 7 pm.

Other Stuff We Did

We visited the Sierras, mountains east of the Andes, and saw several condors. In the Quebrada del Condorito park we also saw areas where indigenous vegetation had been devastated by a non-native feral hog population, very similar to the problems Texas has. They trap them, but it’s impossible to keep up.

Barbara also took an overnight trip to the wine country in Mendoza, but I skipped it due to the long bus ride.

We also volunteered with a charitable organization, Los Josefinos, that works with intercity kids to tutor them and coach them in rugby and field hockey.

Tidbits

There is a good bus system, although we used it only a few times. Taxis are plentiful and affordable. Uber is not officially sanctioned. There is no commuter rail system.

December in Cordoba is equivalent to June in the USA. It sometimes got quite hot at the peak of the day, low nineties for most of the days we were there, but with low humidity. There were also some days in the seventies. It rained several times during our visit. Winters are quite mild, and snow is rare.

Costs were just slightly less than they were in Buenos Aires – high by South American standards, but reasonable by US standards. A glass of house wine typically ran $4 or less, which seems cheap, but you could get a whole bottle of Malbec at the liquor store for not much more than that. Apartment rents in the Guemes neighborhood where we stayed seemed to be in the $600-$1000 USD per month range, for a lease (not AirBnB). Leases in pesos usually have escalation built in – inflation is between 20 and 30% per year.

We didn’t experience much “fine dining”. The beef culture in Buenos Aires didn’t seem to be present in Cordoba. Our best food experiences were typically lomo (beef loin) and Choripan (also beef) sandwiches. Empanadas are the local finger food of choice and are also very good.

The Ugly

Because of the financial issues, the amount of cash that can be withdrawn per day is limited, and we saw some long ATM lines – 25 or 30 people in line was not uncommon. However, unlike Buenos Aires, in Cordoba the banks have adopted a two-tier ATM fee system. If you want to pay the minimum ATM fee you can wait in line. If you are willing to pay a higher fee (about a 50% premium over the minimum) there was typically no line and the machines did not run out of cash. We just paid the higher fee.

The other drawback we experienced was the aforementioned lack of fine dining options. We don’t go 5 star every night, but sometimes it’s nice to find a 4!

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Travels in Buenos Aires

Arrived on November 4 – it was an overnight flight from Africa, so we arrived in South America in the daylight hours. Our entire traveling group was in one apartment complex this month, in the Palermo neighborhood. It was exciting driving through this beautiful city in the bright, spring sunshine. The abundance of trees and greenery was an immediate contrast to Morocco.

General Impression

We were here three years ago and loved it, so we had high expectations. We weren’t disappointed! It’s a fun, vibrant city with lots going on.

The native language is Spanish, but English is widely spoken. We only had to rely on our rudimentary Spanish a few times a day, usually with cab drivers or store clerks.

Buenos Aires is a very green city, with lots of parks and open spaces. Many of the street trees in our Palermo neighborhood were huge, dating back to a city beautification program over 100 years ago. The jacaranda trees were in bloom!

Dinner starts no earlier than 8 here for most, so it tends to be a late lifestyle. The night life is crazy. Barbara and I weren’t big participants, but nightclubs many times aren’t even open until midnight and the fashionable crowds don’t show up until at least 1:00 am. It isn’t unusual for people to be out until 5 or 6 in the morning – not sure when they sleep or work. One morning I went up to do some work poolside at our apartment complex at about 7:30 am and there was a guy sitting by the pool who’d just arrived home from a nightclub.

Dining

Grilled meat is the big thing here, and it is good. Beef is most common, but pork, chicken and various sausages are widely available, and all good! It’s similar to Texas – but the local barbeque is called asado and the grill a parrilla.

There’s also significant Italian influence in town and that cuisine is common. But with a city population of nearly 3 million and an overall MSA of over 14 million, just about any type of food can be found.

The Rio de la Plata

Buenos Aires is a port city. The Rio de la Plata is the primary waterway that separates Argentina from Uruguay. The Rio is very wide and carries heavy sediments, as well as pollutants, from upriver, so there are no real beaches near Buenos Aires. Even though it has vast waterfront, it has not been developed as a public amenity. In fact, the domestic airport is located right along the water. One of the largest delta systems in the world is located an hour or so upriver from the city.

