Saturday, July 1, 2017

If July 1 Is Your Birthday ...

This year you value your domestic life even more, if that is possible. You are aware of a need you have to be more independent and a self-starter. If you are single, you will want a meaningful relationship; do not settle for less. If you are attached, you and your sweetie emphasize your domestic life together. You might even take cooking classes together, or remodel your home. Libra might unintentionally create a lot of friction.
(from The Washington Post)

Interesting, but I'm not quite sure how to take it. Sweetie? I have never thought of the husband in such terms. Does valuing my domestic life mean I have to clean more often or better? I guess a need to be more independent and a self-starter might fit with the New Year's resolution mentioned in last night's post, tell me again I can't, but then I know that at times I am too independent. At least there's lots of food for thought here.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Another Year Counted

I've been pondering the passing of time as I think of something from my past and realize that it was 40 or more years ago. When I was a kid, 40 years seemed an eternity. I could not imagine myself 40 years later. Heck, I couldn't imagine even turning 40, but then I grew up with Jack Benny's always turning 39. Jack Benny? Talk about dating myself! Watching Mitch Miller on the black-and-white television. Listening to Andy Williams or Bobby Darin on the huge stereo console with speakers on each side and on which one could stack multiple records to be dropped and played one by one. Damn! Those things take me back, forget 40, but 55 years.

And I think I'm old when I ask if someone remembers the Caravan (Home of the Humpburger) here in Charlottesville. Or the Chinese Dragon out Fontaine Avenue Extended where a friend learned to tell the gender of an unborn child by whether the mother's face changed during pregnancy. I was abroad for my second pregnancy, but said friend nailed that older son would be just that, a son. Those things only take me back about 30 years.

If you've visited this blog before around this time of year, you've seen that with a birthday six months away from New Year's Day, I have a tendency to think I should evaluate any resolutions I made six months ago and/or make some birthday resolutions for the six months that start that day. Of course, my New Year's resolutions have fallen off in recent years. My sole resolution for 2017 was somewhat fuzzy in that it was to try to live up to the sentiment on a Spartan race t-shirt I got for Christmas: TELL ME AGAIN I CAN'T. I guess I was hoping that in 2017 I would be brave or braver, set goals or higher goals and, whatever, accomplish more or accomplish it better. I'm not sure why I might have been feeling that way, though it could well have been that I was feeling lazy about resolutions  and using the shirt was the easy way out.

As for birthday resolutions, I noted in last year's birthday blog post that I was going to keep them private. That suggests that I made at least one, but if I did, I've now forgotten it or them. That's actually a good strategy--keep them private even from myself. Or, more pessimistically, there are said to be some memory issues with aging, not that I am.

Resolutions to keep for the next six months, written down so that I can hold myself accountable? I'm in a work wellness program in which I can get $250 if I continue to eat the amount of protein I should 20 days each month and do something creative for eight hours each month. The challenge ends in December, so keeping with those could be one resolution. I'm registered to run a half marathon in November, trusting the sons who say that if I can run a ten miler as I did in March I can run three more miles and make it a half. Let's make that a second resolution. Given that these cover just six months, two seems a reasonable number.

So much forbirthday eve musings. Tomorrow, I'll get to see what the coming year holds according to The Washington Post's daily horoscope. That's sometimes good for a laugh.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Up in the Air up the River

sunrise on the Amazon

I worked for somewhere around five hours on a post about our time in the Amazonian rainforest. I had fifteen or so photos in there, words and more words all to describe the highlights of our several days there. All I had left to add was the high point of our time there, the canopy walkway. The post would not preview. Despite my having used the Save button several times, exiting and re-loading the post to try to get it to preview erased all my work. I just don't have it in me to re-do all that, but here are some photos and a few words about the canopy walkway adventure I was going to write about after the preview. This was the absolute highlight of our time in the rainforest.

