Posted by: kellylyneddy | July 26, 2014

The Decision

One year ago today we returned to Canada. Home never felt so good. We thought long and hard about the decision to continue our adventure or whether to return to the North. After all, our house was rented out for another month, and we still had four weeks until returning back to work.

It was a difficult decision to make and we considered our many options for weeks. Flights were booked for July 26 from Buenos Aires, as we were only allowed 90 days on our tourist visa. Since we had crossed into Chile for a week, we had a few practical options:

  • Stay another 90 days in Argentina (we hadn’t seen any of the country north of Buenos Aires)
  • Return to Chile and travel back north (we really loved Chile and wanted to spend more time exploring there)
  • Fly back to Buenos Aires and return to Canada (life was familiar, easy and safe, but our home wasn’t available for another month)

Factors that influenced these options were many. Life on the road is full of adventure, new things to do and see, new people, different foods, cultural experiences, sleep ins, no 9 – 5. Road life is also fraught with challenges – where is our next bed, next meal, and will we arrive safely (by this time we reserved ourselves to the fact that it probably wouldn’t be on time, so safely would suffice). Then there was the summer factor. Summer was coming to a close in Canada and we had just endured two winters in a row. If we headed home we could catch a month of sun before it faded into fall. Our bodies craved vitamin D and we knew that before long the long(er) and cold(er) Canadian winter would be setting in. We were weary from our amazing travels, and after dragging that hockey equipment around for three months it was time to either throw it in ocean (tempting) or bring it home for many more years of enjoyment.

After discussing our options for several weeks we finally decided to return to Canada. Road weary and tired of the challenges of living on the road we prepared to fly from Ushuaia back to Buenos Aires, but first we had one more Southern winter experience to complete our ‘Christmas in July.’ We ventured out of town to a snow field in a beautiful mountain valley where our dog sledding experience would begin. Dog sledding is synonymous with Canada, but when would we ever get the chance to it at the end of the world? We expected giant strapping huskies, but in true Argentine dog fashion we got a rag tag crew of any dog that would pull a sled. It was funny to see retrievers, mastiffs and huskies in the same train. I was waiting for them to bring out a poodle. But pull (and poop) they did, taking us on a wonderful circuit in the mountains followed by a giant lamb parilla (BBQ) in the chalet, accompanied by giant mugs of hot chocolate. It was glorious.

Dog sledding to celebrate Christmas in July! Tierra del Fuego style!

Dog sledding to celebrate Christmas in July!

Returning to BA was an entirely different experience than our first time there. We knew what to expect, we were better at communicating and we were ready to hit the streets. In the less than 48 hours in the capital we got two solid nights rest, visited Casa Rosada, attended a cooking class, completed some last minute shopping, and nearly missed our flight out of the country (just in case we hadn’t made enough memories).

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Cooking class with Tierra Negra Gourmet!

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Three extraordinary Chef’s!

 

Landing in Toronto was joyful. It was like a weight was lifted from over us (even if it did take an extra half an hour to disembark because the gangway was broken). While we never really felt threatened in South America we always had to be on our toes, it was nice to exhale. Landing in Calgary was euphoric. We had finally made it home and a haze had settled over us. This place that we were so familiar with seemed like it was so far away just a day ago was here. Had we made the right decision to come home when we had the option to stay another month? If you asked each of us this question ten times, the response ten times would be yes.

Argentina was phenomenal for each reason noted in every previous blog post. As a couple to be able to build our relationship in stressful environments where our actions and decisions were amplified ten fold was a true gift (we were only awful to each other for one day, pretty sure it was Kelly’s fault, can’t remember the stressor…. but I’m sure she can). Even with a mother-in-law in the mix for a month we were able to navigate the world with relative ease.

As parents (and especially as a dad) to be able to spend three months in direct contact with their children is a chance that many parents never get in a lifetime. To teach them real life skills, show them things that most kids can only dream of, and to allow them to appreciate the lives and cultures of others is a gift that keeps living on in our boys. We have such confidence in E1 and E2, now that they have travelled so far and done so much we can’t wait to take them on their next adventure, and see where their lives will take them. E2 insists he we live in Piramides de Los Andes in Bariloche!

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While in South America we also had time to ponder whether we would expand our family or not. The overwhelming answer was yes. Today, one year after arriving home we are blessed to have a two month old sleeping silently in front of us. And yes, he is our E number 3.

Introducing E3

Introducing E3

We had doubts about going to Argentina, and we had doubts about coming home from Argentina, but looking back, this adventure, exactly as it has played out has influenced our lives forever. Would we do it again, maybe not, but would we ever imagine life having not done it once? Not now, not ever. To the many people that helped us along the way there and on the way back – family, friends, colleagues, bosses, hosts, blog followers, and guides we thank you for everything. We couldn’t have lived this adventure without you!

 

Posted by: tylereddy | July 25, 2014

Cambio, Cambio!

Changing American dollars to Argentine Pesos on the black market is a common practice in Argentina. With banks offering an exchange of five to one and the black market offering up to ten to one exchanges, it makes financial sense to exchange dollars on the black market. The best rates are in Buenos Aires, but if you look hard enough elsewhere there are either Cambios, legitimate businesses that will exchange currency, or perhaps not-so-legitimate people on the street that will exchange money. Many businesses will also offer discounts on goods purchased in US dollars. Thanks to our blog friends at Indefinite Adventure we knew about the Cambios (Spanish for “Change”) beforehand and decided to take as much American money as we felt safe carrying.

