Homer's Travels: June 2007

Friday, June 29, 2007

Doe, Ray, Me, Far, Sew, La, Tea, Doe ... And More

The next week, starting tomorrow, has a few things hapnin':

On Saturday we spend an evening at the Hollywood Bowl. This is my first visit to the Bowl which is a sad thing to say since I've lived here almost 20 years. To make the evening even more spectacular, we are going to the Sound Of Music Sing-A-Long! When it was first held in 2001, the Los Angeles Business Journal said "it will either be the corniest event of the summer, or the most rapturous." The wife is thinking about dressing in her Nun get-up for the pre-show parade. Hey! Everyone loves a parade! Need I say more?

On Sunday I will be doing a hike to Horn Canyon. Horn Canyon is in Ojai and I will be sure to give Villanova Preparatory School the finger as I drive to the trailhead.

Next Wednesday we are flying to Minneapolis to attend the Altar Boy's nuptials. If I have time, I am planning to do some geocaches in the Stillwater and Rochester areas while I'm there. The "J" will be keeping Homer company while we are away.

I return Sunday while the wife's adventure continues with the Godson in New York, Spartansburg, and Hartford.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Movies: The Great Escape and The Magnificent Seven

This weekend we watched a couple of classic movies: The Great Escape (TGE) and The Magnificent Seven (TM7).

Neither of us had seen TGE so we had it on our Blockbuster list. The movie, directed by John Sturges, is based on a true story of World War II prisoners of war trying to escape from a German prisoner of war camp. The movies stars an ensemble cast including Steve McQueen, James Garner, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, Donald Pleasence, and many more. The movie is 170 minutes long but the story and characters are so engrossing that the movie flies by. I was left wanting to see more which explains why we also watched a DVD documentary about the making of the movie. The movie was released in 1963 and it holds up surprisingly well. I guess war hasn't changed much in the last 44 years. If you haven't seen TGE or haven't seen it in a long time, I recommend renting it. A very good movie.

Our next movie was another old movie directed by John Sturges: The Magnificent Seven. TM7 stars Yul Brenner, Steve McQueen, James Coburn, Charles Bronson, and others. The movie, based on the Japanese story, the Seven Samurai, is a classic western. While it was good, it didn't quite hold up. If you like westerns then I guess you would like it. I think westerns are OK but they are not my first choice. Watching TM7 just reinforced my belief.

They are both good movies but The Great Escape is the better movie. Blockbuster is allowing us to explore old classics. After chasing after the latest hits, we have to remember that some of the old movies can be entertaining too.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Past Vacations #19: Peru 2006 - Part Five - Intipunku and Waynapicchu

The next morning, day six, I got up early in preparation for two hikes with four people from our tour group. I got ready (bug spray and sun screen) and went down to eat some breakfast before my hike-mates arrived. I made one miscalculation on this trip. Plastic bottles were not allowed in the ruins and only glass bottles of water were available. I had only one plastic bottle to take care of me the whole day. Not a good plan. I met the other hikers (the girl from Colorado, her dad, and the Sioux City Doctor and one of his daughters) and we headed up the trail to the Gate of the Sun.

My plan was to reach the gate, known as Intipunku, before the entire ruin was in the sunshine. The hike is roughly a mile long with a 1,000 ft vertical climb. As I hiked up the trail I kept looking over my shoulder checking to see where the sun was. On the way up I passed a group on the way down - their guide was whistling Simon and Garfunkel. I reached the gate just in time. The sun was just reaching the bottom of the ruins. I had beaten my fellow hikers but they soon joined me. Many of the people at the top were hikers who had walked up the Inca trail. The sun gate was the main entrance to Machu Picchu and what a view you see as you pass through the gates. The ruins shined in the sunlight. We were very lucky as Machu Picchu is often shrouded in clouds and mist in the morning and we had gorgeous blue skies.

I noticed one of the Inca Trail hikers wrestling with something under her sweatshirt. She ripped out her bra and threw it on the ground in disgust and hooted with relief. Ha! Always wear comfortable under garments on long hikes.

