The one thing you should do in Salta, Argentina

They call Salta la linda because it is so picturesque and lovely. When I arrived it was raining a bit. So I can’t say I had the best first impression. I also used couch surfing for the first time. It ended up being in a hostel called Loki Salta, or a famous party hostel in South America.

Almost missed the Loki stop. I literally laughed when I got off the bus, in the middle of nowhere!

Almost missed the Loki stop. I literally laughed when I got off the bus, in the middle of nowhere!

That was the mistake of Salta. I should have stayed closer to the city and at a hostel that didn’t try to nickel and dime you for everything (food, drink, etc.). I mean it was free so how much can I complain?

If you know me, quite a bit so I’ll just focus on the city. I am not a good tourist. I get really tired of the touristy things. I enjoy eating and walking in a city more than anything else. Salta is a great place to walk and explore. The food was a bit harder and I ended up eating quite a bit just at the hostel. Convenience won in this case.

The only thing I really did, partially due to less than great weather, is hike up the hill that had a great view of the city. It was about an hour walk up and another hour walk down. You can take the funicular but that takes most of the fun out of it. This is the one thing I recommend doing above all in Salta. 

The wonderful view from the top of the hill in Salta. If you are going to do anything, it should be this.

The wonderful view from the top of the hill in Salta. If you are going to do anything, it should be this.

I think pictures can say more about Salta than I can. I heard the areas around Salta are nicer but I didn’t get to do an excursion. Maybe I did not give it enough chance, but I think I prefer Cordoba.

Me all sweaty after the climb to the top. So worth it!

Me all sweaty after the climb to the top. So worth it!

Salta, La Linda

Salta, La Linda

Sierras de Cordoba – Alta Gracia y Villa Carlos Paz

Cordoba is surrounded by mountains called the Sierras de Cordoba which makes Cordoba a great base for those who like nature. I did not venture too far from Cordoba but I did have a chance to visit two nearby cities. It is quite cheap to venture out, around 20 pesos each way, or just under $2 dollars which makes it an affordable day trip.

Alta Gracia is known for being the childhood home of Che Guevara. Che is known as  a revolutionary. He was born in Rosario, Argentina. (Can you guess what other famous figure calls this town home?) He then moved to Alta Gracia with his family where he grew up which helped with his asthma due to the cities many green spaces and clean air.

A statue of 'Che' as a child sits outside the museum that used to be his former home in Alta Gracia.

A statue of ‘Che’ as a child sits outside the museum that used to be his former home in Alta Gracia.

‘Che’ as he was called (also a slang term of endearment in argentina, kind of like saying guy) went on to tour Latin America where he connected with locals and the indigenous. He studied medicine so he spent much time in leppar colonies. Later in life, he met Fidel Castro and fought beside him to overthrow the leadership in Cuba. He was honored with a Cuban passport and a position in the government. Later he fled to Bolivia where he also focused on gathering troops as part of the guerrilla war. Later, he was found and killed by the local Bolivian government, supposedly under orders from the U.S..

Che's Motorcycle from his famous memoirs, the Motorcycle diaries.

Che’s Motorcycle from his famous memoirs, the Motorcycle diaries.

Given that I am from the U.S., and Che’s given disdain of all things American and our influence around the world, I am torn on the topic. It is clear that Argentineans love Che and I believe many of his ideas are good, if not idealistic. However, I still love and appreciate my country and the opportunities it has offered me. It would have been very interesting to see what Che thought of Cuba in the present day, Argentina during the dictatorship, and various other occurrences after his death.

I’ve gone completely off topic now. The museum of Che’s childhood home is a must though. Although, they do charge differently based on where you are from. Basically, don’t say you are from the U.S. I think any other country would be better, and if you speak Spanish, say you are from Argentina.

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It is a nice city to just walk around as well. There is a small river and a few other museums if you care to check out.

