It’s 24 hours later, an overnight bus done and we’re still not hungry. We’re still probably not sober yet either but that’s an implicit characteristic of visiting Sayta ranch. Somewhat annoyingly our tenth overnight bus thus far warranted a splurge on the ‘cama’ seats, the South American bus version of aircraft business class; and we’re not able to truly get into it. Yes the bigger seats make for a nicer sleep but the alcohol and food on offer all gets turned down, we have bodies that have launched into eating disorders but with minds that cruelly lack the supportive dysfunction. For now we’re beached whales and little more. The ritual ensues: information desk, map, bad coffee, toilet and we’re delivered as is the new day into a new town and a new part of our journey. Cordoba, come at us.
The bubbling excitement of being in a new town lasts for as long as the night bus fatigue remains distant, which is to say about one block of walking. This time we’re not too drained but there’s absolutely no bouncing out of an overnight bus, ever; maintaining coherent thought above a gentle haze of fatigue is considered an unquestionable win. Or is this just what it is to be a functioning alcoholic?
On first impressions Cordoba bustles with a little more life than Salta, not a surprise from Argentinas second largest city. Our short walk into town sees a bit of the South American phenomenon that Argentina embraces in full flight when it comes to urban areas, near enough is often good enough. There seems to be a distinct division between spaces and buildings that have public attention and those that don’t, not a shade between. The often pristine maintenance and presentation of historical buildings and plazas of note give way to a sprawl that seriously needs a good lick of paint. This pervasive pre-decay aesthetic so effectively eradicates feelings of pride, innovation and welcome. In it’s place arrives a gritty latin lack of narcissism and superficial restriction, an unspoken battle between opposing intangibles on a tipping point that no one seems able to really refine. So which is Cordoba; vibrant and pulsing in the vein of Havana or Valparaiso; or similar to Lima, stagnant and declining?
As usual we have a few hours to kill so it’s the Plaza San Martin, a gracious large square flanked by numerous beautiful buildings to host the bustling population. This description of a gorgeous urban space really does become a copy/paste situation in South America, a relic of Spanish colonialism that thankfully lasts and thrives. The concept of the central square in South America is a positive one and I can’t help but consider the social spin offs, these squares are always central, well used and busy. At home we have public spaces but totally without the congregational social weight that squares and plazas have here. Social gathering and interaction is not limited to homes, clubs and bars, all indoor and privately owned spaces but thrust into a realm of universal accessibility, diversity and community. A societal conscience that abandons secrecy and exclusion as a mode, a warm nicety in anyones language.
What cannot be called a nicety is the coffee; water water everywhere yet not a drop to drink, as the saying goes. We see the ocean before us in the shape of more cafes than the proverbial stick can poke at but the now ritual post-bus caffeine gathering is reaping rewards of little but cats-bum faces and haughty tut-tutting. Tea in Cordoba it seems. After a few train smashes enough is enough and it’s time to go see if we can check in early before heading back out. A small venture into town reveals some beautiful buildings, great public spaces and most inspiringly some new developments, an ever welcome sign of a society wanting to progress, wanting to be better tomorrow than they are today.
We have two of our best friends arriving in Cordoba tonight, Laf and Barnaby, the first visitors from home we’ve had this whole time and we can’t wait. Before heading out to the mountains we have a few days in town to see if Cordoba can break what is developing as an Argentinian urban truism. We’ve encountered relatively bland and bureaucratic towns surrounded by regions that epitomise everything that lives big in Argentinian life. This juxtaposition is interesting and contrary to the notion of cities and towns as capitals. If a city is not a beacon of what makes a region what it is then is it culturally bereft of relevance? We look forward to seeing Cordoba break the shackles or does it slip into regressive pathos.