We eventually made our way back down to the ruins, running into the rest of the tour group who were getting ready to go to the Gate of the Sun. I gave my half bottle of water to the wife before I went to the Waina Picchu trailhead.
Waina Picchu means Young Mountain (Machu Picchu means Old Mountain). The number of people on Waina Picchu is limited to 400 per day. We made it with plenty to spare. We signed in (they take you name and the time you started) and headed up. The climb was grueling. The vertical climb is less than the Gate of the Sun being only 672 feet but the trail is nearly straight up. It took us about an hour and a half to reach the terraced ruins at the top. The dad of the Colorado girl shared his water with me which was my salvation. He was having difficulty climbing and separated from the rest of us telling his daughter that he was going back.

Near the top we took pictures of each other on the edge of a cliff overlooking the main ruins. The Sioux City doctor was a little nervous at us standing so close to the edge.

The last portion of the climb is in a small rock cave and up a ladder through a hole in the cave roof. People were lounging on the rock taking in the amazing views from the top. There were a set of Inca steps near the top. The steps are simply stones that protrude from the wall. There is nothing under those steps - a shear drop. We found a place to rest for the return trip. Just before we left, the dad of the Colorado girl showed up - he had made it after all. He was a tough coot.

The trip back down went fairly quickly - down is almost always faster then up. I met up with the wife and went into the lodge to have lunch. I think I surprised the waiter when I downed several bottles of
Sin Gas. I was pretty dehydrated and I still had a long train trip later in the day - I didn't want my legs to cramp up as they sometimes do when I don't drink enough water.

We finished out lunch and caught the next bus down to Aguas Calientes. I was a little sad about leaving Machu Picchu. What a wonderful place. We walked through the busy market on the way to the train station. The wife but an embroidered cloth celebrating a new wedding to give as a gift to a newly wed couple in our tour group. We arrived at the train station a little early and waited for the rest of the tour group to arrive.

Here ends Chapter five. Pictures can be found
here. Coming up in the next chapter: Our train trip back to Cuzco, our tours of Cuzco, Sacsayhuamán, and other ruins in the area.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

A Friendly Visit

Last week two of our friends from Omaha visited. They flew in on Tuesday night and left on Friday morning - too short of a visit. The wife took them out to Anacapa Island on Wednesday which they enjoyed very much. The "J" tagged along in my place as I was at work. One of the friends is a science teacher and enjoyed seeing all the new born Seagull chicks along with the carcasses of dead ones. The dry weather reduce the number of blooming coreopsis that the island is famous for. They all returned sun and wind burned. (The wife's face is still flaking off)

On Thursday we had lunch at the Cold Spring Tavern - they declared it very cool - and we did the downtown Ventura walk, visiting the pier, Grant Park, and Ben & Jerry's. Some homeless guy - very well dressed actually - tried to convince us that a CSI-like show was auditioning nearby. When we indicated that we were leaving he hit us up for money. We politely declined.

They seemed to have a good time. Homer had a great time playing with their gift - Phil the Pheasant. Homer missed them after they left. He ran up to the guest room and seemed a little disappointed that they were not there. We can't wait until they visit again after Christmas.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Hiking Ventura County #22: Rocky Peak Trail

This is the last of three hikes in the Rocky Peak area - this one actually going to Rocky Peak. The other two hikes (here and here) prepared me for this one. The trail is an Up-Down There-And-Back with about 1,145 feet of elevation gain. The landscape is impressive sandstone outcroppings, desert scrub, and patches of wildflowers. I started up the trail at 7:45 and made my way up the trail.

There are many geocaches on this trail. I had eight programmed into my GPS. The first was "Rocky Peak Trail Head Cache" just about thirty feet from the start of the trail. It was hid to help people find the trailhead and it worked nicely for me as I was unfamiliar with the area near the trailhead. The trail switchbacks up the hill a little bit where I jumped off the trail to find "Wodden Hand". Bunnies and squirrels scurried as I approached the cache site. I picked up the Dainty Hat Travel Bug from this cache.

The trail levels off for a short distance where I picked up the "On The Edge" cache. The trail turns a corner and drops a bit where you come upon a lone oak tree, the only substantial shade on this trail. Hidden in that shade is the "Made In The Shade" cache. The shade was welcome because at 9:00 in the morning it was already getting hot.

