April got off to a great start– with a visit from Mom and Dad! Not long after I got back from the U.S., we started planning a trip to see some parts of Argentina that none of us had visited. We decided on Mendoza because it is a beautiful desert region with something for all of us: it’s near the Andes (bonus for my dad, the photographer) and is well known for its many wineries (cue Mom and Lauren licking their lips). Since we figured we could do Mendoza in just a few days, we decided to go to Cordoba to finish the rest of the week. Cordoba is a province in eastern Argentina that features smaller but stunning hills and has a large national reserve with condors.
Bonus: we (unknowingly) booked the trip for the week of Easter, so I only had to take 2 days off of work because there were a billion national holidays. Viva la Argentina!
We started in Mendoza and met up at the super-tiny international airport. The Andes were beautiful and the weather was warm. After a short drive we found ourselves in the capital, where we had rented an apartment through Airbnb. Everything about the apartment was great: my parents had a separate bedroom and I had a single bed in the living room, there was a kitchen, and plenty of space for us to spread out. It was also in a great neighborhood just several blocks away from a large plaza with lots of restaurants nearby.
During our first day we walked around and found a wonderful chocolateria (chocolate store) that a friend had recommended to me. We were the only people in there, and before we knew it, the owner was dragging my mom and I behind the counter, dipping tasting spoons directly into the vat of liquid chocolate made fresh that day. I’m not kidding you. You wouldn’t believe the joy on his face when he took us over to his “special jar” full of rum-soaked golden raisins and then dipped them in the chocolate for us to taste. HE HAND FED US CHOCOLATE-COVERED RAISINS. It was amazing.
Later that evening we grabbed dinner at a great parilla and took in the plaza.
For our second day in Mendoza, we decided to split up: my dad drove into the mountains to take photos while my mom and I went on a half-day tour of some wineries. Our tour group was lovely: mostly Argentines, with a young, charming tour guide named Marli and two older married guys who cracked jokes the entire time.
The first winery was a surprise: really large and almost industrial looking. It was clearly set up to receive large numbers of tour groups; we were just one small group in a sea of white vans and buses. Fortunately most of the tourists were Spanish speakers, so our English-speaking group was rather small. Sadly the rest of our group was comprised of five wine-guzzling college girls who I hated instantly, but they were no match for my mom and I’s endless ability to enjoy ourselves wherever we go, mwah ha ha!!
We downed our wine glasses, snapped a couple photos, and then waited to go to the next winery.
The next winery was smaller and more intimate, but we didn’t like the wine as much. After we got back in the van, the tour guide told us she had a surprise for us– we were headed to an olive oil farm!! I was pretty excited by this news as, although wine is lovely and interesting to learn about, olive oil was new territory for me. After they explained how virgin olive oil is procured (pressing olives so they release their juices naturally instead of using heat to speed up the process; industrial cheating), we headed to the gift shop and my head exploded when I tasted flavored olive oil for the first time: rosemary, basil, and garlic. I bought a three pack and never looked back.
That evening I fell TERRIBLY ill (who knows how; my mom and I had eaten the exact same things all day and she felt fine) and spent the entire evening waking up every hour and vomiting. However, the next day I actually felt pretty great, so we decided to drive up into the Andes to see how close we could get to the Chilean border.
It was beautiful.
Part of the drive reminded me of northern Argentina and the quebradas in Salta and Jujuy. The quebradas of the north have distinct rock formations and gorgeous reddish colors. Mendoza has similar rock formations but the colors are a bit different; grayer but still visually stunning. As we drove, the rain began to clear and the sun shone on all the landscape:
When we were just kilometers from the border, we had to turn around to catch our flight back to Cordoba. But we were happy with our experiences in Mendoza and ready for the next city.
The flight to Cordoba was super short (an hour) but of course I was still terrified the entire time. There was, however, one redeeming aspect:
Our time in Cordoba was a lot different than Mendoza: we decided to rent an entire house (!), again using Airbnb, but this time we stayed in a suburb in the mountains just outside of Cordoba. Whereas everything about Mendoza had been relatively easy, from getting our rental car to checking in to finding places to eat, Cordoba was difficult from the start. Our rental car person did not show up at the airport as promised, we constantly got lost in the capital AND in the town where we were staying (Rio Ceballos), plus we got a bit tired of restaurants not opening until 9pm–at the earliest– when sometimes we wanted to collapse into bed after a long day.
