Argentina Trip 2014

Every time someone asks me about Argentina, and how it was, the most I can do is say ‘oh it was great’! it was so beautiful!’ No one really wants to sit down and listen to me talk in depth about the geology we found there. Or if I start telling you all of the non geological things that happened, we would be there for quite some time. So I might as well write it here, so I can just send this link next time I am asked, and if you really want to know, you’ll read it.

We landed in Argentina on November 27th. I was exhausted. The flight was 14 hours. I slept curled up like a pretzel. I’ve gotten very good at flying in long haul economy over the years. I have my method down to a fine art. However, it’s still exhausting, and if I don’t rest properly after a long flight like that I often get migraines that feel like all the fires of hell are burning in my head. We then piled into a taxi and drove over to the other airport in Argentina.

In a sense, Argentina reminded me of Singapore with all the high rise buildings, the greenery around the motorways, until we saw the slums. We drove by them for only a few minutes until they passed out of sight. I forget sometimes how lucky I am, how wonderfully unbelievably lucky I am. Moments like that remind me. They remind me it is important to appreciate how lucky I am, and to really cherish it, not take it for granted.

Then we flew off to San Rafael and stayed there for the night. This is a view from our hotel:

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It was a weird hotel. Everything in it felt 30 years old. The breakfast seemed weird too, until we spent more time in Argentina and we realised that Argentinians are crazy about sugar. They put it in everything, and I mean everything. They roast their coffee beans with sugar. On a side note, they also seem to think gluten is a toxic, and almost everything says ‘sin gluten’ on the packets.

The next day we drove 7 hours south to the little town of Andacollo where we would be staying for most of our trip. On a fairly flat stretch of road, the same for 100’s of km’s, with the Andes to our left. On the drive there, I felt excited for most of the 7 hours, seeing these mountains that I had never seen before. There were some spectacular views. We drove by those mountains about 4 times, and by the 4th time I pretty much napped or read my kindle.

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Then we get to Andacollo. It was a deeply uninspiring looking town. Dirt pathways, 5 supermarkets a couple of parks, and a massive statue of Jesus. the place we stayed at was wall agail alojaimento. I shared a bedroom with my professor and field partner. It was weird. I did not like having to be in such close quarters with people that I also had to work with intensely. There is only so much time that you should spend with the people you work with on these kind of trips, because they are just so intense. You do everything together, and everything is actually pretty tough. Field trips are both physically and mentally demanding. That is exhausting. Later on in the trip we got to move to a bigger apartment where we had separate bedrooms. Sleeping alone in a room was just the best. Not getting woken up by snoring was also quite lovely.

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But a sweet town, once we got to know it. The people were kind. They all knew we were different and foreign (hard to miss with my pasty white skin). They left us largely to ourselves, but we befriended one or two people there. In particular a lovely man called Adrian who we think was the owner of the local Gomeria (they do tires and wash your car), who helped us with our car troubles, even though he wasn’t the mechanic we thought he was. We had many car troubles. More on that later.

Then the work started. The rocks, oh man the rocks. Our professor had driven through this area a year ago, and thought ‘this place could be the key’. He’s been working on this project for a couple years now, with masters phd students researching and sampling. He had a feeling about this town, and based on that feeling I got to join the project and start researching my masters thesis.

The thing with this, is he could have been totally wrong. There could have been nothing. It could have been a bust, and we would have had to work very creatively to find something worth writing about. However he was right, oh so very right. We had so many lava flows to sample. We got 69 rock samples in total, which should be more than enough to have very interesting data to work with. My thesis is going to be focused on the fluid signatures in the rocks, and what I can determine from them. I am very excited. Geologically speaking, I love fluids. That is what I want to focus my career on, which means I will probably end up in the mining industry because most mineral deposits are formed with hydrothermal fluids involved.

I digress.

