TIES Argentina

The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire is developing an innovative program in immersive experiential learning known as Thematic Interdisciplinary Experiential Semester (TIES). The program seeks to provide participants with a truly transformative experience in a rigorous, challenging, interdisciplinary, project-based program designed to examine a central theme from a variety of scientific, cultural, economic and political perspectives. TIES Argentina is a pilot program launched in Spring 2011 involving a collaborative interdisciplinary effort by faculty in biology, economics, geology and Latin American studies focusing on the natural and cultural setting of Mendoza, Argentina. This pilot program involves a vibrant living-learning community of 17 students selected from across disciplines and across age groups. Courses are designed in 3.5 week concentrated blocks for project-based inquiry, with dedicated overlap between the blocks to provide interdisciplinary linkages.
This blog will chronicle the adventures, learning experiences and trials and tribulations of the participants in TIES Argentina. We will try to update on a weekly basis, and welcome your feedback and suggestions.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Mendoza Mountain adventure

     The TIES-Argentina Biology unit started off with a morning lecture from Dr. Todd Wellnitz followed by an afternoon activity at the Mendoza Zoo.  The zoo was more old-fashioned than we were used to, allowing us to get closer to the animals than zoos back home.  A troupe of monkeys wandered the grounds begging for food and entertaining patrons, something we were surprised to see.  We observed the different adaptive features of monkeys, bears, birds, elephants, and other animals.  The zoo sprawls across Cerro de la Gloria in Parque San Martin, with a wonderful array of beautiful flora, and we really enjoyed the afternoon with our peers.  This was also an excellent exercise in people-watching, as many families were also strolling the zoo’s grounds on Sunday afternoon. 
TIES crew and assessment team assembled for the start of the Biology section

     For our first Biology trip we revisited Uspallata for five days.  Once we arrived and settled into the hostel, we ventured down the road to do a preliminary survey of plant life in the high desertTher and to choose a topic for our practice project.  Groups then developed a hypothesis based on their observations and worked to develop a methodology for testing this hypothesis for the following day.  The TIES team then recharged with a talk from Jane Pederson (of UWEC’s History department) on handling horses, an asado (we can’t get enough!), a clear view of the stars, and some friendly ping-pong matches.

        Day two started in the field at a very student-friendly (and appreciated!) 10 A.M.  We began collecting data according to our protocols, altering them as our individual studies required.  After fieldwork, students were split into two groups for a one-hour horseback “training” ride - a chance to practice handling the horses (as a few students had never ridden before) and take in some of the stunning scenery nearby.  This also offered us the opportunity to meet our guides for the trip, three brothers and their cousin who are gauchos (or Argentine horsemen).  Many of us found the ride both relaxing and invigorating and we traded much of our anxiety about the upcoming trek for excitement. 

Westward ho!  Headed into the Frontal Cordillera on horseback

           On day three, TIES saddled-up to take on the Andes and our second biology projects with our groups.  We rode for about four hours before taking a lunch-and-biology break.  Teams each investigated a topic (human impact on the ecosystem, ants, a conveniently-located cow carcass, and stream-critters) in the immediate area and gave a brief presentation about their findings.  After two more hours of riding, we arrived at our camp.  Nestled in a valley alongside a stream, tents went up, the stars came out, and we enjoyed another asado prepared by our gaucho friends and guides.

Horse camp at Chacai Creek (6400') in the Frontal Cordillera
      For the first time on a fieldtrip the TIES group was split-up to work in two separate locations, with two groups riding two hours further into the mountains to another valley for their new projects and two remaining at the campsite for theirs.  The seven students that rode further (accompanied by Dr. Wellnitz, Dr. Brian Mahoney, Lori Snyder, and a few guides) negotiated steep ascents and descents with their horse-companions, arriving at another stream nestled in a valley.  These two groups studied the lichen and thorny plant populations at the site, while the two groups at the first site braved arthropods in addition to studying plant diversity and abundance.  Once reunited, the group enjoyed an Andean thunderstorm, dinner, and, once the storm cleared, a gorgeous view of the night sky.
View down canyon from upper research area at Los Leones (7500'), Frontal Cordillera

            Before the afternoon ride back, the two groups that rode further the previous day joined forces with Team Arthropod and Team Cacti (lovingly nicknamed by the students) and helped them finish collecting data.  

