Argentina’s Manchester and Leeds

Cordoba and Rosario are Argentina’s second and third cities and have a lot to recommend them. That’s why I choose not to slag either off with the dreaded Birmingham tag.

Rosario

It looked like a big detour from Paraguay, and it really was. Two long days on the familiar dead straight boiling hot, featureless landscapes bit I figured what else am I here for but to pile hundreds of miles on the bike checking out new places? Incidentally, my progress is always plotted in the Route webpage if you’re interested.

Again I was checked into privately fortified luxury. Nice, but it’s wearing my conscience a bit thin. Also I’ve discovered that the nicer the place I’m staying is, the less I push myself to get out and explore, which is a negative really. Anyway, Rosario seems a pretty chilled place, quietly confident but not too brash. The exception I suppose is the big developments on the river front with posh tower blocks transforming the area. Again, the blocks look great but this time there actually seems to have been a bit done to make the surrounding area useful and inviting for the rest of the population. There is a nice walk of a mile or two along the riverfront through parks, past the contemporary art gallery with a few nice affordable riverside eateries.

The walk ends at a public plaza where some war or other is commemorated or celebrated in typically phallic style. It strikes me that it’s powerful men that construct these types of edifices and write their version of history for others to faithfully consume. Of course there’s a grand place set aside for the heroes of the Malvinas. I’m not a fan of these grand public gestures. Above a monument in the favoured-by-fascists, neo-classical style, is an inscription that talks about libertad. I’m no scholar of Argentinian post-colonial history but I’m sure that libertad wasn’t always on top of the political agenda. The columns themselves look a little too uncomfortably similar to some I saw in Nuremburg last year. I wonder what Rosario’s most famous son, Ernesto “Che” Guevara would have made of it all?

I’m sorry I couldn’t spend more time in Rosario. It has a lot to offer and the city centre seems chilled and quite charming in a way that the capital couldn’t be. The people as always, were very welcoming.

The final word on this rather-too political section surely has to go to the fridge magnet and sticker sellers on the main shopping street. Choose your hero! My vote goes to H.J Simpson

Cordoba

I arrived in Cordoba on something of a mission. It had felt like a long time since I’d had a proper, late, beery night out. It was bank holiday weekend and I had a nice central flat on Saturday and Sunday night with no real plans. After another long ride I arrived, checked in and decided to start on the beer. Popping to the local corner shop I grabbed three one litre bottles which are popular here and hit a communication barrier. Unfortunately the nice teenage woman minding the shop didn’t want to sell them to me. Clearly there was something I was missing. We were reduced to the translator and she seemed to be asking if I had a carrier. “No it’s fine I’ll just carry them, I’m not far”.. but no, still there was something wrong. It was smiles all-round but she wasn’t in the mood for letting me pay and walk out. That’s what you normally do in shops, right?

Back to Google translate. “I’ll have to charge you for the carrier…” she says. Then in dawned on me, obviously something to do with the deposit and return system on the bottles…. “sure no problem just charge me..” She asked where I was from and when I said England, the woman was chuffed, she loves the place… “que lindo!” “Inglaterra… I love it”… what a lovely reaction from someone that had every right to be annoyed at the stupid foreigner who didn’t know about the bottle deposit system. Beers mostly consumed, I kept checking over my balcony and the growing hubbub from the local bar – Tres Calaveras looks like my kind of place! Maybe a bit young, but I’ll give it a go.

I bowled on in there, bought a cold pint and perched myself on the wall. Clearly the locals like a drink. It was a young crowd, mostly students if I were to guess, making the most of the bank holiday and perfect 23 degree evening temperature. A big table close to me asked me to take a photo of them, then they caught my English language. “where are you from?”…”England, oh cool… it’s my birthday, why don’t you come and join us? you can sit next to me”. What a generous and welcoming offer, “thanks guys!”. “Oi Peaky Blinder! How are you!?” Haaaaa… clearly the reach of the Shelby’s extends to central Argentina, nice! The lads are all junior medical doctors enjoying a rare night off from their usual 100 hours a week. They explain that the medical service in Argentina is actually really good and something the country is particularly proud of. I did my bit for their future custom by hammering my liver some more.

The lads walked me through town to the club “where all the old people go” and I bade them farewell. I reached into my pocket to cover the damage on the door and the door person asked me where I was from, “England” … “Oh really!!!?? normally we charge an entrance fee but we’ll let you in for free!”. Cool!

They weren’t kidding, for the first little while I was dragging the average age down by about 20 years (just like a Northern Soul do then ;-). Thankfully more people arrived to level things up a bit. The place seemed to be a favourite of South American cowboys, or people who dress like them. There were a few giant cowboy hats, and check shirts were all the rage. As ever, everyone was super friendly and I tried my best at having a shuffle to the Cumbia tunes. This kind of music is a bit hard to define here but I’ve heard it quite a bit on my travels. To me, it’s fairly upbeat, has salsa like rhythms, is quite poppy, commercial, uses a vocaliser, has echoes of europop, accordian can be quite prominent. Not really my cup of tea but I give it a go. Before long I’ve got new friends and I stick the place out longer than I ought to have and eventually leave while the place is still going strong.

Needless to say, the following day is something of write off. So, like Rosario I feel I’ve not had enough time to fully appreciate Cordoba but from what I’ve seen it seems another interesting, exciting and welcoming place in Argentina well worth a visit.

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