Les Trois Escargots

A growing family of snails.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Revolution

Cordoba, like most of the cities in Northern Argentina, sprawls on a barren plain, gently coming to life in the morning, disappearing in the afternoon for a long siesta and finally finding its legs at about midnight when the restaurants fill and the bars spill out on to the streets. It is a pleasant city filled with students and opulent churches built by the Jesuits before their expulsion from the country by the Spanish crown. On our first night, we stumbled on a parilla, a restaurant serving meat cooked over charcoal. We ate huge sirloin steaks with a red wine from one of the vineyards that we had visited in Mendoza.


With the weather starting to turn, we took a bus south of the city to Alta Gracia – an agricultural town famous for being the place where a young Che Guevara grew up. We visited his home, now a museum recently visited by Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez, the President of Venezuela. It was full of grainy black and white pictures of Che before he became a soldier and, while I do not know enough to form an opinion as to whether he was a hero or a terrorist, it left me wanting to know more. Something that a good museum should do.

From Cordoba, we headed north into a green range of mountains where the residents of Buenos Aires escape from the summer heat. The weather had truly broken and, and in howling wind and driving rain, we booked into a hotel with a swimming pool. There is always a pressure when traveling to squeeze all you can into every day and it was a relief to be able to watch television and read our books without guilt. On the second day in La Falda, we stretched our legs on a short walk to a local reservoir, sheltering behind a rock to eat lunch. The landscape was rugged, but attractive – rounded sandstone outcrops, cliffs split by deep cracks and scrubby vegetation reminiscent of the Greek islands.

In the evening, we joined the town at the municipal auditorium for the La Falda Annual Dance Festival. A huge dome, obviously used for indoor football when not being used for more cultural activities, with food stalls down one side selling barbequed meat and plastic garden seats in the centre, the auditorium was filled with several hundred people watching several hundred dancers. The festival started at ten at night and we managed to watch two hours before our eyes got too heavy and we wandered back to the hotel. We felt slightly ashamed as we slunk out - whole families were arriving as we departed.

The weather forecast promised an improvement and we hung on in La Falda for another day for one reason. Just up the road at Cuchi Corral is one of the best sites in the world for paragliding and the next day we stood under a cloudless sky on the top of a 300 metre bluff. The wind was almost non-existent and our instructor, El Turco, wanted a tester flight with Albane (being the lightest) to see if the rest of us could fly. Strapped in a harness and wearing a potty-like helmet, El Turco clipped Albane to him and, with a shout of “Corre!”, they ran towards the cliff edge. It was less dramatic than it might sound and as soon as the wind caught the canopy, they were hauled into the sky. They sailed out of sight and drifted their way far below to the riverside landing site.


An hour later, with the wind building, it was my turn and we ran off the edge without any fuss. The power was impressive and the updraft dragged us high about the take off area. El Turco seemed to be enjoying himself and, with height gained, pulled the toggles and dropped us into a tight, spiraling descent. As we gained speed, the gravity increased and my stomach was pushed somewhere near my feet. As the centrifugal force pulled us outwards, the canopy tilted until it was perpendicular to the ground. I clung on, one hand on the harness and the other pressing the shutter on my camera. I had no idea what kind of photographs I was taking. Finally satisfied that he had shown me what he could do, El Turco headed down and we joined Albane by the river. It had been exhilarating, scary and bewildering as my body had struggled to make sense of the sensation. We both agreed that we will have to try it again.

We hitched a ride back to La Falda with Enrique and Federico, two guys who started talking to us by the river, and we had a drink with them later in town to thank them. Enrique gave up his job to become a singer and Federico runs his own business which he set up when he was nineteen. Who knows how our lives will have changed by the end of this trip?

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