Archive for the ‘Travels – I Has Them’ Category

South America 2015, Part 6.

Sunday, September 27th, 2015

More Machu Picchu pics! Not taken by me whatsoever. I’ll explain. After Day 1 at the site, we were given the option of getting up the next morning at 4:30, lining up for an hour or two at the entrance to the village, and going on one of two long hikes around the area. I opted to stay in the room and meet everyone at lunch. My niece Drea, however, due to her ability to walk very quickly, managed to do both hikes and took pictures. These are her pictures. My pictures would have been of my pillow. Because I was sleeping.

Drea hiked this far away from the place we had been the day before on the first hike. After looking at this picture I feel I made the right decision.


The other hike was to go see the Incan Bridge. I don’t know what your preconceived notion of a bridge is, but this is so creepy-scary.

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Then they returned to the town we were staying in for lunch and we got ready to head out.


But not before seeing another hairless dog:


And visiting the local flea market.

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We headed out in the bus and got to visit a local breadmaker.


He is the fourth generation in his family to be a breadmaker and work at this bakery (which his grandfather built). There is a fifteen-foot-in-diameter domed oven fueled by eucalyptus wood and this man slides the loaves into the oven using a super-long pizza paddle, also made from eucalyptus wood. People are encouraged to use eucalyptus wood for anything and everything because it’s an invasive species from Australia and it uses up a lot of the ground water, preventing indigenous species from thriving.


The loaves he is holding? They have ducks on them because that’s his family’s crest. They were soooooo yummers. He pulled them fresh out of the oven and they were warm and fluffy and had a thin crust on top of crystallized suger and anise. Normally I’m not on Team Black Licorice but for some reason I could not stop stuffing what amounted to probably half a loaf of this bread into my mouth. So. Good.

The most interesting thing I saw at the bakery was how he gauged the heat of the oven. On top of the oven is a water tank. Off to the side is a rudimentary faucet that the water tank flows into. This breadmaker turns the faucet on and the quantity of steam that comes out tells him how hot the oven is. Amazing.


He also let us try another bread that had a large air pocket at the top. I think that bread is more about how cool that looks versus how good it tastes. I mean, it was fine but after the magic of Duck Anise Bread all others pale in comparison.

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After snorfing ourselves into a bread coma we visited Tipon. Tipon is another terraced ruin but this one is different because this is where they did experiments on their crops, grafting and the like. There are 3,800 types of potatoes in Peru, as well as quinoa and corn and tons of other foods, and this is where they made them less bitter or hardier. The part of Tipon that is most impressive is the canals built to channel the water all around the three-sided amphitheater space.

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Look at how convoluted that is. These are people who did not have a written language, but they figured out the complex engineering needed to pull this off. That is so impressive. The Inca even figured out that if they made the vertical canals thinner on the outer edge it would reduce splashing at the bottom which would reduce waste. That’s pretty ingenious.


We also visited another site called Sacsayhuaman (pronounced “Sexy Woman,” really). We walked through a grove of a typical Peruvian tree. I avoids growing lichen by have bark that resembles filo dough pastry.

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The reason we were visiting this particular site was the size of the stones the Inca had dragged to this place. They’re the biggest at any site. No one knows how they got them here. This is Drea modelling to show scale.


It’s laid out in a zigzag formation to resemble lightning, something the Incas considered sacred.

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And the wind at the top of this hill never stops blowing ever. Therefore there’s some serious erosion on some of these stones.


There were two things I really liked seeing at Sacsayhuaman: one was the rock that looked like it had been pushed through a Play-Doh press (because it was once lava that was squoozed out onto this hilltop):


And the other was the llama waiting outside the gates. Peruvian people will dress up in local costume and pose for pictures outside various sites and I never felt compelled to take pictures with them. Until this llama came into my life. It was the most glamorous llama I had ever seen. Look at those lashes. It is the Marilyn Monroe of llamas.

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If I could have bought that llama and brought it home, I would have. My goodness. Apparently The Moomins is holding a lamb in some of these pictures but I can’t see them because my vision is consumed by the majestic llama. I heart this llama. I heart it bad.

We ended the day walking through a natural labyrinth where sacrifices were made.

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We know that the Incas did not carve out the altar area because the rivulets of dried sediment on the walls (they would be stalactites if they were drippier) are over 10,000 years old which is older than the Incas.


They did carve out the altar (in the shape of the Inca cross) and that big square space you see in the back, that was lined with silver or gold to reflect the light onto the altar itself because it was kind of dark down there.


Coming up: A last day in Cusco and then off to Ecuador.

South America 2015, Part 5.

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2015

Get ready y’all cuz we goin’ to MACHU PICCHU today!

But first, other stuff! Sorry about that.

We went to a family home for lunch one day. To get there we got to ride in a modified motorcycle. I thought it would be bumpy or scary but it was quite pleasant. I want one now to tool around in.

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The homeowners cook local cuisine using things grown in their garden. Like herbs (look at all that dill):


And tree tomatoes which I did not know existed. They are very sweet so they are treated like a typical fruit – juices, jams, dessert, etc.


You know what else is grown in the garden? Guinea pigs. Edible guinea pigs. Yep.


I ate some guinea pig.


