Friday, May 30, 2014

Bucket List Checked: Peru (p.5)

Archaeology is the only discipline that seeks to study human behavior and thought without having any direct contact with either.
~ Bruce Trigger

When we last saw our intrepid couple, they had hiked approximately 1,000,000 miles - across a barren desert during a sand storm, through a swamp dotted with quicksand pits, into a dark, dangerous jungle - and arrived at the edge of the earth - the Sun Gate overlooking Machu Picchu.

Here is their version of the "must have" (i.e., everyone who has ever been, has one exactly like this) photograph of Machu Picchu, in the late afternoon sun, from the Sun Gate:

...and here they are, weary and battered - but not beaten! - before they hike through Machu Picchu to the bus station - to take a bus to their hotel for the night.  (Which, of course, is run by dangerous pirates and vampires, so it's not as if they are doing anything boring or ordinary...)

Anyways, we returned to Machu Picchu the next morning, for a leisurely day of exploring and photographing the ruins.  It turned out to be a misty, rainy day...  So, prepare yourself for some "mood shots."   ;)

We did get some interesting close-up shots.  Look at these three architecture shots - this first shot is believed to be pre-Inca walls found beneath the Inca buildings - structures that the Incas supposedly took advantage of when they came into control of this land:  

The next is believed by archaeologists to be Inca housing - thrown together relatively quickly:  

Finally, the Inca temple walls - showing an incredible amount of care and precision in their construction:  

Supposedly they didn't use any mortar - and their building techniques were so good that these buildings have survived all sorts of natural disasters including earthquakes.  

It was also really cool how the Incas built a series of small channels (or aqueducts) all throughout the city to control the flow of water - and then added a series of 16 fountains along one section, possibly for the aesthetic appeal.  

It did clear up a tiny bit in the early afternoon...

The picture above shows the sun temple in the foreground - it works kind of like a sundial for the summer and winter solstices - they can be exactly identified by the way in which they cast shadows in this temple.  It is believed that the Incas used this type of astronomically-based calendar to guide their planting and harvesting activities.  

Speaking of the sun, this little bit of light allowed us to catch a shot of some of the llamas roaming the grounds:

And that, my friends, was our day in Machu Picchu.  :)

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Bucket List Checked: Peru (p.4)

We don't stop hiking because we grow old -
we grow old because we stop hiking.  
~ Finis Mitchell

Years ago, when I first learned about Machu Picchu, there were 2 ways in.  Either you were cool and hiked in along the original Inca Trail - a 3-4 day major expedition that involves camping, porters and a cook - OR you were lame and rode a train all the way there.  Back then, obviously, we were going to be cool and do the hike...  ;)

The downside to putting off your dreams for 30 years or so is that you aren't quite the same person that you were originally...  I checked with my body and the message I got back was, "No way am I carrying you on a 3-4 day hike!  Feel free to go without me..."  

Luckily, a new option became available sometime in the interim.  It is called the "Short Inca Trail" and you ride the train MOST of the way to Machu Picchu, but get off a bit early and hike in to Machu Picchu (with a certified guide) along the last 8 miles or so of the Inca Trail.  

(My body wasn't really optimistic about even this option, but I ignored it and signed us up anyways.)  

The train runs alongside the river at the bottom of the Sacred Valley.  We exited the train at the 104 km mark (it stopped for us - we didn't actually have to jump off a moving train) and hiked halfway up the mountain on your right side (below).  Then we followed the path along the side of that mountain for maybe 3 miles or so.  

Here is a couple hiking behind us (for a while, anyways - I wasn't exactly speedy) on the side of that first mountain:  

After a while, the trail descends that mountain and leads up another mountain, where hikers visit an Inca site called Wiñay Wayna - you can see it behind us in the picture below:  

On the way to this ruin, we passed a beautiful waterfall!  

There is a pretty steep grade to get to Wiñay Wayna (an elevation gain of about 2,000 feet!) and I was very happy to get there and be able to take a break!  

Here are a couple of shots, looking back down the Sacred Valley from this site:  

If you look closely at the picture below, you can see the waterfall on the other side of the ruins...  

Once we ate lunch, took a break and got a tour of the ruins, the hike continued, into a "cloud forest" - even higher than a rain forest!  We saw lots of beautiful flowers, like these delicate orchids:  

Most of this part of the hike was relatively flat - with just one last staircase (original to the Inca Trail!) to conquer...  

... before we arrived at the Sun Gate, above Machu Picchu.  