But ultimately Cordoba was great and I really enjoyed it. It was interesting to be in the capital; it’s similar to Buenos Aires in terms of busy-ness and the general quantity of people roaming around. But los Cordobeses (folks from Cordoba) are a bit more laid back than Porteños (Bs As residents). We barely got any glances as English-speaking tourists and no one singled us out for tours or changing money or any of the irritating encounters that happen in Buenos Aires when an arbolito (money changer) or tour guide employee notices or guesses you’re a tourist. I was always aware of my possessions and the cameras around my parents’ necks, but I never got the “potential prey” sensation I often exerience in Bs As. I imagine this is largely due to the types of tourists who typically visit Cordoba (mostly Argentine, though there are also plenty of foreigners) and the fact that Buenos Aires, for all its sprawl and opportunities and realities, understands who comes to visit there (far more foreigners, many of whom also live there) and has mastered the market to take advantage whenever possible.
We drove a LOT in Cordoba– exploring small towns outside of the capital, the surrounding hills, and a large national preserve. One of my favorite days was when we took off to find a national park where baby condors nest and then learn to fly! The drive up into the hills was lovely:
And then, on the way up, we saw THIS beast in the road!!
Impressive little sucker. It’s chilly up in the hills, so we weren’t quite sure what it was doing there– tarantulas normally favor warm climates. We guessed maybe he was attracted to the sun-warmed asphalt. But it was really cool to see this guy crawl along at a surprisingly fast pace, his hairy mandibles sticking out and tasting the wind. According to my dad, these guys can jump two meters in the air– something he and his army buddies figured out in Louisiana during basic training when they came across a tarantula on the ground and started playing with it until it jumped– to the level of their heads. This was the first wild one I’d ever seen; I took photos out the window until this guy was parallel with the car, then quickly rolled the window up and said silent thanks for not jumping in the window. (‘Cause tarantulas usually go for humans.)
MOVING ON FROM SPIDERS. We climbed and climbed and climbed, all the way up to Parque Nacional de los Condoritos (National Park of the Little Condors.) We actually drove past the entrance because the sign was posted far away from the road, but right next to the (eventual) entrance we found two little surprises waiting for us:
Two baby condors!! At the time I thought maybe they were condors because they were so large; they had big flat heads, wide chests, and bright orange beaks. They sort of looked like bald eagles on steriods. Adult condors are more like enormous vultures; they have bald heads and all black bodies, so very different looking than the babies. We hung out snapping photos of these two for a bit and then confirmed they were condors when we saw some pictures at a restaurant where we stopped for locro, a traditional Argentine stew.
After lunch, we had a hell of a time finding the condor national park– we drove back and forth a few times before finding it. When we arrived, we discovered that the hike out to the condors’ nests was a bit longer than we anticipated, some 5 miles each way, much of it over hilly terrain and rocks. We decided to try it out anyway, and it was pretty gorgeous.
We got pretty far, huffing and puffing the whole way, but we started getting tired and we noticed a thunderstorm creeping in, so we decided to head back. We didn’t make it to the condors’ nests at the end of the trail, but maybe we’ll be back someday. At least we got to see the babies, which was pretty cool!!
After the hike we hopped back into our trusty rental car, which my dad nicknamed Burrito (thinking burro, a donkey, perhaps??). The name stuck instantly. Burrito saved our asses in a number of situations; sudden 3-point turns with oncoming traffic in the capital; chugging up rocky terrain in the hills; thumping over the billions of unannounced speed bumps that are placed randomly all over Cordoba province. We grew rather fond of our silver bullet; here my mom shows appreciation for the little stud:
On our drive back to Cordoba down through the hills, we saw a field with some sheep and llamas so we decided to pull over and take some pictures. Surprisingly, llamas do not respond to calls of “hey, llamaaaaas”–but they DID give us their attention when my dad and I started making gorilla noises as loudly as possible. The poor sheep were terrified.
The next day we decided to explore Cordoba capital itself and then go for a drive in the province. As soon as we got into the city we came across a Jesuit crypt that was discovered only in the 1980s:
We also visited a Jesuit property that had been converted into a pretty museum (side note: Cordoba is known for its Jesuit estancias, or ranches, and other properties that the Jesuits built in the 1600s).
Then we went off for a drive and, as Stephensons, OF COURSE we had to go off the beaten path– way off:
And then, before I knew it, I was on my way back home.
It was way too short of a week, but we’ve promised each other to meet up in another nifty place… to be determined. :)