Team Arthopod with Todd Wellnitz collecting diversity data on transects

Team Cacti collecting data on barrel cactus

 After a quick lunch at camp, horses and mules were loaded and the caravan, exhausted in all the best ways, rode four hours back to the hostel to board the bus back to Mendoza.  Overall, the trip was outstanding, and the TIES crew extends its utmost appreciation to the guides and gauchos of Mendoza Mountain for their knowledge, professionalism and good cheer!

TIES crew with gauchos and guides  at base camp





Monday, March 21, 2011

Valle de Uco

After a very relaxing three-day break, the group was ready to pick up where they left off in the history and culture class with Marcelo Reynoso.  This six-day section focused on the era of Perón in Argentine politics and was divided into two parts.  The first part included lecture time for half of the day while the other half of the day was focused on local fieldtrips. We took three fieldtrips during these first few days. The first fieldtrip included a visit to the local artisan’s market. While there we learned about the history of how the market came to be and how it continues to progress today. Our second trip took us to El Museo de Cuyo, which focused on the history of the Mendoza region, where we learned about several important figures such as San Martín, la familia de Francisco Civit, and Manuel Belgrano. The last fieldtrip focused on the economical development of IMPSA, a large industrial factory in Mendoza. There we learned about an Italian family who transformed their small workshop into one of the largest international industrial factories in Mendoza. After our visit to the industrial factory, Leonardo Román, a history student from the University of Cuyo, visited us and aided in the discussion about Peronism during the 1970’s.

Touring wind turbine manufacturing at the IMPSA plant

             On Saturday we got up bright and early to start the second half of our six-day history and culture lesson, a three-day trip to Valle de Uco. After a short stop at a monument dedicated to San Martín we arrived in San Carlos where we sat down for a talk with Camilo and Blanca. The couple shared their history of how their family arrived in San Carlos and also talked about their experiences during the presidency of Perón. After visiting with Camilo and Blanca, we set off to meet with Marcelo’s parents to talk about their life in San Carlos. It was interesting to see the two varying viewpoints of the couples on politics during the era of Perón and the differences in the history of their families.     

            The next morning we embarked on a bike excursion. This adventure led us on a tour of the canal system of San Carlos. We had several stops where we looked at how the canal system was controlled and listened to Marcelo explain the importance of the canals. After a 13 kilometer ride the group sat down for a quick lunch before a rafting trip on Río Tunuyán. 

Rio Tunuyan and the Frontal Cordillera, Valle de Uco

TIES crew ready to raft the Rio Tunuyan

Following a chilly ride down river, the group returned on bike to the hostel in order to get ready for that night’s festivities. For dinner we headed to a local restaurant called Bar del Abuelos in San Carlos that continues traditional culture. This restaurant still uses family recipes that are 60 years old and also maintains traditional dress. While enjoying the food, we were also serenaded throughout the night.
  Monday morning included a trip to two government offices in San Carlos that are in charge of controlling irrigation of the region. After talking with the superintendents of irrigation in this region, we were able to fully understand how the irrigation system around San Carlos functions and the different demands that it fulfills. We then returned to the hostel to sit down and talk with two Peronists, people who were in support of Perón during and since his presidency. These gentlemen took time to explain to us their political affiliation and experiences during Perón’s presidency and discuss how they continue to practice this identity.  This meeting, as well as the others, helped to put into context the lecture Marcelo had given during the first three days of this section. After a full six days we returned to Mendoza for a short break before starting our biology block.

Group discussion with Peronistas

Our history and culture instructor, Marcelo Reynoso with his parents in Valle de Uco

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Aconcagua and Villendima

     This past week we returned to the Uspallata valley to further study the Aconcagua fold and thrust belt.  The first day of our trip we hiked partway through the small valley leading to the tallest peak in the Americas, Aconcagua, stopping periodically to discuss the geology along the way. 

Hiking up Rio Horcones toward Cerro Aconcagua (6963 meters a.s.l.)