Our first view of Machu Picchu brought tears to our eyes (although I'll leave it to the reader to decide if those were tears of awe at the sight or tears of relief that the hike was over!)  

It took us seven hours, from the time that we left the train to the time we reached the Sun Gate, and another hour to walk down through Machu Picchu and get to the bus station for a ride to our hotel.  

I walked slowly and had to rest often - but I think it was mostly due to the altitude, not physical weakness.  I say this because I wasn't sore the next day.  Oh, I was a bit stiff - but it was easy to shake off and I didn't have any real muscle pain.  

I'm so glad we did the hike - it was beautiful and, for all that it tires my body, it refreshes my soul...  :)

Tomorrow I'll show you some pictures from Machu Picchu!  :)

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Bucket List Checked: Peru (p.3)

don't think,
just embrace your inner alpaca.
~ gabriel cano-garraway

While in Peru, we ran into examples of two types of animals - camelids and canines.

Camelids (which I know only because I just looked it up on Google) include llamas, alpacas and vicuñas.

What is the difference between a llama, an alpaca and a vicuña?  Well, in Peru I learned that llamas were bred to be pack animals and their fur is not used for wool.  But alpacas were bred for their wool.  And vicuñas have the best wool of all - but they have never been successfully domesticated - so the wild ones are rounded up once a year and sheared, before being released back into the wild.

Here is a picture of a vicuña (in a little roadside "zoo"):

I still can't really tell llamas and alpacas apart by looks.  But I have noticed that they both like to eat grass...  A LOT!  

... and have adorable babies...

Here is someone pretending to be a Dalmatian - guess he didn't see the movie to know that there will still be people out there who want his fur!  

And here is someone who is apparently hoping that "dreadlocks" will spare him from the shearer's tools...

(If you are thinking, "Those last two pictures are llamas, they don't get shorn" - then I respond, "Ah!  But maybe they don't know that...")

Anyways, I can report that we were not spit on by any type of camelid whatsoever...  ;)

We also saw a lot of dogs.  Now, we saw a lot of stray dogs running around in Mexico, but they all looked like they were starving and suffering.  It was hard to look at them - we certainly didn't take any pictures of them.  :(

But the dogs running around the streets in Peru actually looked reasonably healthy.  I'm not sure how or when they are fed, but you can see for yourself that they pretty much look comfortable and "at home."  

They were generally either watching the world go by:

Grabbing a bite to eat:

or napping in the middle of the market place:  

or a doorway:  

This one found a small ledge to nap under, for protection from the rain:

He didn't budge an inch when people went up to the counter to purchase postcards, hat pins or books.  ;)

More pictures tomorrow!  

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Bucket List Checked: Peru (p.2)

Because in the end, you won't remember the time you spent
working in the office or mowing your lawn.
Climb that goddamn mountain.
~ Jack Kerouac

We spent our first couple of days in the Sacred Valley, letting our sea-level bodies acclimatize to the 7,000 - 9,000 feet above sea level area.  But we didn't just lie around all day drinking coca tea, no siree, Bob...

We used to go rock climbing in a gym regularly, and so we jumped at the chance to get some real rocks beneath our fingers on this Via Ferrata:

The via ferrata consists of a series of steel cables and ladder steps bolted up a mountainside.  Your harness has two "straps" - each of which has a "clip" (carabiner) on the end.  As you climb, you always keep at least one of your straps clipped onto the cable.  You have two straps so that you can clip one onto the new stretch of cable before unclipping from the old stretch of cable.

Here we are - sandwiched between our two guides (Cesar and Patrick) - looking up before we start our climb:

And then the fun starts!  Look how small those cars are!

Most of this via ferrata had rungs, so there wasn't much climbing on the rock itself actually required - but I used the rock whenever I could (especially for my feet).

The scariest part was this "bridge" - two cables set about 4 inches apart for your feet and one cable for your hands - I wasn't sure I was going to make it across!  But I just kept repeating this mantra over and over again, until I was across,  "Go slowly.  Lean forward.  You can do it."

Look at us climbing above the Sacred Valley!  

One of our guides commented that he hoped that he and his girlfriend were still doing things like climbing together, when they were old...    It's getting harder and harder to feel shocked and indignant when people refer to us as old...  Sigh...  

We used a series of five zip lines to descend the mountains.  That was a first for both of us.  I expected to be pretty terrified (I hate the sensation of falling!), but it turned out that I couldn't really tell how fast I was moving on the zip line and so it ended up not being scary...  No pictures of that part - sorry.  

