Argentina is a vast country but surprisingly easy to get around. The two best ways of traveling around this country are by plane and bus. I would recommend the latter for comfort, price and a way of seeing the countryside. The bus service in Argentina is exceptional. They are easily the best buses I have ever been on. Long distance buses are luxurious, with many having seats the size of first-class airline seats, offering free drinks and snacks. Also, the majority of long distance buses run during the night, which is ideal for a backpacker, like me, to save money on accommodation.
I based myself in Mina Clavero, a small Argentinian town in the Córdoba region, for a few days before setting off to distant places. Mina Clavero would not be high on a traveller’s itinerary for Argentina, however if you are looking for somewhere near a big city but slightly off the beaten track – Mina Clavero is the place to be. It is an hour drive from Córdoba airport and it is linked to Buenos Aires by bus. Mina Clavero may be a very relaxed and laid back town but there is a lot to do. The area in and around Mina Clavero is popular for Argentinian tourists to take time to unwind and enjoy the beautiful lakes and rivers where you can swim, cliff-dive, abseil or just simply enjoy the sun.
Mina Clavero is known for breath-taking landscapes and mountain ranges that are popular for trekkers, cyclists and road trippers. Although my friend Max and I are fond of cycling and trekking we decided to do a road trip around the western province of Córdoba. On the road a few kilometres outside of Mina Clavero, Max said ‘look over there’ pointing to mountains in the distance, ‘remember you were asking about the original settlers of Argentina? That over there is a place called Nono, which means ‘breasts’ in the old Indian language!’ I can see why it was called breasts because the landscape is entirely empty other than these two perky mountain peaks, which point up in the landscape that do indeed look like breasts!
When you are driving by Nono, it is worth stopping at the Museo Rocsen that is located just outside the village of Nono. It is one of the strangest museums I have been to, as it contains the most random pieces of what they call ‘art’! Outside of the museum there are a line of numerous statues of diverse famous historical figures such as Socrates, the Buddha, Descartes, Mother Theresa and Bach! Inside, the museum is almost like a junkyard representing centuries of important pieces of technology as well as natural objects such as fossils. The museum is essentially a walk through history. My favourite part of this museum was the outside of it with the numerous statues demonstrating the people from the early days to the present times who had a major impact on humanity.
After our visit to Museo Rocsen, we drove towards Emblase Allende where La Viña Dam is located. La Viña Dam is a hydro-electric plant. Max said it used to be one of the largest hydro-electric plants in South America. I am not surprised because it is huge. On a plaque at the pedestrian entrance over the HEP plant displays the names of those involved in the engineering and construction of this dam. I noticed the names ‘Fitzsimon’ and ‘Farrell’, obvious Irish descendants who arrived here many years ago. Irish diaspora is unbelievable sometimes. I instantly felt ‘at home’ when I arrived here.
We drove back to Mina Clavero to get some lunch at a well-known hotel in the town called Hotel Rossetti. Max and I ordered a Quilmes Cristal,which is a pale larger of the Quilmes series. Although it is extremely popular in Argentina, I found it to be very bland. However, since it was very sunny the beer was drank. Max recommended I order a dish found all across Latin America called humita. Max said there are many different varieties of humitas. In the restaurant they had humita soup, which Max said was good. It was essentially a sweet corn soup with onion, cheese and herbs. It reminded me of French onion soup but with sweet corn. It was extremely tasty but I felt it was very heavy to eat during a hot day in Argentina. I needed to finish the bottle of cervesa to cool down after it!
Soon we were back on the road and left Mina Clavero in the direction towards Córdoba city to reach a town called Alta Gracia. In between the mountainous area of Mina Clavero and Alta Gracia is one of Argentina’s world rally tracks. This road is mostly by-passed as it is a gravel and mud track with numerous potholes. Max drives a 4×4 and we could not turn down an opportunity to drive on a rickety uncharted road in an extraordinary region. It is a place you would not want to break-down or have an accident, as this place is isolated and has many sharp turns along big drops, but we were buckled up and ready!
After surviving the drive across the rally track, we arrived at Alta Gracia. Our main reason for driving to this town was to visit the Museo Casa de Ernesto “Che” Guevara – the Che Guevara museum. This town is very close to Córdoba city so it is worth visiting for any passer-by’s to learn about one of the most famous Argentinian figures, who also has Irish roots as his full name is Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara Lynch! Che Guevara’s family moved to Alta Gracia, as Che suffered from asthma and the dry climate of this area alleviated his condition. Che spent most of his childhood and adolescence here. The museum contains excellent photographs and memorabilia from Che’s early life. It is an exceptional museum to visit, especially for the cheap entrance ticket, or even just to walk around the foothills where Che Guevara grew up.
We drove back to Mina Clavero to relax and go for an evening meal with friends in a restaurant called Lo de Jorge, located in the centre of the town. The restaurant is renowned for their excellent dishes and high quality beef. It is best to eat there at night time when you can taste the delights of their remarkable barbequed food. I became very familiar with asados but when I arrived into Lo de Jorge I was struck with what I saw – a two sided barbecue with almost every cut of a single cow in the middle. I was fascinated by what I saw that I had to take a photograph. Much to my surprise, Argentinian tourists were taking photographs of the asado too, as they saw nothing like it before! We were seated at a table near the barbeque and enjoying ice cold cervesa while watching the spectacle. We were all served big chunks of beef and ate them like carnivores. The reputation of Lo de Jorge is well deserved because it was easily the nicest restaurant I went to during my travels. I only realised several years afterwards that Lo de Jorge is recommended in the the ‘travelers bible’ – the Rough Guide. It is definitely worth a visit. It was a fantastic last night, off the beaten track in the province of Córdoba. It was a place I truly missed when I left for Buenos Aires.