There are some risks associated with exchanging funds on the black market: receiving counterfeit bills, dealing with unfamiliar people, and carrying significant amounts of money. For a couple of newbies with very little familiarity with Argentine currency getting ripped off seemed like a very real possibility. Receiving a 10:1 ratio on bills leaves one with a wad of cash, exchanging a single US $100 bill equals ten 100 peso notes, so exchanging $1000 US dollars (10 bills) means ending up with 100 bills in your pocket, it’s a fat stack of cash. The act of exchanging bills, although done (mostly) in the open, and not ‘illegal’, had a feeling of bad-assedness about it. Not being a thug I’ve never really carried quantities of cash or had to do business in a back alley, so for me I felt like I was a gangster for a day. Here are a couple of our experiences in exchanging money:

Buenos Aires, day two in a foreign land, we had a few thousand pesos with us, but they were dwindling quickly, time to hit the Cambio. But where, and how? Thankfully our rental owner was an American living in BA so we turned to him for advice. He gave us an address, and description saying that there were windows covered in green film with a button beside the door. Below the button it says ‘we do not exchange foreign currency.’ We were told to push that button, open the door, go inside and ask to exchange our bills. Simple enough.

This was a mission for a young thug like me trying to make a name for himself in the mean Latino streets. Just navigating the chaotic streets of BA on day two was a challenge, never mind diving into the gritty underworld of drugs and money laundering. Okay exaggerating, but that’s what I felt like I was wandering into. I get inside the door and fumble with my American money, ask the question (like I had any room to negotiate) and they run the money through the counter, run the equivalent pesos through the counter, hand the money over. I quickly examine the bills,   like I know what I’m doing, then I turn and bolt. Feeling relieved that I didn’t end up in the big house or have some wise guy send me for the big sleep I strode back up the hill, a giant mound of bills bulging from my secret jean pocket. A few paranoid shoulder checks later and I’m safe and sound.

Back at the apartment Kelly is relieved that I’ve returned. We spread the tattered bills on the table, excited to examine their authenticity. Seconds later our excitement turned to devastation. Half of the bills had barcodes that ran vertically while the rest were horizontal. They were frauds! We moped for a few minutes calculating the cost of our rookie travel error, how could we be so foolish?

100 peso bill with horizontal serial number.

100 peso bill with horizontal serial number.

 

100 peso note with horizontal serial number

100 peso note with vertical serial number

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Turns out (like many things in Argentina) many products, in this case currency, aren’t very consistent in their ways. All of the bills were legit, even though many of them looked completely different. Disaster averted, wait ‘til my boys back in Chicago hear about this.

Another money exchange happened in the back of an outdoor gear store. A guard paced outside and I had it on good intel that there was a Cambio in the back. I marched in confidently and made my way to the back of the store, looked right into the two way mirror and stepped through the curtain hanging next to it. It was like dropping into an underground gambling room in New York. There was dark with a red light glowing in the corner, two old guys wearing leisure suits and sunglasses in the dark were sitting at a card table sipping matte. I turned to the left and there was a man sitting in a booth with a sign that had the exchange rate. This time I didn’t even speak, just slid the bills under the glass, he counted them in front of me and slid the pesos back to me. Being the veteran hoodlum I am I grab the lettuce, thumb it all, glare back at him menacingly and tuck it away.

A final notable exchange happened in a city where there were no Cambios. I had to use my streets wise and call up some favours from a few of my connections. I told him how much I had and the rate I needed on the black market. The Don says to me ‘We don’t call it the Black Market, we call it the Blue Market. It sounds more polite.’ A few days later one of his wise guys shows up and says he has the money. I reached for my coat to grab the US money. Suddenly he gets this nervous look, shoulder checks and steps quickly towards me. ‘Not here’ he says shortly and leads me to a nearby office, kicking the worker out and closing the door behind us. I’m wondering what’s about to transpire. Has my luck run out? Has the deal gone south? I nervously hand the money over, count, re-count, exchange. I turn to leave and he grabs me by the shoulder, he pulls me close to him and points menacingly at his cheek bone and then draws his index finger down toward his jaw (this is a common hand signal in Argentina which means look out, or watch yourself). He says to me ‘this is a lot of money in Argentina and you need to be careful.’

Ahhhhh! Surely it was more money than I would ever carry at home, and certainly I needed to be cautious. There were several occasions where we were given such warnings to be cautious in Argentina, even though we didn’t see so much as a drug deal, pick-pocket or shoplifting. We didn’t feel overly vulnerable and with kids in tow people were more than happy to help…..even if we were a couple young gangsters just trying to make a buck.

 

Posted by: tylereddy | July 24, 2014

Copa fin del Mundo – Hockey at the End of the World

After wrapping up a glorious week in Chile it was time to head across the strait, back into Argentina to continue seeking hockey glory. The Canadians, Germans and Chileans joined forces, and were put to the test by several skilled teams from Argentina, including multiple clubs from Buenos Aires…but first we had to get there.

