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 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

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