The first thing you should know about that adventure is that I have some fear of heights. I have frozen several times when on a bridge or a ledge even if it's not terribly far off the ground. I was thus somewhat worried about whether I would be able to handle the walkway. I'll get it out of the way now and say that I was able to. The first few sections had me pretty shaky, but I kept telling myself that there was no going back. I also had trouble at first looking down while on the walkway itself; I could only look down from one of the platforms between sections. By the end, though, I felt quite comfortable and was sort of wishing we could go back and do it all a second time.

The walkway is constructed of ladders on which the wooden walkway segments sit. 
I asked Paul how many ladders were used, and he said that might be worth learning in case someone else ever asked that question. Before we started, he demonstrated how stumbling or falling against the side of the walkway would not take it all down. Still, some segments looked a bit more intimidating that others.
I think the husband took the photo below because I don't recall being comfortable enough to stop and use the camera while on the walkway itself. As I recall, I only shot from the platforms.
It did occur to me that I should prove that I was up there; hence, this shot.
And just what does it look like from above? Pretty darn neat!
You'll have to take my word for it, but there are monkeys in the above photo.
And here's the intrepid canopy walkway crew. Our fourth was feeling under the weather after taking her anti-malarial pill that morning. It wasn't the same without her.
Apologies for not sharing a bit about the gateway to our Amazon, Iquitos; our visit to Indiana; how proficient I am with a blowgun despite never having had a lesson; birds, fish, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians; termite nests; and the coolest tree ever. Wait, I'll use that as an endpoint.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Home, Home on the Water

I love being in or on the water, so Lake Titicaca was a nice place to visit. It is the world's highest navigable lake. The lake sits at 12,630 feet in what is known as the Altiplano, the highland region. The only such region in the world that is higher is in Tibet, at some 13,000 feet. Legend holds that the sun god had two children who emerged from the waters of the lake to found Cusco and begin the Inca dynasty. Inca remains have been found at the lake, so perhaps the legend is correct. If you turn the map of the lake upside down, it is supposed to resemble a puma. I'm still waiting to be convinced.

The lake is both fresh and salty. The water tastes fresh, but testing reveals a small percentage of salt. Climate change endangers the lake. Peru has lost 30 percent of its snow cap in the last 50 years, making Lima the second dryest city in the world. If nothing changes, Lake Titicaca will cease to exist in 5,000 years. A river from the lake into neighboring Bolivia dried up six months ago. Although 28 species of fish once lived in the lake, only six remain. The lake's size helps regulate the temperature of the region. The temperature does drop below freezing overnight, but it has only snowed twice in Puno. Hail is common, but not snow.

The lake sits 52 percent in Peru and 48 percent in Bolivia. Its depth is not definitively known. Jacques Cousteau visited the Bolivian side of the lake and used sonar to register a depth of 902 feet. Given the size of the lake, though, it is quite possible there are spots that are deeper. Swimming is permitted in the lake if you can stand the average water temperature of 48 degrees F. And while swimming is permitted, pleasure boating is not. Kayaking is permitted in defined spots. Other than that, tourism boats and boats used by locals are the only craft allowed on the lake.
Our first stop was the Islas de los Uros, floating islands named after the natives who live there. These people have DNA related to the Mongols suggesting their ancestors might have crossed the Bering Strait and moved south. On a more recent note, they are descendants of slaves who worked in the mines. Slavery did not exist until the arrival of the Spanish and the Catholic church. African slaves brought to work there only lasted about three days before dying. Local slaves lasted about ten days. Some of these slaves built reed boats and escaped onto the lake, later building reed islands on which to live.
The reeds used to construct an island are cut in blocks from the bottom of the lake and average anywhere from three to 10 feet in thickness. Sticks are put in each corner and then roped into a platform into which more reeds can be woven. The weight put on each platform helps to stabilize it. 
It takes 15 months to one year to make one island, and islands last an average of 35 years. The inhabitants must take care of the platform. Dry reeds must be added to the top of the platform regularly. Some of the islands are anchored to the lake bottom. Should an island start to sink, there is no way to save it. Thus, when it starts to look as if an island might be dying, the men on that island start constructing a new one.

