20 November 2006

Concordia, Entre Ríos

Concordia surprised me, in the positive sense. People had told me some discouraging things about it: "one of the poorest cities in the country", "not much to see", but they were wrong.

I arrived last Saturday morning at about 8, after a 7-hour night trip that really did nothing for me; I dozed off, woke up, got half-asleep, woke up, etc. in irregular intervals a dozen times in my semicama bus. Exiting Rosario, the bus takes the Rosario-Victoria bridge, jumps 600 m over the Paraná River, and then crosses over the myriad islets and streams of the river's floodplain, arriving at the tiny bus station in Victoria one hour later. Then it's east to Nogoyá, Rosario del Tala, Basavilbaso, and encountering the Uruguay River and the Argentina-Uruguay border in Concepción del Uruguay (which is not in Uruguay but in the Uruguay Department of Entre Ríos Province), it heads north to Colón, San José, and finally Concordia. Of all the important cities along the Uruguay River, Concordia is possibly the least touristy. Gualeguaychú is looks much bigger (even though it's half the size of Concordia) and has a huge carnival season and commercial movement; Colón is more small-town-minded but has a cozy Hostelling International hostel (where I had the pleasure to stay for four days back in July) and the benefit of being the "base camp" for people heading to the El Palmar National Park; and Federación (up north) is a tourist resort revolving around its hot springs.

Concordia does have hot springs but they're not as famed, and its riverside facilities are not well-developed. If anything, it has the Salto Grande Dam, but that's 20 km north of the city proper, and you only get to tour it comfortably if you're driving your own car. The huge reservoir is therefore wasted here; it's Federación (upstream) that reaps all the benefits.

However, Concordia is not a poor, backward town as I'd pictured. It has a true fairly large downtown area, with narrow streets and avenues lined with many trees (not unlike Rosario). Naturally, there are no high-rise buildings. Old architecture (mostly 1900s) abounds, though it's not that well preserved or taken care of. The streets are well-paved and the sidewalks are clean. There are two main squares, Plaza Urquiza and Plaza 25 de Mayo, and a cathedral, not really impressive but all in all nice for a comparatively modern building. There's also the impressive Arruabarrena Palace in the corner of Entre Ríos and Ramírez -- I'll let you judge from the pictures, since I lack the vocabulary to describe that luxurious façade.

So I got off the bus at 8 AM, took a taxi, and 10 minutes later I was checking in at El Quijote, a hostel-type lodging in the outskirts. Problems with El Quijote include the presence of small children who scream and cry while you're trying to sleep, and the fact that the kitchenette (where people speak loudly and said children run around playing) is next to your room (if yours is room 11). OK, I didn't pay for it so I shouldn't complain.

I took to the streets, discovered the things above about the city, and walked my feet off around town until noon. By then the sky was looking rather menacing and my legs were failing me, so I sat down with a sandwich in a bench opposite the cathedral. Then I asked around, took a decrepit urban bus (with fileteados and all), and returned to El Quijote for a nap (punctuated by the aforementioned crying child). Come the afternoon, and as my roommates had not come yet, I walked back to the city and explored a bit more, with the help of a stick of orange icecream. When I got back everybody was there already, so we took baths, changed into our suits, and off we went to witness yet another farce of Catholic wedding at the Cathedral; the priest reminded the bride that her duty was to produce her share of Catholic offspring, the groom nervously agreed to do what was necessary for that, and off again we went to an establishment in the suburbs. Everything was OK there, with the (big) exception of the timing; for some reason, the main course was served only after long hours of dancing music. By the time, me and my table companions were in a truly fearsome mood, as is to be expected for young healthy men who've had nothing to eat by 2 AM. The food was good (if you don't like fancy stuff, which is fine by me) and the drinks were nice and plenty. Come the morning, I left my friends waiting for the van to pick them up and take them to Rosario, while I walked back to El Quijote, freezing my nose off in the cold. Collapsed in bed, woke up once at 10:30, then again at 11:30. We packed, got a ride to the bus station, and then off to Rosario in another semicama. I wasn't that sleepy then, so I read a chapter of Kalpa imperial (by Angélica Gorodischer) and took pictures of a couple of places... All in all I got 200 pictures in less than 36 hours, so I'd call it a good photo safari, if nothing else.

I need to catch up with the news, so you'll be having that again soon. My post about the hail storm was referenced by another blogger who was caught right there in the middle of it, and then by another one; Accuweather covered it, and many people took pictures of it.

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