The city of Córdoba, capital of the province of Córdoba, Argentina, was founded on July 6, 1573 by Jerónimo Luis de Cabrera, a Spanish conquistador. Cabrera named the city after Córdoba, Spain. Córdoba was one of the first Spanish colonial capitals of the region that is now Argentina (the oldest city is Santiago del Estero, founded in 1553). The U of Córdoba is the oldest university in the country and the second oldest in Latin America. It was founded by the Jesuits in 1613.
Córdoba has many historical monuments preserved from Spanish colonial rule. The most recognizable is perhaps the Jesuit Quarter (la Manzana Jesuíta), declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000.
This beautiful barrio consists of a group of buildings dating from the 17th century, including the Colegio Nacional de Monserrat and the colonial university campus.
In January we flew up north to the province of Córdoba. The original Córdoba, in Andalusia, Spain, was built by the Romans and conquered by Muslim armies in 711. Córdoba became the capital of the Islamic Emirate and the Caliphate of Córdoba, which included a great swath of the Iberian Peninsula, not to mention my favorite Andalusian cities: Granada, Málaga, Sevilla. According to archeologists, Córdoba had upwards of a million inhabitants in the 10th century, in a time when only one other European city had more than 30,000: Constantinople.
Córdoba was famously cultured, enlightened and stunningly beautiful, and is credited, as I will illustrate, with jumpstarting the Renaissance. The city was known for its gardens, fountains, artificial lakes and public baths fed by an aqueduct. Muslims bathed daily, unlike their fragrant European neighbors who were averse to cleanliness, and instead resorted to the invention of perfume.
During these centuries, Córdoba became a society ruled by Muslims, in which all other groups had second-class status but lived together in relative peace and poverty except for the noble classes, who were exempt from paying taxes. Spain returned to Christian rule in 1236, during the Reconquista. In 1492 Fernando and Isabella, los Reyes Católicos, forced all the Muslims, Jews, gypsies and other “deplorables” out of the country in the name of Catholicism. (Many converted to Christianity to avoid being deported: los conversos) The ebb and flow of tolerance seems to be a recurring pattern worldwide. We humans just can’t seem to rise above the avarice, ego, and drive to dominate others, which is apparently encoded in our DNA. History repeats itself.
Because of its enlightened rulers, Córdoba was home to a university, medical schools, a library of 400,000 volumes, and 27 free primary schools for children of the poor. The literacy rate was high for both males and females …. encouraged by a famous king, Alfonso X, el Sabio. Alfonso the “wise” was crowned in 1252. He is known for his interest in science and literature. Under his rule, early Greek and Roman texts (Homer, Herodotus, Aeschylus, Euripides, Sappho, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, et al.) were translated into Castilian Spanish. Alfonso X sponsored, supervised and often participated with his own writing and in collaboration with a group of Latin, Hebrew and Muslim intellectuals known as the Toledo School of Translators, in the composition of an enormous body of literature that kick-started the production of literature in Spanish as we know it today.
Córdoba has many historical monuments preserved from Spanish colonial rule. The Colegio Nacional de Monserrat and the colonial university campus, as I have mentioned, all date from the 17th century. The campus belongs today to the historical museum of the National University of Córdoba, which has been the second-largest university in the country since the early 20th century (after the University of Buenos Aires), in terms of the number of students, faculty, and academic programs.
January and February is school-free summer vacation time here in the far southern latitudes. Trees are in blossom all over the place. The Córdoba countryside reminds me so much of California; the Santa Lucias, the Gabilanes, Los Padres, Ojai… Seeing Córdoba adds life and depth to an understanding of our California missions.
Segue to the 20th century: a beautiful bronze bas-relief in the historic quarter of Córdoba, dedicated to the women of Córdoba. Just in time for International Women’s Day!