The trail then curves and starts to seriously climb up the hill. At the top I was was huffing and puffing. As I cooled down, I searched for the "Rocky Peak Views" cache. I was getting close to finding it when mountain biker showed up and decided to rest nearby. Not wanting to give away the location of the cache I decided to take in the views and head for another cache, figuring that I would find it on the way back (which I did).

My turn-around point was the "Dos Amigos" cache. The turn around point was somewhere around the 4 mile mark.

I made my way back and found the Rocky Peak Views cache before I head up a spur trail to Rocky Peak. The trail was a little difficult to follow at times because it was on rock which doesn't show the wear, footprints, and bike tracks that regular ground does. There were a few stone cairns and orange ribbons that steered you through the jumble of stone and I made it to the top of the peak. The views from the peak were awesome. The day was clear and only the farthest distances were obscured by the haze. At the very top there is a county line marker. I, of course, had to stand over the marker - my left foot in Los Angeles County and my right in Ventura County. At the top there was also some strange compass rose painted on the rock. Not sure what is was. There are a lot of movies filmed in this park, mostly westerns, and I wonder if this was used for a movie.

After taking in the views and resting a bit, I headed back down. Down was pretty rough on the knees and feet. I had missed a cache on the way up. I had thought it might be on a side trail and I was right. I came across the trail on the way back down. I figured that the trail would eventually reconnect to the main trail so I headed down it. I arrived at the cache site and looked around but could not find it. I was really hot and really tired and I really didn't put much effort into it. I e-mailed the owner and he says it's still there. I guess it was well hidden. I went further down the trail and came to the realization that the trail was not going to meet up with the main trail. The trail I was on was actually going under the freeway to a park on the other side. I groaned and started bushwhacking in the direction of my car. The brush was sparse and low to the ground so bushwhacking wasn't difficult but the path I took when up and down a couple ridges before I met up with the trail. There was no shade and the sun was at its zenith and relentless. I was completely wiped by the time I reached the car.

Except for the ill planned detour at the end, I liked the hike. The scenery is very interesting and the elevation gain is a challenge. Total distance was 8.41 miles. Pictures can be found here.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Past Vacation #19 - Peru 2006 - Part Four - Machu Picchu

Day 5 started early and full of anticipation. We were going to Machu Picchu where we would spend the next two days. Machu Picchu was the crown jewel of this vacation. This was the reason I was here. It did not disappoint.

We woke early and took a bus to the train station in Ollantaytambo. We boarded the train that would take us to
Aguas Calientes. Aguas Calientes is the closest town to Machu Picchu and can only be reached by train or helicopter. The train stops at a couple places along the way to drop off hikers who were walking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. We arrived at Aguas Calientes and walked to the bus that would take us up to Machu Picchu. The bus lets you off at the Sanctuary Lodge, the only hotel at Machu Picchu - I will talk more about it later.

We passed through the gates and we saw the awesome sight of Machu Picchu. The ruins are built of stone. There is no mortar holding the stones - they are simply cut so they fit together tightly. The views are incredible. It is hard to explain to someone who hasn't been there. It has a very spiritual feel to it. We spent the morning touring the ruins. The aqueducts still discharged water in parts of the ruins. Our guide pointed out different architectural features.

The tour was interrupted so that we could eat lunch at the Sanctuary Lodge. We ate some good food and listened to Incan pan flute music. After getting our fill, we continued our tour of the ruins. We saw the clever
solar observatory using pools of water to image the sun. We saw the temple of the condor. We saw the astronomical clock said to have mystical powers. We also saw our first alpaca up close. The strange thing is, Machu Picchu is too low for these animals - the ones living here today were brought in for the tourists. Alpaca, and their cousins the Llama, Vicuña and Guanaco, usually live at a higher altitudes.

