Within ten minutes of arriving in my hostel in Córdoba, I had made a new friend and convinced her to sign up for skydiving with me; I knew I was going to like this town!
First point of business in any new city is to navigate your way around a free walking tour; soaking up titbits of trivia, but mostly figuring out where you live on a map. Thus, Vivian (my new Dutch other half) and I joined an eager group of gringos in the main square.
Córdoba, amongst its chaotic streets and far too numerous lingerie shops, has some truly lovely architecture to boast of. The main cathedral displays a combination of styles, from the two hundred years it took to complete. The city as a whole follows this hybridity, from the ancient looking Jesuit block, to the more glamorous French adornments elsewhere. My personal favourite was a building that defied planning permission, by stretching just four metres back from its decadent façade; a well-dressed slither. What brings all these styles together is the way that all important buildings have their silhouette marked out on the pavement at their feet; a little reminder as you plod the city streets to always look up, in case you’re missing something spectacular. Add in an inexplicable, modernist lighthouse (in the centre of the country) and a giant park, where we lunched, and that was pretty much all of Córdoba.
Quickly saturated by the city at ground level, we took to the skies. Having always wanted to skydive, it seemed almost too good to be true when we heard the (comparatively) bargain price. Whilst we did hold a few reservations about where the savings were being made (turns out we didn’t get any kind of protective clothing, and the briefing was in Spanish), we anxiously and excitedly bounced around an empty aircraft hanger in the city’s outskirts.
Vivian went first, leaving me all alone, fizzing inside, until I heard her screams from above; this was possibly the longest twenty minute wait of my life! Seeing her exuding adrenaline, even after hitting the ground, I was all the more pumped to get harnessed up and try my hand at flying.
The plane was minute; just myself, my instructor and a pilot. The sprawling views over the cityscape distracted me from what was coming and chilled out some of the nervous giggling. I felt nothing but excitement, until the door opened… The photos make it quite clear how many expletives I uttered at this point! Hanging in the doorway was the point when I began to question myself; I was willing him to put my mind at rest, simply by pushing me out already!
Then came free fall. Easily one of the most exhilarating experiences on Earth. The surprise backflip he threw in, intense wind and oodles of adrenaline, made me completely forget my moves and flail around like a maniac. I was swearing, laughing, leaking and trying to close my incredibly dry mouth, all whilst soaking in the views and the feeling of utter amazement. The ultimate multitasking. Things slowed down once the parachute was up. Or they did until he handed me the reigns and let me spin us, quickly and horizontally.
Even once on the ground, Vivian and I were flying high for hours. We laughed achingly upon watching our skydive videos (in a subdued Internet cafe) and hit the town to celebrate.
With Ashleigh (another travel buddy) and several perritos (or local street dogs) in tow, we painted the town red; quite literally, as we bounced between hip, trendy bars, gorging ourselves on the local delicacies of Picada (piles of salami and cheese) and at least five bottles of red wine. It became clear that Córdoba is a student city, as the bars were filled with fairy lights and the clubs were raring to go, on a Wednesday night!
In stark contrast to the elation of the previous day, we then indulged in a truly ‘student city’ hangover day. Our hostel hosts judged us ruthlessly for not only ordering a pizza, but for getting it delivered from one block away! The only time I did venture out that day was to buy a phone charger; this resulted in a series of returns to the same dodgy shop, each time with faulty merchandise, and the acceptance of that fact that today was not a day for attempting to achieve anything.
Once back on top form, we went day-tripping! More specifically, we visited the small town of Alta Gracia. Notable solely for its former residents, we visited Che Guevara’s humble beginnings. His house, now a museum, is pretty much just a walk-in photo album; but I did learn about his early life and, most shockingly, what he looked like before the rebellious hair took over!
Uncertain of the difference between a Jesuit ‘estancia’ and a plain old ‘church’ (and not willing to pay the entry fee to find out) we instead settled for some spectacular plaza-side cake, before heading back to the city for happy hour. Alta Gracia was nice enough, but couldn’t compete with craft beers at bargain prices!
The rest of our time in Córdoba was spent desperately attempting to buy Vivian a new birthday outfit. Unfortunately, the streets at the weekend are largely uninhabited. I’ve learnt that Argentinians are serious about two things: siestas and shoes. At such times when all shops are closed, we were left with nothing to do but people watch. Thus noticing that anyone who’s anyone adds at least three inches in platform height to the soles of their feet.
It turns out, these outlandish shoes could be purchased in the palatial shopping mall, the one place still open on a Saturday. Unfortunately for us, we couldn’t afford anything here; other than a trip to the arcade on the top floor and some playtime in the photo booth. There seems to be no happy medium between designer-level prices inside and the truly tacky and terrible shops that line the surrounding streets.
Unsatisfied by a market populated my the ubiquitous piles of socks, alongside everything you could want in leopard print, we headed to the bohemian Barrio Güemes for something more artisanal. On weekend evenings, the streets here transform into a hipster haven; fairy lights are the only thing to guide your way between the unattached, half-built walls that house a labyrinth of colourful, stalls. I was far more impressed with the offerings here: from Rastas making macramé jewellery, to piles of “antique” crap and everything in between (including thousands of maté cups, carved spoons and toys made from dish sponges.)
One final day in Córdoba and we repeated our favourite tropes of people watching, picada and happy hour. Then it was time for Vivian and I to part ways; she had a big birthday planned on the other side of the country and I couldn’t face paying for a bus to go back on myself.
Thus I headed up into the Sierra Chica mountains, to the beautifully bizarre town of Capilla del Monte. A cross between the ghost-town, low season qualities of Valle Fertil and the bohemian, street-art vibes of Valparaiso. Other than a lot of hippy shops, offering spiritual healing and/or all the alien memorabilia you could ever want, the main draw of the town is in the surrounding mountains.
I challenged myself to scale Cerro Uriturco, the highest peak in this central mountain range (the poor man’s Andes!) The path was just wide enough for myself and my two canine companions to walk single file, and for spiders webs to regularly block the way. Whilst the climb involved a lot more rocky scrambling than I had anticipated, I let the dogs lead the way and we reached the summit in just under two hours (exactly half the estimated time quoted by the snooty man at the base, who had made me doubt myself.)
In classic accordance with my weather-based luck, the view was shrouded in clouds. Dramatic and impressive when glimpsed in between, but largely grey. As the impossibly large condors began circling dangerously low, we headed back down.
I ached, it started to rain and I had to get the hell out of this extra-terrestrial town. I bussed back to the city and, finding myself with a couple of hours to kill, on a rainy ‘free museum Wednesday’, I thought my luck was in. That was until the municipality of Córdoba had decided that today was the perfect day to close all of the museums (or at least both the art gallery and the intriguingly named ‘Museum of Women’, after which I gave up searching.) Instead, I took a perch in the old-fashioned, and only partially functioning, tiled hall at the train station.
All aboard and on my way to Buenos Aires.