In case you might not know about or have forgotten about a very difficult period in Argentina, there is the Museo de la Memoria in Córdoba. The coup d’etat of March 1976 was a civic-military rebellion that led to the establishment of a military junta, led by Lieutenant General Jorge Rafael Videla. The junta called their state-sponsored terrorism the Process of National Reorganization. People called it “la Dictadura” and “el Proceso.” It was not the first, but by far the bloodiest dictatorship in the history of Argentina. [Wikipedia]
More than 30,000 people were “disappeared,” tortured and killed. The junta remained in power until December 10, 1983, when Raúl Alfonsín was elected president by free and fair elections. In Buenos Aires you will see many bronze plaques set into the sidewalks, in every neighborhood, where the names of the disappeared are listed, along with with the date they were kidnapped from their homes at that location. On the facade of the Museo de la Memoria are hand-lettered the names of those who were “disappeared” in Córdoba. I saw quite a lot of politically-inspired street art in Córdoba. People having a voice is what democracy is all about.
When reality gets too depressing, you have to just forget about it all, for a while. C’mon, let’s go dancing.
If you’ve got a bad case of the blues, and the Cathedral at Plaza San Martín is just too damn lovely, take a walk on the Goth side, near the Plaza España. It’s absolutely wild!
You would think this cathedal, la Iglesia del Sagrado Corazón, was built in the 1700s… that’s what I thought! I mean, it’s positively crawling with grotesque and beastly gargoyles. But I was soooo wrong, just like the Beatles’ song. Also known as the Iglesia de los Capuchinos (let’s just call it the Cappuchino church, even if it doesn’t have an espresso bar), it was built by the Franciscan order between 1926 – 1934.
Gothic my ass! The brickwork gives it away. It’s pretty amazing, just the same.
Hmmm… prehistoric Legos? Holy Friars! What were they smoking?
Córdoba Day 1.
Our first destination in Córdoba was La Cumbre, a pretty little town 500 miles northwest of Buenos Aires. We loved La Cumbre… we stayed there for a whole week. You can keep your yurts… La Cumbre is the best base camp anywhere. It’s friendly and picturesque, and the dozen or so sidewalk cafés and bistros serve up some really delicious food. How about a plate of crusted stuffed Patagonian trout? Rúcula and radicheta salad with caramelized pears and melted brie? We’re talking’ some really good eats in this town, not to mention the BBQ, the empanadas, and the quintessential malbec: in vino veritas! In La Cumbre the Tourism office doesn’t close till midnight. Argentines are all about their night life!
La Cumbre has a lovely willow-lined creek on the edge of town.
We discovered the creek while wandering about town the next morning, trying to find the 10K trail we were told about. It starts behind the statue of El Cristo Redentor and ends at the San Gerónimo reservoir.
It’s a 10 minute climb up a series of steps to get to the lookout.
Nice view of La Cumbre. The best part was getting to pet the adorable cuddly vicuña for 10 pesos.
The trailhead starts right behind the statue and we nearly missed it, but our new friends, las Gaby, pointed out what looked like a rabbit trail going straight up, a few feet from the backside of Christ. The four of us spent most of the day climbing with hands and feet up a narrow, rocky trail to the top of the ridge. Lush, grassy green hillsides with horses and burros grazing. My kind of paradise!
There was a cute burro hanging with the herd but he kept moving away and I couldn’t get a good shot. As we climbed up the views of La Cumbre just got better and better. Santos added the “the bear went over the mountain” to his repertoire of Latin American hiking music. After living in Buenos Aires for most of the last 6 years – that big beautiful cognitively-dissonant city that I love – it was delightful to be up in the hills with the sweet air, the fresh breeze. The warmth of the sun was absoutely glorious. A wonderfully healing and energizing day.
We had to ditch our sneakers and socks to ford a creek that was only a few inches deep. Our happy feet dried in the sun as we kicked back in the tall grass munching trail mix. We scrambled up faint paths on all fours, rock to rock, like, seriously climbing! On the downhills we scampered and skittered like clumsy goats, concentrating on each split-second landing, not afraid, but keenly aware of the possible unfortunate consequences of one poorly placed foot. Luckily I had brought along a good pair of hiking shoes, and with zen-like concentration I donned the spirit cloak of a mountain sprite.
We finally made it over the ridgetops and scrambled down, down, down to the San Gerónimo reservoir. The water was still a little muddy from recent rains.