In a garden amongst the ruins were examples of indigenous plants including the Coca plant. We wandered the ruins. Everything was fascinating to me. One holy stone mirrored the mountain in the background. The mountains were important to the Inca as they believed the Sun God, Inti, lived at the top of the mountains.
At the end of the day everyone got on the bus to go back to Aguas Calientes - everyone except the Sioux City folks, the wife, and I. Our travel agent had told us about the
Sanctuary Lodge and we were lucky enough to get reservations. The Sioux City folks had a more difficult time but were lucky when there was a last minute cancellation at the lodge. The lodge has 31 rooms and is situated so that you cannot see it from the ruins. After the rest of the tour group left, we went back into the ruins and wandered around a little. The sun went down early as Machu Picchu is surrounded my high mountains. There was a fairly large crowd of people who stayed to see the sun set over the mountains. The ruins close at dusk so we had to return to the lodge just after sundown.
That evening we enjoyed a slideshow showing the various plants and animals in the region and history of the ruins. While we ate dinner we discovered that another guest at the lodge was from Ventura - he was a teacher - he knew someone that the wife knew - her magic strikes again. Drinks at the bar were free which we enjoyed immensely. We were tired from our long day so we headed for our room. I kind of regret not sitting in the lounge as there was a big fireplace and I am sure the conversation with the other travelers would have been interesting but we were both bushed.
We did do one thing before going to bed. We went outside and laid on lounge chairs and looked up at the stars. The night sky was clear, there was no moon, and the number of stars was staggering. The milky way arched overhead and was surprisingly bright - a result of the altitude, 7,970 feet, and the lack of city lights to wash out the starlight. This just added to the spiritual feel of the place. The wife had never seen the milky way before that night and she saw her first shooting star. The temperature dropped quickly and we reluctantly went back inside to escape the chill.

I went to bed early as I was planning to get up early the next day. Before our tour group split up at the end of the first day, one of our tour group approached me and asked me if I would go to the summit of
Wayna Picchu with her. Her father didn't want her to go on the hike alone. I didn't even know you could go up there so I said sure. We agreed to meet early in the next morning and do the hike to the Sun Gate followed by the hike up Wayna Picchu.
The day was full of wonder and awe and this post just scratches the surface. There is so much to see and experience - so much that is hard to get into writing.

Here ends Chapter Four. Pictures can be found
here. Coming up in the next chapter: Day 2 at Machu Picchu with hikes to the Gate of the Sun and Waina Picchu.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Dinner at the "J's"

Last night the wife and I were invited for dinner at the "J's" place. We had a very satisfying chicken dinner in her clean and tidy apartment. The "J" seemed to think she owed us something for all the times we took her along on our road trips. She owed us nothing as her company is always pleasant but we do appreciate the sentiment. After that great desert I think we are in her debt.

Thank you for the friendship and hospitality.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Hiking Ventura County #21: Palo Comado & Cheeseboro Canyons

After my experience at Gibraltar Reservoir last week, this week I decided I would try to keep my hike to the original length of 6.5 miles. I tried but didn't quite make it. I looked at the hiking trail map from the Ventura County Star. I looked at the satellite photo from Google Maps. The trail was two parallel trails connected at either end making a rectangular loop. I thought I had a pretty good handle on the trail. I found 5 caches that seem to be on the trail. I was ready.

I reached the trailhead at 9:30 and ran into a couple of mountain bikers who were returning from an early morning ride. They told be to keep my eyes open as they had seen two rattlesnakes this morning - one actually rattled at them. Cool!

I headed up the trail. The trail description said that I was to turn left at the "T". I reached the first geocache ("Odd Rock"). The cache site was near an intersection of trails.
  • Lesson #1: an intersection is not the same as a "T".
I turned left at the intersection and went up the hill on the wrong trail. The GPS showed that I was not on the right trail. In the past there have been errors in the downloaded maps that result in the GPS and the maps not agreeing and I assumed that this was just a map error.
  • Lesson #2: Trust the GPS - The GPS is your friend.
Eventually the trail I was on ended. I was so sure I was on the right trail that I imagined seeing the trail continue down the hill. The trail I followed down the hill was probably just a game trail. After wandering around and bushwhacking a bit, I gave up and went back to a high point of the trail and looked around and at the GPS. I saw a trail that was either the one I was supposed to be on or it was the trail I was suppose to come back on. Either way, I decided to make my way to the trail. I went out on a ridge where I thought I saw a trail (there wasn't) and I bushwhacked down the hill to the trail. There had been a fire in the past on the brush was black with soot. When I reached the trail, my sand colored cargo pants were now soot colored. The GPS said I was on the trail. Sigh.

