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Maximum Velocity Reached: 60 MPH!

There I sat…on a bus, contemplating the maximum velocity light up above the driver´s head. What was the purpose? If the bus was going at its maximum velocity, it couldn’t go any faster so you wouldn’t need to notify the driver. Besides, I´m sure he would know how fast his bus could go. Even if it was for him though, he couldn’t see it if it went off…it was too high up. Was it for the passengers? Why would you tell them that? If the brakes were out and you were going at max velocity, would you really need a light to notify you of this? The bus driver would probably mention something. He would have to anyway after the light went off. And how fast, exactly, is maximum velocity? So many questions…It really is overwhelming.

I was on my way to Alta Gracia, a small town in the outskirts of Córdoba, although still in the Córdoba province. Erika had to go to Buenos Aires to get some paper processed and so she recommended that I visit a few other places close to Córdoba in her absence and return in time to celebrate New Years with her and her family. Good stuff. So I planned a trip. First I would go to Alta Gracia, then Villa General Belgrano, then La Cumbrecita. And then back to Córdoba.

So I got to Alta Gracia (home of the Che Gueverra museum, and his home in childhood) at like 7:00PM on a Sunday, which was a dumb idea. Anyone who has ever been to South America knows that you can’t do much of anything on Sunday, and the little that you can do closes at like 5:00PM. So there I was, with nothing really to do. And I went for a walk. You see, it doesn’t get dark here until like 8:30 so you have a lot of time to do stuff…like walk around. But it was fun. Alta Gracia has a lot of parks with big ponds and stuff to hang out at. There were a ton of people out with their families, walking around, playing with their kids and dogs, fishing in the ponds and shopping at the stores (although I don´t know how…as they were all closed). I remembered seeing the pond/lake when I came in the city on the bus and from my hotel, I walked in the direction and asked some old man where it was. He hadn’t a clue. There was nothing like that in the city, he said. After another 30 minutes of walking – at the pond, I realized that this guy obviously didn’t get out much. I don´t know how you could miss it. Anyways, I walked around and got something to eat and then took a cab back to my hotel and got some rest. The hotel was really, really nice and I was paying 30 Pesos for it (about $10 a night), which isn’t too bad in a tourist area.

In the morning, I caught the bus to Villa General Belgrano. This town has some really interesting history. Apparently, some German battle ship from WWI crashed ashore and they set up a town. I don´t know how exactly it worked, but the whole region now has a very heavy German influence and a ton of Germans.

There are a lot of German TV stations and it’s weird hearing so much German. This is high tourist season too so there were a lot of them visiting. The town is really interesting, and it looks really German. There are a bunch of restaurants serving in-house beer and German dishes, chocolate stores and these really colorful signs for everything. It was really interesting.

But anyways, when I arrived, I walked for about 30 minutes down this dirt road to get to a hostel recommended in my book only to find out they were full so then I walked another 30 minutes back to the bus station, then another 30 to the main street to find another hotel. I found one and checked in and got situated. I was going to go to this other one before I realized that there was a beautiful girl managing it and I ended up staying. I couldn’t resist. But with a day in town, I highly doubted I would really get to know her. As a side note, Argentina has some of the most beautiful girls I have ever seen in my life. They are stunning and it really makes each town all the more interesting.

So I explored the town, walked on some trails in the forest (as this place is surrounded with pine trees, much like the high sierras in California/Nevada that I used to go camping in with my family when I was younger) and the next day I was off the La Cumbrecita. Very nice, very beautiful and very interesting. This place was even further in the forest and the two hour drive there was incredible. When there, I checked into a hotel (again $10) and was blown away by it. It was a resort room, with a small kitchen, a huge bed, a balcony, Direct TV, and a really nice bathroom. I did some hiking there and the next day I was off back to Villa General Belgrano to connect with a bus back to Cordoba.

When I got back to Cordoba, I gave Erika a call and we planned to meet up at 10:00 at her place to celebrate the New Year. I went at 9:50 to catch a cab and realized that I wasn’t going to arrive on time. The cabs were passing me by as they were filled with people. I´d cross the street and someone would get picked up on the other side. After about 45 minutes of standing there with my hand out, I saw some lady trying to get in on my spot and I told her I had been waiting for 45 mins. She said she had been waiting for an hour (Que verguenza! No hay taxis!). So I took off for the bus station. Certainly there would be taxis there. Nope. I finally went up to a taxi that was picking someone up and asked him if he could take me after. He said he couldn’t because he had to get home (that´s where all the taxi drivers were) and in desperation (it was now about 11:20) I told him I would pay him 20 pesos. That changed his mind (as it is about 4X what I should have paid) and soon we were off. We had a very interesting conversation about Argentina and America and he explained that it was his first day on the job because he got laid off from his banking job and had to support his sick dad – to which I said that the 20 pesos would go a long way, and he agreed. After he dropped me off, Erika and her family came running out, really worried and I explained the story. We all got a laugh out of it. Crazy old gringos in Cordoba.