It was about 4 pm when we made it to the reservoir. After a short break our 4-person team set off down the dirt road towards La Cumbre. Riders on horseback passed us ponying a mare with a colt skittering alongside. It was about a 4K walk into La Cumbre. After a while we turned onto the main road (also dirt) and to our right was a sight for sore eyes: la Estancia Rosario! It was a hot and sunny afternoon, and the gate was OPEN!
La estancia welcomed us with beautiful sweeping lawns, benches all over the place, a café, a restaurant, huge nice restrooms, and a shop that sells an enormous variety of alfajores (saddlebags in english). Alfajores are cookies sandwiched with jam or dulce de leche. Sometimes the cookie dough is made from almond paste and nuts, or breadcrumbs mixed with honey and spices. Speaking of breadcrumbs, I spent so much time in the ladies’ room washing off the sweat and trail dirt, and rebraiding my hair, that the team sent one of the Gabys to drag me out. Then I had to stock up on alfajores… dulce de leche is my favorite, dusted with coconut instead of dipped in chocolate. Estancia el Rosario makes the best alfajores I’ve ever had. Ah, alfajor heaven!
So, rested up, full tummy = happy heart. We set off to hike the last couple of miles into La Cumbre. Piece ‘a cake! Flat, no stones in my passway….
A stray dog decided to join our wolf-pac.com. Maybe he liked the scent of dirt, dust and alfajores? After awhile he changed his mind and headed back to his comfort zone.… the familiar. He didn’t want anything weird to happen at the next crossroads. Happens to all of us at some point, right? If not, there may still be time…
After a day of climbing nearly vertical rabbit trails, walking on the flat was sooo easy. We were NOT complaining. But then, as if the universe wanted to applaud our efforts, we heard a vehicle approaching, bouncing and jolting its merry way along the washboard. We all turned to look. It was a white ’64 Ford pickup. Its driver spotted us and slowed down to have a look. Three women and one guy. The odds are good but the goods are odd! Just kidding, he was a good guy. There were 4 or 5 tires in the back of the truck which looked liked couch cushions to us. Santos spoke to him, he gave a nod, and we jumped in.
Back in town, we celebrated under the umbrella of a sidewalk cafe downtown with Quilmes, empanadas and a spiked mango licuado for yours truly. Good times and best friends forever!!
Later on Santos and I drove to Cosquín to go to a peña. What’s a peña? It’s a club where you can sit and have a nice meal and a bottle of wine and listen to live folk music, and sometimes other local musical offerings. Santos was really jazzed to go to Cosquín, because it’s THE center of Argentine folk music and dance, and he’s way into all that. They have music festivals there all year round, and the biggest ones are broadcast live on Argentine public tv, night after night.
During the day they have rodeos where you can watch gauchos in Argentine style caps and sombreros ride outlaw bulls and broncs. It’s kinda funny for me cause, being a cowgirl myself, I’m used to American rodeos with clowns and dumb-ass announcers and lots of flag waving and team roping and steer wrestling, barrel racing and all the rest. In Argentina, especially in the provinces, they’ve got guys riding broncs and bulls with folk singers singing at the same time! Crazy! But that’s how it’s done here. Their rodeos are called domos. Later on, for the folks at home, the tv broadcasts hours of folk dancing, all in very elaborate and beautiful costumes, very much like our baile folklórico in California and Mexico.
So that evening we went to la Peña Salamanca. The food was great (we had locro, a traditional corn and beef stew) and there was a stream of different groups performing… a dozen at least. It was the week leading up to the big festival weekend, so lots of performers were in town doing the rounds of the peñas. We got up and danced to the chacareras, and when a group played some Piazzolla, we were the only dancers brave enough to get out there and show our stuff. The audience went wild for us!! Blame it on that bottle of tinto we were drinking.
The fact that we were visiting “la Salamanca” made Santos spill the stories his mom told him when he was little, about the Devil and la Salamanca.