The TIES crew at Cerro Aconcagua

 This is the high spine of the Andes Mountains and the Aconcagua fold and thrust belt is spectacularly exposed.  Afterwards we headed to Cristo Redentor, along the border between Argentina and Chile at 4,000 meters (~13,000 ft) above sea level.  To get to the top of the peak, our trusty bus drivers took us up yet another dirt road with seemingly countless switchbacks.  The road was once the only route to get to across the border to Chile.  On the way up we got a great view of a hanging glacier on a nearby peak.  At the top is a monument of Christ, commemorating the peace between Argentina and Chile.  The plaque at the base of the monument reads, “These mountains will crumble before Argentines and Chileans break the peace sworn at the feet of Christ Redentor.”  Some of us escaped from the cold wind with a mug of artisanal hot chocolate from the small station next to the monument.  Dusk fell as we returned down the road (nerve-wracking to some!), and we caught sight of a couple desert hares and a fox.  

Cristo Redentor (Paso Internacional Los Libertadores), border between Chile and Argentina (4000 meters a.s.l.)

   The second day of our field trip was spent studying the Miocene (9-12 million year old) synorogenic sediments that make up some low ridges between the Cordillera Frontal and the Cordillera Principal of the Andes.  Examination of these sediments allows us to document the uplift and erosion of the Andes Mountains.  We will use the geologic information we gathered on this trip to create our stratigraphic sections of the region, which will be included on a group poster to be presented at the UWEC Student Research Day.  

Examining synorogenic basin deposits that record the uplift of the Andes

     Upon our return to Mendoza, we were able to enjoy Vendimia, the Mendocine wine festival.  It began with a parade on Friday night.  Each of the sixteen districts, or counties, of Mendoza province had a float celebrating particular products from the region.  The elected pageant queen of each district also rode on the floats.  Instead of throwing candy, the people on the floats tossed grapes, apples, melons, and bottles of wine to the onlookers.  Some were more energetically thrown and some of us ended up with slight bruises from the flying fruit.  

Mendozan beauty queens tossing fruit to parade attendees
     Saturday began with another parade, then a visit from Cristina Kirchner, the current president of Argentina.  During her visit there was a very large and energetic protest against the proposal for the construction of the proposed San Jorge open pit copper strip mine in northwest Mendoza province.  The people of Uspallata are very concerned about the environmental ramifications of the proposed mine and they are very eager to discuss it, as we discovered on our visits to Uspallata. 
Protest against the proposed San Jorge mine in northwest Mendoza province

       The main event of Vendimia took place Saturday night at an outdoor amphitheater on the edge of the city.  We were lucky enough to get tickets to the show, which 60,000 people attended.  It was quite spectacular, with musical and dance numbers celebrating the culture and history of Mendoza.  Over 800 people directly participated in its production. Toward the beginning of the show, the whole audience participated in a toast to Vendimia and to Mendoza.  Afterwards, each traditional folk dance was performed, as well as other elaborately choreographed numbers.  Everyone was very affected by the dance representation of the extermination of the native peoples.  The show was heavily influenced by political messages, especially concerning the native population and the working class.  
Vendimia dancers performing

     At the end of the night the Queen of Vendimia was crowned.  It was very interesting to watch as each of the 200 votes was read out loud.  The audience was roughly divided into the different districts and each time a vote was read a part of the crowd would erupt in applause and cheers.  After much anticipation, the Queen of Vendimia 2011 was announced and the show ended with an incredible fireworks display.  As we waited for a bus back to the city, it began to rain heavily.  Finally, a city bus arrived and the driver said he could take a bus load of people back for free.  We still don’t know how we fit so many people onto one bus!  It was completely packed!  About halfway to the city center, someone began singing a traditional Mendocine harvest song and all the Mendocinos on the bus joined in.  It was a great display of cultural unity.  

The Vendimia Queen contestants

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Andean Cordillera

After our project developing a geologic cross section of the Andes Mountains, we had a free day to enjoy Mendoza followed by a day of touring the wineries in the region of Maipú in the province of Mendoza.  We visited two wineries, the first being a larger and older winery called Lagarde that was established in 1897.   We examined the process of wine production from picking the grapes to bottling the final product.  After learning about the manufacturing processes we were then taught proper wine tasting techniques and tasted three different wines made at Lagarde.  The second winery we toured was called Palo Alto which is a smaller, newer boutique winery established within the last decade.  We got to see the similarities and differences between the two wineries before tasting the wine produced at Palo Alto.  We tried three different varietals of Malbec, which is Mendoza’s most well known grape.  After an elaborate lunch we had the opportunity of touring an olive oil factory.  After learning the processes involved in producing olive oil, we got to try a variety of oils.