The travel day was scheduled to be long and arduous….but it actually turned out to be far more painful than anticipated. We planned on being in the fifteen passenger van for most of the day, early departure, a ferry crossing, border crossing, and lots of kilometres to span. But it was okay because we had a driver, right? Wrong. He was old, fine. He drove slowly, fine, followed by spurts of driving incredibly fast, whatever. Things that weren’t fine: driving down the middle of the road with oncoming traffic, getting lost in a small city that he had driven through before, inability, no wait, complete incompetence driving in snow, getting stuck in a parking lot in the EXACT same place three times, and finishing the trip off by getting in an accident. Anyway, we (amazingly) made it to Ushuaia in one piece.

The best memory of the trip was when we stopped at the ferry crossing. There was a lone sheep outside the van. Everybody commented on how cute he was and took out cameras to snap photos. We got out to stretch and as we milled about the sheep lowered its head and rammed into E2’s back knocking him to the ground. It was a dirty move. Kelly swooped over to right E2 and the killer sheep quickly turned and level his gaze on E1. One of the guys saw this transpiring and scooped E1 to safety while I charged towards the killer sheep and grabbed him by the scruff of the neck. Probably not the brightest move as I have no idea how strong a sheep is, but I distracted him enough that he found the next tourist to try and butt. We comforted kids and had a good laugh about the whole event. As the van drove away the sheep was busy humping some luggage…busy day at the port.

E2 recovering from the killer sheep attack.

E2 recovering from the killer sheep attack.

The first time I laid eyes on the rink in Ushuaia it was magical. There was over a foot of heavy wet snow with more pouring from the skies. A bobcat was cleaning off the ice and the fellas burst out of the van in excitement, frolicking in the wet snow and eyeing the giant ice surface. I hadn’t even seen Olympic sized ice before, and the boys from Chile had only played in their tiny three on three rink. The challenges that lay ahead for four or five experienced players and a handful of rookies was going to huge, but we didn’t know how huge just yet. Copa Fin Del Mundo was just beginning and excitement was in the air.

Hockey magic (and a whole bunch of snow) in the air.

Hockey magic (and a whole bunch of snow) in the air.

The opening day saw lots of pictures and we hung out around the rink to watch a couple of games. The pace was much faster than in Punta Arenas. The ice was larger, the players more skilled, and the stakes much higher in this established tournament. There were several teams from Buenos Aires (Black, Orange, Green, Hurricane and Winter), a team from Brazil, Los Nordicos from Chile, as well as the host team, Club Athletica Ushuaia. There were several teams with exceptional players, including two guys from the US and a few South Americans that were good skaters, but most lacked the lifetime of hockey skill and experience that I’m used to in most opponents.

For most of the tournament I played defence which was a new challenge for me. Thankfully the pace wasn’t unrealistic and I soon discovered that my ….ahem, stature proved advantageous. I was far sturdier on my skates than most of the South American players even if they were larger or faster. I was pushing guys off of pucks and protecting pucks with a luxury never afforded to me against Canadian players. I also got mean (isn’t that what defensemen are supposed to do?) after all, I had a Canadian reputation to uphold. No European razzle dazzle, just good tough hockey, making guys pay in front of the net, in the corners, pretty much anywhere I could.

We were in several close games, but didn’t make it into the playoff round. Simply moving the puck and mustering shots on goal on the big ice was a challenge. We managed to win a few games throughout the tournament and gain valuable experience for the Chilean squad. I was disheartened that we couldn’t win more games, but to see the pride in the smiles on the faces of the Chilean players made the entire journey worthwhile. After all, they were the first group of Chilean’s to represent their country internationally at a hockey tournament, an exceptional accomplishment. It was a great pleasure to play with Los Nordicos and having the Nordico jersey in my collection is one of my favourite treasures from the trip.

The battle weary Nordicos - Vamos Nordicos!

The battle weary Nordicos – Vamos Nordicos!

By far the best thing about Copa Fin Del Mundo is the rink in Ushhuaia. It is open air, steps from the ocean and the mountain scenery is absolutely breathtaking. The pre-dawn games in the crisp morning air were nothing short of magical. The sun would peak over the mountain tops and the players would pause a moment to bask in the rays. The sun added power into skates and joy into hearts. Even though we suffered some losses that week the comradery of playing at the end of the world is something I won’t soon forget. It’s been almost a year now, and daily I dream of one day returning to play in South America.

Another beautiful day for hockey in a beautiful rink.

Another beautiful day for hockey in a beautiful rink.

 

Posted by: kellylyneddy | July 21, 2014

The White Stuff

Everyone has a favourite day of the year. For some it is their birthday or anniversary, for others a yearly pilgrimage, and for some a meaningful or special holiday. My favourite day of the year is none of the above. My favourite day of the year rarely lands on the same day. This day brings out my inner child and a sense of wonder and excitement that I will never outgrow. My favourite day of the year is the first day I wake up to a blanket of fresh white snow.

Tyler would argue that I do not wake up, but rather bound out of bed reaching for the curtain to reveal whether winter has finally arrived. Much to the disdain of countless Canadians I am a true lover of winter. Many have tried to reason with me, but no one can change the fact that the first day of snow each year is my favourite, I just simply love it.