My mistake cost me additional distance, vertical climbing, and energy sapping bushwhacking.
My little detour really wore me out. I reached a fork in the trail. One fork went to another geocache, the other was the original trail. I was so wiped at this point that I decided not to do the geocaches and turned right and stayed on the original trail. The trail climbed up a ridge that separated the two canyons - Palo Comado and Cheeseboro. The climb was around 600 feet. Oh, did I mention that it was hot? The thermometer in my GPS said it was 103°F. It probably wasn't that hot but it must have been in the 90s at least. At the top of the ridge I sat on a rock (a hot rock) and had a snack and drank some water. As I chewed my protein bar, I looked at the GPS and figured that three of the caches were not on the trail and to do them would require adding about 3 or 4 miles to my hike - HA - as if! At that point I decided that my earlier navigation mistake had probably saved me. If I had not made that wrong turn, I would probably had been fresh enough that I would have gone for those caches - a big mistake. A little mistake ended up preventing a bigger mistake.

After my snack I headed down into Cheeseboro canyon. Part of the trail is perforated with holes. These holes are made by bees. It was too hot for them today - I only saw one buzzing around the holes. I did take the time to look at a big bumble bee buzzing around some cool, spiny flowers. The connector trail passes by an old sheep corral left over from the sheep ranching days of this area. Apparently Basque Shepherds settled near here. There was a virtual cache here that I logged called "Don't Fence Me In".

I paused at a signpost pointing to the Cheeseboro Canyon trail. A biker (There were quite a few mountain bikers on the trail today) asked me if I was OK. I must have looked a wreck with my ash streaked pants and the tired look I must have had. I said I was OK.

I headed back down the trail. There was a little more shade on this trail. It's amazing what a little shade will do. I like a bright sunny day on a shady trail. I'm not so sure of a bright sunny day on a trail with no shade. I reached the connector road that headed back to where my car was parked. It went up and it was not shaded. The last mile on that connector road felt like it lasted forever. I was dead tired. I felt just like I felt after last week's 12.78 mile hike. I reached the car. I had finished the water in my camelbak about 500 feet from the car and I downed another liter in the car.

I was a little disappointed about my performance on this hike. The total distance was 8.07 miles. I should have felt better. I think there were two factors that sapped me - one was the sun and the heat, and the other was my hydration. On Friday I was at jury duty and I didn't drink as much water as I usually do.
  • Lesson #3: Always hydrate yourself before heading out on a hike.
Pictures are here. Oh yeah, I didn't see any snakes dang it!

Friday, June 15, 2007

Past Vacations #19: Peru 2006 - Part Three - Sacred Valley Of The Incas

On day four we had an early start at 4:30 am. We were bussed to the airport to catch an early flight to Cuzco, the historic capital of the Inca empire. The flight was uneventful though it was cool when the plane rose above the unbroken coastal cloud layer. Cuzco is located high in the Andes mountains at an altitude of 11,500 feet. We were met by our local guide. She led us to a bus and we immediately left the city and headed to the Urubamba Valley, better known as the Sacred Valley. This was a good thing because the valley is lower in altitude and driving into the valley helped us acclimate to the high altitude.

We stopped at an overlook and took in the view of the Sacred Valley. It was very beautiful. The weather at this altitude was very different from the coast. Instead of the gloomy overcast there was a clear blue sky and warm sun. We continued down and stopped at the market town of Pisac. Pisac, located at 9,745 feet, is home of a bustling market where all sorts of handicrafts and foods are sold. We were surprised to find out that we only had about an hour to shop at the market. We expected they would want us to shop more. We rushed around and shopped our tails off. We bought a blanket, a couple peruvian hats (Chullos), and a clay Mary (I dropped it while we were still in the market but it didn't break - well it didn't break too much - D'OH!) before we got back on the bus.

The bus eventually stopped in the town of Yucay and we checked in at the Sonesta Posada del Inca Sacred Valley. The hotel was a former 18th century monastery and the place was really cool. The hotel had a large outdoor buffet - a very impressive spread. The food line was long and part of the line was in the hot sun. A few of our group may have gotten sick from food at this buffet. The wife and I, fortunately, did not.