Good news – it does not taste like chicken as apparently everything else in the world does. Bad news – it does not taste delicious in any way. It is very bony so one has to dig all around or end up with displeasing crunchiness. And the flavor is most like a boiled turkey leg. I don’t regret eating it but it was bleh. Meat isn’t consumed as much as it is here. You know the lupin flower? It’s a really pretty decorative plant, go look it up. Well, they have little beans that the Peruvians gather and then boil. But these are no ordinary beans, no no. They are chock-full of protein so, along with the protein-packed grass seed quinoa, one could have a meat-free existence and get all the protein required.


For dessert we had tree tomatoes cooked in syrup.


Then… the next day… Machu Picchu.

We got to ride on a fancy oldy-timey train with skylights (instantly awesome b/c skylights). It took us to the base of the apu (mountain) that Machu Picchu is perched on. You could get hot tea with spices in them or eclectic fruit juices.

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We passed some Inca ruins on the way up but I was becoming immune to them by then. Seriously, they are all over the countryside.


After we pulled into the train station, the bus trip began. Whatever they are paying those bus drivers, it is not enough. They are amazing. The road is EXACTLY two buses wide, it’s windy and there’s no barrier on the edge. When we arrived outside the gate of Machu Picchu you could see how high we had come in the bus. That aqua-colored roof way down there is the train station.


We were greeted by a series of signs. Machu Picchu, bein’ out of the way and all that, was “Columbused” in 1911 by American explorer and Indiana Jones inspiration Hiram Bingham. To Columbus something is to come across a place that local people have known about for forever, but because you’re white you’ve discovered it and now it matters. Anyway, one of those plaques honors Hiram for finding this place all by himself except for all the help he got from local farmers. And then Hiram unearthed and exported somewhere between 4,000 and 40,000 artifacts but by all means let’s honor him and give him all this credit. Good stuff. Great guy.


And then, the stairs. STAIRS. Staaaaaaiiiiiirrrrrrrs.

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But it was totally worth it. Absolutely breathtaking. Oh my goodness.


Here’s a fun fact: Machu Picchu (meaning “Old Peak”) isn’t the name of the town we’re looking at there. It’s the name of one of the two mountains the village is nestled betwixt. In all the famous pictures, the mountain on the right side is the other mountain, Wayna Picchu (“young peak”). There’s some storehouses on the tippy-top of Wayna Picchu. When Cricket went to Peru a few years back he climbed Wayna Picchu. I do not know how. I get tired looking at it.


Pictures of the actual Machu Picchu. The Cusco flag is on top.

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If you look out from the village, you are surrounded by many beautiful steep green mountains. It fills your eye.


The archaeologists decided to put thatch on the roof of one of the houses to show what it might have looked like but left the rest bare.

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Something I may not have mentioned is that the Inca and pre-Inca cultures did not have a written language so archaeologists have to do a lot of guessing. “We think they may have used this for…”  But the Incan people tended to follow the same kind of structure, so at least the people studying this site know which are the important and unimportant buildings based on the quality of stone, same as Ollantaytambo.


Another interesting fact: The Inca didn’t use slaves to build pretty much anything. Instead of collecting taxes, people would go to one of these sites for three months and work on them, being that these storehouses, temples and terraces were considered part of the greater good. The remaining nine months the citizens were left to their own devices.

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There is one rounded building. No one knows why. It is considered to be a temple devoted to the sun. But once again, that’s just a guess.


There’s a kite-shaped stone in another religious site. This one is easier to figure out. It mimics the exact shape of the Southern Cross, a common constellation. And it points in the exact same direction that the Southern Cross does. In the photo Henry is using the compass in Drea’s phone to show us how spot-on the placement of the stone is.


There are religious sites all over the village. This one was for stargazing. The building had no roof and those two circular pools are for looking at the stars reflected off the water so one would not get a crick in one’s neck.


This is an altar with the Incan cross theme.

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And the people saw a rock split in the middle and decided it looked like a condor’s wings so they made an altar directly below it mimicking the shape of a condor’s head. One could perform sacrifices and the blood would flow down and pool next to the condor’s beak in that bowl area so it was as if you were feeding the gods.


This altar has a amusing story. In the 1970s a film crew came to make a documentary and someone dropped a heavy camera on the altar and that’s why that corner is chipped. So no more film crews are allowed on the mountaintop.


And it is true Machu Picchu is falling down. Part of that is because of all the visitors but a portion of it is the mountain shifting. So the stones are coming apart. The archaeologists intend to prop the buildings up with scaffolding but not rebuild them.

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It was so amazing, both the village and the surrounding landscape. We wandered around for over two hours and I loved it.

Next entry: more Incan ruins. And bread. Really delicious bread.

South America 2015, Part 3.

Saturday, September 12th, 2015

Ollantaytambo! A place! With terraces. And stairs. Omigod, stairs. Pre-Columbian stairs can SUCK IT. I, for one, am thrilled the Spanish came and conquered and destroyed an ancient culture because you know what they brought with them? Stairs with uniform height and depth. And railings. Magical magical railings. Hooray for European oppressors! (I seriously hated the stairs.)

But before the nightmare stairs we shall visit a local village. Unlike most cities, the major cities we visited were nowhere near a major water source. What they did have was very fertile land and melting icecaps on mountains that made rivers. A neat thing is sometimes they would build the town so the water could flow through the town in channels on the sides of the streets.


