The airport bus in Córdoba – should be easier!

I am taking a flight from Córdoba to Santiago de Chile, rather than a bus, which was tempting but I have ‘done’ long distance buses here in Argentina and I gather the flight is impressive too. I learnt that the airport bus, which is a new service in the city of Córdoba, stops in the plaza close to my hostel. Good.

First tip – ensure that the bus driver can see that you want that bus and that you are visible amongst all the other people who are waiting for other buses. I normally got to where such a bus starts but was persuaded of the convenience of the plaza stop. Hmm.

The driver screeched to a halt (well, it felt like that) and lowered the bus when he saw my bags (gracias). But I needed a travel card to use the bus. What is that about? Won’t this bus be used by lots of visitors to the city, who won’t usually have a travel card? It’s not a very big city.

Second tip – go with your instinct and get on the bus at its starting point, where the problem of the ticket would have been clear in time to get the necessary card. However, Argentinians are very friendly and flexible so the driver suggested that I ask one of the other passengers to click me in on their card. The passenger in the front seat duly obliged and I gave him the requisite cash. All sorted but I do think it’s a bit tourist un-friendly.

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A theatre without a bar

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Córdoba Theatre

Clearly I am not as well-travelled as I think because I had never been in a theatre without a bar or refreshment area of some kind. But I have now. The impressive Teatro del Libertador San Martín in Córdoba has umpteen levels of seating but none of them has anything approximating a bar. Ah well – another first.

coupledancingI went to two concerts here – both excellent. The air-conditioning was working on the second evening which was a great relief to everyone. The concert on my first night was  programmed for 9 pm but the doors didn’t open till just before that. Again, I had not been in a theatre where you couldn’t get into the building much in advance of a performance (other than Edinburgh Fringe events where the venue is just one space). Concerts are not overly popular here so the theatre wasn’t full on either night and it was easy to get tickets. Many concerts are free; these were not but were so cheap as to be practically free.

blurry_tangoOn the second night, I sat in a plaza and had a beer and pizza after the concert. I noticed lots of people in the plaza opposite and went over to find tango dancing in progress. Regular people, many in sandals and holiday clothes, were dancing beautifully to the music. They all knew the dance steps – it is not a dance that you can improvise easily -and they were having such a good time. That was magical and made up for the expensive but unimpressive tango show I attended in Buenos Aires. However, I do need to practise camera options before finding a gem like this and not being able to take better images!

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Learning a new skill – suck and chew

viaduct_detailsA really good way of countering the effects of altitude is to suck coca leaves. This substance is, of course, an illegal drug in most countries but here it is a health product for those living and working in the Andes. The reason that I am in Argentina is to experience El Tren a las Nubes, which ends at 4,220 metres above sea level. That’s hard for someone who lives at sea level so I bought coca leaves on the street the day before. That’s all perfectly legal, as is to share them, which I did in the toilets at one stop. Well, you have to help out folk who’ve lost theirs, but it felt as if I was in a movie.

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Fruit and nuts and coca leaves

You moisten the leaves in your mouth and then pop them in your cheek where the juice works its magic over a few hours. The skill thing is that I got hungry so had to practise eating my dried fruit and nuts on one side of my mouth while keeping the coca in the other cheek.  It’s amazing what you can learn when you need to!

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Viaducto La Polvorilla

The rail track has become degraded in several places, with bridges collapsing and mountains slipping, so the part of the route that you can travel in the train is now quite short. It is, however, simply stunning. It ends by going over the La Polvorillo viaduct. Very high, very amazing.

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I shopped up a storm

I had read that there would be people selling handcrafts here and, indeed, they were everywhere we stopped. They can’t have much other employment options so I had saved up my shopping list and bought all sorts of gorgeous things from these lovely people.

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Multi-coloured mountains

Sadly lunch was horrible in a dirty place but that, in itself, was amazing as food is normally great everywhere I’ve been in Argentina. Other than a dodgy tummy the next morning, no harm was done – and it could have been caused by the altitude.

I was careful to leave my coca leaves behind when I moved on – it is illegal to take them to Chile, where I am headed in a few days.

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Armed angels

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Angel with sword

No, these are not vigilantes, at least not contemporary ones. These armed angels are ‘colonial’ ones (the museum’s description) and are found in a church in the far North West of Argentina – in Uquía. Note that they are not blond and blue-eyed either. Who knew? Sorry about the poor quality images – the lighting was tricky.

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Angel with rifle

This gem and lots of other fascinating stuff about the lives and cultures past and present of peoples in Central and South America are to be found in the Museo de Arte Étnico Americano in Salta.

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Mapuche Lady

It’s tricky to get your (my) head around all the different groups/civilizations – maybe after another dozen museums, I’ll get the hang of it. For now, I loved the Mapuche lady – well, I loved her jewellery. A Mapuche man could have loads of wives, but they can’t all have been as well dressed as this beauty.

This museum is the project of one anthropologist – the director of the foundation which runs it. She dedicated her life to this collection – what a legacy she will leave the world!

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Long-distance bus travel in Argentina.

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Starting at Buenos Aires

Bus is the way to travel in most of South America and certainly in Argentina. There is a train from Buenos Aires to the North West but I am widely advised against it because of its unreliability. Problems on the line, like it washing away, are too common for it to be a preferred mode of travel.

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View of the Andes – nearly there

So I chose to travel ‘suite’ class by long-distance bus. This is the most expensive option as it involves a flat bed. I do like a flat bed at night. It was an interesting experience, hardly counts as an adventure since nothing scary happened. I do have some tips, though, for those of you planning this kind of trip. These are informed by my first experience and by speaking to someone who choose a cheaper option.

Bring on board the smallest possible bag. It might be ‘first class’ but it is still a bus. You can check in as many bags as you like.

Bring your sunglasses on board and your camera.

Bring your water bottle, though you can get water on board.

Wear comfortable long clothing so that it’s nicer to be on the plastic seats. It will allows you to curl up or change position securely (modestly, I mean but it seems an old-fashioned word), regardless of who is sitting beside you. Change before you get on board – there is not much room thereafter.

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Impaired view

Don’t expect too much of the views as they are hampered by all the curtains, which are helpful when the sun is coming from the wrong direction, and, in the front, by the video screens which you can’t fold away.

If you get off for a comfort break at one of the stops, don’t worry, they count the passengers before moving off and they wait if anyone is missing.

The flat bed is worth the money!

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Sunset on the move

When booking ask if there is an audio-visual system and if it is broadcast to the bus or by headphones. If the former, either book another bus or bring ear plugs. The man that I met had Robocop blaring at him for 22 hours. That was not good. His ‘El Rapido’ bus took an hour longer than my standard one.

If booking a cheap bus, bring your own food, unless they reassure you that it is provided. Even then a bit of good food would be a wise packing item.

My next bus trip is a short one – just 12 hours – but now I know so many more of the questions to ask when booking.

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