Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Cordoba, Mendoza and Talampaya

Flying from El Calafate to Cordoba was like flying to a whole new world. It was suddenly hot again, flat, and prices reasonable. Most of the travelers we met looked at us a little confused when we said we were on our way to Cordoba but it isn't without its attractions.
As a major university town and the second largest city in Argentina there is a very lively feel about it and the parks and plazas were full of activity, especially in the evenings when the temperatures cooled and wandering around became more bearable. We enjoyed our evenings at a nearby musical fountain with a couple hundred others lounging around. Cordoba is one of the oldest cities in Argentina so there is a lot of historic architecture around the centre. Originally built in a grid pattern, each block was given over to a different group within the city. The most famous block is the Unesco-listed Jesuit block (the Jesuits were everywhere down here) with the remains of one of the oldest churches in the country and a number of buildings that are now part of the University of Cordoba but in all honesty it wasn't as interesting as I'd hoped. 

Our favourite Cordoba church (Los Capuchinos)

Pedestrianized streets in the centre

Plaza San Martin
There's always an oversized statue.
Part of the Jesuit block

In order for the Jesuits to support their efforts in the area, they ran 6 nearby estancias (ranch/estates) in the surrounding countryside. These estancias were to later form the centres of small towns that eventually grew up around them. We made a quick trip to visit Alta Gracia, the closest of the former estancias. There is a small town there now and the old church and residence have been turned into a museum, restored to a time post-Jesuit when the estancia had come into the hands of the local viceroy. Alta Gracia was to become of historical note again in the 20th century as a place Che Guevara lived for 12 years in his youth. His former home is also now a museum though we didn't bother to visit this.

Alto Gracia church and entrance to the estancia

The estancia museum restored to the early 1800's

Clock tower and Jesuit-made irrigation lake in Alta Gracia

Mendoza turned into our longest stay in one place so far on the trip, but not by choice. We'd taken an overnight bus from Cordoba and were hanging out in the main plaza (below average in my opinion) waiting for our check-in time to our airbnb when I started to feel weird and unwell. We struggled to our airbnb where I crawled into bed for the next several days. 
Mendoza is known for its wines and there are over 1000 different wineries in the region to visit. With multiple valleys and so many choices, most visitors simply have to choose between taking a tour or renting a bike, grabbing a map and doing it on their own. In the end we had to scrap any ambitious plans we might've had and simply went to Maipu (the closest area) and visited a single winery, Bodega Lopez, made more interesting by the fact that it is harvest season and we could watch the grapes coming in on the trucks to get processed. 

I've had better days....
Bodega Lopez in Maipu just outside Mendoza

Bringing in the harvest (Chardonnay)

After a week of R+R I finally felt well enough to keep going so we caught a bus to the very small and dusty town of Patquia so that the following morning we could jump on a very crowded and dilapidated bus to visit Talampaya National Park. Talampaya is a remote and relatively unknown park, contiguous with Ischigualasto State Park (separated by a state border) that sees few visitors. While Ischigualasto is famous for its dinosaur fossils, Talampaya is known more for its natural beauty consisting of canyons, petroglyphs and wind-eroded rock formations. It would feel right at home amongst the parks of the American southwest. 
Talampaya is the only one of the two accessible by public transport so we jumped off the bus and found ourselves with the choice of joining a driving or walking tour through the park. It was pushing 40C so the driving tour was really the only option for us. The drive took us up dry riverbeds and through canyons, stopping at multiple points to show us interesting geological features. The coolest part was probably when we were walking up a narrow canyon hearing the echoing screeches of a flock of parrots flying in formation overhead. 

Even the smallest towns have signs these days

Touring Talampaya

Not the easiest petroglyphs to see

Along the dry riverbed and into the canyon

150m high canyon

We were there on a busy weekend and only saw a few dozen visitors, most of which were local. The trip took a couple of hours and afterwards we jumped on a bus to La Rioja, the capital of the state, where we got stuck for the night before we could move onward. 


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