That’s not for trash or waste, that’s fresh water that one could dip one’s pot into and use for cooking or cleaning. And remember I said there was old ruins all over place and I was not kidding, they are seriously everywhere. And wisely everyone decided ” Waste not want not” and built new village components on top of the old ruins. That’s why the bottom part is stone and the top part is stucco.

We went into a typical home interior. It was amazing. I loved it. I was the only one. We’ll get into why in a moment. It had a cement floor and the walls were leftover Inca ruins. The roof was corrugated iron sheets with panels cut out for skylights. If I had to sum up my trip to Peru it would be: A new appreciation for skylights. They are in 80% of the buildings and it immediately improves everything. Places that would be glum and dark are bright and spacious. I am now firmly on the skylight camp. Anyway, back to this house. It was just one big room with no windows, only stone niches for storage, about 50 feet by 50 feet and about 12 feet high. And everything a family could ever need was inside. One one side of the room was two beds:


On the other side was an oven-stove thing built into the wall (so far, fine, totally normal):


Hanging from the ceiling is dried fish, dried alpaca meat and corn (it didn’t smell therefore still okay):


Here’s where it takes the turn and only Jessica is happy about it: Under the antique sewing machine is where the guinea pigs hang out eating alfalfa, no cages or anything, free-range (remember, this is a one-room house):

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Next to that is the family’s religious shrine with the skulls of Great-Grampa, Great-Great-Grampa and Great-Gramma sitting in the niche above the table of religious accoutrements. Yep. This is directly across from the beds so while you go to sleep you’re staring at your dead ancestors’ empty eye sockets. Sleep tight.

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See those white-ish things off to the side? I thought they were giant radishes. Nope! Dried stillborn llama babies. Always a good choice in home decoration. Beautifully paired with Granny’s skull. I think this is in the Crate & Barrel collection this season.

You’ll notice that the religious elements on the table are not Christian. That’s an interesting thing. 85% of Peru’s population is Catholic, but most of them consider themselves really fluid in that regard. They will go to mass on Sunday, but they will also go to a faith healer and worship the ancient gods. Ergo the pre-Columbian religious elements. In the pumas and llamas there there are holes in the top that look like they should be for candles, but they are filled with llama fat. The belief is that if you put the fat of an animal in these figures, they come to life and can help you communicate with the gods.

Okay, off to Ollantaytambo. Big ole terraced ruin. I don’t think people lived there, they farmed there and there was a sun temple but no homes.


Beautiful, huh? LOOK AT THE SLOPE OF THE MOUNTAIN. Look at it. I climbed that. At 9,000 feet. If I could breathe I would have been non-stop moaning.


Oh God whyyyyyyy stairrrrrrrrrrrs so many so uneven so lumpy ehhhhhhhhhh

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This was my first foray into Inca architecture. I learned so much. Let me see if I can recall all the things I was taught.


All the stones were brought from somewhere else. That means that people dragged these monsters from whatever valley they originated up this steep mountainside. And in the picture below you’ll notice that the quality of the stones show the importance of the building. The terraces have meh rocks, the higher levels have large hand-cut stones that have been fitted and the top level where the temple was has giant, beautifully hewn and fitted stones. THAT means that the big beautiful stones had to be dragged up even higher. Wow.


Double doorways delineate building entrances. So when you see a doorway nestled in a doorway that means building entrance, not just room entrance. When you’re walking around ruins with no roof or any furniture it helps you figure out how the floor plan was laid out.

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No mortar was used in the buildings because of earthquakes. It allowed the stones to shift a little bit. That’s the same reason the niches and windows are trapezoidal and smaller on top. Smart, those Inca people. You think, being so smart, they would BUILD A DECENT SET OF STAIRS okay I’m done.


Those nubbles sticking out is how archaeologists think they stones were moved. The builders would wrap ropes around those and pull. Then, when the stones were in place the nubbles were buffed away using other pieces of granite.


In order to match the stone shapes exactly they would lay out the entire bottom layer, then make put clay on top of that. That made a mold they could follow exactly while carving. They also made tongue-and-groove joints inside the wall for added structural integrity.


If stones fell off the walls (or were pushed off by the Spaniards, let’s be real here) the archaeologists didn’t try to put them back, they simply lined them up in neat rows on the terraces below. Cool bit of info about the terraces – there is no drainage on them. That’s because the bottom layer is rock chunks, then there’s ash and on top is soil brought up from the Sacred Valley. The water on the top terraces drain down to that rock-chunk layer and that feeds the terrace below and so on and so forth. That means no flooding or stagnant water pools.


The wind up in the mountains is pretty intense. I think this picture really shows how non-stop it is, with the tree and the sitting area. And there are government-owned alpacas! Most of the ruins we went to had government-owned alpacas or llamas on them. The government thinks they enhance the places and Lord knows I ain’t complainin’.

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These are examples of that Incan cross I spoke of earlier with the three steps. It references the three planes of existence. It’s a common theme and we saw it all the time.

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This is the view from Ollantaytambo to the storehouses across the way.