Villa Carlos Paz was the other town I visited. This town has a larger lake, a casino, and a kukuclock which is much smaller than I expected. Carlos Paz is a nice place to escape the crowds in the city and just chill out. There isn’t a ton to it so if you skip it, you aren’t missing out.

There are some other towns around Cordoba such as Villa Belgrano and La Cumbrecita that are supposed to be lovely but I ran out of time to check out. I recommend exploring a bit outside the city of Cordoba in order to get a real taste of the area and the beauty that surrounds it.

Merienda

I learned a new word in Argentina (okay a few, but this one stood out). Merienda. It is now one of my favorite words. For a simple comparison, it is like tea time. It consists of usually sitting around, drinking Mate, snacking on facturas, and sharing with friends.

A few definitions:

Mate – A traditional drink of Argentina that consists of drinking out of a metal or wood like gourd filled with Yerba. Hot water is then poured over the leaves and drank through a  bombilla, or a special straw that filters the herbs. This is repeated until the flavor is removed from the leaves and all are thoroughly wet. Each person drinks until the water is finished.

Mate. Yum.

Mate. Yum.

Facturas– Small sweet croissants or criollias (small bread like biscuits). Sold at local bakeries for very cheap, 12 pesos (around $1 USD) for ½ dozen or 2 pesos each.

So, if you find yourself in Argentina, talk to some Argentineans. They will more likely than not invite you to share in Mate or Merienda. It is a great opportunity to just enjoy some company, take some time to relax, and of course, practice a bit of Spanish

Ego Check: The struggle of learning another language

I took a communication class in college. I needed extra credits to become a CPA so I took a class I expected to be a bit easier. It was easier, but I learned that communication is not as easy as it appears, even when you are speaking the same language.

Flashback to my first day on the job (in Cordoba) and I realized just how difficult it can be to communicate. I had not spoke Spanish in years, let alone studied. I was thrown into a situation where people just expected you to understand what they were saying. In reality, I understood about 40% and had to use context, ask for it to be repeated, or even write it at one point.

Google translate became my best friend. I wanted to cry the first day. It is very humbling to be trying your absolute hardest only to completely misinterpret what was said and have to have someone save you or respond for you. I felt like a child. I still feel a bit like a child.

But it has gotten easier, and I think a bit more of my Spanish is coming back. I am still awful at conjugating verbs and many times will just say multiple versions hoping the person will correct me. I also tend to use the masculine for feminine words or vice versa. It is hard for me to comprehend how wrong that is when there isn’t an equivalent in English.

Even though learning Spanish is one of the hardest things I’ve done (yes, for me harder than the CPA exam), there is an immense sense of satisfaction when you complete a conversation. Or when you effectively get your point across. Especially when you are sitting with a group of people, who all seem to speak more languages than you, and they switch between English and Spanish and you can follow, it is one of the most enjoyable experiences I know.

I think everyone should be required to live or work where their mother tongue is not the language. In the U.S., I have heard people become frustrated when a foreigner cannot communicate in English. I think these same people would have different opinions if they had ever been in a situation like that. The journey to becoming bilingual may not be easy or comfortable, but it is rewarding.

Cordoba, Argentina

After a ~10 hour bus ride from Buenos Aires, I arrived in Cordoba, Argentina. My home for the next few weeks. Cordoba is the second largest city in Argentina. It is in the middle of the country, surrounded by the Sierras de Cordoba. It is a city of around 1.3 million people, so a decent size.

I did not know much about Cordoba before I arrived. I actually still don’t know that much even though I’ve been here a few weeks. It has one of the oldest Universities in South America and as such, a lot of students and neat little bars and shops to explore. Did I mention that higher education is free in Argentina? Like totally free, even for foreigners (along with healthcare). To me, coming from the U.S. this is kind of crazy. It is also kind of awesome because those who really want to learn, have the opportunity. I have

Me in front one of the statues in the main squares in Cordoba.

Me in front one of the statues in the main squares in Cordoba.

noticed that a lot more people take longer to graduate here though, which I suspect is partially due to it being free.

