I enjoyed the nicest bus ride I’ve ever experienced on an overnight coach from Jujuy to Córdoba.
It was the equivalent of first class plane ride but on a bus. We were served a nice dinner with some fine Argentine vino, we had on demand movies, and the best part of all — the seats reclined fully, into beds.
The cost was 600 Argentine pesos or around $90 USD, but it beat the heck out of the sweat room buses with non-functioning bathrooms in Boliva.
I did not see many “sights” in Córdoba, nor are there many sights to see, but I did enjoy the best 4 days of my time spent in Argentina there.
That was because of my genial and generous host, José Atea, a Córdoban who I’d met and traveled with for two weeks in Boliva.
José is an architect and used to spend part of his time teaching at the University of Córdoba. He was in the process of quitting his job while he was there.
I was in Córdoba right after Argentina’s Day of Remembrance for Truth and Justice, a national holiday which commemorates the victim’s of Argentina’s “Dirty War.” The school had several posters for the holiday.
The Dirty War was a period of state terrorism in Argentina against political dissidents, with the military taking action against anyone believed to be associated with socialism. Victims of the violence included an estimated 30,000 left-wing activists and militants, including trade unionists, , journalists, and students, many of whom were studying at the University of Córdoba.
Many of the victims were just made to “disappear” and were therefore given the name “the disappeared.” The government justified its tactics as part of a war against a revolutionary insurrection waged by “subversive terrorists.”
Many of “the disappeared” were children – lost orphan’s stolen from their captured mothers who had been accused of being left-wing dissident socialists.
Some of these mothers were pregnant when captured and had their babies stolen from them at birth. According to human-rights groups, as many as five hundred newborns and young children were taken from disappeared parents and handed over – their identities erased – to childless military and police couples.
The time I spent in Córdoba also happened to be during Semana Santa, a week which carried more than usual significance for most Córdobans. The recently appointed Pope Francis, is the first Jesuit pope, the first Latin American pope, and a guy who spent time as a spiritual director to the Jesuit community in Córdoba.
Many of the Jesuit churches in Córdoba were going above and beyond the call of duty in their celebrations of Semana Santa.
My first night in Córdoba I helped José and his friends bottle some of the wine they had been making.
José and his friends buy huge quantities of red and white grapes from nearby vineyards and make the wine themselves, first by crushing the grapes in enormous jugs and letting the crushed grapes sit and ferment with a light towel covering the vessels.
When the fermentation process is complete the wine is ready to be drained into a long row of empty plastic jugs.
The boys had run the math on the situation and with the cost of the grapes and the bottles, they would end up paying much less per liter of wine than they would at the store. Plus, you get to say “yeah, this is the wine I made!”
Getting the wine out of the vessels took more than simple draining – we all took turns smashing down the grapes in order to squeeze out every last drop into the green jugs.
In the end the guys only filled just over half of their green jugs. They were disappointed with the production because they told me that last year, with the same amount of grapes, they had filled all the jugs. But still a ton of homemade wine, nothing to be upset about.
The next day José and I were joined by Jelena, a Bosnian-born Dutch girl we had traveled with in Bolivia.
We spent most of the next two days drinking mate…
… walking around the parks in and around Córdoba.
…and usually combination of those three activities.
As far as I could tell by looking around, this was not that different than what most Córdobans were doing with their time.
Argentines seemed to have a good beat on just slowing things down and enjoying the now, more so than the previous South American countries I had traveled through.
And for most Argentines, enjoying the now was usually accompanied by the slow and steady consumption of mate.
In two of the three days we all spent together, the first 2-3 hours of the day were just spent drinking mate, talking, and playing Truco.
Its pretty hard to get stressed in that situation and for Jelena, it was just the reprieve she needed.
She had recently been victim to one of the most bizarre robbery/scams that I personally heard about in all of South America – her story begins on the next page.