Since it rains so infrequently there buildings can be built out of mud. I would be concerned all the time about every cloud but another reason I found to not be on Team Adobe was when I saw all these holes and asked our guide Henry what they were. “Bee holes,” he said.

After Ollantaytambo we had an opportunity to actually see how the adobe bricks are made. A team of men were adding water to the dirt and incorporating straw into the mix, then smooshing it into a mold with their feet, gently removing the mold and letting it dry for about four days. The Moomins was delighted about the chance to assist with the smooshing. That shoe came off so fast and her foot was in there.

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I’m still not feeling the “building the house out of mud” thing, but if it works for them, more power to them.

Next entry: Pre-Machu Picchu. With maybe a sprinkling of Machu Picchu, we’ll see.

South America 2015, Part 2.

Sunday, September 6th, 2015

Cusco! It’s 11,000 above sea level! It was bizarre. I felt fine as long as I walked on flat ground. Then I would step up one step and I would be winded and have to lie down because the blackness would fill my eyes. It took me a long long time to acclimate, even a little. I suffer from sleep apnea here on ground level and the apnea was far worse at high elevations. I think my body thought I wasn’t breathing so I woke up violently every 30 minutes or so. I would be sleeping peacefully, then “NKAH!!!” and I would sit up straight in bed. But not everything is ever all bad. It was so dry and crisp at that height I didn’t have any allergies and my skin stayed really clear. Silver linings, y’all.

First, a few unrelated-to-Cusco pictures. This is the Chakana, the Inca Cross. It is going to be referenced over and over. You can see the condor, puma, snake thing I mentioned in the previous blog entry.


Something you need to be prepared for in South America – you can’t flush your toilet paper in the toilet. You put it in the wastepaper basket off to the side. It takes some getting used to.

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Okay, so, Cusco. This was the photo I took from the bus as soon as I landed. I think it’s pretty evocative. Love the hat seller. Hats are big there being that you’re six inches from the sun.


Another fun thing was Drea’s bag of Doritos that she brought from the U.S. It did not care for the altitude, no it did not.


Cusco had my dream setup. Don’t like the church on the left? We conveniently have the church on the right. Right next to the super-old little church there all the way on the far right.

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There was also those Spanish-style wooden balconies all along the main square.


But our guide Henry didn’t want us staying in Cusco our first night. We went down into the Sacred Valley which was only 9,000 feet up so we didn’t all die immediately. It also gave us a chance to appreciate the stark beauty of the Andes.

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The Incas and pre-Incas built storehouses all over the countryside. Their society never experienced a famine because they had mountain facilities filled with corn and potatoes and seeds and cured meat and because it’s so dry and the winds blew through the windows nothing would rot. We drove past tons of these storehouses.


We stopped at a roadside truck stop to take a bathroom break where I saw a kid playing with a kite made of garbage. The mountains are very windy so kite-flying is a natural activity. With the mountains in the background, it was a stunning photo.


Since this is a common truck stop there were people there selling Peruvian goods. That’s where I ended up buying the hat that I insist on wearing much to my mother’s chagrin. Sorry Moomins, it’s an awesome hat and you must accept that. Our guide Henry informed us that the reason the woman is wearing that particular chapeau with the very tall head-space is to mimic the skull elongation we saw in the museum skulls. I thought that was a really cool fact.


After this brief, extremely scenic tinkle-break we went to a women’s collective that uses the old ways of spinning, weaving and dying wool and camelid fiber. Clarification time – wool comes from goaties and sheepies and some really fluffy bunnies. The camelids (the two domestic breeds, the llama and the alpaca, and the two wild breeds, the vicuña and the guanaco) are considered to have hair, not fur or wool. Therefore their stuff is called fiber. People get real cranky-like if you call it wool; I learned that the hard way at the Rhinebeck Sheep and Wool Festival. FIBER. Get it right or get rebuked.

Anyway these women saw an opportunity to keep their original techniques alive while supporting themselves so they have this place where visitors can go and see the whole process. I found it fascinating. First they take the fiber and spin it using a spindle and gravity (a good system, it’s slow but it never breaks and if gravity fails and then we have bigger problems than wool-spinning).


Then they dye the yarn if they want to be exciting jaunty colors. If they don’t dye the camelid fibers they have lots of grays and browns to work with. This is an undyed finished piece.


If they do dye the yarn they use all kinds of natural stuff. Peru has all these herbs and plants and stones and metals which they grind up and mix with each other and then brew and then dunk this yarn in, sometimes for minutes, sometimes for hours, to get the colors they want.

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My favorite color was the red, not because of the red itself but because of how it’s made. It’s made from powdered beetle. Yep. See that cactus? See that white stuff on it? Those are dried beetle corpses. They scrape those off and pulverize it and it makes a terrific red dye called cochineal. It’s really common for it to be in many of our red foods. You’ve eaten this beetle.

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The yarn on the right is plain cochineal dye. The yarn on the left is cochineal dye mixed with a scoop of copper sulfate. Someone figured out that if you do that the yarn turns more orange and less bordeaux. I thought that was cool as hell.


The next steps is to dry the yarn in the sun and then roll it up in a ball. It needs to be in a ball because it needs to be thrown. Two posts are driven into the ground about 12 feet apart and a person sits at each end, wrapping the yarn around the pole and then throwing the yarn ball to the opposite pole. This is done until the pole is laden with yarn to the top.