The further south we travelled during Argentina’s winter the more excited I became about the prospect of snow. Each time we thought we might encounter a bit of the white stuff, upon arrival people would say that it has been unseasonable warm or, blame the lack of snow on a changing climate.  Finally en route to the end of the world I began to wonder if we would see snow in Argentina after all.

Ushuaia, did not disappoint. I guess you could say that we drove into my first day of snow this year. The further south our 15 passenger van travelled (packed with hockey players and smelly equipment) the more snow we encountered. It was beautiful. The chauffer was not well versed in the art of driving in snow, but we eventually made it to the “end of the world” a magical place all its own. Beautiful, and blanketed in white.

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A snowman at the End of the World!

 

The boys instantly took to playing in the snow whenever they got the chance. The difference is that at home when it snows it is usually below zero and stays that way until spring. In Ushuaia, it may snow one day and not the next and the temperature hovers between zero and three degrees….so even though snowy, it is very, VERY wet! Trudging through wet snowy streets we began our adventure through the southernmost city in the world.  A little bit of hockey, a little snow, and a lot of sight seeing.

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There is a prison at the end of the world, that is no longer operational, but now functions as a museum.  During its operational days it was akin to Alkatraz, a secondary prison, where those who are poorly behaved in prison are sent. It was a large building not far from the centre of town; it also housed a naval museum and art gallery. There were many interesting tidbits about the museum, but the one “oh wow” that stuck with me was that prisoners were assigned their “jobs” based on the severity of their crime. The prisoners charged with the worst criminal acts, received the worst job, usually in the rock quarry.

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Unlike Alkatraz, the Ushuaia prison was built by the prisoners themselves. Construction started in 1902 with 10 men and one voluntary female (what was she thinking!). It took 18 gruelling years to complete. They constructed the prison out of locally found and sourced materials, even building a small train line − known to most as the Prisoner Train − to harvest the wood needed for the construction. Today the train functions as a tourist attraction taking sightseers deep into the southern forest. The train ride was a highlight for E1 and E2 and on each one of the stops we participated in the most Canadian of traditions – snowball fights!

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 I feel very lucky to have been able to take this trip to the end of the world, and to enjoy my favourite day of the year – twice!

 

 

 

Posted by: tylereddy | August 5, 2013

A Day in the Big Leagues

I don’t like to run. Never really have, probably never will. I have traumatizing memories about running from my youth. The first was probably the run around the block in grade school. Then little league baseball when coach said to “hurry up waddle ass” (probably a compliment to my full rear) from then it was running ‘the fence’ in high school and god, oh god, the beep test. I hated the beep test. You had to run between two points to the sound of beeps on a cassette and the beeps just kept getting closer together until you were exhausted and had to stop because you couldn’t make it back to the line in time. Misery.

These are my thoughts as my feet heavily pound on the ground. They are clumsy, awkward and don’t spring me up or forward, they just hammer back on the pavement requiring  great effort for the next step. I’m running on the boardwalk in Calafate dodging broken glass, stray dogs and wiping profuse sweat from my brow. So why am I enjoying this run so much? Because there is a purpose, a greater goal, joy waiting on the other end. Hockey. The South American tournaments were only days away and the misery of running was crushed by the excitement of playing hockey on another continent.

I walked through the glass doors of the IceZone in Punta Arenas and flopped my hockey gear on the tiled floor. The rink was small with clear plexiglass boards and netting hanging all around. Workmen on lifts were putting the finishing touches on hanging the netting while several Chilean kids clung to the boards trying to get hold of the concept of ice skating. A couple teenage boys skated around the middle of the ice, quickly, awkwardly and dangerously out of control trying to impress the on looking girls with their haphazard moves. The rafters above the ice surface were constructed of beautiful exposed wood and the ‘smell’ of cold hung in the air.

E1 and E2 take in the action at the 3 on 3 arena with clear plexi boards.

E1 and E2 take in the action at the 3 on 3 arena with exposed woodwork and clear plexi boards.

I glanced around to see if there were any other players about. This was the first night of practice for the Nordicos (the Chilean team from Punta Arenas) and the Ghetto Blasters (the ‘Canadian’ Team made up of two Canadians, two Germans, a Chilean and an Argentine). Not knowing what to expect I trotted around excitedly to check out the facility and to see if I could find anybody. Once I was on the other side of the rink I saw the team enter from a distance. It was undoubtedly a hockey team: travelling in a pack, giant bags in tow and faces that lit up when they saw the ice. I strolled over and introduced myself to my new team of Facebook acquaintances and thus began the beginning of my South American hockey experience.

We dressed in cramped locker room about the size of a kitchen. Guys kept rolling in and it was handshake after handshake, forgotten and mispronounced name after name. But it didn’t matter, we were all there for one purpose and that was to play hockey. The guys joked around in Spanish, teased each other and checked out the beer girl calendar on the wall. I may have been thousands of miles from home, but the atmosphere couldn’t have been more familiar. There was some nervous excitement in the air and I couldn’t wait to get on the ice after not skating for five months. Hockey in July. Awesome.

Night one practice in Punta Arenas, Chile.

Night one practice in Punta Arenas, Chile.