Life on a floating island is not without some comforts. The solar panels shown below were provided

by the government and some NGOs and provide electricity to the homes.

Power is not used for cooking. That is done over an open fire outside. You would be correct to think that an open fire on an island made of dried plant matter doesn't sound very safe. It's not, which is why there are always two people cooking.

As you might imagine, life on a floating island is not easy. While there are elementary schools on some islands, high school students must commute to the mainland or live in Puno and go home on weekends. Only 18 percent of high school students return to the islands to live; in four or five generations, the islands may be gone. Most women give birth on the island; there is a 5 percent maternal mortality rate in childbirth. The mortality rate for infants in 19 percent. Children often die falling off an island. Despite living on the water, most islanders do not know how to swim.

Every island has a social leader called a president. Presidents are elected annually, and organize the families to maintain the island. Islands vary in terms of the number of inhabitants. The island we visited was on the small side--15 people in three families.

When tourism boats first came to the islands in the 1960s and 70s, the islanders were not at all pleased. That has changed now that 60 percent of the local economy comes from tourism. The other 40 percent is from hunting, fishing, and trading. The principal craft is embroidery.
Tourists can also take a boat ride, though only three people in our group of 19 did so. The one that was not the husband or me came because we touted it as an adventure.
We rode on the boat's upper deck, giving a nice view of the small islands, many of which had a tourist boat visiting. I did not ask whether the arch served any purpose; I wish now that I had.
Propelled by men with paddles, the boat went at a nice, relaxed pace.

We also visited one of the elementary schools for the floating islands. The school platform was actually floating on pontoons rather than reed blocks. The kindergarten classroom we visited was not all that different from classrooms I've seen in the States. The subjects highlighted could be found in kindergarten classrooms almost anywhere. A book center.
An "I think and make" center.
There were others for music, science and the environment, days of the week, and behavior

After visiting the school, we went to Taquile, home of some of the best knitters in the world. Our guide Manuel said that they could knit 192 stitches per centimeter, something I really don't believe. That aside, the knitters on Taquile are all men.
The women are all weavers.
Both the knitting and weaving are quite intricate. Here is some of the detail of the knitted hat I purchased at the market.
As can be seen in the photo above, the men use very fine, double-pointed needles for their knitting. They don't just sit or stand to knit; they keep knitting even as they walk.

Hats serve a social purpose on Taquile. The colors and patterns of a hat denote one's marital status,  position within the community, job, and origin. A hat is also central to the marriage customs of the island. A young man cannot consider marriage until he has finished a special hat to give to the father of the intended bride. The father will fill the hat with water. If the hat holds water without dripping for 10 seconds, then the young man can pursue marriage with the daughter. A couple wishing to marry must live together for two years, during which time the young woman must knit two belts for the young man. The couple usually resides with the young man's family. At the end of the two years, if they wish, they can marry in the month of May, when a Catholic priest visits the island. (If the young woman becomes pregnant during the two years, then the couple must marry.)

Taquile's president is elected annually. Someone who is nominated is not permitted to decline the nomination. The election is held in November. There are 24 men serving on a council. To serve, a man must have two children; parents are viewed as slightly more invested in the  state of the island. Re-election is not allowed on the grounds that it might invite corruption.

So much for our very busy day on the lake. That night, we had a farewell dinner. The next day, we would fly back to Lima. Thirteen people would head home, while six of us would extend our tour with a trip to the Amazonian rainforest.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Going to New Heights

Leaving Cusco behind, we set out for Puno, some 380 km or 236 miles away. We knew it would be a long day. There were several stops scheduled, plus the drivers (the bus had to have two given the distance we were going) should not, could not, and would not speed. Buses and other commercial vehicles are equipped with GPS, but not in the way one might think. Those GPS units are wired so as to track the vehicle's speed. Each commercial driver begins a year with 100 points. A driver loses points for speeding among other infractions. If a driver's point total hits 0 during the year, the penalty is losing one's license for one month. Should a driver's point total drop to 0 a second time, the penalty is loss of one's license for one year. A third time? Say adios to one's commercial driver's license.