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Honestly, I don’t know what happens next. I don’t know if they take it off the posts and clip it together somehow or transfer it to a loom with hooks on it, something happens now that this becomes the warp. The weft (the threads going in the opposite direction of the warp, thereby making it fabric) is woven in by hand using wooden sticks with pointy ends to drive the yarn apart and allow the warp threads to pass through. Back and forth and back and forth. That’s it. That’s how you make fabric. There are, of course, a million and one variations on that simple theme. For example this woman was making a belt. She had driven a small peg into the ground and was using her waist as resistance to keep the tension tight. You can clearly see the wooden pointy-ended sticks she uses to separate the warp and allow the weft to pass through.

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The other interesting demonstration we saw was how they cleaned the wool. Sheep wool is notoriously dirty because of the lanolin which is the natural oil the sheep makes that causes dirt to really hang out and settle in. The woman in charge scraped some yucca into a bowl with some water and swirled a piece of wool around in it. Yucca is a natural detergent. It even froths up a little bit. About thirty seconds later she pulled the wool out and it was white! And clean! From some yucca shavings and water! How cool is that? Look, look at that awesomeness.


After we had explored the weaving collective we went to our hotel. Our hotels were all family-owned as well as all the restaurants we went to. The company we used is extremely adamant on using local people for everything, supporting the communities that we visited. I loved it. Yeah, it wasn’t five-star fanciness but check out where we stayed in the Sacred Valley.

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See? Yeah. Fantastic. Who needs five stars when you sit on a lawn chair and look at this? Gorgeous.

Next post: Ollantaytambo, my first climbing experience.

South American 2015, Part 1.

Tuesday, September 1st, 2015

I made it through 4,000 photos. They are now sorted and ‘shopped and heeeeeeere we go!

Day 1: We went to a museum on the pre-Christian, pre-Spanish societies of Peru. I, sadly, knew pretty much nothing about any of the societies but the benefit of being woefully ignunt was I learned so much! Knowledge raining down like… rain! (I am not a poet.) Here’s a whole pile of cool things I learned:

The Inca and similar cultures did not have a written language (more on that later). Therefore there’s a lot of conjecture about what items symbolize. The guide said, “Well, we THINK they MAY have used this…” over and over because no one really knows. Luckily a great deal of pottery survived and because of that we have a clue on what they ate and what was important to them. For example, you will see in this picture that they grew corn and fished for crab.


And here are different squashes they ate. Off to the side is a guinea pig, they also ate those. Helpful clues, thank you Incas.


They had royalty and the way they distinguished the royalty was by skull elongation. Like foot-binding or neck-stretching but with a head. Babies’ heads are squishy. If you wrap wooden paddles around them, the head will adjust to that shape. At about six months it is done. You will be pointy-headed for the rest of your life.


And they performed brain surgery. Where people survived. See the second skull? That’s a plate of gold and the skull has healed around the plate. Good job, pre-Colombian people.

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Other things in the museum that tickled my fancy:

It’s very dry in the Andes so mummies can form. The people would place the deceased in the fetal position, wrap them in loads of fabric with snacks and treats for the afterlife and put them in a cave. I called them mumlettes. Like omelettes. Because they look like eggs when they’re entombed.


One of the sacred creatures is a the puma. The are three levels to the Inca world – The sky world, what we might call “heaven,” land of the condor, the earth world, the one we inhabit right now, home of the puma, and the underworld, where the snake lives. These three levels are used over and over again in the art and architecture as well as representations of those animals. Often it is dignified and majestic. Occasionally it is not. Like with this puma.


And what is this? A chihuahua? I’m thinking chihuahua.


This piece of pottery reminded me of Gru from Despicable Me in a vintage television set. Which seems like an odd thing for the pre-Incas to make but okay. I’m in no position to judge anyone’s artistic choices.


Finally, one of the coolest items in the museum was something that looked fairly innocuous, but is actually incredibly important. This splayed-out belt with strings hanging from it is thought to be a language. The placement of the knots, how many times they wind around and the direction that they are facing are all possibly different letters or nouns or verbs. No one knows. There was one man left who understood the language and the Spanish killed him so the non-Spanish heritage would die out, which it did. :(


After the museum we headed into the city of Lima. The Spanish influence in the main area, it is intense.

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Yeah. If ever there should be a hashtag “EuropeanInfluence”, it would be here. I got a cute picture of two young people in love in front of one of the buildings. We waved at each other a bunch. They were nice.


A distinctly Spanish architectural detail is an ornate wooden balcony. Because it’s overcast so much but it never rains the original wooden balconies are well-preserved.

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It really doesn’t rain there. I couldn’t believe it, but then our guide Sandra pointed out that there were no gutters or drains on the street and most of the roofs were flat. Then I looked it up online and sure enough they get about an inch a year maybe.

Some of the beautiful government buildings that are no longer suited for their original task have been re-purposed in wonderful ways. The library used to be a train station.


And the telegraph office is now a school of Peruvian Gastronomy. Peruvian cuisine has been voted one of the best in the world (They have the potatoes, people! All the potatoes!) and sometimes tourists come only to eat the food and learn how to prepare it.