After lunch we got back into the bus and we drove to Ollantaytambo. Ollantaytambo is one of the best examples of an Incan Town. The streets are narrow - many too narrow for cars. We got out of the bus and headed for some ruins near one end of the town. At the base of the terraced ruins we were told we were climbing to the top. We were tired and the altitude (9,190 feet) was affecting most of us and the prospect of climbing the steep stairs was daunting. Our guide was skilled though and she coaxed us up one terrace at a time. It was worth it. It was a good preview of what we were going to see at Machu Picchu. From the top we could see the entire town of Ollantaytambo and the valley where it was located. I looked down upon the town bull ring. By the time we got back to the bus I had a headache. On the way out of town we were joined by a couple of boys in their traditional clothes. They sang for us in trade for a ride on the bus.

We got back to the hotel and went to our rooms to rest before dinner. In the lobby of our hotel they offered free coca tea which is said to help with altitude sickness. The wife and I did not partake in the tea. I kind of regret this since I won't have another chance anytime soon and I am curious. Not really sure why I didn't try it. Paranoid I guess.
We ate dinner at the hotel. The food was pretty good. After dinner I bought a cool vest as I expected it would be cold the next morning. We packed a smaller bag like we did on the Nazca trip as we were not going to take our big bags on the next leg of our adventure. As we unpacked in our room, the wife discovered that her shampoo bottle had exploded due to the difference in altitude soaking her clothes in Infusium 23. Since we were heading for Machu Piccu early the next day, we scrambled to find someone to wash her clothes. The people at the office and our guide were very helpful and the wife's clothes were cleaned and pressed before we had to leave.

This day was a good transition from the awesome
Nazca lines and Ballestas Islands and the highly anticipated Machu Piccu. As we went to bed I still had a headache. I hoped this was not going to be an ongoing problem as we would be going higher in altitude later this vacation.

Here ends Chapter Three. Pictures can be found here. Coming up in the next chapter: Our train trip to Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Book: Orson Scott Card's "Shadow Of The Giant"

My latest read was Orson Scott Card's "Shadow Of The Giant".  This is the eighth book in the Ender's Game series. I like what Card has done with this series. The first four books ("Ender's Game", "Speaker For The Dead", "Xenocide", and "Children Of The Mind") follow Andrew 'Ender' Wiggins, a young boy being taught in a military school (Battle School) to fight the alien enemy called the Buggers. After the defeat of the Buggers in the first book, the other three books follow Ender as he leaves the Earth in a self imposed exile and comes to terms with having destroyed an entire race of sentient beings.

For the fifth book Card switches things up and begins telling the story of Julian 'Bean' Delphiki, a friend and ally of Ender at Battle School. The last four books ("Ender's Shadow", "Shadow Of The Hegemon","Shadow Puppets", and "Shadow Of The Giant") tell the story of the Earth after the defeat of the Buggers. The world collapses into chaos and war as nations use their Battle School students to dominate their neighbors. Bean helps Peter Wiggin, Ender's older brother, to end the war and unite the people of Earth. "Shadow OF The Giant" ends the Bean series with the Battle School students leaving the Earth to lead colonies and peace finally being achieved by Peter Wiggins.

I like this series. The only thing I am wary about is that Card uses a united Muslim superpower as a bad guy. It smacked a little of anti-Muslim xenophobia. The Muslim world today is the new villain de jour, supplanting the Soviet Union of the 50s, 60s, and 70s. This story was placed so far in the future that Card could have created a new villain without the baggage. Then again, maybe I'm being a little too politically correct.

The first book ("Ender's Game") and the Bean books are the best. The other three books of the series are interesting but were a little anticlimactic. With the Bean series, Card has brought new life to Ender's universe. A science fiction series worth the read.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

TV: "America's" Got Talent

For people who think Hollywood has lost touch with reality, here is some proof. A friend of the wifes owns and teaches at a Celtic Dance Studio. Her class auditioned for America's Got Talent, a cheesy reality talent show. They made it on the show. The audition was in Los Angeles. This is where it gets strange. Last night's episode was supposed to be in Los Angeles. We watched for her students but they did not appear. After the show we received an e-mail from the friend saying that when they were on stage, they noticed signs saying Chicago and that during group filming they were asked to yell "Chicago!" Turns out, next week's show will be from Chicago. What a fraud. I guess they don't have the budget to actually travel around the country so they're faking it. Just goes to show you can't believe what you see on the Boob Tube.