Our first stop was at a church known as "the Sistene Chapel of the Americas," Andahuaylillas. Since no photography was allowed, you'll have to take my word for that or visit a website such as this. Can you say "ornate"? I particularly liked the 1626 mural The Road to Hell, which can be seen on the website linked above. It's in the montage of photos below the text, in the upper right corner. There appears to be a tyrannosaurus rex on one side. Since one could suppose that in 1626 South America  no one knew about T-rexes, one wonders what sort of creature it was meant to be.

Photography was permitted outside so I can at least offer a view of the front facade.
 I can also offer a close-up of someone napping on the steps out front.
It was not clear if this dog belonged to anyone; there was, after all, a small market going on outside the church.
It's probably more likely that the dog was one of the many street dogs subsisting on handouts (the husband noted that no dog we saw appeared to be starving) and living outside; we were told that there are seven humans for each dog in Peru. 

Our next stop was the archaeological site at Raqch'i. Raqch'i was located on an Incan road system that began in Cusco. Most of the buildings still standing were enclosed by a wall 4 km in length, making it as much a fort as a city.
What is left of the Temple of Wiracocha actually looked different from the other Incan ruins we'd seen.
It is not clear if Raqch'i was a stopping point for travelers on the road, as a fort, or both. There were a number of circular buildings thought to be warehouses or storehouses.
We in no way covered the entire site. To do so would have taken more hours than we had.
There was a market outside of the site. I was getting quite used to seeing at least one weaver at each market.

Occasionally, we would have "surprises," stops or events not included in the written itinerary for the tour. Stopping to see and even feed llamas, alpacas, and vicunas was one such stop. (Danger ahead! The vicuna is just so darn cute.)
A bit after the camelid fun, we hit the high point, altitude-wise, of the trip. The sign I used in opening notes 4,335 meters, which converts to 14,222 feet. What was there? Another market!

 There was another stop on the road to Puno that we actually made two days later, on our way to the airport to fly back to Lima. Since it ties in so well with the path this post is taking...

That final stop was at Sillustani, a pre-Inca cemetery on the shores of Lake Umayo.
The tombs, or chullpas, were all above ground.
The largest one, to the right on the photo above, resembled a coffee cup, and I wondered how they engineered the wider upper body on the structure.
 The back of this chullpa had broken away. The rocks in the foreground once made up the back side.
The bodies put into the chullpas were mummified, though not in Egyptian fashion. For one, the mummies were not wrapped. Also, they were mummified in a fetal position rather than a straight posture.
There were various other chullpas not quite as impressive as the coffee-cup one.
An interesting note about Sillustani: This was the only ruin at which I saw any litter. I picked up a collapsed paper cup and handed it off to our local guide, Manuel. Can you imagine going to as many U.S. tourist sites as we did Peruvian ones and only finding one piece of litter? I wish!

Back to the trip into Puno. We were somewhat nervous about what we might encounter there. This was the iPhone report early in the morning as we were leaving Cusco.
Yes, that says "Mixed Rain and Snow" in between Puno and the temperature. So what did we see when we finally got to Puno at the end of the day?
I somewhat wish I could say that the white spots were snow, but they were actually hail.

While we had left the 14,000 foot altitude behind, we were still at the highest altitude at which we would spend time, 3,827 meters or 12,556 feet. Despite having been reminded of that fact, I had a brief moment of "how out of shape have I gotten" panic after getting out of breath walking up to our room on the fourth floor. Fortunately, that was the worst of it for me, though I know it hit some other people on the tour a bit harder.