My first meal there, oh my gosh. I had warm fried mashed potato balls topped with fresh avocado and shrimp in a sort of picante mayonnaise with fresh greens. Just about every meal was that good. I found myself getting really excited about quinoa soup. And corn. I got real excited about corn. My joy for potatoes has always been high, so that just maintained.

At my first meal I also sampled my very first cup of coca tea. Are you familiar with cocaine? This is the leaf that gives cocaine it’s “zip.” I’m not addicted to nose candy, don’t worry. Coca leaves contain 1.02% of the active ingredient. That means about 99% is just leaf. And then you dilute it in water which weakens the punch even more. No one is getting hooked on that. It tastes like a chamomile tea with a hint of spinach. Not unpleasant. Kind of plant-y. And you do feel slightly more awake after drinking it, so it’s not recommended at bedtime.


After lunch I got to see my first church in South America. If you know anything about me, you know I love me some CHARCH! So I was delighted. It was banana-colored and it had vultures nesting in it.

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I was not allowed to take pictures inside the church because it is a functioning monastery but that didn’t stop other people so I will use their pictures. I found all of these on the internet, I did not take any of these. The interior is clearly Moorish style with geometric patterns throughout. Lovely but not mind-altering (like the church I visited in Quito, get ready for that craziness later). In the basement was crypts and I was delighted by them. There are about 25,000 people’s remains either in boxes or laid out in patterns in a well.

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Remember, this was all on Day One. No one knew me and the weirdness that I bring so they all saw me getting excited about piles of dead people and church vultures and potatoes. They were all very nice normal American folk. Several of them looked concerned, both for me and for themselves. We were all friends by the end though. It just took a little time for them to see the joy in dead people/vultures/potatoes.

Next blog entry: Cusco and the countryside.

I’m back from The America Below.

Tuesday, August 18th, 2015

I have returned from Peru and Ecuador! It was a fascinating trip. Aside from bringing home a case of the Travel Snots (common when you get into an enclosed metal tube with a lot of strangers for seven hours) I am unharmed. There were so many amazing experiences! I climbed Machu Picchu. I ate a guinea pig. I almost fell off a boat. I saw Blue-Footed Boobies mating. I watched the President of Ecuador speak from 100 feet away. I learned to make ceviche. I walked on lava. I rode in a three-wheeled motorcycle taxi. I swam with fur sea lions. And sharks. And sea turtles. I met some of the nicest people ever. I now have to sort through 4,000 photos (that is not an exaggeration – I took 1,900, my niece Drea took 2,200) but it will be worth it because, hey, Inca structures and utterly unique fauna. Get ready for awesomeness. In the meantime it is probably in your best interest to see Disney’s The Emperor’s New Groove and Pixar’s Finding Nemo. They will be referenced.

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Matchoo Peetchoo and the G’lahpigoes.

Friday, July 31st, 2015

I am going to Peru and Equador for seventeen days at the end of this week so there will be no blogging while I am seeing ancient ruins and bonding with tiny crablets. Please make good choices in my absence and I will blog again when I return, probably with a thousand amazeballs pictures. Get excited now.

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New Orleans Part 5 and done.

Wednesday, July 29th, 2015

I saved my favorite tourist activity from New Orleans for last, and that was Mardi Gras World. Mardi Gras World is a studio that builds and designs all the floats for the parades. I figured they would have a few on display but happily I was incorrect. You could actually tour the workstations where pieces were being created and I totally freaked out. Cricket stopped me from quitting my N.Y. job and applying right then and there. I know all the techniques Mardi Gras World is using! I could have started working immediately! Gimme a tub of glue and I’ll paper-mache that giant raccoon! Cricket, stop dragging me away, it is my destineeeeeeeeeee!

We walked to the studio from the hotel which was not the best decision because we misread the map and it was a million miles away (about three miles really, but it was very hot so it felt longer). As we approached (on foot, in the heat, did I mention that?) you could see the size of the warehouse and appreciate the scale of it. When we walked around the interior the tour guide told us that elsewhere in the state there have fourteen more warehouses full of float-parts and scenery.


This was the permanent installment of the jester pointing to the door. As you can sew, the threat level is Marsec 1. Since this building is on the banks of the Mississippi I assume the threat is the water level rising and not an imminent alien attack or spores that take over your brain and make you punch your neighbor.


You then walk in the front door and are greeted by a cavalcade of nuttiness. Can you think of a thing? Chances are it’s there, next to another random thing. Some of my top collections – the Hieronymus Bosch fish chillin’ behind the vino bottle:


The chili pepper hangin’ with The Cat in the Hat and an ornate column:


Two wee demons looking in a mirror, a big fluorescent fish and a snow monster with stars in its fur:


Really angry anglerfish (an anglyfish), a clock with jewels and a sparkly poison-dart frog on a sparkly mushroom:


Napoleon, a carp bench and a pelican:

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And a nightmare spider from a 1950s movie.


In the gift shop there was a scary chef with the ingredients of gumbo bursting forth from his cooking pot. A bit macabre for my taste, the food items popping out and smiling but to each their own.


Off to one side was a costume that would be worn at Mardi Gras of a Crayfish Queen. I tried to convince Börkke to wear it as a wedding dress (she was getting married in Maine, I tried to convince her that they were lobsters) but she declined. Sigh.

