Sometime, backpacking is like a masochist adventure between The Truman Show and The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: the former because occasionally, it feels that the whole world is plotting against you and laughing at your pathetic attempts to survive; the latter because you start over and over again in a new city every few days. New maps, now hotels, new customs, new modes of transportation, new weather, new atmosphere and new local little quirks we mostly discover by accident but have to master fast. Finally comfortable, happy, relaxed? Awesome, time to move on and give up your newly acquire city skills for the unknown!
Of curse, the unknown may be better, this is what keeps us going. That and the fact we are complicated people, I guess.
After Buenos Aires, we decided to head to Córdoba just because it was a major city that we had never visited, which is a good enough reason in my book. The flight was cheap and easy, so why not? I already knew I was going to miss our nice hotel in Buenos Aires as well as the familiar streets of the capital city. But I also knew it was going to be a matter of days or hours before we get tired of it.
Maybe Córdoba would be better than Buenos Aires. Maybe not. We had to see for ourselves.
Buenos Aires to Córdoba. It was an easy flight but an early one, one of those 6 a.m. departures. I had worked most of the night to complete a big assignment and three hours of sleep wasn’t enough to handle Mark and Feng. “Let me sleep!” I begged them once on board. Mark did his usual flight routine—excitement, watching movies, complaining about something, excitement, asking for a longer flight or another plane.
We landed and I retrieved the backpacks from the carousel. They felt hot.
“Feng… I think it’s hot outside. Like really hot,” I warned him.
Indeed, it was. I’m one of these people who can stand the heat, if not metaphorically at least literally. The downside of this strange ability is that I’m often cold, including in places where I am not supposed to—like in Curitiba, Brazil. Oh, and Feng and I always fight about the perfect setting for air-con. But Córdoba was hot, even by my standards.
We arrived tired and we had too wait until noon, the official check-in time at the hotel, to see the room. We left our backpacks at the reception desk and went for a walk without a map and without any idea of what Córdoba looked like. Oh, did I mention we were tired and it was about 40ºC under the sun?
“Look, a pedestrian street!”
We love pedestrian streets, especially after Brazil’s hard-to-navigate sidewalks. We congratulated each other on choosing Córdoba as a destination and promised ourselves long relaxing walk in the streets of the city.
We are complete idiots sometime.
We walked around the historical centre, noticing the many churches of the Jesuit and colonial city. Then we headed back to the hotel to finally check in. So far, so good.
After our really nice room in Buenos Aires, I knew I was going to be a bit disappointed with the hotel. It often happens like this. Plus, Feng had booked the last available room in Expedia, a choice by default.
I opened the door and sighted. The room sucked. Picture a very old motel room, brown and stuffy, with a thick stained carpet. A faint smell of cigarette and air freshener, whatever came first—smoking in a non-smoking room or the desperate attempts to clean up the sin. Barely any light, long hallway, paper-thin walls.
I hated it. I like clean and minimalist places. I’m not picky: a bed, clean sheet, water, an Internet connection is all I need. This room had none of that.
The guys took a nap and I went out to explore the city. I walked the pedestrian streets over and over again, grabbed a coffee (served Argentinian style with a glass of sparkling water and a few cookies) and drank a few cans of drinks because I was sweating like never before. I stumbled upon an hotel that looked nicer and inquired about the price, maybe a better option. Indeed, it was cheaper and cleaner.
At least, in an ideal world.
It didn’t take us long to realize that Córdoba was not what we were expecting—and we weren’t even sure what we are expecting. It feels strange and unfair to come in, as outsiders, and to judge a city. It’s all very subjective and my impressions are often based on several factors that are equally as irrational. We were very tired, the heat was unbearable and the hotel room sucked. There was absolutely no shade and the streets were crowded so we were baking under the sun. There was no shelter either: the only shopping mall was a crowded maze with non-functional escalators (an issue with the stroller) because of power issues. The many churches were interesting but you can’t spend that long inside a church, especially when you happen to be an atheist (Mark still hasn’t gotten the memo, though). We couldn’t relax at the hotel because the room was depressing and dirty.
The following day, we moved to the hotel I found. It was a sweaty walk with our backpacks but we were in a good mood. New hotel, new start! We checked in and dropped off the bags. The room was much bigger, with a microwave and a fridge, but the shower was simply a shower head in the corner of the bathroom, no cabin or curtain so water splashes everywhere. Except for that detail, at first glance, it looked better and it was cheaper too.
We kept on exploring Córdoba under the heat. We visited an art museum, walked the pedestrian streets about a hundred times, walked the main arteries, went to the market. It was all very nice but nothing was really catching my eyes. It felt… plain. A Jesuit city, I guess.
Despite the heat, locals seemed to favour hotdogs, pizzas, burgers and empanadas. We had a hard time finding a restaurant that served anything else and were we could sit down for a minute, and I didn’t want to eat at the very popular shopping mall food court again because it was so crowded.
By the time we got back to the hotel, I still wasn’t in love with Córdoba.
“Juliette… let’s put the backpacks on the spare bed,” Feng instructed as I was uploading the pictures of the day.
“Why?” I asked naively, suspecting the reason.
“Because there are cockroaches everywhere. I’ve just moved that thing… and they all came out.”
I freaked out. I hate cockroaches. Spiders, I can handle no problem. Bugs? Meh. Even small cockroaches don’t faze me, I just pretend they are regular bugs. But I knew the kind of cockroaches Feng was talking about. The tropical kind, the big-as-your-thumb cockroaches, nasty and stubborn.
This wasn’t an instruction, just the expression of my distress.
“Holy shit, there is a giant spider too!”
Indeed, there was, right there, on the wall. Not the friendly thin-legged kind, the Hollywood kind.
Then we realized the Internet connection was really spotty.
Then we attempted to take a shower and flooded the bathroom.
I wanted out, and fast. Feng wanted to give the place a chance. We disagreed, and went to bed. Maybe I am running away too fast but why should I torture myself? The world is a big place after all. But I understood Feng’s perspective as well. It always takes us a few days to adapt to each city we visit and it’s not always love at first sight, for some places, you have to work harder.
I closed my eyes and tried to avoid thinking of cockroaches.