02 December 2012

A taste of Argentina


My 5 days / 4 nights in Argentina was primarily a work trip, to check out a project where the locals have been working tirelessly for the last 22 years to rescue (from the pet trade) and rehabilitate the endangered black howler monkey. Although the project is a member of the Great Ape Project and is recognised for its excellent work by the Jane Goodall Institute, it receives no government support, relying instead on volunteers from around the world to help with donations and manpower. My organisation, Globalteer, is looking at partnering with this project, to send them more volunteers and funding, so I went to check it out.

I flew from Santiago to Cordoba, only an hour’s flight but crossing the mighty Andes mountain range. It was spectacular, with mile after mile of huge snow-covered mountains, impressive glaciers and large lakes in different shades of blue. “Ladies and gentlemen, this is the captain speaking. We are about to cross the Andes mountain range so please return to your seats and fasten your seat belts”. In fact, the flight was perfectly smooth until we got to the other side and caught the updrafts from the foothills.


Cordoba is a relatively large city of 1.3million people, most of whom seem to live in high-rise apartment buildings, judging from the city’s skyline. My hotel was about 4 blocks from the older, historic centre of the city, so I headed in that direction to suss it out and get some dinner. There were some lovely old buildings and churches which I resolved to check out further when I returned to the city a couple of days later.

Next morning I caught a bus to La Cumbre, a three-hour bus ride from Cordoba, about 30 minutes to exit the city’s suburbs, then through green and pleasant rolling countryside, past lakes and rivers, through many small towns to the equally small town of La Cumbre. It is a sleepy little hollow, like all these little towns built to service the Argentinean tourists who come to this area to escape the city’s high-rises.

I got settled in my little family-run hosteria, then went out to explore the town. With just two main shopping streets, joined by several side streets, it didn’t take long to suss out the shops and restaurants! I had a delicious lunch of ravioli – not being a big meat eater I didn’t really check out the local delicacies – Argentineans are big meat eaters! I grabbed a couple of maps and some brochures on local attractions from the tourist office – once the local railway station but sadly trains no longer run this way – then headed back to my hosteria to write up my findings so far.

The next day, Wednesday, was my scheduled meeting with the folks at the monkey project, which was an 11-kilometre taxi ride into the hills outside of town. Unfortunately, the director wasn’t there, but the volunteer coordinator was expecting me and spent an hour of his precious time, showing me around their facilities and answering my many questions. Luckily, he spoke English, as, with my limited Spanish, I have been having trouble understanding the Argentinean accent – the locals speak very quickly and truncate their words, which doesn’t help!


I couldn’t get very close to the monkeys, for our mutual protection – theirs from any bugs I might carry and mine from their bites! – but I could certainly hear them. The howler monkey has the loudest call of any monkey and of any land animal – it can be heard up to 3 miles away. A small number are caged, while they go through the rehabilitation process, then they are released, to join one of the several troops that roam freely in the 360-hectare area of fields and forests owned by the project. Many of the free monkeys seemed curious about this new person who had come to visit and came down from their treetops to peer at me so I did manage to get some reasonable photos.

The folks at the project have also recently started to rescue stray dogs from the local towns, bringing them to the centre, having them neutered and vaccinated, and treating any illnesses or injuries they might have. So far, they have managed to find homes for 50 of these dogs, but another 70 are still in the rehabilitation process.

The information I had received from the project before my visit led me to believe they would be able to phone me a taxi when my visit was over but it turned out there is no network access from the area unless you walk up a very steep hill behind the accommodation. I decided to walk back to town. It was a lovely day – a little cloudy so shouldn’t be too hot, I could take photos and get some fresh air and exercise, and it was only 11 kilometres and mostly downhill. In fact, it got hot very quickly and by the time I got back to town I had acquired a couple of blisters, but I also had some landscape, bird and horse photos I wouldn’t otherwise have had. Definitely worth it, though I do confess to a little nana nap later that afternoon!



The following morning I caught the bus back to Cordoba and spent the afternoon wandering the streets a little further, though I also had work to do, writing up my report and other documentation on the monkey project, and processing the many photos I had taken. And the next day was my flight back to Santiago. I spent that morning working too, so didn’t get a chance to explore any more of Cordoba.

What I had seen of Argentina had been pleasant. It struck me as a very Westernised country, though the toilet paper still went in a bucket, not down the bowl. Its people were friendly, though difficult to understand. It seemed relatively affluent, though many of its buildings were quite run down and shabby, and there were people living on the streets. One day I will return and discover more of this huge South American country.