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I went on the tour to get a better idea of the work they do at Mardi Gras World. I found out they also make props for places like Universal as shown by this dinosaur we passed. On a related note, has everyone seen the latest Jurassic World? I saw it in 3D and I would recommend that. The raptors come snappy-snappy right at your face. The new big bad dinosaur is creepy and awesome. It’s a jaunty summer film, all fluff but a good time. I’m a bit obsessed with with the giant water demon shown in the trailer, Bitey McChompersons. The one that eats the shark. I would watch a movie with only that guy in it.


Anyway, back to awesome props. Since it was a Sunday no one was at the workstations but they had left the pieces they were constructing out so I could behave creepily and gently caress them like a lunatic. Here’s the general way this works – there are krewes, like clubs, that decide they’re going to have a Mardi Gras parade. A parade must have a theme and consist of no less than fourteen floats. The krewe then collects money throughout the year from various krewe members and then they decide on the theme. “Characters from Books.” “Important Americans Through History.” “Oceans of the World.” That kind of theme. Then they meet with a designer who lays out how the floats will look. They can reuse the substructure of previous floats which is why they are kept in giant warehouses. Did you know there’s no entrance onto the float? You need to climb on or in via a platform and you stay there all day. Therefore many floats have a restroom built into it. When the work by the designer is approved, construction begins. These float items need to be large but also very lightweight so they are made a few different ways. Mostly a welder makes the skeleton which is covered with industrial styrofoam and carved with a hot knife into the rough shape. Then it is sanded and covered with brown kraft paper paper-mache which makes the surface even and receptive to painting (exactly how I made my crab for my ocean costume!). There were some structures that were welded together and only covered with thick pieces of cardboard to give them a light, airy feel. It appears that one of next year’s themes is Chinese in nature.

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They will also pull older pieces, cut them up, remodel them, paint them and send them back out. For example, this hourglass.


In the back area they have the full floats parked. They’re really big. None of these parades go through the French Quarter because the streets aren’t wide enough and the wires would get in the way. These all go down the main thoroughfares.


And here’s a finished piece sitting in a workstation. I started drooling when I saw all those paints and brushes.

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And here are some photos that were left behind but are no less important.

Crab escargot. Look, it resembles a demon emerging from the bowels of hell! Dig in, kids! (It was actually delicious.)


Cricket and my boat trip down the Ole Mississip. It was RAINING. Not raining, RAINING. All the rains. I insisted that we sit outside so we got soaked. It was cool nonetheless.

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On the boat there was a women’s restroom and it reinforced my comments on how important typeface choices are. I swore it said “Loadies” which is a terrible name for a women’s restroom. Bad. Bad designer. No biscuit.


I would totally go back. I would like to go for Mardi Gras and watch all the parades. Maybe someday I will have that opportunity.

New Orleans, Part 4.

Monday, July 20th, 2015

Sorry for the super-long delay between posts – much has been happening here at Casa Rothmanpants and I was forced to take my first break ever from blogging in seven years. All good things occurring, but extremely time-consuming. Work is being extra-worky, I’m attempting to finish my backsplash by Thanksgiving and Børrke got married so I went up to Maine for five days. I found Maine to be delightful. I went down to the beach and swam in the Atlantic Ocean which Canada had graciously made a crisp 43 degrees. In addition there was no breaker of rocks so the water came in, slapped you on the rump with extreme vigor and then attempted to suck you out to the briny deep with the same vigor. As I said to many people, I felt like I was getting a rectal scouring from Neptune himself, trident and all*. I might have yelled at the moon at one point for all the gravity. But it ended up being wonderful because when you returned to the beach you were tingly all over. It was like a marvelous massage. I then attempted to be a normal person and sit on the beach quietly and sunbathe but I failed at that. This is an actual photo Cricket took of me “tanning”:


Yep. That’s the real deal right there. The benefit of this technique is you can eavesdrop on everyone else’s conversation all around you. This area is a primo destination for Bostonians so I felt like I was plopped in the middle of The Town and The Fighter. Everyone was named Sean, or Brian, or Doug. The two kids behind me were Margaret and Quinn. The “a”s were flat as pancakes and there were no “r”s to be had. It was great. I ended up having a much-needed relaxing experience in Maine, the fireworks on the 4th were some of the best I’ve ever seen and the wedding was a dream. Only two complaints:

1. Why no pizza slices? Why only whole pies? I feel like this is a weird thing that only New York has. Do people not want to eat pizza the way that they eat hot dogs? And wouldn’t one end up making more money selling per-slice than the whole pie? Maine, get it together (pizza-wise).

2. Okay, those sea roses are beautiful but they are wall-to-wall thorns. They’re not like the roses you can purchase in the store. These are, like, specially bred for maximum thornitude. Stabby stabby stabby. Taking this flaw into account, is it necessary to plant them RIGHT next to walkways that lead to the beach so they curl over the handrail and plunge their owchies right into my palm? Or tug at my pants and shred my calf? Please look into this for the future. Thanks, Maine. Aside from that, great job. Very proud.

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Okay back to New Orleans (remember when I went to New Orleans a thousand years ago in May?). Before we get into The French Quarter here are some unrelated images that fit into no category. Wild cards, if you will

Beads in trees left over from Mardi Gras. I took it through a bus window but you still get the idea. It’s festive all year ’round.


