All you’ve Ever Wanted to Know about Dinosaurs in Chile

If you come to my house at 8pm each night, you will see three heads huddled over a hard-backed book with several ripped and sellotaped pages thanks to overeager small fingers.  You will likely hear my youngest son babble with excitement at certain pages, while the turning of (the majority of) others prompts my oldest to recite something like the following with perfect diction:

¨That’s Micropachycephalosaurus,¨  He will say (and I’m checking closely – he’s right!), ¨He’s really small and he eats plants and his name is the longest!¨

Sometimes I cannot believe how wondrous children are, the way their brains soak up information like ever-expanding sponges, and the remarkable ability they have to remember intricately the things that interest them (and seemingly not hear other things, like when its time to brush their teeth, tidy their toys away or leave me alone because I’m on the toilet!).  Children have that beautiful ability to find something amazing in the smallest things, like in a pile of freshly-fallen autumn leaves or a great big muddy puddle, and with so many of us in a constant battle against the dreaded clock, we could all take a leaf or two from their book.

But I digress because while this post could easily be about the wisdom of children (!), it is actually about the focus of my kids’ obsessions, specifically dinosaurs in Chile. Did you know Chile is some kind of palaeontological paradise?!  Honestly, it’s amazing so keep reading.

I encourage E’s love of dinosaurs. I think it’s wonderful that he can name 45 species, and it opens up a great discussion around geography, life/death, the circle of life, and the place humans – and all creatures – occupy in the grand scheme of things. I also love that it is his interest that is making me learn so much more about this amazing country, as well as the history of Earth itself, and I am incredibly excited to see where this goes.

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Let’s Begin! The Incredible Truth about Dinosaurs in Chile

(Paraphrased from this article in the Scientific American)

What once walked these lands? Mapusaurus was a carnivorous predator over 10 metres long that likely hunted in packs, and was named in honour of the Mapuche people. Two types of sauropods in the same family of Diplodocus have been discovered in Chile, as well as the footprints of the predator Giganotosaurus, bigger than T-Rex and the 2nd largest meat-eating dinosaur discovered anywhere in the world (beat only by Spinosaurus).  Carnotaurus (you may remember him from the Dinosaur movie and the soon-to-be-released, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom) once lived in Calama, while Coelurosaur remains have been found at the site at Pichasca (Limari Valley).

It's Take Your Dogto Work Day

Right at the bottom of South America is one of the most important sites in South America for fossils. Here you can find the El Puesto excavation site, a place where the dirt crumbles underfoot beside hundreds of fossils. You might find a piece of rib cage here, a femur tip there, while further down whole skeletons have been uncovered.  This zone famously contains a 7km field of hadrosaur (duck-billed herbivore) remains that indicate they were partially burned in a bizarre wildfire. This site, along with others in the area such as Las Chinas and Cerro Guido, provides an unprecedented view into the world of 72-66 million years ago, a time which previously little was known.  What has been discovered in this area is gobsmacking. Titanosaurid sauropods, unique flowers (some perfectly preserved and 72 million years old – a feat considering the fragile nature of the petals), the oldest fossilized leaves in South America (including oak, lenga, and coihue), 40 types of plants, marine creatures, pollen, wood … A few steps to the left and you may come across marine reptiles, a few spots over you may uncover land mammals of the Cenozoic period.  Did you know that the forests of the Cretaceous period that once flourished in Antarctica were almost the same as the forests you can see today in modern day, Valdivia? 

Here scientists have also been able to study the effects of climate change during the end of the Cretacious period, including the 25m fall of the sea level over under a million years which allowed a bridge to form between South America and Antarctica.  Experts have noted that these bridges were important areas of evolution, giving rise to the new notion that climate change is the unique catalyst of new species.

Sites such as these are being studied by international teams funded mostly by Chile’s National Commission for Scientific and Technological Research (CONICYT).

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Introducing the Amazing, Chilesaurus, also known as the Missing Link

Chilesaurus diegosuarezi is its official name, but most of us will probably remember this unusual dinosaur because of the fact it was discovered in Chile – and the fact that this herbivore is so bizarre that it has been named the missing link between the evolution between herbivores and carnivores.

It’s a befuddling creature from the Jurassic period, the size of a small horse which once populated Patagonia 145 million years ago. It is also one of the most important paleontological finds in history, believe it or not, with four almost complete and 8 partially complete skeletons discovered. In 2004 seven-year-old Diego Suarezi discovered the bones while out with his geologist parents near General Carerra Lake, close to the site of breathtaking Marble Caves.  What is interesting about Chilesaurus is that it is a theropod, part of the same family as Carnetaurus and Tyrannosaurus Rex, but bizarrely vegetarian.  It had a beak, for starters, and flat teeth for plant-eating – curioser still it had fingers rather than claws, while still bearing the famous short arms of carnivores.