According to the Santiagueño version, la Salamanca is a place where people go to make a deal with the devil (Zupay) in exchange for knowledge and powerful gifts. La Salamanca is usually a cave in the mountains. Zupay may teach the initiate the musical arts, such as playing the guitar or other instruments, dancing, horse breaking and training, or the evil arts of brujería (witchcraft). Tradition tells that if you hear the music of la Salamanca, you will fall into an evil life, full of fear and horror. People of good faith can avoid falling into the temptation of the Zupay by carrying a rosary. It is said that those who have made a pact with the devil can be spotted because they cast no shadow.
“As always, there are many versions of this legend, but most of them agree on the main points. This story was well known in Spain during the 14th and the 16th centuries and was so famous that it went with the first Spanish sailors who took part in the colonization of Central and South America. This is why … people still refer to … caves and dark places as “Salamancas.” [spanishinspain.blogspot.com.ar]
While I was writing about la Salamanca an old Robert Johnson song came into my head. I remember stuff like that instead of people’s names and what I had for breakfast. Weird, right? Are you seeing a connection here between the singer and la Salamanca?
I got stones in my passway
And all my roads seem dark at night
– Robert Johnson, “Stones in My Passway”
[The following story is from Henry Goodman, excerpted from Vagabonding, Rolf Potts, June 26, 2015]
Meeting with the Devil at the Crossroads
Robert Johnson been playing down in Yazoo City and over at Beulah trying to get back up to Helena, ride left him out on a road next to the levee, walking up the highway, guitar in his hand propped up on his shoulder. October cool night, full moon filling up the dark sky, Robert Johnson thinking about Son House preaching to him, “Put that guitar down, boy, you drivin’ people nuts.”
Robert Johnson needing as always a woman and some whiskey. Big trees all around, dark and lonesome road, a crazed, poisoned dog howling and moaning in a ditch alongside the road sending electrified chills up and down Robert Johnson’s spine, coming up on a crossroads just south of Rosedale. Robert Johnson, feeling bad and lonesome, knows people up the highway in Gunnison. Can get a drink of whiskey and more up there.
Man sitting off to the side of the road on a log at the crossroads says, “You’re late, Robert Johnson.” Robert Johnson drops to his knees and says, “Maybe not.”
The man stands up, tall and black as the forever-closed eyes of Robert Johnson’s stillborn baby, and walks out to the middle of the crossroads where Robert Johnson kneels. He says, “Stand up, Robert Johnson. You want to throw that guitar over there in that ditch with that hairless dog and go on back up to Robinsonville and play the harp with Willie Brown and Son, because you just another guitar player like all the rest, or you want to play that guitar like nobody ever played it before? Make a sound nobody ever heard before? You want to be the King of the Delta Blues and have all the whiskey and women you want?”
“That’s a lot of whiskey and women, Devil-Man.”
“I know you, Robert Johnson,” says the man.
Robert Johnson feels the moonlight bearing down on his head and the back of his neck as the moon seems to be growing bigger and bigger and brighter and brighter. He feels it like the heat of the noonday sun bearing down, and the howling and moaning of the dog in the ditch penetrates his soul, coming up through his feet and the tips of his fingers through his legs and arms, settling in that big empty place beneath his breastbone causing him to shake and shudder like a man with the palsy. Robert Johnson says, “That dog gone mad.”
The man laughs. “That hound belong to me. He ain’t mad, he’s got the Blues. I got his soul in my hand.”
A few more notes about the legend of Robert Johnson, the blues guitarist who supposedly made a pact with the devil to become the greatest blues guitarist of all time. Robert was the 11th (and illegitimate) child of a poor Mississippi family. He was 17 or 18 when he found out the name of his biological father, and he then took on his real father’s last name. Robert married at 19. Perhaps due to bad luck, as some say, his wife Virginia died in childbirth, losing the baby, too. She was only 16.
A few years later, Johnson made the mistake of fooling around with the wife of the owner of a club where he was playing. The outraged husband sent a bottle of poisoned whiskey to Robert’s table. Apparently Robert drank a fair amount of that whiskey, ’cause later that evening he stopped playing, walked outside, and passed out. He died three days or two weeks later, as the tale spins, from the strychnine-laced whiskey.