Bottom line - the climbing was a blast!  It was an awesome day!  :)

Monday, May 26, 2014

Bucket List Checked: Peru (p.1)

Go to the Black Sea, meet new people, see beautiful places,
get killed by a mutant, carnivorous kangaroo goat.
One item off my bucket list.
~ Ilona Andrews

I'm sorry I've been neglecting my blog for a while - life got a bit overwhelming while I was preparing for last week...  

"Oh, what was last week?", you ask.  

(Unless, of course, you read the title of this blog post, in which case you already know the answer...)

Yes, last week was our once-in-a-lifetime, bucket-list trip to see Machu Picchu, in Peru.  I have wanted to see Machu Picchu for about 30 years - ever since I first heard of it and saw some pictures.  

For the longest time, I couldn't imagine myself going - it seemed too far away, too foreign...  Out of reach for a Midwestern girl whose Ohio-based family considered a visit to Missouri to see the grandparents to be a summer vacation.  

But my husband and I have been traveling every summer, getting more and more adventurous with age (isn't that backwards?) - starting with driving and photographing our way through National Parks within the US and expanding to other modes of transportation (a houseboat!) and other activities (mountain climbing!) and other countries...  First, there were countries where they spoke English - like England, Wales, Iceland, etc.  

Now, as my ability to speak Spanish improves, countries like Mexico (2013) and, in 2014 - Peru.  

It was weird - I spent most of the trip in complete awe - not able to believe that I was actually IN PERU!  Me - nobody special - just some middle-aged, middle-class U.S. citizen...  

And yet, on the other hand, I was surrounded by hundreds of tourists - many from the U.S. and plenty of them middle-aged, greying hair, a bit pot-bellied - just like me - making it clear that, indeed, of course I could be there.  ;)

I'm pretty sure there's some deep lesson in there somewhere - about how we limit ourselves in life, unintentionally...

But, that's enough philosophizing - let's get to the good stuff.  The pictures!  

I'll start with pictures from the markets - I was overwhelmed by the colors and patterns to be seen everywhere - for a person interested in textiles and colors, it was the epitome of a feast for the eyes and the soul!  :)

There is no way to capture it in a few pictures, but here are some of my attempts.  Enjoy!  :)

Try to imagine aisles and aisles of booths and displays like this (above) and this (below)... 

Yes, this is my husband, about to try chewing on some coca leaves to "help reduce altitude sickness"...   Yeah, right...  ;)

Actually, we both chewed coca leaves and drank coca tea and neither of us had any serious issues with the altitude.  (Although, those data are only correlational, and causality should not be inferred!)    

We were lucky to have been there on a Sunday, when there was also a food market going on:  

Take a look at all those fresh fruits!  

My favorite picture of all - can you imagine running your fingers up and down all these bright, beautiful, hand-woven fabrics?  Joann Fabric's has NOTHING on this place:  

I've got at least a week's worth of pictures and I'll try to get some up every day - as a teaser, some themes will be: Machu Picchu (duh!), the short Inca Trail, mountain climbing, animals, weaving and the children.  :)

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Spring Cleaning

Our house is clean enough to be healthy,
and dirty enough to be happy.  
~ Author Unknown

So, most of our weekend was filled cleaning our pool and lanai -  in preparation for the start of our monthly summer pool parties! - but I did manage to get a little bit of time bonding with my sewing machine...

I'm in a car pool with three other women - one of whom is a major Gators fan and the other of whom (a relatively recent addition to our car pool) is a major Seminoles fan.  I made the Gators fan a Gators "not ugly car trash bag" (from One Yard Wonders) as a Christmas gift in 2012, and it has been driving the Seminole fan crazy to have to look at it every time she rides in the back seat of that car.  

(And there may have been some gloating, on the part of the Gator fan...)

So this weekend I whipped up another "not ugly car trash bag"

I'm happy with how the images on the front pocket line up with the fabric of the main panel, but I was less happy with my treatment of the binding - why do I still have trouble getting bias binding attached nicely?  :(

The front pocket is just fabric - maybe a good spot for a map - (not that anyone but me uses maps any more these days - it's all about GPS) - but I line the main pouch with plastic, to make it easy to wipe out if something sticky gets thrown away in it...  

My carpool-mate hasn't noticed the imperfect bias binding (and I restrained myself from pointing it out to her - yay!) and was happy to finally have her own team represented!  Now she can do some (car) spring cleaning of her own...  ;)