We hit the ice and skated a few laps. A little rusty, but nothing that caused too much embarrassment. The ice was choppy after public skate and there was distinct lack of ice in the corners. Apparently the cooling system didn’t run beyond the boards and thus the corners were too warm to sustain ice. They would later be filled with snow updating their hazard rating from ‘certain death’ to ‘guaranteed injury’. The Chileans held a decent skill set – some were good shooters, others good skaters or puck handlers, but for the most part they were beginners eager to learn the game. Here in Punta Arenas they have only been playing hockey for one and a half seasons, so there is still much work required to learn the game. The guys worked hard, asked lots of questions and made progress on their skills. It was obvious that they were excited to have guests and they were in awe of the Germans shooting and puck handling abilities. Afterwards, beer, a sandwich and bed. It was a great night and for the next two weeks plenty of hockey to come.

Opening Ceremonies were the next night followed by the opening game – Ghetto Blasters vs. CAU from Ushuaia, Argentina. There were 600 people in the stands that first night. I’ve played in front of 600 people before, but that’s from 30 years of hockey at 20 people a year (and most of the time the ‘fans’ were my parents). The opening ceremony spoke to the importance of the tournament for the sport in Chile. The ceremony was complete with introductions, national anthems and speeches from the dignitaries. Adding to the excitement was the television broadcast team, announcers, blaring music and an excited crowd that had no clue about the rules and didn’t quite know when to cheer – but they loved to watch goals and they loved it when people crashed. It was electric.

In-game action.

In-game action.

A few minutes into the first the puck landed on my stick. I was striding toward the net, the goaltender way out of position and not a defender in sight. I gripped the stick and shot the puck into the yawning cage. It is always a great feeling to score a goal. I didn’t really celebrate or do much (when you score as much as I do it kinda becomes old…ha ha). I skated back towards the faceoff and then one of the others players caught up and was really excited saying great goal, great goal. I glanced up and saw the rest of the team hanging over the boards from the bench looking for high fives, giant smiles and fists pumping in the air. At that moment I realized I had just scored the first goal in Chilean international ice hockey history!

After the game there were fans lined up wanting pictures and autographs from the players. At first I stooped to get into the pictures with the short South Americans. For once I was tall, and wearing skates I towered over them. After bending down to get into several photos I paused and thought, ‘when am I ever going to have a chance to feel this tall again?’ I stood there tall and proud having played before a great crowd who loved the hockey game. It felt strange to receive superstar treatment for something that I’m average at in my home country, but I guess in South America I’m a superstar.

Superstar treatment - on tv!

Superstar treatment – on tv!

We went on to win the game handily, and several others after that. As the week wore on the Chilean team built their skills and knowledge. This was important as the next week the Ghetto Blasters and Los Nordicos would combine to represent Chile for the first time ever in International competition. We would play in Ushuaia, Argentina against teams from Brazil, Buenos Aires, and Ushuaia. The competition would be more skilled and playing on Olympic sized ice would be a bigger challenge. The ‘Canadian team’ the Ghetto Blasters went on to win the tournament. As we paraded the giant trophy around the ice passing it back and forth like Lord Stanley’s cup I spied a Canadian flag waving in the crowd and stopped to say hi.  They reached through the mesh to touch my hand like a crazed Michael Jackson fan meeting the King of Pop. At that moment I felt great pride for my country and for the game that we love so much.

The red and white flies in the rafters in Chile

The red and white flies in the rafters in Chile

Team shot with the hardware.

Team shot with the hardware.

The entire week was an incredible event. Alejandro Traba and the guys from Los Nordicos deserve huge credit for putting together such an amazing tournament and being such great hosts. All week long there were stories in the newspapers, on TV, radio and the web talking about the excitement of the tournament. I hope that the event goes a long way in getting the community excited and involved with the game.

A sampling of the media surrounding the tournament

A sampling of the media surrounding the tournament

After that first night we went out with the Chilean team. We talked hockey, swilled beers and relived the game like it was the’72 Summit Series (although few of the Chileans would know the significance of that event). Feeling tired and tipsy after too many Heineken I went back to the place and flipped on the TV. There we were playing hockey.  I watched the whole game over again. I couldn’t stop smiling thinking about my day in the big leagues.

With some of the fans.

With some of the fans.

Random groupie...kidding, my biggest fan!

Random groupie…kidding, my biggest fan!

Posted by: tylereddy | July 21, 2013

Fossil of the Week: Random Marine Fossil

Museo Egidio Feruglio was our primary destination while in South America. It was with the endorsement of Museo Egidio Feruglio (Mef) that we embarked on our trip to Argentina. With their agreement, and the support of the RoyalTyrrellMuseum and its Cooperating Society, we launched to this foreign land. After several months of communication with Mef we had already painted a picture in our minds, but it was finally time to experience Trelew for ourselves.

We hadn’t heard many good reviews of Trelew before we arrived. Most people spoke negatively about the city, but invariably everybody would end their comments with “…but they have a great museum…” and they were right. Mef is the premiere tourist attraction in the city of about 80,000 people and it is located in the heart of the town. The Museum is a colourful and modern building in central Trelew and beckons to visitors from the end of the main street.

Welcome to Mef!

Welcome to Mef!