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Where to Get your Dino Fix in Chile

Until E fell in love with those Cretaceous critters, I had no idea there were so many dino-related excursions in Santiago.  There really is something universal about dinosaurs that kids love, isn’t there?

If you are happy to make a day of it, you can drive/bus/train out to Buin Zoo, a wonderfully-kept zoo about 45minutes from the city centre.  Unlike the widely criticized National Zoo over on Cerro San Cristobal, Buin Zoo has large enclosures, well-maintained grounds and excellent facilities for the whole family.  We love a trip here, although on our most recent trip we didn’t see a whole lot as we barely left the Dino Zoo.  Yes, fellow parents of the dino-obsessed, there really are a place where you can take your child to see life-sized models, and although it’s small, your child will absolutely love it.  Expect to see all the classics AND a giant sandpit to hunt for fossils in!

Closer to home and Santiago has two events on a limited run. The Santiago Planetarium has a showing of Dinosaurios al Atardecer, which explores the history of dinosaurs around the world (Spanish only) followed by a fun group activity.  I was pleasantly surprised by the Planetarium – it isn’t London or New York but it’s fun and E loved it (M did not so sit near the door if you go with small children in case you need to make a swift exit) and the activity was enjoyable for the whole family (we had a hard time getting Luis to leave).  There is a small toy shop with dinosaur/space related trinkets and it wasn’t expensive.  The Planetarium is just a short work from Estacion Central metro station right beside the Universidad de Santiago (USACH) but it has its own entrance.  This film runs until July 1st. NOTE: Do take care of your belongings around this metro station as it is extremely busy and be aware that this metro stop does not have a lift or escalator.

At the other end of town within the gorgeous Parque Araucano park (beside Parque Arauco Mall) you can find Big Bang Park + Chilesaurus, an indoor dinosaur extravaganza that is set to stay until September.  This is the perfect place to take your child to see huge replicas of their favourite dinosaur, including a dino dig and other fun activities. Star of the show is the moving, lifelike Chilesaurus, who your child will love.  Well worth it!

Further afield, in the 6th region to be exact, is the Route of Dinosaur Footprints (Ruta de las Huellas de Dinosaurios). At around 100km from Santiago and 70km from its nearest city (San Fernando), this is an endeavour for the obsessed or the adventurous but no matter who you are you will be left amazed by the visible footprints left by dinosaurs some 150 million years ago. Standing here, it is hard to imagine that the mountains you see before you used to be sea and that the 500 or so footprints dotted about are visible only due to the ash left by volcanic eruptions all those millions of years before.  The 2010 earthquake, one of the largest in world history, actually unearthed even more footprints, and the result is a spectacular journey back in time to a Chile that was very, very different. Promaucaes Outdoor leads guided tours around the area, lasting about three hours (around CLP$10,000), and the trip can be easily combined with a visit to the Termas del Flaco hot springs.  NOTE: both the tour and the hot springs operate only between October and May as the area is inaccessible in winter; you also will need to bring cash.

The Monumento Natural La Pichasca is the culmination of a gorgeous drive over azure reservoirs and past miles of grape-laden hills in the Limari Valley, just on the outskirts of the mining town, Ovalle (45 min from La Serena).  Here the fossils of ginormous Titanosaurus’ have been unearthed (not displayed in the park), as well as petrified forest, pre-Colombian cave paintings  NOTE: Pichasca is a long way from anything, so check opening times before you leave.  It also gets hot and sunny so pack plenty of water – enjoy!

So you Want a Dinosaur Birthday?

Eventosaurio, a small outfit inspired by their own kids’ love of dinosaurs, is all you need to make an original birthday party children will remember.  What child doesn’t want to meet a real, walking baby t-rex?  If you book Eventosaurio to your event, Rexy (and his handlers) will come for a visit – there’s no need to be scared because Rexy is fed beforehand and is only keen to play! You will learn all about dinosaurs during some fun activities before Rexy is unleashed on the partygoers (cue screams!) for some fun and games. Eventosaurio is not a cheap birthday rental and Rexy has some big dimensions, therefore needs quite a bit of space to move around, but if your child is dino-crazy like mine, their ecstatic faces make it all worth it.

Follow them on Facebook here and Instagram here.