Everyone knows a deal’s a deal, especially if it’s a deal with el diablo. When your time runs out, you’re done. Robert didn’t collect a lot of time in this world, but the devil sure got his due. That’s the story of Robert Johnson, part history and part fiction. For me, the truest part is the mesmerizing sound of his soulful voice, the genius of his music and his technical skill on the guitar, for all of which he earned the title “King of the Delta Blues.”
I went down to the crossroad
fell down on my knees
I went down to the crossroad
fell down on my knees
Asked the lord above “Have mercy now
save poor Bob if you please”
– Robert Johnson, “Crossroad Blues”
[Check out this YouTube history in Spanish: Historias y Relatos – El Pacto de Robert Johnson]
Did we earn our Adventuresome Tourist badges on day 1? Yikes! Segue to another sketchy location about 30 miles away: La Falda. Home to the decrepit, deteriorating, notorious Hotel Eden, the world-famous Nazi vacation retreat and watering hole. Córdoba Day 2.
Hotel Eden is an enormous building… about the same size as the Hotel Palace. But you can’t book a room; it’s actually not habitable. The second floor has big holes in the floors and walls, so the guided tour only took us up the decaying stairs (that was scary!) to the 2nd floor landing. The hotel hasn’t been open for business – except guided tours – for many years.
The main event was a long boring documentary about all the rich Germans who stayed there before the war. Albert Einstein did visit the hotel in 1925. It was widely rumored that Hitler was also a visitor but there is no supporting evidence.
During Einstein’s visit to Argentina he met with an Argentine physicist, Enrique Loedel Palumbo, who had written his doctoral thesis on the optical and electrical constants of sugar cane. Is that, like, what color is it and can it bite you back? According to Wikipedia, the two had a conversation about the differential equation of a point-source gravitational field, which resulted in a paper published by Loedel in Physikalische Zeitschrift. I’m guessing that was a German scientific journal. It’s claimed that this is the first research paper on relativity published by a Latin American scientist. You go, Enrico!
Another influential character, George Strausser Messersmith, was the U.S. ambassador to Austria, Cuba, Mexico and Argentina. Messersmith also served as head of the U.S. Consulate in Germany from 1930 to 1934, during the rise of the Nazi party. He was best known in his day for his controversial decision to issue a visa to Albert Einstein to travel to the United States. Good move for the USA! ICE, get a clue!
As America’s consul general in Berlin in 1933, Messersmith wrote a dispatch to the State Department that dramatically contravened the popular view that Hitler had no consensus among the German people and would not remain in power, saying,
“I wish it were really possible to make our people at home understand how definitely this martial spirit is being developed in Germany. If this government remains in power for another year, and it carries on in the measure in this direction, it will go far toward making Germany a danger to world peace for years to come. With few exceptions, the men who are running the government are of a mentality that you and I cannot understand. Some of them are psychopathic cases and would ordinarily be receiving treatment somewhere.” [Wikipedia]
We enjoyed walking about the ruins of the pool and adjacent servants’ quarters. Guys on one side of the pool, girls on the other. How convenient is that? How about I swim over to your place later, baby? Our tour guide, noting the sparse accomodations of the maids who took care of the children of rich Germans, and their proximity to the equally spare quarters of the male wait staff, gave rise to amusing speculation about how much hanky panky was going on after hours under the noses of the fat cats.
The scariest part of the Nazi hotel tour, besides the mala onda (bad vibes – which apparently have at least an 80 year half-life), was the crowded squeeze of our tour group into a basement wine cellar full of empty wine bottles arranged into low walls on every side, kinda like the bones in the Paris Catacombs. Spooky.
The last and worst part of our 60 peso tour included a wine and cheese tasting in the bodega. A little taste was all there was. A 3 oz. plastic cup half full of an unidentifiable anemic red wine, and a piece of cheese literally no bigger than my pinky fingertip. No little toothpicks, no cute little umbrellas; 50 tiny cheese bits piled on a wooden board so you had to grab a morsel with your fingers, touching many other cheese bits in the process. Yikes! Where’s the city health inspector? Where’s the building code inspector? AWOL and for good reason.