Monday, June 11, 2007

A Little Pleasure With My Business In Rhode Island

Last week I traveled to Rhode Island for a three day meeting in Portsmouth, RI. I will not be talking about the meeting but, fortunately for my sanity, I had time after the meetings to visit Newport and to do some geocaching.

This was the first business trip where I've had my camera and my GPS with me. I also had a Travel Bug and a Geocoin to drop in any caches I found. A quick search before I left found two promising caches within a few miles of my hotel. On the second day of my trip I had a chance to search for the caches. The first, "Albro Woods", was located in a large stand of oaks appropriately named Albro Woods after the family who donated the land. The cache was along a path that wound through the woods. Very nice park. I liked how the late day sun filtered through the trees. I left the "Monument Peak (CO)" Green Jeep Travel Bug in this one. The second cache, located near some soccer fields, was "QDC #1". In this cache I left the Chaosmanor's 12 Days of Caching - Green #2 geocoin. My trip added over 2,600 miles to both travelers.

My last day of meetings were short so I had more time to explore the island. I went with a couple co-workers down to Newport to see the sights. We drove along Bellevue Avenue which is lined with "Summer Cottages." Some of these cottages were humongous. Big even. We drove along the Rhode Island Sound and Narragansett Bay stopping at Fort Adams. We took some pictures and watched the sailboats. The Rhododendrons were very popular in this area and they were in full bloom.

After the Fort, we drove to downtown Newport and walked around a bit. The downtown is mostly stores, restaurants, and pubs. We stopped to have a gelato - Yummy. Newport is a nice place but expensive. Most of the stores closed early as it really wasn't the tourist season yet. We walked past houses dating back to the 1700 and 1800s and old churches. I'd like to come back someday with the wife. She would like the cottages. Some pictures can be found here.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Hiking Ventura County #20: Gibraltar Recreation Area

This hike was originally going to be 6 miles long following the Redrock trail to the Gibraltar Reservoir Dam and then back to the parking lot on the Gibraltar Dam road. As I was investigating the Geocaches in the area I discovered one on the Devil's Canyon spur. I figured that this would add a mile or so to the hike. Then I read about the old abandoned mine further along the Gibraltar Dam road. The write up on the web indicated a 10 mile round trip to the mine. Now my personal record for hiking length was 9.03 miles and I figured an extra mile wouldn't be too bad. So, I made the Sunbird Mining Ltd. Quicksilver Mine as the target for my hike.

The first part of the hike was along the Redrock trail and follows the Santa Ynez River. The trail is very nice with views of ridges, oak forest, river water, and poison oak. The river was not flowing as the water level was very low. This resulted in several lagoons in the deeper portions of the river bed. While the lagoons looked very tempting, I fought the urge to dunk my camera. When the trail didn't follow the river bed closely, it went through stands of poison oak. The leaves were turning a
pretty shade of red and I am sure they were pretty itchy as well. I wisely avoided contact. Along this part of the trail I visited "Lilbears First Cache". I picked up some trash along the way. This is a very popular area and the trash and the graffiti took away from nature's charm. The strangest thing I found was a pair of black Levi's jeans - not my size though.

At the 3 mile mark I arrived at the dam. I thought about turning around at this point for about a second before I continued on. At this point the road climbed up about 500 feet to the top of the dam. After crossing a relative flat area, the Gibraltar trail splits from the road and heads down 400 feet. The trail curves around a cove in the reservoir before climbing 400 feet. (Whew!). At the top of this rise I checked the GPS. It said I had traveled around 4.75 miles or so. The mine was not in sight but I was sure it was just around the corner so I continued on. Along the way I was twittered at by swallows who were nested on the rock along the trail.

I eventually made it to the Sunbird Mines Ltd. Quicksilver Mine. The building was fenced in as it was considered unsafe. Whoever put up the chain link fence were considerate enough to route the fence so you could photograph the inside of the building. I don't know how old the mine is. The owner of the mine failed to re-file their claim in 1991 and the mine was turned over to the forestry service who put up the fence. The area is believed to be contaminated with Quicksilver (Mercury). The old building and the two trucks are pretty cool. The mine shaft is sealed but you can still look in.