Politics

Argentina has had a turbulent past since becoming independent from Spain in the early 1800s, and it is very evident, with statues, monuments and park dedications all around the city. The years between WW II and the most recent democratic elections in 1983 were particularly hard. Juan and Eva Peron are still remembered as an advocate of the working class. Eva Peron’s tomb in Recoleta Cemetery still attracts many visitors. The low point was a military dictatorship between 1976 and 1983, which implemented 8,500 confirmed “disappearances” to suppress communist sentiment. Some believe the true total to be 30,000.

Architecture

There’s an interesting mix of architectural styles. We were told that around

the time of the Paris World’s Fair when the Eiffel Tower debuted, Buenos Aires became infatuated with all Paris, so many of the buildings built around that time have a French influence, as do the wrought iron entrances to the subway. However, the actual subway system follows the English model – we got confused a few times because the trains (but not cars!) run on the left instead of the right and we mistakenly waited on the wrong side. There’s also Italian architectural influence but, surprisingly, there didn’t seem to be much Spanish.

Buenos Aires is the capital city of Argentina, so is the seat of government with all of the associated buildings and other features.

Inflation

Argentina has undergone several financial crises over the past 30 years. This has resulted in a variety of new taxes, especially on imported goods, that have taken a toll on the local population. Inflation has been in the range of 20% per year. Even measured against the US dollar, things are much more expensive than when we were here 3 years ago – a bottle of wine in a restaurant is double 3 years ago (in US dollars – more in pesos!). Although, based on the number of people eating and drinking out at night, everyone seems to have figured out a way to deal with it. And restaurant price for a bottle of good domestic Malbec is still a bargain at around $20 USD!

Tidbits

There is a good, affordable transit system, with both buses and several metro lines. Taxis are plentiful and affordable. Uber is not officially sanctioned, but does have a significant presence. We found that for short trips the taxis were less wait and not significantly more expensive. Uber did seem a cheaper option for longer trips.

November is spring in Buenos Aires. We had nearly perfect temperatures the whole month and only a few days of rain. Typically, highs ranged from the mid-70’s to mid-80’s and lows around 60. We often needed jackets at night and early mornings. We’re told summers are generally hot and humid, and winters have no snow or freezing temperatures, although can get damp and chilly.

Costs for food and beverages have gone up significantly since our last stay here 3 years ago, but are still affordable by Austin standards. A glass of wine usually ran $5-6 USD, and we could usually find a bottle of Malbec for around $20 USD in a restaurant. Our best dinner out, which included one huge steak, one huge pork chop, an appetizer, a bottle of wine and sparking water was about $70 USD with tip. Tipping was 10-12% for waiters, but cab drivers and others generally weren’t tipped. Anything imported, which generally includes electronic goods and clothing, is very expensive – probably double what we’d pay in Austin. We couldn’t get a handle on rents – they seem to vary widely based on location and terms.

Other Stuff We Did!

We took the opportunity to hop on a two-hour flight and visit Iguazu Falls, which is located at the junction of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. The falls and the associated park on the Argentina side are huge and amazing. We weren’t able to get to the Brazil side due to visa restrictions and costs.

We took a day trip to “The Delta” where we relaxed, kayaked and ate asado. We had a great day at a polo grounds a few hours outside of Buenos Aires, where we learned a little about polo, watched a match, tried our hand at playing and then went on a trail ride. We ate out more than our budget allowed and drank a lot of good Argentinian Malbec.

We also celebrated a fantastic Thanksgiving with our traveling family and some local guests, thanks to our Remote Year city lead, Santiago, who managed to find us an affordable place with an oven big enough for 2-25 pound turkeys and space for 50+people, and Barbara who led the kitchen crew.

The Ugly

Because of national financial issues, the amount of cash you can withdraw per day is limited. Consequently, people visit ATMs so often the machines tend to run out of cash. In addition, a lot of places don’t accept credit cards. We felt like we were continually in a cash crisis ourselves – one day I had to try seven ATMs to get the cash I needed. There are a lot of dogs in Buenos Aires, and a lot of irresponsible dog owners. We really had to watch where we stepped!

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