Criss crossing the world gets expensive. So in order to reduce those expenses, I joined workaway and found a hostel in Cordoba where I could work for around 24 hours a week in exchange for free boarding. Not a bad deal, huh? Plus, since I first visited a hostel in Europe where I saw cool, hip foreigners working the desk, it had been one of those dreams that I wanted to check the box on. (Bartending is also on that list so we will see if I get to that).

It is also a great way to meet people and not feel so lonely when you are traveling by yourself. This has come in handy, especially when I want to go out. I’ve gone to the same club twice now. They do play a lot of reggaeton here, which I cannot say is my favorite.

Cordoba has quite a bit to offer and I do recommend a stop if you are traveling through Argentina. I specifically recommend you come on a Wednesday. All the museums are free on Wednesday and it is a great way to get to know a bit more about the city, Argentinean culture, and its art.

One of the hidden market ways around Las Paseo de los Artes on the weekends. You are bound to find something you will want to buy!

One of the hidden market ways around Las Paseo de los Artes on the weekends. You are bound to find something you will want to buy!

I would also recommend trying to stay until Saturday night at least as well. Not only would you get to experience the nightlife but you can also check out Paseo de los Artes. Paseo de los Artes is a little street fair that only goes on during the weekend from 6pm to 10pm. The stalls are filled with handmade goods ranging from wood to leather to jewelery. The area itself is also fun to walk around and lots of open air bars.

Cordoba is a city that grows on you the more you get to know it. There aren’t any world famous sites, but it does have a culture that is all its own. Its proximity to the Sierras de Cordoba make it a great base and its youthful atmosphere will have you missing your own school days in no time. While there are many cities in Argentina that get more attention, Cordoba is worth a visit.

In search of Blue dollars

Argentina is quite the interesting place at the moment. Inflation is rampant. Literally you can go to the grocery store one week, and the next week the price of a vegetable has increased 5-10 pesos a kilo. Even more so, there are basically two markets for currency. There is the official rate, and the black market rate. These rates make a huge difference when it comes to spending here. The official rate is 8.6 ARP to 1 USD while the black market rate (also known as blue dollar rate) is 13. That is over a 50% increase on the official rate. Argentina is massively expensive if you don’t get the blue dollar.

So, how do you find this black market? Well in Buenos Aires it is fairly easy. However, you do need to look out for fake bills. At first, I thought I’d just use the ATM. How expensive can Argentina really be?

Man was I naïve. It hurt my wallet to do anything in Argentina. So, now that I was here in Cordoba, I set out in search of Blue dollars. I spoke to a german girl staying at the same place and she told me of a guy (mafia looking guy) that would exchange at the black market rate. So I set out in search of this guy. Normally, like if you were in Buenos Aires, you wouldn’t be able to walk down one road without hearing ‘cambio, cambio’ being whispered to anyone who looked like a foreigner. Cordoba, was a different story. I was struggling. I walked around the block about 5 times. I thought I saw an exchange go on but didn’t have the courage to just go up and ask. So I gave up for the day. I went to the grocery store, bought a little, and cried while I paid the official rate. Tomorrow was a new day.

Plaza San Martin in Cordoba, Argentina. Best place in Cordoba to find the Blue dollar rate.

Plaza San Martin in Cordoba, Argentina. Best place in Cordoba to find the Blue dollar rate.

So the following day, I set out again for Blue dollars. I walked around some more, hoping to hear those words. Then, as I was getting ready to do another walk around the block, I heard a man leaning against a pole, whisper ‘cambio’. I asked cuanto and he said doce setenta (12,70). Vale. It was good enough for me. He walked me around the corner where there was actually a line. It looked like locals so that made me feel more comfortable. It was a newspaper stand. He asked how much and I said cien. He took the $100 USD and threw it in a box. He then counted out 1270 pesos. I recounted to be sure. They had watermarks so I was comfortable.