After waiting 20 minutes in line for the formidable aperitif, we had to do a U-turn and leave the way we entered. There was only one staircase, and it was barely wide enough for 2. If there had been a fire or an earthquake, we would all have been buried under that low-ceilinged hell hole, like so many cans of bait. No wonder the municipality of La Falda washed its hands of the hotel, and left its care and upkeep in the hands of a park concession business: imagine Curry Village in Yosemite turned into a FEMA shelter.
We couldn’t wait to get the hell out of La Falda. Others seem to like it just fine… dozens of cafés and food joints lined the road up to Hotel Eden, and they were all jumping. We grabbed a parking spot, walked into a place across the street, found a quiet booth in the back, and zoned out. We took our sweet time consuming a plate of fries and cool drinks, basking in the A/C. (It was a hot day in La Falda.) When we finally made our way back to the rental car, we found a small dent in the front fender. Did some lurking evil spirit follow us back from the Nazi Hotel?
One of the young guys who works at the hotel spotted us trying to pop out the dent in the parking lot when we returned that evening. The next morning he brought over a dent restoration specialist friend. They restored the fender to near perfection in about 5 minutes… and didn’t charge us anything. Another star for the Palace Hotel!
On Córdoba Day 3 our first stop was El Cajón Reservoir, just a few kms north of La Cumbre. We spotted a dirt road leading towards the river that spills out of the reservoir to the south. We rattled along that first dirt road and finally got to the creek, but there was no place to park except sand dunes, and only one sketchy turnaround. Later we realized we could have just parked in the road and waded across the river. No problem blocking traffic at a dead end.
But I was a little shook up from all the big potholes and treacherous sandy spots. So we headed back to the highway and took our best shot at the next dirt road. Bingo! It seemed like a long ways and practically all washboard, but finally we found the river crossing. I parked on the other side, pointed in the return direction. I always like to be ready to get the hell outta Dodge; must be all those 007 movies I grew up watching.
We were delighted to find ourselves in a nearly empty riverside retreat with a few acres of natural lawn sloping gently down to the water. Families and kids were up and at it, splashing around in the water, and a couple of barbecues were already in high gear, making us hungry. As we walked upstream I was blown away by the number and size of my namesake trees along the river. Do you remember Kenneth Grahame’s famous children’s book, The Wind the the Willows? Almost all the characters are animals.: Ratty, Mr. Badger, Mole, Otter, Mr. Toad of Toad Hall, and a “mixed lot” of rabbits and squirrels, weasels and stouts. Nice to catch a glimpse into the willowy land of make-believe.
There was a little snack shack where we bought sodas and choripan. If you’ve never had a choripan I feel really sorry for you. Think Ray’s Own Brand Pork Sausage from San Luis Obispo, hot and juicy in a french roll with a little salsa criolla on top. Extreme yumminess. Actually they weren’t the best choripanes ever. That honor goes to the first one I ever tried, at an authentic gaucho asado in the middle of a day-long ride in Bariloche, in 2012.
Santos and I sat in the shade of a willow to eat our choripanes. Then we strolled upriver aways to get our bearings. We didn’t go in the water, cause we hadn’t brought towels or swim clothes, but we lounged contentedly in the sun, like a couple of cats.
We eventually hit the road, cause we had a number of places we wanted to check out. We stopped in Los Cocos. It was perhaps once a quaint town but shows every sign of death by tourist trinket shop overdose. They have a pretty park that you have to pay to go in. It looked nice from the sidewalk, but we didn’t take the bait. You can also pay for a ski lift ride (el teleférico) that hauls you up and down the mountain. Instead we stopped for coffee in a quiet café that had a shady deck and a resident feline. That was the best of Los Cocos.
We continued north to Uritorco, a peak known for its healing energies, complete with a creek for swimming. It’s all private land so you have to pay for the privilege of river access. We paid the man, parked, and walked along the river a ways. There were lots of people camped there. We wanted to hike to the top, only about a half hour hike, but turns out it cost extra! We hit the road again.
I guess I’m used to the immense free, or nearly free, state, county and national parks we have in the U.S. The concept of private land on mountain tops seems odd. But we had ol’ Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir and Aldo Leopold. They set the standard for all time.
