The Jesuit Trail: Estancias and the City of Cordoba

Back in Buenos Aires, I spent the day napping and hanging out in a hotel room – after I bought my tickets to Cordoba, near the Sierras. And the next day, Friday, I headed out. I had opted for a day ride so that I could see the countryside, but I must admit it wasn’t too exciting. It was mostly flat fields, often with grazing cattle. In many ways the landscape is similar to parts of the US Midwest.

Cows in the pampas - looks like the US Midwest

Cows in the pampas – looks like the US Midwest

While I arrived after dark, I still felt comfortable walking from the bus station to the hostel, which was pretty much a straight shot of about a mile. Perhaps because it was Friday night in a college town, there were a bunch of people (including many single women) walking towards the bus station with their bags in tow.

Since I arrived pretty late, I didn’t really see anything that night, but I planned to head out and explore the city the next day. Saturday morning I was lucky enough to strike up a conversation with an Australian woman who was visiting Cordoba for a few days, and was up for exploring the city together. And it’s an engaging city. The Jesuits made it their headquarters, founding the university in the early seventeenth century. To fund the university, they also founded estancias (loosely translated as ranches or farms) in the small cities around Cordoba, introducing wine to Argentina.

The historic center of Cordoba seems to have a Jesuit church every other block. Since they range over a period of time, their building materials are different, but they share a certain architectural similarity. People from the US Southwest or California may recognize the Spanish influence.

We had lunch at the market, finding a little Middle-Eastern restaurant that was pretty tasty. Our server was so nice, only charging us for the part of the bottle of wine that we drank (and since it was the middle of the day, we only had a glass or two).

We wanted to see the inside of the university, so we took a guided tour in the afternoon. There’s an excellent collection of old books, although much of the Jesuit riches disappeared after the Jesuits fell out of favor with the Spanish king and he disbanded them. I think things were handed over to the Dominicans (as in the monastic order).

There were several estancias I wanted to see, and I knew that some would be closed on Monday. (Surprisingly, they weren’t supposed to be closed on Sunday.) So Sunday I set out for the farther estancia, to the town of Jesus Maria. There is an estancia there, and another one (which my guidebook thought the most beautiful) about a 20-30 minute drive away, called the Estancia Santa Catalina. Apparently the only way to get to Santa Catalina is by taxi, so I wasn’t sure I was going to make it out there. However, when I got off the minibus in Jesus Maria and was trying to get my bearings for how to get to the Jesus Maria estancia, I ran into a British couple who had been on the university tour the previous afternoon. They offered to split the taxi ride with me, so we went over to one of the drivers to figure out how much it would cost. My Spanish more or less saw us through, and we decided it was worthwhile to head out.

We bumped and jolted along a country road, the distant Sierras growing closer, until we came to Estancia Santa Catalina. And it is absolutely lovely.

Arguably the most beautiful Jesuit estancia...

Arguably the most beautiful Jesuit estancia…

Unfortunately, it was also closed. The British couple mentioned to me that there were elections going on and that might be why it was closed. Our poor cab driver felt awful for not having known, and actually turned off the meter on the way back, only charging us about half of what it would have cost otherwise.
Me at the Estancia Santa Catalina

Me at the Estancia Santa Catalina

He dropped us at the Jesus Maria Estancia, which was (of course) also closed. We looked at the outside and then went across the street for a lovely, long lunch outside in the sun. While not the day any of us had been planning, it was actually still a good time.

With so much closed on Monday, I went to the few things in Cordoba that were open. I stopped by a museum that I think is called the City Museum, located near the old city center in a beautifully preserved colonial house. The rooms in the museum are set up to reflect historical Cordoban family life, though primarily focusing on the 19th century. While I really enjoy social history, and this was a good museum, I did feel a little huffy that they made me leave my purse at the front. (Really, a purse? No, my purse is not one of those over-the-shoulder purses the size of a tote.) Since we were supposed to take all documents/money/valuables with us, this resulted in my pretty much having to carry 90% of my purse contents in my pockets or my hands. The guard was chuckling as I kept pulling things out, and if my Spanish had been better, I would have asked him what he expected when he asked a woman to take out all important items from her bag. And then I saw a man in the museum with a briefcase. Go figure! Anyway, despite my having to juggle my belongings, as I said, it is a good museum!

I walked around some more, then had lunch and tea to kill the afternoon.

My bus back to Buenos Aires on Tuesday was a late, overnight bus, so I had plenty of time to head out to Alta Gracia to see another estancia. And this one was open! As well as absolutely lovely.

After the estancia, I wandered the town a little more, going to the Che Guevara Museum, in the house he pretty much grew up in. I must say the museum is really overpriced. I also went to the Manuel De Faella Museum, though it sadly wasn’t open since it was undergoing renovations. I’d had no idea that De Faella lived in Alta Gracia after Franco won the Spanish Civil War.

And then, finally, I headed back to Buenos Aires that night, and thus homeward a day or two later after visiting with some friends in BA.

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