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.
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).
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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!