The cornstalk fence. Apparently the woman who lived in that house was from Iowa and when she married and moved there, she missed home. So her husband commissioned an ironworks factory in Philadelphia to make a fence with a cornstalk theme. One of her friends liked the pattern so much she had the same fence made for herself and it is somewhere on the other side of town. But this is the famous first fence.


Our hotel was in the French Quarter which is most likely the most famous of the areas. It about four streets by four streets, so not very big. And because the whole area is comprised of original old buildings, living there is a hassle. There’s a homeowner’s group that tells you what you can and cannot alter on the front of your house, what flowers you can display, what color you may paint your door, etc. The benefit of all that is the houses are delicious.

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It’s not all peaches and cream. Due to the economy lots of houses have been uninhabited for a long time and it shows.


But I feel like even in its decrepitude it adds character. One of the things I found so charming about New Orleans is how it embraces its flaws, its cracks and wrinkles. Most places would not advertise spirits taking up residence in an apartment, but N’Awlins does. It’s a selling point.


And even though the governor said that gays were not welcome in Louisiana, New Orleans has a great gay community. This is one of the houses in that area. Not surprisingly, it is awesome. According to our tour guide, the gentlemen that live there changes their decorations seasonally. I reiterate: awesome.


On one end of the French Quarter is the St. Louis Cathedral (named after the King of France that was ruling at the time – the state is named after him too). It’s the oldest cathedral in America, originally built as a church in 1718 and made a cathedral in 1793. The building that stands there now is predominantly from the 1850s. It’s big and white and pointy and very elegant.


The inside was also beautiful and white and also painted with bible characters. I figured out who Moses was quickly from his halo which looked like horns. That’s actually how the whole “Jews have horns” story began: Someone mistranslated Moses’ “halo” into “horns” when taking the Old Testament from one language to another and there you have it.

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There were also beautiful stained glass windows using an old technique which is really really hard. This woman makes it look crazy easy. Trust me, it is not. You’re basically painting with dust and if you screw up you have to start all over.

The windows feature bible scenes but I of course was fascinated by the frames around the scenes.

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Next entry: my favorite thing in New Orleans, Mardi Gras World.

* You like that mental image? That is my gift to you.

New Orleans 2015, Part 3.

Monday, June 22nd, 2015

Pre-alligator pics:

1. We went to a fantastic café called Mister Gregory’s near the entrance of Armstrong Park. Cricket wanted to try the brie mac and cheese and I wanted to try the pain perdu which is stale bread dipped in cream and sugar and then baked so it becomes crispy on the edges. Very similar to french toast. I also had the cold brewed coffee with homemade pecan milk because when in Rome blabbity blah blah etc.

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I loved it. The food was delicious, the staff was super-nice, the interior is decorated with reclaimed trash like oil drums for seats and they played French 60s music. I could have stayed there all day. Highly recommended.

2. I could only find one store selling things made with nutria fur. They were selling nutria bras but they were very small so I didn’t get one.

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Fear not, they also sold nutria slap bracelets. I picked one made out of the left side of a nutria’s face with clearly discernible eyeball hole and a nose. I own that now. The fighting over who gets it in the will may commence now.

3. A tricycle on Bourbon Street decked in blinky lights and religious sayings. I called it the Bible-Bike because I like alliteration.


4. A sunset over the Mississippi. I don’t know if it’s because I was on vacation but I thought the sunsets in Louisiana were better than they are at home.


Okay, alligators. They live in the swamps of Louisiana and they are very similar to crocodiles in that they just sort of lay there and resemble logs. And they are spiky. And I wish to pet them. Nessa organized an outing for all of us to go see the alligators doing their best feigning of logs. We learned that alligator farmers come in and collect all the eggs they can find on the condition that of every 100 eggs that hatch 17 teenage alligators are returned to the swamp. Science has figured out that about 17 out of every 100 alligators make it to adulthood so that’s how many are returned to the wild. Good on you, sustainable farming.

First thing I saw at the farm was in the gift shop. It seems to me very rude to take the remains of one animal and wrap it in the remains of another. A little “rubbing it in the faces of the losers” kind of thing. But whatever, I wasn’t going to start a coup or anything.


There was a big display in the corner of the gift shop talking about the cats that live on the property. I wondered if that famous video I had seen ages ago of the cat scaring the alligator back into the water happened at this particular swamp and it turns out, yes it did. I asked. Here’s the video in case you’re unacquainted:

We saw a bunch of gators of varying ages and sizes both basking and swimming.


One even came up to the boat for a snack of chicken necks.


Intensely amusing was when we saw some raccoons. Everyone ran over to the side of the boat to take pictures. You would think none of these people had ever seen a raccoon. OMG, raccoons! But these are different, these are swamp raccoons! Not the fat bastards that rummage through your trash and are a general nuisance, no no! These are fancy exotic raccoons! They were very cute and kind of shy.

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The best thing is when a little bebbeh alligator was passed around for us to hold. I have rarely been so delighted. He was so soft and smooth and plastic-y. I loved him. I could have held him forever, peppered with occasional breaks for us both to bathe and eat.


In the next installation: the French Quarter.