a diverse collection of travel photos and firsthand experiences while venturing across the globe. each destination has welcomed us with open arms and warm smiles, making us feel right at home. from argentina to utah - and thousands of miles in between - these are our visual memories of 'home'...just as we never imagined.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

"Awww...so it's YOU again?"

At least that's how we interpreted the parrot's glare as we arrived to the Mendoza Zoo this morning. This vibrant red bird, named Madonna, sits perched on the front gate, supervising all visitors as they walk past the entrance. Perhaps she remembers our last visit from one year ago...and my experience with the elephant? Refresh your memory here.

As an activity designed for the youth of our local congregation, we arrived to the zoo to begin our day. The boys and girls of Barrio Godoy Cruz Centro were not just going to see the different animals inside...they were going to embark on a scavenger hunt! Divided into two teams, each side received a list of 20 items - some obvious, some more difficult: Find 1 Elephant, Find 3 different monkeys, Shake the hand of a stranger, Pick up a piece of trash, etc. But here's the catch - each team had a digital camera...and pictures were required for every item on the list! Needless to say, the kids had a blast!

One of the best shots of the day: El Oso Polar

And El Oso Pardo...who somehow got stuck in the tree right over our heads. Hmmm.

We required both teams to locate and photograph 1 Llama, 1 Vicuña, 1 Guanaco. Can you tell the difference?

We also took the opportunity to discuss the Creation and all the wonderful animals on earth. While I say this in fun, I do sometimes like to think that God took a paintbrush, a pallet of brilliant colors, and with infinite creativity, designed each and every creature on the planet. He must have had a blast with all those birds...just look at that beak!

Afterwards, we headed across the street for a traditional - you guessed it - asado argentino! And what is that at the bottom? That's a ñandú egg being cooked over the coals - a smaller version of the ostrich. It's basically an egg on steroids.

And as with any summer activity, we finished the afternoon with a game of soccer. My boy dribbled the ball across the entire field! The young men quickly formed a pick-up game with other youth nearby, using rocks as "goal posts". I played in flip-flops...and thus used that as an excuse for my pathetic skills.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Overnight at Río Mendoza

After some thoughtful planning, I left downtown Mendoza on Friday the 13th and headed towards Luján de Cuyo - past the colorful vineyards, towering poplars, and premium wine cellars southwest of the capital. Lucho, a good friend and outdoor enthusiast, rode along on this scenic bike ride that extended past Blanco Encalada. Here are some highlights...

It felt wonderful to escape the city and return to the great outdoors - clean air, green fields, and mountain peaks in the background. In many ways, I felt like I was back home...with natural elements of both Virginia and Utah. The open countryside offers a unique variety of smells - fresh cut grass, wine fermentation, burning compost, and a combination of onion and garlic fields. For those of you familiar with Argentina's interior, burning compost is a common scent in the air (especially in Salta and Tucumán). Before arriving to our campsite, we veered off the highway and entered a quiet community similar to those rural outposts of the northwest. There, we packed our bags with drinks and cheap hot dogs.

Lucho knows the area better than most. He led us down a bumpy trail of rocks and dust before finding a small island of sand resting along the Mendoza River. Colas de zorro (foxtail plants) lined the shore, with a clear view of the Andean foothills in the distance.

After searching for firewood, we set up our tent and headed into the river for a late afternoon swim. The frigid temperature didn't bother us much, but the current was much stronger than expected. We have proof...

Before leaving home, I was in a rush to turn in some final writing assignments. Being in such a hurry, Tania decided to help out by packing my bag. Unfortunately, she forgot to include my flip-flops. Lucho let me borrow his as we ventured into the water in search of some possible "replacements". Within 10 minutes, we found 8 random flip-flops stuck along the riverside weeds. No pairs. No matches. While kind of gross, it does make you wonder how many one-legged swimmers actually enjoy the river?

With the sun going down, it was time to start the fire...and dinner: those good ol' cheap hot dogs.

The fire lasted a good five hours. A few of the dead roots we found made for some interesting firewood. We then fell asleep...under a near full moon and clear night sky. That far from the city, almost every star can be seen.

The next morning brought a brilliant sunrise across the river's rippled surface. We packed up early and jumped back on our bikes.

The return trip home was a quiet ride along tree-lined avenues...with those dang Andes Mountains always showing up in every photo! To finish our ride, we pulled off the road and entered a picturesque vineyard just outside Luján. With the radiant sun overhead, we scoured the vines for Mendoza's trademark grapes. After taking a few pictures, mingled with the occasional tasting, we got back on the road and ended our latest journey here in western Argentina.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Don't You Wish Your Bike...Was Hot Like Mine?

Once again, we must recognize the creative efforts of Argentina youth. Here, in San Juan, we find ourselves walking towards the bus terminal for our return trip home. However, something grabs Dallin's attention...and we find ourselves admiring these Argentine West Coast Choppers :)

These young men rebuild - or redesign - old bicycles with some very unique features. They then head to the bustling terminal to sell them for profit. The striking orange bike above comes complete with solid black rims and a customized blowtorch on the side - a true necessity for every outdoor excursion.

Below, we find our next model - a jet black bicycle with one very important feature: speakers! Yes, the next time you're on the run, be sure to bring your regetón with you...so the whole neighborhood can hear! Dallin found this specific model quite fascinating...

Disclaimer: Dallin learned those moves from his father...those are not latino genes.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Our Brothers & Sisters del Norte

This year - 2009 - marks 10 years since Tania and I first arrived to Argentina's northwest as full-time missionaries. What a joy it was to labor among the kindest of people inside the region's most humble communities. Our time in Salta left an everlasting impression on our lives...and the lives of others.

Unfortunately, today's news reports from Salta indicate a massive mudslide has devastated the town of Tartagal in the northern limits of the province (outside Bolivia). More than 10,000 residents have been evacuated following torrential rainfall...which swept away a principle bridge in town.

We know that many of our friends back home are quite familiar with this area. I clearly recall such rainstorms in the north, often flooding villages and toppling makeshift homes. May we pray for the safety of those affected in Tartagal...a region often overlooked.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Curbside Car Service

The stoplight turns red...which is their green light to start working.

They wake up early, head into the city, and stake their claim on the most convenient street corner downtown. This is their spot. This is their routine. There are several other street corners...but the congested avenues are already taken.

With squeegees in hand, and a bucket of watered down glass cleaner, these three cousins anxiously wait for cars to line up every 30 seconds - their new "potential clients". The cousins quickly weave around cars, offering their curbside service to all those interested. In most cases, drivers shoo them away with a brisk brush of the hand, or simply roll up their windows to avoid contact. The light then turns green...and they return to their corner and wait.

A few drivers might allow them to clean the occasional windshield. In such cases, all three cousins rush over as a team and hastily soak, wash, and dry all the windows on the car - quite the 20 second workout! Some drivers offer a few coins in return. Others offer cigarettes. Some say, "I'll pay you tomorrow"...while others simply drive off. Credit cards are not accepted :)

Together, as a team, they earn about U$1.00 every 30 minutes. At the end of the day, they split the money among themselves before returning home. One is a father of 2 kids. None of them go to school.

While this might not be a dignified job for some, at least they are not stealing. Instead, they are making a living in a way most people could never imagine. As one cousin told us, "We come from a bad place. But that doesn't mean we aren't good people."

It might not be pretty, but this is an integral part of local culture in Argentina...and we admire it.