Argentina and Chile - Winter 2011 travel blog

Me, Monique, and Andrea, one of my teachers

Spanish class in progress

Cute tango singer

Tango dancers

The place (with WiFi) where I took my coffee breaks

This entry details my week in Cordoba studying Spanish.

January 24

I started my Spanish course today. I must say that compared to the course I took in Panama last winter, it's a little disappointing. The quality of the teachers doesn't seem as high, and the book they teach with is from Spain (many verb forms from Spain are not used in Latin America) and seems a little lacking. The classes don't have AC (although the lobby does – duh!). And with all this heat (over 35C) my brain is not working very well. I get cranky and annoyed at everything, like the fact that things that should be easy (like paying the school) aren't. First, they only take cash or payment through Paypal. Trying to pay over $300 in cash requires two withdrawals from the bank machine (with fees of $9 each time!). This afternoon, the closest machine had no money in it! And for some reason Paypal didn't want to let me pay through instant transfer. Arrrgg. Now I'm supposed to be skyping with a friend in Canada from a restaurant that keeps telling me it has WiFi, except that I don't see their network appear in my list. Geez. This is the same place where I ate yesterday, so at least I know the empanadas are good.

The heat finally broke a bit early this evening when wind and clouds rolled in and it started raining (in several directions at once as it is, very strange). Sometimes rains in these parts only makes the weather more humid and the cooling is very temporary. I find myself planning my routes and activities around the places that I know have good AC and I pay higher prices for food and drinks sometimes just for the benefit of cooling off for an hour or so. Yeah, I know I'm not getting any sympathy from you guys, especially those of you in Montreal and Toronto who seem to be suffereing through an unusual wave of cold. Ah my empanadas have arrived!

January 28

I finished my Spanish class today. The week went by really quicky, as usually happens when settling down into a routine. I woke up every day at 8:00, got to class by 9:00, with a break from 11 to 11:30 during which I went to a cafe and ordered a cafe con leche (and perhaps a medialuna or two) and read my e-mail (they had WiFi). This was followed by two more hours of class with a different teacher. Those 4 hours were "group" classes, but the only other person is my group was Monique, a woman from Switzerland who had been studying Spanish intensively for 2 months in different countries. She went from zero Spanish to more or less my level in 8 weeks and still complained that she wasn't learning the language fast enough. Caramba mujer!

I had an hour/hour and a half for lunch during which I often had to run errands. The most frustrating part of my stay in Cordoba turned ou to be simple things like getting my clothes washed and getting money. On Tuesday, I must have gone to 8 or 9 bank machines before finding one that would give me money! I also walked around town with a bag full of dirty clothes long enough to make me want to scream.

The afternoon consisted of one hour of private class. After that, I often found some place with WiFi and settled down to do some research, banking, e-mail, trip journal, etc, before returning "home" and doing some homework before dinner. As the week progressed, "home" started to smell more and more like an ashtray. It's hard to believe that I shared an apartment with a smoker for an entire week. Fortunately, I wasn't there most of the time, and when there, I usually closed my bedroom door, opened the window, and turned on the fan. I hope my clothes won't smell. I put them all in a plastic bag after getting them washed. I wonder if Mirta has figured out yet that the reason I seem to "hide" from her is the disgusting cigarette smell. Oh well.

I'm planning to leave here on Sunday. I need to get out of the busy city. Cordoba is nothing like Buenos Aires size-wise, but still has lots of cars, buses, pollution and noise.

Here are a few more observations about the city. There a many stray dogs littering the sidewalks here too. There are also quite a few homeless people, at least half of them women who all seem to have small children in tow. The sidewalks are uneven (that's probably a given anywhere in Argentina), Things don't seem very sturdy. For example, on Tuesday we had a huge thunderstorm with high winds and hail, and the apartment lost two of its wooden shutters. They fell right off their hinges and into the void below. Putting wood shutters on an 11th floor apartment seems like an odd idea. What else? Car drivers try to run over your feet. People jaywalk as a matter of course. And like everywhere in Argentina (and the same as Spain) people don't start dinner until 10:00 pm, although restaurants open for dinner at 8:00. I would often take my shower before going out to eat. And half the time I was so tired by 10:00 that I didn't have the energy and just stayed in and ate nuts and cookies.

January 29

Last night I went out with my classmate and her roommate for dinner followed by a tango show at another restaurant. The tango show didn't start until 11:30 pm, but was quite good, even though there was more tango singing than tango dancing. But the dancers had a lot of "showy" moves, and one of the singers was really easy on the eyes. But the most incredible thing about this place was how strong the drinks were. Monique and I both ordered a strawberry daiquiri. I swear, they must have poured half a bottle of rhum in there! I could feel the burn in my throat from the first sip, along with the cloying sweetness of whatever red mix they combined with the drink. After drinking a quarter of it, I felt dizzy already! Adding a huge chunk of ice didn't seem to make any difference in the alcohol or sugar level. After a while I just gave up on it (to make sure I would be able to walk out of the restaurant after the show). And that's when three big frothy yellow drinks showed up, courtesy of the gentleman at the other table who had been chatting up Monique. I'm still not sure what it was, but it tasted like lemon pie. I managed to drink half of that, by some miracle. We all left a little before 2:00 am, quite "borrachas" (drunk).

This morning when I got up around 9:45, there was a man in the kitchen with Mirta, and the dining room smelled of smoke already. Yuck. It was the guy who was supposed to replace the missing wooden shutters (that we lost in Tuesday's storm). Strangely though, instead of working, he was chatting with her, and she seemed a little more, euh, hyper than normal. Just before I left, she said, quite excitedly "We have a man in the house". "Ì can see that" I replied, non-plussed. Whatever. I just made sure to hide my camera and money before walking out to get breakfast and coffee in a non-smoky place.

Today I plan to go on a day trip to Alta Gracia, about an hour from here to see a famous Jesuit estancia and the house where Che Guevara spent his teenage years, now a museum.

p.s. pictures from the tango show are still in my camera. I will add them when I get a chance.

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