Santos and I headed north again, this time to that quintessential hipster paradise and land of enchantment, San Marcos Sierra. A little ways off the beaten track, but not too hard to find. The roads of San Marcos Sierra are unpaved, but there is wifi, and I hear they’re putting in their first stoplight.
Like most colonial towns San Marcos Sierra is built around a big square. There’s lots of tall trees and a few patches of grass… some of it cannabis, judging from the lingering scent about town. San Marcos Sierra really is a hippie magnet. The local economy depends on apiculture (bees and honey), olives, goat cheese, and tourism. You can rent a room, a tent, a sleeping bag. The beach along Rio Quilpo is a big draw. We saw hippie grandmas herding their grandkids to the beach and back. Reminds me of California beaches in the sixties and seventies, minus the sand.
We had coffee and medialunas at a cute place in the shade across from the church. I read that the local environment is pure and unspoiled. They probably have a town ordinance prohibiting pesticides. That explains the clouds of flies buzzing around everywhere. Nice idea but things can get out of hand in that tropical heat. We were under constant attack from the buzzing little black nano-drones. I always used fly spray on my horses – maybe that’s why my brain has more than a few crossed wires.
I guess the town looked a lot different 400 years ago. Amazing that this beautiful colonial church survived.
We walked to the river and found a few rocks to sit on. Santos sat in the shade with his back against the riverbank, and I found a quiet spot below where I sat on a rock with my feet in the water, reading. There were whole families camping in tents above the riverbank, kids playing in the water.
I had a lovely time reading by the river for a couple of hours, with my toes in the water. That alone was worth the journey. I’m not sure what Santos was up to, but it turns out he took a few surrepticious photos. Friends wanted to know what huge book I was reading. Middlemarch, by George Eliot (an English woman writer), published in the 1870s. I was reading it cause I heard it’s considered the greatest novel in the English language. But no, not my cup of tea. I found it monotonous and depressing, like a Downton Abbey episode that keeps repeating. Nowhere near as good as the novels of Jane Austen. If you’re into 18th century British women’s literature, I did enjoy this good critical comparison of both novelists: “Without Austen, No Eliot,” Rebecca Mead, The New Yorker, Jan. 28, 2013.
Later we walked into a few shops looking for algarrobo flour for Santos’ homemade bread. They grind the algarrobo pods into a delicious dark brown flour. In San Marcos Sierra we parked the car, walked around town, splashed in the river and no one charged us anything. Way to go! Santos wanted to try the locally brewed beer, but the pub was closed for mid-day siesta. Wow. This town is nothing if not laid-back. We had to be satisfied with a photo of the Quilpo microbus, and a glimpse into the Hippie Museum.
We got a bit lost heading back to La Cumbre that evening. Blame it on all that lovely sunshine making algarrobo guacamole of our brains.
On Day 4 we spent a couple of hours swimming and lounging around by the pool. Later on we went for a 10K ride. Late afternoon drifted into sundown as we climbed up the high ridges. For the first hour or so we followed twisting dirt roads wide enough for vehicles. We forded a lot of creeks. Our horses were amazing. They had one speed, and it was non-stop. They never slowed down unless asked. Higher up we forded stony streambeds and clambered up rocky, slippery trails; those criollo horses never missed a beat. Best trail horses I’ve ever rode, and I’ve been riding since I was a wee one! Santos, who grew up playing hooky in the dirt streets of the barrio, had no riding experience whatsoever. But after the first half hour he was sitting his horse really well. A natural, that guy. Santos is the Man.
We rode past ranches, a polo field, and 3 or 4 drop-dead gorgeous homes straight out of the magazines. We were met with plenty of attention by 3- and 4-packs of dogs. The horses were unfazed.
Our trusty guide, Pedro, had the keys to multiple gates crossing private ranches, enabling us to continue ever onward and upward. Climbing the last few switchbacks up to a trail along the ridge, I spotted a faint crescent of moon topping a far ridge. The rising full moon gleamed incandescently. The moon’s powerful presence hijacked me to another realm of consciousness, where I remembered just how small and insignificant we humans are in the grand scheme of things. I felt as if I was light years away from civilization. A magical moment, indeed.
