In Argentina it is culturally inappropriate in lots of circumstances to admit to not knowing something. This would be a good thing to bear in mind when trying to obtain information. We have found that the best way of asking for directions is to keep approaching different people until we have received the same answer from at least two respondents.
Staying for a couple of days in Cordoba with sister et al, the guy who runs the hostel recommended that we take the “tren de las sierras” (train of the hills) out to the town of Cosquin for a day. It seemed like a good option, so we did. “It leaves at 9.30, so you need to be out of here by 9 to catch it” he said. “Take the trolley bus and ask them to put you down in the right place for the station”. “You need to get out here and walk one block that way” said the trolley bus driver. So we did, only the station wasn’t there. So we asked someone else. “It’s three blocks back the other way”. So we asked someone else “Further up that way”. Edging to the critical 9.30 we ran the last two blocks and rushed up to the ticket office. Plenty of room on the train, it will be leaving at 10.50. Ah well, the exercise was probably good for us and at least we didn’t miss the train, even if the entertainment value of the station did wear thin a while before the train pulled in.
The “tren de las sierras” is well worth the trip, it takes a couple of hours and winds lazily through the north of Cordoba city before taking to the hills, meandering along a gorge to the San Roque reservoir with a river dipping down to the left, and the mountain range of Los Gigantes in the far distance. It was a clear sunny day, I enjoyed watching the storks and egrets on the rocks of the river, Joni enjoyed the cows and sheep in the small-holdings along the banks of same, and the rest of the passengers seemed to be fairly mesmerised by my nieces and nephew who were singing their way through their Sunday school songs in English, complete with actions.
We arrived in Cosquin to find with much excitement that it had been snowing. Not a great deal by northern hemisphere standards, but snow none-the-less, with little snowmen dotted around in people’s yards, and even on the roofs of cars. Probably the most interesting thing to do in Cosquin is to visit the Pan de azucar (sugar loaf) which is a pointy hill with a cross on the top. At around Ben Nevis height, it is hardly K2, but it is the tallest peak for a few miles around, and it has a chair-lift to the summit. I knew where the track to the hill started, having driven past the entrance many times, but I didn’t know how far it was between the signpost and the top, so we asked the people who were working in the bar where we had lunch. “It’s a long way” said the lady “maybe forty kilometres”. “No way” said the man “it’s a kilometre and a half at the most, you can easily walk it”.
Thus armed with the useful knowledge that the track was somewhere between one and forty kilometres long, we walked it. After we had been going an hour, we passed a signpost. It said “Aerosilla (chair lift) 5 kilometres”. So we stopped and had a little conflab, and decided to press on. After we had been going another hour, we passed another signpost. It said “Aerosilla (chair lift) 4 kilometres”. Appalled at such cruel and blatant fiction, we threw our toys out of the pram (or we would have done had we had a pram… which would also have been handy for carrying the small children who had been taking turns riding on our shoulders for the last two hours) sat on a rock and ate chocolate biscuits and sulked while we debated the relative benefits of walking the however many kilometres back into Cosquin, versus the possibility that the top of the hill might only be four (or possibly thirty four) kilometres hence.
As the little minibus hove into view, I half-heartedly waved a thumb at the driver, and he stopped. “You don’t want to be going up there at this time” he said “the chairlift will have stopped running for the day anyway, and it’ll be going dark soon and then how will you get down with all these children?” A chink of light, I inserted a wedge; “That’s OK, just give us a ride up, we’ve only got one day in Cosquin and we’ve made this much effort getting this far, at least we could see the top, we can thumb a lift down or something.” So we all piled in and the track wound upwards. I tried to turn the chink into a shaft; “Will the chair lift definitely have stopped running?” “Definitely; I’m contracted to bring the staff back down when they close for the day…. I’ll see what I can do… (five minutes later)… It’s still going, they’ll wait for you”
The waiting lift operators ushered us onto the aerosilla and up we went. Slightly disconcerted to see the rocky ground underneath us strewn with dropped-off bits of aerosilla… safety bars, the odd seat. No dead bodies, I guess they clear those away, can’t be good for business. It is a good ride, and the view from the top is spectacular across the range of hills; we could see Cordoba way down in the valley in one direction, and Cosquin way down in the valley in the other direction, and the route that we had walked. That really was quite a long way. OK hardly excessive if you’re up for a hike, but way too far for an unplanned afternoon stroll carrying a child on ones shoulders.
As we were about to go down, our saviour minibus driver reappeared by my right ear and said “wait for me at the bottom and I’ll run you back to town”. So we did and he did. Hoorah hoorah hoorah. For which we tipped him handsomely, accepted his business card, and strolled into Cosquin to celebrate with coffee for the adults and a little souvenir shopping for the kids before catching the bus back to Cordoba.