We were welcomed to the Museum by Ignacio Escapa who has worked at the museum since being a teenager. Now a Ph. D researcher Ignacio studies Jurassic plants and is building his research and collections around the impressive specimens from Patagonia.  The galleries contain many specimens from Patagonia and represent many type specimens from the Jurassic through the Cretaceous. We were lucky enough to visit the nearby Geopark Bryn Gwyn with Pedro who offered to show us some of the fossil riches of the area.

Ready for a hike. Family - check, Sun - check, wind - check.

Ready for a hike. Family – check, Sun – check, wind – check.

The park is thirty-some kilometres from Trelew near the Welsh settlement of Gaiman. It houses a small interpretive centre which leads to an impressive hike up the valley wall. The hike takes you from 40 million years to 10,000 years ago while ascending over a hundred metres. My first though was that I’d been on this hike before…changing environments, fossil deposition, great preservation…yadda yadda yadda but we were about to be pleasantly surprised.

E2 starts out strong.

E2 starts out strong.

It was a windy day in Patagonia (most are) but the beginning of the ascent took us up through a winding tunnel providing much needed relief from the wind. While the landscape was familiar the hike started off immediately with some cool fossils. A preserved hornets nest stuck out of the hillside. It looked exactly like a modern hornets nest and there were even some hornets that had conveniently built a nest nearby as though they had never left that spot. As we ascended through the Sarmiento, Gaiman and Puerto Madryn Formations we came across cases installed by Mef that housed specimens of terrestrial and marine mammals, reptiles, sharks, whales, dolphins and oysters. The diversity of animals discovered in this small areas is impressive. Our guide Pedro told us to keep our eyes open as there are often shark teeth sitting on the soil surface.

Bryn Gwyn scenery

Bryn Gwyn scenery

The “Bryn Gwyn” or “White Hill” for which the park is named, loomed in the distance.  It was named by the Welsh who settled the area, and though the name might lack some creativity, it is really is a white hill. As we fought through the wind to ascend the valley wall there were doubts whether E2 would make the trek, at times the wind would gust and blow him backwards. But with the unbridled enthusiasm of a three year old he would run ahead of us on the trail and run back downhill increasing his travel distance three fold. The last thirty metres of altitude were quite steep and as the trail switch-backed up the valley wall, evidence of clamshells emerged from the hillside. The fossilized beds were metres thick in some spots and millions of clams glistened in the late afternoon sun. We finally reached the summit and while E1 held onto the sign to prevent himself from blowing away, E2 decided to add some weight and fuel with a peanut butter sandwich.

Fossilized clams - lots of them!

Fossilized clams – lots of them!

 

E1 hangs on for dear life at the summit.

E1 hangs on for dear life at the summit…

 

...while E2 displays his new hairdo eating a sandwich.

…while E2 displays his new hairdo eating a sandwich.

 

 

As we descended the hill E1 came across a fossil. It was his first find in South America, probably a random marine mammal as it was discovered in the Gaiman Formation. E1 beamed with excitement as E2 made a few laps around to ensure that no fossils had been missed. The winter sun began to set in the distance and it was time to retreat from the wind with a cup tea and delicious cake. We left the park wind burned and tired, and thankful for another great day in Patagonia. Thanks Pedro!

E1 shows off the fossil find!

E1 shows off the fossil find!

 

Posted by: kellylyneddy | July 13, 2013

50 Shades of Blue

Her tongue pushes forward, caressing the peninsula, slowly climbing it. Glistening, she pushes forward silently, quietly, firmly. Relentless with desire. Growing and feeling the constant pressure, the Perito Moreno Glacier calves and sends large columns of ice crashing like thunder into the cool milky water below……GOTCHA!

Perito Moreno Glacier, Santa Cruz, Argentina

Perito Moreno Glacier, Santa Cruz, Argentina

The Southern Patagonian Ice Field is enormous and feeds 48 glaciers which make their homes in both Argentina and Chile.  It is one thing these countries must share. Perito Moreno Glacier is one of very few glaciers that is growing today. It’s blue ice and accessibility draws thousands of visitors each year making, this site one of the major tourist attractions in Southern Patagonia.

Tyler was the “glaciologist” of our group. Having visited a small number of glaciers on two continents, North America and New Zealand, he was eager to visit this South American beauty. Tyler’s experience in interpretation and previous glacial knowledge dusted off his tour guide hat as we rumbled towards Los Glaciers National Park. The drive to the glacier along Lago Argentino is a beautiful one.  A small windy road running along the lake, only allowing for vistas of the glacier from time to time.

“Look MOM! there is a giant piece of ice floating in the water!” Shouted E1.

Glacier hiding in the background, 7 km away (bird's eye view)

Glacier hiding in the background, 7 km away (as the crow flies)

The beauty of travelling during the off season with kids is two fold. Number one, we get up and get going early(especially when granny is around), and number two there are so few visitors that you couldn’t wish for a better view or experience. We arrived early, explored a few of the walkways and landings eventually choosing a spot in the sun.  We waited…and waited….and when the warm sun began to light up the shades of blue within the ice, the glacier began to speak to us.  A crick here, a crack there, like an old man rising from a night’s slumber. A hollow whistling sound as the wind passed over it’s meringue-like top. It was eerily beautiful.

