Cordoba is known as Argentina's second city, it boasts a population of 1.3 million and is home to a bustling student scene. It is based at the foothills of the Sierras Chicas and offers amazing scenery for those wishing to venture out of the city for day hikes and camping in the warmer weather. It is also one of the oldest cities in modern Argentina and features a great deal of colonial architecture preserved from the 1500's, among them the country's oldest university – The National University of Cordoba. I liked the fact that Cordoba had everything a big city has to offer without being too imposing, the streets felt safe and friendly and I met a great deal of welcoming people while I was there.
Leaving Iguazú, I had decided to get back on the Couchsurfing bandwagon and got in touch with a few hosts in Cordoba before I left. Luckily for me I got a friendly response from a host named Adrian within a few hours and all that stood between me and my next destination was a 22 hour bus ride west.
Upon arriving at my host's house I was greeted by another Couchsurfer, Javier, a cool Colombian working and motorbiking his way south through his home continent. My host Adrian, a secondary school teacher and local tutor, explained that he had been hosting for just over a year. He opened his house to multiple Couchsurfers at a time, essentially making it as much fun as a small hostal at a fraction of the cost! Over the next couple of days we were joined by Fernando, a typical Chilean guy who was also taking some time to visit Argentina and making sure to enjoy himself as much as possible along the way, if you know what I mean.
Adrian instantly made each of us feel at home over the next four days and I took the opportunity to cook for him, his sister and his sons (Italian food, again!). These snippets of family life are always so rewarding when so much time has been spent on the road. Depending on your travels and your circumstances, it isn't very often that one gets to sit in a real family home and share laughs over a home cooked meal and drinks. Moments like these are even more special when you realise you're immersed in another family's life, surrounded by people from different cultures, each with different stories to tell.
For these sorts of experiences I have found Couchsurfing to be the best way to connect with the local people and it proved itself again the following day. Browsing the website I stumbled across a group from Cordoba that were planning on taking a Sunday trek to Parque Quebrada Del Condorito, roughly a two hour drive from the city. It was simple to get involved, I sent a message to the group and they immediately placed me in one of the cars organised for the trip and gave me details of where we would be meeting. For nothing more than the cost of petrol money I met a group of locals and some other fellow Couchsurfers. We spent a fantastic day together in Cordoba's neighbouring mountain ranges, swapping stories, sharing Maté and admiring the beautiful scenery.
Eager to admire some slightly different scenery, Fernando convinced me to take a walk around the city with him the following day. After stopping at the various points of interest (and hearing the Chilean version of South American history) we wandered over to the university campus bar to grab a couple of beers. Unfortunately it was a Monday evening and everyone seemed too intent on studying. Instead, we made our way back to our host's house and went out for Parrillada, a truly magnificent Argentine steak cooked over hot coals. Although Adrian kindly insisted that I should stay longer if I needed to, I left the following morning excited to make my way to Salta, a further 12 hours into northern Argentina.
That evening, I nervously eyed my potential bus companions as I sat on my backpack in the terminal. When you have to share a 12 hour bus journey with another person just inches away, these things suddenly become very important! I cannot describe my relief when somebody completely non-crazy sidled up next to me, and indicated that it was her seat. Suddenly enthusiastic to practice my Spanish, I spent the last few hours of the evening talking to the girl, Marcia. She explained that she was a Law student in Cordoba, going home to Salta for the weekend. Although she had questionable taste in music (Bruno Mars?) the journey flew by and we swapped details as we arrived the next morning, with Marcia promising to show me around her city if she had the chance.
We said goodbye and I checked my email for my new Couchsurfing host's address. Upon arrival I couldn't believe my luck, it turned out that my new host actually ran a Hospedaje but my contact on the website meant that I could stay for free! I met Maria, my super friendly host, her siblings and mother and once again settled into a friendly family atmosphere. It turned out that Maria had several contacts in the beautiful city of Salta, as she set aside her morning to take me on a free tour, including a ride in the cable car to the summit of San Bernado Hill overlooking the city. That afternoon we also took a local bus out to San Lorenzo and took a mini-trek through the beautiful forest surrounding the city. Maria took the time to recommend some of the local museums, among them the MAAM Salta and Museo Histórico Del Norte, both of which I highly recommend.
Just when I couldn't imagine the people of Northern Argentina showing me any more kindness, I received a message from Marcia insisting that I visit her parent's home for asado, a traditional Argentine barbecue usually including all of the cow. Her parents wouldn't take no for an answer, all I had to do was be ready to be picked up at 7! Stunned by the invitation, I threw on my smartest backpacker clothes, which unfortunately leave a lot to be desired. On the way to her house we stopped at the supermarket and picked up everything necessary for a great evening: several kinds of meat, two kinds of beer, some wine and the interesting (but delicious!) local liquor, Fernet Branca. What followed was an amazing evening of food, drinks, laughs and plenty of Spanish to keep me on my toes. Yet again, I couldn't do enough to thank this beautiful family for their incredible kindness upon welcoming a stranger into their home. Muchas gracias, mi familia del mundo!
My last evening in Salta proved it to have quite the party nightlife as well. I caught up with two Swiss girls I had met in Buenos Aires, Alessandra and Viviene, along with some great guys from their hostel and Marcia and her friend Paula. We did our best to make the most of the crazy bars along Calle Barcarce, featuring live Spanish music, some foosball and plenty of litros de cerveza. It was another great evening, shared by lots of people from different corners of the world.
Keep an eye on the page for an upcoming photo post from the very north of Argentina, before I cross back into northern Chile and towards my next South American country, Bolivia!
Looking for a place to stay in Salta? Check out Maria's family hospedaje here.