The very popular Malbec grape

The group at the Lagarde winery after our tour and tasting 

On February 25 we started our second geology project and headed back into the Andes.  For this project we were examining the Malargüe Fold and Thrust Belt near Las Leñas that developed during the uplift of the modern Andes and the sedimentary basins that formed during this deformation.  The first day we camped along the Rio Atuel and were cooked a traditional Argentinean asado by our comedic bus drivers, Luis and Jorge.

Jorge and Louis preparing for a traditional Asado

Before beginning of our basin research project, we gathered in the Triassic rift basin exposed in Cañon Rio Atuel for a brief biology lesson from Dr. Todd Wellnitz about stream ecology – a taste of the many exciting biology lessons we are looking forward to in the coming weeks.    

Todd Wellnitz explaining stream ecology in Rio Atuel.

Later that morning, we then traveled to Los Lenas in the southern central Andes to examine the record of mountain building.  We split into five groups, each lead by a geology student.  Each group was responsible for a different aspect of the poster we would later create.  We travelled into the mountains to Valle Hermoso which is at about 9,000 ft. elevation.  After a challenging hike we examined the deformed rocks in this area and stopped for a lunch that overlooked the spectacular valley. 

Greg Valitchka overlooking the stunning Valle Hermoso

Alex, Greg, and Tom explaining the deformation of the Malargue fold and thrust belt

 The next day, we headed to El Sosneado to measure and describe the sedimentary basin that was initiated by uplift and deformation in the Andes about 9-12 million years ago.  We then travelled back to Mendoza to compile the information we gathered.  The next geology field trip will examine similar processes in a different portion of the Andes, and the two areas will be compared in our geologic poster.


Olivia Iverson explaining some of the sedimentary structures during the basin analysis in El Sosneado.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Geology of the Andes

This past week was our first trip into the Andes Mountains, for examination of a geologic cross-section of the Andean Cordillera. We followed the path of San Martin through the Precordillera, traveling by bus through Villa Vicencio, which offered beautiful scenery as well as excellent geological sites. After a couple hours’ drive alongside steep vertical cliff faces and terrifying precipices, we arrived at the summit of this tiny mountain road, known locally as “the Year Long Road.” It acquired this name because of its 365 hairpin turns that had some of the students wishing for the topography of Eau Claire. Here we caught our first glimpses of the Frontal Cordillera. We were all astounded by its size as it dominated the horizon. We would later find out these were not even the tallest mountains we would see on this trip. The Andes Mountains are actually a series of five mountain ranges, including, from east to west, the Sierra Pampeanas, Precordillera, Frontal Cordillera, Principal Cordillera and Coastal Cordillera, and we examined almost all of these on our trip.
When asked what the highlight of our trip was, we would have to say our stop at Laguna Del Inca was our favorite stop. We had just spent 3 hours stuck at the border of Argentina and Chile and group morale was fading fast. After finally getting free, we decided to make one stop in Chile before heading home. We parked in the lot of a ski lodge and walked around the building. We were struck by the most beautiful view some of us have ever seen. Hidden behind that ski lodge off the freeway was an amazingly blue, glacial-fed, lake. Dr. Mahoney would explain that the peculiar gleam in the water was caused by “glacial flour” (rock ground so fine that it will never settle out). It was hard to get back on the bus after seeing such a place. We would not arrive at our campground in Uspallata until very late that night and after such a long day we all slept like rocks….pun.
Waking up the next day was an unforgettable experience. Surrounded by mountains on all sides, the group was stunned by the tranquility and beauty of the region. Over breakfast we would discuss the day’s events and traveling logistics. One thing we could all agree on was that this was the definition of “hands on learning.” You can read from a textbook the composition of rocks and the altitude of mountain ranges but you don’t really understand the concept until you hold it in your hands or can’t breathe due to the elevation. The classroom has its advantages but being in the Andes lets us experience firsthand what we can only read about in books back home. We would spend a few more days in the Andes honing our geology skills and creating unforgettable memories.
Dan Putman examining to a 250 million year petrified tree in Darwin's Forest

Puente del Inca, by far one of the most spectacular places in the Andes. After a landslide destroyed the hotel, hot springs rich in sulfur bubbled up around the ruins. 

Brennan tutoring Kelsey about the geology of Laguna Del Inca

Brandon and Kris observing folds in a rock face at Baños De Telecosta 

Cerro Tambillo in the Frontal Cordillera

The team hard at work compiling their geological data back at the hostel.