The moon lit our way as we rode along the hills and ridges above La Cumbre. By the time our horses began to pick their way back down the rocky paths it was getting late. The meandering trails turned into broad, well-travelled dirt roads leading to town. We walked back to our hotel, dog-tired. We celebrated the great ride and moon viewing with shots of Tequila. We rested and showered and went out for midnight pizza at Rhapsody, a hoppin’ joint just across the street from the Hotel Palace. The sidewalk tables were all full but for one… the one that was waiting for us. We shared a Rhapsody specialty, pizza al fuego… with their special spicy jalapeño sauce. Así nos gusta!
Córdoba Day 5: Cuesta Blanca
The four of us renewed our mountain climbing skills the very next day. It was a long drive… almost 2 hours. A typical LA commute, right? We had to pass through the city of Carlos Paz, which we didn’t like much. We had already driven about an hour south towards Córdoba, and we needed a coffee break. We found a place to park, close to where I took this photo. Then we hoofed it 4 or 5 blocks to the main drag where we claimed a couple of tables at a sidewalk café. The good thing was we had a spot in the shade, and the waiter didn’t waste any time bringing our café con leche, jarrito, lágrima, café solo, cortado, etc. Argentine coffeespeak: it’s another language. But Carlos Paz was hypercrowded, noisy, full of traffic fumes and annoying trucks blasting promotions from loudspeakers. El infierno.
We drove out of that hell hole all the way to Cuesta Blanca, the Hippie Beach or La Isla Hippie, as some call it. There are only two ways in.
First you have to drive up a steep, twisty, dusty dirt road for a few miles, till the road drops back down to a spot near the river. You hike to the dam, then uphill to the top of the dam – 5 minutes – where a guy paddles you upriver in his canoe to the beach landing.
Some folks don’t bother hiking in; they just splash around below the dam.
The second way in (or out) is a 40 minute hike up and over a steep hill; a snaky, rocky trail full of brush and boulders. We took the canoe. I love the slow, steady drifting along, riding the water. Easier than swimming and you can bring all your gear.
Check out these horses! How beautiful is that?
Cuesta Blanca is an idyllic, laid back, no rules but respect others and pack out your trash kinda place. If you need to use the restroom you have to take a hike, ’cause this site is privately owned and wonderfully unspoiled. We swam, sunned, kicked back in the shade, lunched on salame and bread and cheese and drank vino tinto. A really cool place, and not in the guidebooks. It was las Gabys who knew how to get there.
When you get to the top you’re rewarded with a view of the whole scene. Quite a few people bring tents and kids and stay for days.
We paid 50 pesos apiece for the canoe ride, and returned via free climb, as you can tell in the above photo because the sun was setting when we left. None of us had thought to bring a flashlight… hey! We’re on vacation! We don’t need no stinkin’ flashlights!!
The light was fading as we hiked out, and we had to backtrack several times to find the trail. But we made it back to La Cumbre just fine, later that evening. The four of us went out for beer and empanadas, and I had my fruit smoothie. We had to put up with a karaoke bar on the sidewalk at the café next to our café, where we listened with amusement to the assorted bunch of nut cases who thought they could sing. That put us in an entertaining mood, and las Gabys wanted to take us to their new favorite bar around the corner from the Palace, la Biblioteca. They had been in there a few days before and the bartender had refused to make them Daquiris. “No es para vosotras, señoritas,” he told them, “Es un trago muy macho.” (“It’s not for you, ladies,” he told them, “It’s a very macho drink.”) We decided to head over to la Biblioteca and show them how girls can throw down tequila shots. Mission accomplished. Delicious with a good kick in the ass!
Our last two nights in Córdoba we stayed in the capital, right in the historic district. We ate out at nice cafés and restaurants and walked all over town. I used to dread getting lost in strange cities, but I’m beginning to realize it can be a fine and passionate experience of the here and now. And if I have someone to keep me company I don’t end up in a panic with tears running down my cheeks.