Hope you enjoyed this dino-tastic article! If you are new to my blog, please feel free to have a nosey through – I may get a bit honest at times but hopefully you find something that strikes a chord. If you want to read about some other fun facts about Chile, have a read of this article, or for ideas about what to do with kids in Santiago take a look here. As always, if you liked what you read please give it a ´like´ and don’t forget to subscribe to my feed to keep up to date with new posts. I am always looking for new content, so if you have an idea for a story please send me an email to helen@queridarecoleta.com

Writer Emily & her Life in Bariloche

I recently had the pleasure of meeting freelance writer, Emily Hopcian, through work and was intrigued by her stories of life in Bariloche, Argentina. A blog article must surely be on the cards, I thought, and luckly Emily thought so too  Hope you enjoy my first article about Argentina and stay tuned for more.

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Fitzroy Skyline.  Photo: Cascada Expediciones

Who is Emily Hopcian?

I’m a writer and content producer with a focus on outdoor adventure and social and environmental impact storytelling. I was born and raised in Michigan in the U.S. I have a love for most things water, cats and stories that are told well, especially character-driven stories with impact. Most recently, my hunger for travel, outdoor adventure and new challenges brought me to Bariloche, Argentina, where I’m developing a passion for and knowledge of this beautiful, story-filled region; the people who live, work and play here; and the plentiful adventures to be had here.

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Cordon Fitzroy Sunset. Photo: Cascada Expediciones

Why Argentina and why Bariloche?

I’ve had a desire to live outside the U.S. since I studied abroad in Bath, England in 2010. I held onto that dream, and in 2015, I started to seriously consider what living internationally would look like for me. Where did I want to live, and why? And what did I want to get out of living in a place outside the U.S.?

I wanted to learn Spanish. European countries felt similar to the U.S. in many ways, and I knew I wanted to challenge myself. Since I planned to continue working remotely for the company I was with in California, I set my sights on Latin America. Patagonia had been on my list for a while, so I honed in on Argentina and Chile. After talking with some acquaintances in Buenos Aires — yes, they were a bit biased 😊 — and being sold on the idea of a “European city in South America,” I decided to make the leap to Argentina.

I lived in Buenos Aires from November 2016 to May 2017. In short, the city was too much for me — and kilometers and hours, even by plane, from Patagonia. Craving a more natural landscape and the promise of outdoor adventures, I bought a one-way ticket to Bariloche, fell in love with this city and the Patagonian region as a whole and haven’t looked back.

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Photo: Emily Hopcian

How have you found living in Argentina?

I’ve experienced plenty of ups and downs in living here, but I also think that’s an ingredient for life no matter where you’re living. Landing in Buenos Aires, not knowing anyone, not speaking Spanish and navigating my own way were all significant challenges for me. I’ve been taking steps since day one and figuring it out as I go along. I learned a lot while living in Buenos Aires — castellano, what I need in my daily routine, good places to meet people with similar values, etc. — that helped me hit my stride here in Bariloche much faster.

I find the people and culture in Bariloche to be warmer and more welcoming than Buenos Aires. I think Bariloche attracts people with a more laid-back lifestyle. Which is not to say I didn’t meet great people in Buenos Aires. I did. Some of my favorite friends are from / still live there. Bariloche, as a whole, simply has more of what I’m looking for in my life.

For me, the biggest downside to living in Argentina is being so far from my family, who I’m very close to. Modern technology makes it easy to communicate and even see each other, but there are definitely moments when I miss the comforts of home, the things that are familiar to me — and my family is a big part of that. Suddenly losing my 10-year-old cat and watching my sister undergo brain surgery have been two of the toughest events to navigate from afar.

What have been your favourite travel experiences so far in Argentina?

My favorite travels have been in the Patagonian region, primarily El Chaltén. For me, Patagonia is everything I’d read about and so much more. The wild, remote landscape and simpler, richer pace of life are tough to come by in our world. Perhaps it’s the Michigander in me, but I like that the challenging weather is a defining characteristic of this region. Patagonia makes you work for your adventures.

In Bariloche, I love the plethora of opportunities for getting outside. I don’t have a car here and still find it incredibly easy to walk out of my tiny house and be up in the mountains hiking and camping overnight at one of Bariloche’s refugios (mountain huts) — a must-do if you come to visit — or near this region’s many lakes.

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Photo: Emily Hopcian

What are your favorite things to do and places to eat in Bariloche?

I enjoy hiking and camping in the mountains, and I’ve been learning to rock climb, which is a lot of fun and a great challenge to learn something entirely new in a foreign language. In terms of Bariloche’s refugios, Refugio Frey and Refugio Laguna Negra are my favorites. Cerrito Llao Llao is a great, quick hike with amazing views.