But New Years was fun (nice food, lots of fireworks) and they took me home at about 1:30AM after coffee and we made a deal to go to the river the next day. They picked me up the next day and we hung out at the river in Carlos Paz and then headed back home. There was a lot of traffic and Erika´s brother and his buddy (both about 11) entertained themselves by picking their noses so that the person in the neighboring car would stare in disgust. It was hillllarrrrious. That night, we spent about 20 minutes calling taxis to take me back to my hotel and I was finally picked up and taken home. Today, I went and saw Lord of The Rings (which is a cool movie, but nearly 4 hours long) and bought my ticket to New Zealand. I blew my budget for the day. I´m about 1000 dollars over for the day. But we have to absorb these costs…there´s no way around it.

Anyways, I go to Mendoza tonight at 10:00. I´m looking forward to it and I´m going to miss Córdoba. But, of course, all good things must come to an end and one can only embrace the future – and the adventures which are sure the ensue.

Oh yeah, and on the way back to Córdoba, I found out how fast maximum velocity was. It was about 60MPH. Slow down there tiger. Surprisingly, the passengers didn’t seem worried.

Tornados, Christmas, and Prostitutes

Let’s see here…where did I leave off last? Ahh yes, flying to Cordoba. Well, after Oliver, Chris, Laura and I packed all our stuff into a taxi (which is no easy task for four backpackers), we headed off to the airport, caught our flight and were in Cordoba before we knew it. Since I was the only one to remain in Cordoba (everyone else was continuing to Mendoza), we bid our farewells and I caught my taxi into the center of town. I had randomly selected a hotel from the list beforehand and after the taxi driver had taken me there and left, I found out that they were going to be closing from 10PM to 2AM on account of it being Christmas Eve (some lame excuse about spending time with family or something) and if I were to check in, I would have to leave during that time. So scratch that.

After wandering the streets looking for a non-existent hotel for another 20 minutes (hauling a 70 pound backpack – mostly Chinese books for when I get to China), a guy informed me that the hotel for which I was looking had changed names and was right in front of me. So I entered, checked in, and was shown my dusty, worn-out, and kind of creepy hotel room (but after all, what can you expect for $4 a night). I then went down to an internet cafe and called my friend Erika and made plans to meet later that night, so I got a shower and watched some TV before she came.

At 10:00, on the dot (this girl is always on time), she showed up and took me to her house where we were to have Christmas dinner (which, since her parents are Jewish, was a barbeque). We spent the night eating, talking, drinking champagne and watching fireworks. One thing you need to know about South America is that everyone – and I mean everyone – launches fireworks of all sorts from their yards and the street on Christmas and New Years. I had been hearing loud booms in the day and thought it might have been thunder, but when it got dark it was clear – the skies were a’blazin’! At midnight, they let loose and let off everything they have – and believe me, it’s quite a sight. After the festivities, Erika and I met some friends of hers in the park near her house and we all hung out and chatted. I got back to my hotel at 5AM and had a blast.

The next day, Erika picked me up again and we hung out at her house with her family (after she gave me a tour of downtown and her university). They introduced me to Mate, a tea made from a type of holly bush which the whole family drinks in a social setting (everyone takes turns drinking from one cup and passes it when they are done). Her parents gave me a tour of a more residential area of Cordoba and when we got back, Erika and I played a very Argentinean card game for a while, although I now forget the name. It is very interesting and I think I’ll make millions by bringing it back to the US when I get back. I really like her family and am very thankful for their hospitality. I don’t know how it’s happened, but I’ve been really lucky with all the people I know in South America. They have all gone out of their way to make my stay in their respective countries incredible.

The next day, I woke up with my sheets drenched in sweat, and I spent hours wandering around Cordoba in the smothering humidity looking for a new hotel with air conditioning. I finally found one and moved all my stuff. I was drenched and it sucked. I changed clothes and took another shower and then Erika came and got me and after we picked up a few friends, were off to a little town called Carlos Paz where there is a lake and a river to hang out at. The weather was very weird -hot and humid and cloudy in some areas and not in others – and on the way there it started raining very, very hard. It rained so hard that we had to pull over and wait a few times but we continued on since it didn’t look like it was raining in Carlos Paz. It wasn’t and we relaxed for the next few hours swimming in the river, chatting and sipping mate. When we left, I saw a really strange cloud, which looked almost like a big pillar of smoke going high into the sky. I didn’t yet realize what it was.

When we got back, however, we found out some incredible news – a tornado had hit Córdoba. Several blocks had been destroyed, over a hundred people had been hurt, and a few had died. Apparently, this kind of thing never happens, but it did and the streets were flooded with water. The river which runs through the city (and which is normally just a small trickle of water) was halfway up the canal and even a few bridges had been taken out. From a phone booth place, everyone called their families to make sure they were alright (and they were) and then we got some dinner before all heading home.

Today, I spent the day wandering around Córdoba admiring the city and visiting museums. I went to the bus station to check on prices to Buenos Aires and Mendoza for New Years and then checked out the Mall. Pretty cool stuff. I walked quite a bit today and the weather was nice (although a bit overcast at times). The cable is out in my room, the internet is out in some parts of town and this is the third time I am attempting to write this travelogue entry on account of the power sporadically cutting out and destroying everything I have typed. I think everything will be back to normal soon though.

Oh yeah, and I got propositioned by two fat prostitutes today. Apparently, if I need love, a fun time or a friend, I can always count on them. Very good to know!