I arrived in Córdoba after dusk, and after convincing to owner of the Tango Hostel International to give me the bed reserved for a girl that hadn't shown up yet (in an otherwise completely full hostel), I started to wander the streets.
I was rather thrown off with the scene—block after block lined with 25-story apartment buildings. I honestly felt like I was strolling around parts of Manhattan. The resemblance to the memory in my head was rather startling.
Argentina's second largest city isn't holding back. It's one of the most cosmopolitan towns I've encountered in a long while. The people in the heart of the city are young, cute, and (appear to be) financially secure.
Not unlike Mendoza, typical symbols of Latin American cities are almost completely absent—the street food and chaotic markets that I've grown to love and require (for affordable subsistence and entertainment) are no where to be found. I take a deep breath and try no to bitch to myself (or others) about the prices.
For some reason it bothers me when travelers keep comparing the "low cost" of Argentina against their "expensive" home country. Try comparing it to some place like Bolivia, and tell me how cheap you think that pizza is (after I tell you a dorm bed and solid meal cost about the same amount there). It's all a matter of perspective and exposure—two things many backpackers I've been meeting recently have been lacking in.
Folks are on vacation though, and I rarely harp on them about such things. A part of me enjoys seeing (and occasionally being a part of) how people live when they only have to worry about their finances until that sad date when their return ticket takes them home. Our paths cross, I briefly enter into their bubble, and hopefully something is gained by both from the contact.
I'm still surprised on a daily basis with how much daylight there is. Ever since I jumped the border with Bolivia—and forward an hour on the clock—dusk has been getting closer and closer to nine o'clock at night. Days have been brutality warm here in Córdoba, slowing my rate of activity down to a snail's pace. Late evenings are wonderfully comfortable, and a welcome relief from the heat.
I think I've cracked the mystery as to why Argentina has such late nights (dinner at 10:00, kids heading off to nightclubs at 2 AM)—the entire region is hopped up on maté. Folks are wired on the stuff. Outside of the United State's coffee addition and Puerto Rico's rate of Heineken consumption, I don't recall personally seeing a population as united in the consumption of a single beverage type (visuals of Russians with vodka, Greeks with ouzo, and Italians with wine pending).
Maté is bitter, but tasty. I'm a tea drinker, and the variation is a nice change of pace. My only qualm is that I find it next to impossible to drink a steaming hot cup of herbal water on an even hotter day—yet everywhere I look people are doing it. I threw an ice cube in with the mix and used cold water… my own take on an iced maté. I was later told that some hotter regions of Brazil drink it in this fashion.
Maté paraphernalia is for sale absolutely everywhere. Over half the backpackers I've encountered in this country carry their own supplies—the herb, gourd, straw, and thermos for hot water—they're hooked as bad as the locals.
So the days have been hot, and I've been idling here for almost a week, occasionally trying to figure out what to do with my time. Unlike the time-pressured tourist, I don't feel this overwhelming need to fill every minute of my days with activity. I'm quite happy shifting into neutral and letting a day or two slip past me.
I was reading in the park one afternoon (sitting against a tree that I later discovered had deposited a clump of sap in my hair), when I looked up and took a long look at what I saw—a dozen or more women (in pairs and trios) had found their way to the grass around me, sunning themselves in bikinis. I hadn't been overwhelmingly wowed with the looks of the population until I arrived in Córdoba—and damn—the men and women in this city are beautiful.
Other than sports (fútbol, rugby, and polo, surprisingly), I think Córdoba's major pastime is shopping; and the young population have the bodies to make the garments they wear look tailored. There's a massive collection of pedestrian-only streets, lined with shops, and absolutely packed with Argentineans.
If I was living and working in this city I think I'd need a spare bedroom for all the clothes—this town sells exactly what I was looking for when I lived in the States. I'm thinking about breaking down and replacing one or two of the shirts I've been wearing for the past year.
Two nights ago I swung by a night-market that specializes in crafts and antiques. I loved strolling through the stalls and stands, bathed in amber colored light, looking at the handmade goods and items from yesteryear.
Whilst traveling earlier this year, I discovered a personal fascination for antique pocket watches, and Argentina seems to have plenty; so much temptation. Again, if I lived here, I would have walked away from the market with a free kitten, a bonsai tree, maté gear, candles, a little artwork, and possibly an antique or two.
Alas, I only left with memories.
I keep asking myself if I'm happy and content in Córdoba. Part of me is very restless at the moment—understimulation is a problem. I do enjoy living in the middle of the city, though. I've always wanted a downtown loft or condo to live in—I suppose this is about as close as I'm going to get to that.
I feel like I'm a jigsaw puzzle with pieces missing. Every town and city I'm in the puzzle gets cleared and started again. Different towns, different pieces connected together, but rarely is it complete—where it doesn't feel like something's missing.
I told my buddy Andy in an e-mail recently that I think I'm getting burnt out on Latin America. I'm starting to feel like I'm repeatedly eating a sandwich every day for lunch. Sure, the type of meat changes, but I'm still eating the same thing each day.
Yes, Argentina seems to be a substantial culture shift from the Latin America I've come to know—but I sit and wonder why it then hasn't impacted me as such. Is it too similar to North America, perhaps?
What am I looking for? Have elements of these towns become so predictable that they no longer interest me they way they use to? I know when I'm not taking photos of my environment, it's not generally a good sign.
Long term, I've got a few events coming up. I've got some people I'm really looking forward to meeting in Buenos Aires (backpackers from Central and South America, as well as a group of Oracle application developers working with my dad); my old friend Babak (last seen during his crazy visit with me in Cancún) just confirmed that he'll be joining me in BsAs for New Years Eve (awesome); and I've got Carnival, 2007 to attend in mid-February, in Brazil (I'm trying to get an apartment lined up with some guys headed up to Salvador).
I'm currently starting to look for the cheapest flight out of South America, heading east. I'd like to know what airport I'll need to start moving towards in March. Preliminary research shows flights out of the capitals of Venezuela, Peru, and Argentina are the cheapest, typically bound for Spain. This upcoming year I'd love to run with the bulls and throw a tomato or two in Spain, and perhaps toss back a beer in Munich's Oktoberfest in Germany. I've got a huge desire to see the Middle East, and the myriad smaller countries to the north that were once a part of the USSR (perhaps by this time next year).
We'll just have to wait and see how it turns out.