Lavas for ever. It creates a really particular kind of landscape, where you have these flat stretches for miles

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Those layers you can see in the photos are actually individual lava flows. We sampled them. So samples wise, we had a bonanza. We were really lucky. So I’m very happy about it.

One thing we experienced a lot were live stock traffic jams.

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I have so so many photos like this. I am sad to say that I saw no llamas. So in my head I started calling goats short necked llamas. I even tried to go to the zoo in Buenos Aires, but they were bloody closed. I am beyond irritated and disappointed.

Other than all that, we drank a lot of wine (Malbec, of course. Though I’m told I missed out by not drinking any Shiraz. Next time), and we ate pastries. Most of the food we ate we cooked in a little kitchenette because there were no restaurants that we could find. Just five supermarkets. I don’t know why that town needed so many.

We also bumped into a bunch of gauchos ( Argentinian cowboys). Quite a few of them had no teeth, and their accents were thicker than mud. Me, with my rather poor Spanish ( I have no illusions about my skill level) really struggled. Though often these men did not talk nor see other people for days or weeks at a time so they were a seriously chatty bunch. They either didn’t understand or they didn’t care that we could not understand them. They seemed like kind hearted people who just wanted a chat. I wish my I could have understood them better. Maybe one day if I polish my Spanish to fluency, I’ll go back and have a chat with a gaucho in the mountains. That seems like a nice plan to have.

One of the strangest aspects of what I do, is I often trespass on peoples land. I did that a lot on this trip, as everything in the area seemed to be farmland. Can you imagine living in the middle of nowhere, when suddenly two fairly young people drive up in a fancy shiny car, get out, carrying sledge hammers and in full hiking gear. They then walk up to an outcrop of rock that’s been beside your house since before the house was built: and then they start hammering the rock. They look at it. Talk a bit. Discard it. Do it again.

We got some strange looks. Some very very strange looks. Though, luckily we were only kicked off someones property once. Unfortunately it was a great place to sample, but we didn’t have time since we were kicked off pretty much ten minutes after we got to the outcrop which was half way up a mountain already.

A running theme through the entire trip, was car troubles (as mentioned before). I was in a car accident as a kid. Some ass hat drove into my dads car, and I got whiplash. I had no idea what that all meant. All I knew was I got massages every week on my neck for a couple months and a special little tablet in my lunch box that no one else got (it was pain killers for my head ache. Not nearly as special as I believed). On this trip however we almost had a car accident. It was terrifying. The roads in the area were all sand and gravel. With the best tires in the world you can still lose grip on the road, and if that happens on a bend whilst you are turning, so help you. The car started swerving, and we were very close to ending up in a ditch. Going through that as an adult, is so different. I knew exactly what was coming. I’m glad that I didn’t need to go to the bathroom at the time.

Our car also broke down. We were driving along, when my field partner noticed smoke coming from the car. So he pulled over, we got out, and me with my very poor Spanish called the Argentinian version of AA. Mercantil Andila. By some miracle the guy spoke English, but then it took 5 hours for a tow truck to arrive, because we were on mountain roads.

One piece of advice I have for everyone: no matter where you go, nor for how long you are going, bring something for entertainment. For me, I bring my kindle. Always. I also make sure to keep it charged. My field partner brought his phone, with low battery, but no charger. My phone could not be used as i was the only one who got signal, and all battery had to be saved for emergencies. So I spent about 3 of the 5 hours that we waited on this mountain road reading Stephen Fry’s latest autobiography: more fool me. (It’s a great book – you should read it). It was weird. It was very weird, and then suddenly it was very soothing. I definitely got a cadence going as I got used to reading out loud, something I have never done for that long before. Anyway. Take that advice. You may thank me for it one day.

I’ll write another post about my thoughts on Buenos Aires later. This is already too long, and I wrote it in 3 goes, largely to take breaks from my studies.

To sign off, here is a video of the dog who kept us company at our ‘agail alojamiento’ in Andacollo

Nacho

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