I walked away smiling. I had participated in my first black market deal. I felt triumphant. I got ice cream to celebrate. And to also ensure the $100 pesos I just received actually worked. It did.

Who ever thought I would be looking for the black market in Argentina? It is a crazy world we live in.

Bienvenidos a Buenos Aires

You sure know how to welcome a girl, don’t you Argentina? I arrived late on a Sunday, before the holidays, and arranged for my hostel to have a car waiting. Sometimes, when you are a solo female traveler you have to pay a bit more to ensure your safety. You never want to look back wishing you would have paid those extra few dollars. As such, I needed cash at the airport. I prepared ahead and brought a few cards, a few years traveling, and a few incidents will have you doing the same. I tried the first ATM with my no fee card. Could not perform the transaction. Tried the second card. Same problem. I went to another ATM. Tried the first card. No luck. Tried the second card and finally got cash. I soon realized that getting cash out of ATMs in Argentina (primarily local banks) was almost always a roll of the dice. As I was arriving so late, I booked a cheap hostel in the nicer part of town, Palermo, as I wanted to check out the neighborhood in the morning.

I should have just gotten a hotel. I woke up to around 20 mosquito bites, give or take 5. They were on my face, my back, and my arms. I’m so glad I wore long pants to bed. Needless to say, it wasn’t the warm welcome I had been hoping for. My first stop was the grocery store to purchase sunscreen & bugspray. Now prepared for whatever the country had to throw at me, I moved to the other side of town, San Telmo, which was much more accessible to the tourist areas.

It is an interesting time to be in Argentina. The inflation is apparent. Prices don’t make sense. My first few days was sticker shock. I was also operating at the official rate which is extremely painful (see my separate post on the blu dollar). Difficulties aside, I was able to get out and explore a bit.

My first day I was on my own. There were some free museums due to the holiday so I mainly walked around and visited those. I was able to learn a bit more about Argentina’s history.

Casa Rosada in the center of Buenos Aires.

Casa Rosada in the center of Buenos Aires.

That night, I decided to venture out my own as I hadn’t really met many people at the hostel. I went to a little bar close by that had pretty good reviews. The food was less than good but the drinks were great. Cider straight from Patagonia. I spoke to the bartenders a bit but then a group of guys asked me to take their picture. They then invited me to sit with them noticing that I was on my own and from the States (they were also Americans… but I should say from the U.S. as everyone here is technically an American too). Travel definitely brings people together. If I was in the U.S. I’m doubtful this would have ever happened. I spent the rest of the night just talking with them and their bike guide from earlier that day, a semi-permanent expat from England. I say semi because he was there outside his Visa with no intention of leaving. It is crazy to me how brave some people are and how much they are willing to hustle to live the life they want.

The night ended with Indian food (they were Indian Americans from New York, and two of them had actually lived in Michigan for a period of time). I tried Indian food for the first time in Argentina. It is a cool world we live in.

The colorful houses of La Boca, Buenos Aires, Argentina.

The colorful houses of La Boca, Buenos Aires, Argentina.

The next day I did another walking tour through La Boca, the disputed birthplace of Tango. It was nice but a bit touristy and if you ventured farther out, the neighborhood was underdeveloped, to say the least. The best part was meeting a French girl who was getting ready for a tour on her own and another guy from Denmark who was also traveling on his own. My favorite part of the trip so far hasn’t been the cities, or the food, but the people I meet and the conversations I get to have. Hearing from locals first hand thoughts on current events is much more satisfying then reading a water downed version in the newspapers.

Some La Boca Street Art.

Some La Boca Street Art.

Buenos Aires has been called the Paris of South America. I do not have much to go off of, as my journey around South America is just beginning. All I can say is, I think my expectations were a bit too high. Or maybe I didn’t spend enough time there. It was also my first time staying in a hostel again since college, so the lifestyle adjustment could be affecting my thoughts as well. I think once Argentina figures out their currency situation, I’ll be more inclined to return.