Cerveceria Berlina at Km 12 is one of my favorite places for beer and food; I usually get pizza. Cerveceria Patagonia has great brews and views. Delirante Cafe and Vertiente are two of my favorite cafes. Bellevue, Meiling Casa de Te and Chiado are cozy tea houses with great views. Rapa Nui is easily a favorite for chocolate and ice cream — as is Dolce Rama, which is right in my neighborhood.

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Grey Fox. Photo: Cascada Expediciones

How would you describe the local culture?

I feel as though the local culture is diverse here — meaning that it is what you make of it. For me, in many ways, the culture is reminiscent of a mountain town in the U.S. I lived in Jackson, Wyoming, for a short period of time, and while Bariloche feels and is bigger than Jackson, I see similarities, mostly in terms of an outdoor lifestyle. People are drawn to the mountains and outdoor activities.

That said, the influence of Argentine Patagonia is felt here. Asados in a friend’s jardín or el campo. The tradition of sharing a mate, conversation and time with friends is alive and well — be it in someone’s house, on one of Bariloche’s many beaches or up in the mountains at a refugio. For me, these two things — asados (barbeque) and mate (herbal drink from Patagonia) — reflect the slower, more easygoing pace of life here. There’s something about Bariloche that makes life feel a little simpler.

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Photo: Emily Hopcian

You recently spent some time volunteering with the Torres del Paine Legacy Fund. Can you tell us about this experience?

The Legacy Fund is leading thoughtful, innovative projects in Torres del Paine and in the surrounding communities. It was a great pleasure to join them on trail and conservation projects earlier this year — and to spend more time in such an incredible national park. One thing that’s really struck me about the Legacy Fund is that they’re working collaboratively to address local priorities — true partnerships with public and private stakeholders, both local and foreign, and park authorities. My experience with the Legacy Fund was educational and also a great chance to meet like-minded individuals from both Chile and the U.S. and swap stories and ideas with them, while contributing to a more sustainable future for the park and the communities surrounding it. In particular, I think it’s pretty neat that, as a volunteer, you play a role in positively contributing to the future of Torres del Paine. It’s an experience that is far different from that of your everyday visitor.

What are some of the pressing issues you see affecting Bariloche right now?

I think Bariloche is facing issues of continued expansion and development. In speaking with friends who grew up here, it’s my understanding that the population has grown dramatically in the past 20 or so years. Most people living here did not grow up in Bariloche. Many are from Buenos Aires and other cities in the north of Argentina. There’s obviously also a group of expats, like myself, here. There are other current events here — one having to do with the Mapuches who are native to this land and another having to do with Cerro Catedral, the ski mountain — but I don’t know enough about those events to explain or comment on them.

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Photo: Emily Hopcian

You are a freelance journalist. Can you share any tips for people looking to get started in the industry?

In terms of freelance writing, know who you’re pitching to. Know the publication or brand. Know their departments and campaigns. Know what types of stories they feature and what tone of voice they use. Do your research. Search online for pitch or story submission guidelines. Follow those guidelines. When possible, reach out to a real person — not just a general email. The best way to do that is by reading through mastheads or web pages that list employees. Social media can be a good tool for connecting with editors or making contact to then follow-up via email.

I’ve found sending three story ideas — sample headline + a story idea with the who, what and why now baked in — to work well. It gives editors a menu of sorts to choose from. I also mention whether I have photos, have access to photos or know a photographer who can capture photos for the stories I’m pitching.

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Photo: Cascada Expediciones

What is next for Emily?

At the end of January, I stepped into freelance writing and storytelling full-time. I’m navigating the challenges and victories that come with such a move. I’m starting my own creative agency with a focus on character-driven stories in outdoor adventure and social and environmental impact — especially stories local to Patagonia — told via writing, photos and videos.

In living, traveling and building community here, I’ve realized that there’s a gap in the outdoor and travel industries’ storytelling. We often tell stories of Americans and Europeans traveling and adventuring in foreign spaces, like Patagonia, but we don’t often share the stories of locals adventuring in their own backyards. I believe there’s a missed opportunity for cultural — and, quite simply, human — connection and to encourage all of us to think about / see places and our role in them differently as we explore. So I want to share the stories of locals in their own backyards, starting with the Argentines and Chileans in Patagonia.

Beyond Patagonia, I’m also working on bringing a mid-length documentary to life about a Nepalese female mountain guide in the Himalayas.

I plan to continue living in Bariloche, making a home and community for myself here — and would like to rescue a cat later this year.

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Photo: Emily Hopcian

Keep up to date with Emily’s adventures in Argentina by reading her blog. You can also follow her on Instagram and on Twitter