As we enjoyed the warmth of the Patagonian sun…and wind… the glacier came to life.  Large columns of ice came crashing down into the water below, followed by a thunderous crash.  We could not have found a better picnic spot that day.

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FYI…for the glaciologist in all of us!

Perito Moreno Glacier is advancing at a rate of about two meters a day.  As a result, sometimes the glacier’s ice tounge meets the peninsula and creates a dam between two arms of Lago Argentino.  The natural ice dam causes the water to rise in one arm of the lake and, seeking escape, the water takes the path of least resistance.  Eventually the water carves out a small cave or tunnel underneath the ice, equalizing the water level. When the hole is large enough the two arms of the lake join again and the glacier is quiet, but only for a moment.

The tunnel will become too large and the ice too heavy to support.  The glacier will fracture like this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mavy4kH1Utw

And of course, E2 fell asleep.

And of course, E2 fell asleep.

Posted by: kellylyneddy | July 7, 2013

High Six!!!!!!

There are places in Patagonia that are difficult to get to. Cueva de las Manos is one of those place, especially in winter.  After a beautiful stay at a small sheep farm, we were too close to resist, and hit the road towards this unique UNESCO world heritage site.  Our camp was Perito Moreno, town sign seen below.  I am positive the “O” was blown away by the wind.  If Sarmiento is the “birthplace of wind”, the Perito Moreno is where wind hits it’s adolescence.  It was relentless.  ALL trees in this town grew at a 45 degree angle and only had branches on one side. Viento, Mucho Viento!

Notice the missing "O"!

Notice the missing “O”!

After our worst sleep in Argentina we set out with our guide Harry on the 1.5 hour road trip to the caves. The drive was scenic, and windy, but we were protected by the shell of Harry’s truck. Along the way we spotted many Guanacos, a wild llama that grazes in the Argentinean Stepps.  Soon out of the pampas small hills began to emerge, vividly red, brown, and black rich with pigments.

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Pretty pigments

During the summer months Cueva de las Manos receives about 500 visitors per day. On June 29th, 2013 there were only 5 visitors, us. A small unimposing visitor’s centre greeted us and we began to walk along the edge of tall cliffs making our way to the legendary caves.  Argentines have a lot of pride about the unique and special places within their own country.  During one homestay we asked about the” cave of hands” and our host, could not express how enchanted she was by them.

The paintings themselves were stunning.  The paintings are 9300 years old with some as recent as 1300 years old. Typically when looking at something of this age, one has to strain their imagination to envision what people say is there. This is not true at Cueva de las Manos, the colours are very vivid.  Red, black, white, purple, yellow and even green decorate the cave walls. The nomadic people which made these paintings followed their food source, and made camp at the bottom of the huge river valley that the caves overlook.  Some people say that when the weather was cold, or more likely the wind intolerable, they sought sanctuary within the caves.  There is one spot where the roof is very high and there are a few red dots on the roof. Some people like to think that is it s map or a constellation, but if I was stuck in a small cave for a few days I think it would be out of boredom that I would throw a rock wrapped in hide dripping with paint at the roof. But who knows, there is no one left to tell us why the paintings are there or what they really mean, we can only guess.

Rio PInturas

Rio Pinturas

There were a few scenes of typical “cave art” one might see at many archeology sites, guanacos, lizards, pumas, maps, mountains…but the hands were different.  So many hands, each belonging to someone, someone like me.  A kind of signature or self portrait left behind of the people who came before. There are over 800 individual hands at this particular site painted in a striking way. Most are negatives or silhouettes. To leave their hand, a person would gather a special pigment which could be found on many of the surrounding hills. Once back at the caves they would place this pigment into their mouth making it into a paint (no one is sure what binding agent was used). In a carefully chosen spot, usually with some cover, they would place their hand and blow the pigment through the hollow bone of a Nandu (a giant ostrich-like bird E2 likes to refer to as a running bush) leaving the outline of their hand. Most hands are left hands, only a small number are right, some are in pairs and believed to be the right and left hands of the same person, there is one of a foot too!

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Some hand paintings believed to be pairs

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The camera does not do the colours justice

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Tyler’s favourite

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Humans hunting guanacos

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The route

I will be the first to admit that I am a huge fan of the high five.  It is a small gesture that brings so much joy. So naturally this attraction spoke to me. There was even a silhouette with six fingers. It was a little tough to see, but I imagine back then if you had six fingers you had a few other things hampering your creative abilities.  This is a beautiful site, if you ever get the chance to see it first hand, take it! HIGH SIX!!!!!!

A wonderful day trip!

A wonderful day trip!

 
 
 
Posted by: tylereddy | July 3, 2013

Fossil of the Week: Sarmiento’s Petrified Forest

We first learned about Bosque Petrificado Sarmiento while at Museo Egidio Feruglio. We remarked on the amazing fossilized trees in the museum and were told that they were small in comparison to the trees in a nearby petrified forest. A quick glance at the map to confirm location and Sarmiento turned into our next destination.

