At the beginning of the month, my girlfriend Maria and I took a trip, first to Cordoba, and then to Uruguay.
Cordoba is the second biggest city in Argentina, and about ten hours from Buenos Aires by bus.
The inter-city buses are extremely comfortable, complete with a stewardess, meals, and an extra large reclining seat. They also play movies, though the DVDs usually skipped. We ended up playing chess until the volume was finally cut so we could get some sleep.
Once in Cordoba, we stayed with Maria's brother, Mati, and his girlfriend, Raquel. They were both kind enough to show us around for the week, taking us to various villages in the area.
Perhaps the biggest difference that I saw was the attitude of the people.
Having spent most of my time in Buenos Aires, it wasn't really clear whether the rudeness of the people in the capital city was just a trait of people there, or something more general. Yet I finally confirmed that Buenos Aires is to Argentina what mega-cities are to most countries; the heart of it's culture, but at the same time somewhat cold and in many ways unwelcoming.
The majority of people that I met outside of the Buenos Aires area were very polite, and the overall feeling of stress in the capital city didn't extend much past the city limits. Cordoba is a nice size, roughly one million people, meaning that there's always something to do. We went to a melonga, which is a bit like a slow version of tango, as well as to a few parties. I found that my Spanish improved somewhat while I was there, as I was usually surrounded by people who either didn't speak English, or, at the very least, were speaking Spanish to each other. Unfortunately, I still wasn't able to jump easily into conversations, but if I concentrated, I could usually follow what others were saying.
During the days, we went to villages such as La Falda (which translates to The Lap) and Carlos Paz. Both were very pretty. In La Falda we walked around a small park and climbed up behind a waterfall, and in Carlos Paz we had a picnic by a lake. One thing that was a bit depressing was the amount of pollution all over the area. People in Argentina really don't pay much attention to the environment, and in order to be able to sit on the grass to eat our lunch, I had to push the trash out of our way with my foot.
After Cordoba and a quick stop back in Buenos Aires, we continued to Uruguay, to see my friends in Montevideo, Gonzalo and Alejandra. As before, Montevideo was pretty, and very quiet. Though it seemed like there was a bit more hustle and bustle there than the last time I was in town.
We mostly walked around the city, and also went to a party being put on by friends of Alejandra. It was quite international, and was open to Couchsurfers, a social networking website that organizes parties all over the world. There were, among others, people from Slovakia, India, Germany, and the United States.
The cultural make-up of Argentina is quite interesting. Although there is a complete lack of Africans and Muslims (I haven't seen more than a handful of people from either ethnic group) there is a significant Korean and Chinese population here. Most of the Chinese people own grocery stores, or internet and calling shops. Yet at the same time, I notice that many of the owners of these stores are quite strange. It's hard to put my finger on exactly why and how. Yet most times when I walk into one of their stores, the owners are arguing and yelling at each other. They very rarely seem happy. It may have something to do with their not speaking Spanish (or English, for that matter). They don't seem to be motivated to learn the national language at all. Their lives must be quite isolated, as the Asian communities are quite small.
Overall, most of the immigrants come from neighboring countries, such as Paraguay and Bolivia. There are also a large number from Columbia. Many people come here to study, as the universities are free to everyone.
Although I haven't been to either Bolivia or Paraguay, I find it hard to understand why so many come here. They almost always get stuck in low paying jobs, and Buenos Aires is not a cheap city by South American standards. Making minimum wage, it's almost impossible to afford even rent and food. Yet it must be better than how things are in the countries that many of these people come from. Bolivia and Paraguay have reputations as being the poorest countries in the continent, yet not having been there, it's hard to imagine what it could be like. Strangest of all is why more don't head farther south, as I've heard that the economy in the oil rich regions of southern Argentina is much stronger, and it's relatively easy to find a good paying job.