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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Córdoba: A Summary (With fun, cultural subtopics!)

Córdoba is hot, especially when you're adventuring with Martín Di Stefano.

I took the bus to Córdoba (which is here.) on Monday night.

Subtopic 1: The Argentine Bus System

Argentine buses are vastly superior to American buses or airplanes, and they are the preferred means to get from point X to point Y (A to B is so overrated, and it doesn't sound as mathy). In addition to being relatively cheap (10 hours on a bus costs anywhere from US$ 45-75), they can be very comfortable. I say "can be" because there are a variety of bus classes that one can choose from:

  • Común- This sucks. It's like a normal bus. It's cheap, but almost never a good idea
  • Semicama- These seats recline almost all the way (like a recliner that you'd sit in to watch TV). They're reasonably comfortable, but you don't get many extras. This is a fair path to take.
  • Cama- I haven't taken this yet, but I believe it's similar to semicama except that the seats recline all the way.
  • Cama suite/ejecutiva- This is the best seat money can buy. I was lucky to fly in business class from Dallas to Buenos Aires, and the cama suite service I received from Córdoba to Buenos Aires (after my adventure with Sr. Di Stefano) was actually better than that, with the exception of the food. Your seats are leather and poofy, they recline all the way, and you have a privacy screen. Hardware aside, someone is constantly walking down the aisles to see if you need anything (Coca Cola, wine, a snack, etc.), which is awesome. They also lend you free noise-cancelling headphones and let you listen to movies and radio (or your own iPod). It was US$67, if I remember correctly, and it was worth every darn penny.

Now, back to business.

I went to visit Martín in Córdoba, since he's pretending to study aeronautical engineering at the national university there. I stayed Tuesday through Saturday night.

I used Google maps to find a hostel close to his student residence, since they're not too keen on guests there. I ended up with the Pewman Che hostel, and I'm glad I did. The hostel is amazing, and I'd recommend it if you ever stay in Córdoba. For a bed in an 8-person room (which normally I would avoid like the dancing blood droplet on blood drive days), I paid only US$ 10 per night. The deal aside, the environment there is very open and inviting. The owner, Mike (who is/was American and manages English and Spanish very well), started by making me breakfast and introducing me to the other tenants, even before I had paid him for my stay. Once there, I got to meet some cool people: Igor, a young man from Russia who speaks English Russian, and French fluently (and he knows a little Spanish),owns a hostel in Galicia and spends a good portion of the year traveling around the world (I'm very jealous); Astrid, an American girl from D.C. who took a year off to travel the world and is currently working at the hostel; and Simon, an Englishman who was traveling about (there seemed to be a lot of English people travelling for months around South America, which I thought was a little crazy). All in all, I had a wonderful time, and, like I said, you should go there.


Subtopic 2: I'm a horrible tourist, but at least I'm not a horrible representative of the US

Every time I go someplace big and touristy, I try not to do any of the big and touristy things. I end up walking around, eating, shopping, and drinking. I must hate tourists so much that I convince myself that I never want to be one of them. Part of it has to do with assimilation as well. It's one thing to be traveling within the US and going around, but I dislike being a giant tourist even more if I'm travelling internationally (seems paradoxical, right?). What I like is to try to get to know the people in the area, spend time absorbing the culture, and enjoying the sites (maybe taking a few photos as well, but discretely).

Though I realize that the primary purpose of travel overseas is to see other reaches of the world, I get frustrated with people who think that they've been somewhere because they've spent 2 weeks at a resort in that country. Then again, at the very least those people are contained in their own closed unit. What is worse are the people who actually make themselves a part of the foreign country's society without being conscious of the way they may be perceived by locals. To say that someone can fully integrate into a foreign society in a short amount of time is ludicrous, but at least one shouldn't make scenes and draw undue (especially negative) attention to oneself. One of the biggest problems I find with American tourists is, aside from monolingualism and the lack of motivation to learn the language of the country visited, that they are unconscious of their effect when immersed in a foreign culture. This may be because many Americans have not been educated in foreign languages and cultures, and it can be damaging to the perceptions of Americans abroad. Even one simple act will stay with the people who have observed it and taint their belief of how Americans are (stereotyping is never fun, but when we don't have all the data we tend to infer). Americans must strive to be ambassadors for the US whenever they travel, or else they leave it to people like me and my fellow Fulbrighters to clean up the mess they'll surely leave.

Wow...I still haven't talked about Córdoba. This is shaping up to be a very long blog post.

So, here's the Córdoba gist:

Martín and I mostly walked around and enjoyed some delicious Argentine food (my god, I love milanesas). Thursday night, I went with him to a welcome event for international students at the university in Córdoba. We started out drinking with Florencia, an Argentine student who must have helped organize the event. We sat around drinking litros of Quilmes (Argentina's national beer. It tastes kind of like water, but it's cheap and refreshing). Later, one of the directors (who studied in Ireland) took some of us to a boliche (night club) to party. Martín and I had a good time, but I wasn't really feeling like dancing, especially since it was so crowded. I did try my first Fernet and Coke, which is something that Cordobeses drink all the time. Fernet tastes kind of like cough syrup, but they rave about its health benefits. Plus, its alcohol content is pretty high (I think), so I was happy to drink it.

One of my favorite parts of my Córdoba trip, though, involved tobacco. Martín and I spent the week trying to find some good habanos (Cuban cigars) to smoke, and boy howdy did we find some. They were AR$ 12 (around US$ 3) each, but they were delicious.

Come Saturday night it was time for me to head back to Buenos Aires, Argentina, for my Fulbright orientation. I'll blog about that tomorrow.

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