Sarmiento is a small agricultural town located in the south of Chubut province Patagonia (the birthplace of wind). Three buses later we arrived at our Hosteria Labrador, a working sheep and cherry farm. Everything about the place was regal – antique furniture, great beds and a lovely breakfast at a giant dining room table was a treat that I laid in bed and anticipated each night. We leisurely walked the grounds with our host Nicholas, studying the cherry trees, watching the dogs herd the sheep, and inspecting the sheep rams. Our hosts Nicholas and Analyse took great pride in their work and the farm was spotless and the rooms even more so. It was like home, well home if we lived in a beautiful English countryside cottage with sheep, gauchos and our grandparents.

Nicholas was an interesting character. He wore fine clothing, smoked Cuban cigars and was a clever entrepreneur, parlaying a thriving tourist business out of the already successful ranch. He held an heir of royalty with the comfort and wisdom of a grandfather. We were confirtable with him and enjoyed his company very much. When Kelly and I would steal a moment together she would say repeatedly “I love this place.” And the best was waiting for us the next day.

As Nicholas’ diesel SUV fought through the wind toward the park he explained that the rocks of the area were mostly Cretaceous in age, between 23 an 90 million years old. We stopped on the roadside and Nicholas explained the geology of the area. It looked like the Horseshoe Canyon Formation of Drumheller, except for a broad streak of salmon coloured rock looming in the distance. As we drove into the park Kelly whispered for the first time in over two months that she longed for Drumheller.

Drumheller is that you?

Drumheller is that you?

Strolling through the hills we encountered massive trees that look like they were abducted from the rainforest and plopped into the alien desert landscape. They we perfectly preserved, the rock easily mistaken for modern wood. Huge trunks, crowns, pieces still encased in the preservational stone, each piece slowly eroding away in the Patagonian wind. Some were horizontal sentinels of hollowed trees, the insides rotted before being preserved, while other areas looked like the area around a chopping block – shards of wood spewed everywhere. It’s not hard to envision a huge forest standing in the area during the Cretaceous.

Trees litter the desert landscape.

Trees litter the desert landscape.

E1 hot dog in one of the smaller trees

E1 hot dog in one of the smaller trees

The woodshed effect.

The woodshed effect.

Blown away by the scenery...and wind

Blown away by the scenery…and wind

Good thing that the large stumps weighed several tonnes each as we needed them for anchors to ensure we didn’t blow across the entire steppe. Some people might be most impressed by the scientific significance of the site, for me it was the beauty of the rock that truly makes Sarmiento’s Petrified Forest a memorable experience. Truly a taste of Drumheller (with petrified stumps, the English countryside, a friendly host, and a whole bunch of wind…but you get the idea!)

Team photo

Team photo to end a great day.

Posted by: kellylyneddy | June 27, 2013

Hooray for ALFAJORES!!!!

I am almost certain that Tyler’s version of heaven will include Argentina’s favourite treat, alfajores. In Argentina there are bakeries on every corner. The most popular bakeries are difficult to pass up. There are people walking out with dozens of fresh buns, crowds eyeing the treats through the window, and a line up of people waiting with their number in hand to be served. I am certain that these PANADERIAS have their kitchen fan output purposefully directed to their storefront sidewalk, making their bakery irresistible to pass by.

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So far our favourite treats are ALFAJORES. The best way to explain them would be that they are the “oreo” of Argentina, filled not with white cream, but instead DULCE DE LECHE. There are as many different varieties of alfajores as there are regions in Argentina, and of course each region thinks theirs is the best! We cannot say which is best, we have not tried them all yet (we are still working on that).

Most of the time, alfajores are 2 shortbread-like cookies stuck together with a mouth watering filling, often dulce de leche, but not always. Some have coconut, others are covered in chocolate, some have a jam, fruit, or chocolate filling, some have orange rind and cognac flavours, while others have chocolate shortbread -like cookies. Some have nuts or meringue wafers, and the most deadly are triple decker alfajores! Whatever the regional alfajore, we have yet to have a bad one. They are all delicious.

One rainy afternoon we decided to try and make our own. Finding a recipe was not as easy as it sounds. There were so many! Since our ingredients while travelling are limited, we decided to combine two recipes and improvise the rest. With Granny now in Argentina we had plenty of back up while cooking with E1 and E2. As many of you know cooking with kids can be messy and fun. The hardest part was keeping E2 out of the dulche de leche, he was stealing it by the spoonful.

Here is what we did:

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1 ½ cups of cornstarch

1 cup flour

½ cup white sugar*

1 teaspoon of baking powder

125 grams of softened butter

2 eggs

And milk

*I may have added 1 cup of sugar, but none of us can remember!

You will also need Dulce de Leche and unsweetened, shredded coconut.

Mix all dry ingredients well. Add butter and mix until oatmeal-like texture. Add eggs. Add milk until desired consistency is reached. Roll out and cut into small circles. Bake at medium heat* for about 7 minutes. Cool cookies. Glue 2 cookies together with Dulche de Leche and roll the outside with coconut.

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EAT!…*we really have no idea at what temperature we baked them, but they turned out wonderfully. In fact that afternoon we had a friend over from Argentina and she said “These are really good!” in a very delightfully surprised fashion. If an Argentine said they were good, I guess we did okay. These turned out wonderfully despite our recipe alterations, our unknown cooking temperature and the little spoon that kept sneaking into the Dulce de Leche.

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