I found some shade with three other hikers and snacked. My protein bars aren't enough for these long hikes. I will have to look into packing a lunch. I rested for about 25 minutes. At the mine the GPS said 6.3 miles. I took a few more pictures before I headed back. My muscles were already complaining and the hike soon became grueling.

The return was tough. My legs and feet complained all the way. I reached the dam and dropped down to the Redrock trailhead. I looked at my GPS and saw that I was less than a half mile from "
El Diablo Rojo" cache. Against my better judgment I headed up the Devil's Canyon trail towards the cache. This is a really cool trail that crisscrosses a creek in a narrow, oak (and poison oak) lined canyon. I would have enjoyed it more if I wasn't already exhausted. The trail is narrow and a little overgrown in areas but it was easy to follow, even in my tired state. I found the cache, its first official find since 2003 (there was a log entry from February 2006 but it wasn't logged at the website). It wasn't hard to find but this trail probably isn't traveled very often - a pity since it is really beautiful in the canyon. On the way out of the canyon I saw a pile of droppings. After checking on the web, I think they were bear scat. Another hiker told me she had seen bear tracks.

I got back to Gibraltar Dam road and started back towards the car. The road climbs 500 feet before heading down. The sun was beating down like sledgehammers. My legs were rubbery. My feet hurt - I mean HURT. I must of looked like a zombie, the way I was walking all stiff. A hiker and her dog, the one one who saw the bear tracks, caught up with me. I had passed her a while back - actually she wasn't a hiker, she was a runner. When we both made it to the top of the climb she started running - I loath her and her youth. Later on her dog passed me going the wrong way. Eventually I ran into her again going back up the hill looking for her dog. She still looked fresh and full of energy - Damn her! I eventually found a trail that would cut .25 - .5 miles off the hike. I pointed it out to the runner when she came back down with the dog following. I followed her down the trail - slowly.

I reached the car. I was bone tired. I had run out of water about 500 feet from the car. The GPS said 12.78 miles - a new personal best. I downed another liter of water in the car on the way home. Pictures can be found

I am writing this the day after the hike. I am still tired and my legs are still sore and kind of rubbery. I think I pushed myself a little too much. I am seriously thinking about calling in sick on Monday to recuperate. I read an article recently that said that walking in nature helps reduce depression. This is true, hiking always makes me feel better, but too much of a good thing ... OW!

Friday, June 08, 2007

Past Vacations #19: Peru 2006 - Part Two - Nazca Plain and Ballestas Islands

On the morning of day three we boarded a bus and drove south. The bus was big and each of us could have had our own seat. On our way to Nazca we learned that a large part of Peru is Desert. From the coast to the Andes Mountains, the country is sandy desert. Ten rivers flow from the Andes to the ocean and cities, towns and farm land sprout along the river oases.

As we drove down the
Pan-American Highway, the desert was dotted by shanties and tin shacks. All countries of the world have their poor. Peru is no different. One thing I found very interesting is that Peru is embracing Globalization by introducing new crops for export - one crop being Asparagus. The Peruvian people seem very forward looking.

Our first official stop was in the city of Ica. We arrived a little early and our air tour of the Nazca Lines was not ready for us so we stopped for lunch at a resort. We enjoyed a buffet lunch and music. The outdoor restaurant was great. The music, played on traditional bamboo pan flute, was wonderful. They played a mix of Peruvian and western music (including ABBA - HA!). This was the first place where I heard the Simon and Garfunkel song that haunted me the entire vacation.

After our excellent lunch we visited a regional museum. I didn't take any pictures here and I kind of regret it. Most of the rooms were full of stuff similar to the Rafael Larco Herrera Museum exhibits we saw in Lima but the last room was different. This room, the bioanthropology room, displayed mummified remains including the
elongated skulls of people whose head was bound with boards at birth resulting in a deformed, almost alien looking, skull.

After the museum, we were informed that the Nazca air tour was ready for us. The weather had cleared out since morning so the viewing would be spectacular. We were bussed to the local airport where we were divided into two groups. The wife and I were in the second group. While the first group flew we toured the airport and had a chance to get a close up look at an Andean Condor. The plane returned and it was our turn. I had read about the Nazca Lines since I was a little boy. I had always been fascinated with UFOs and other stuff little boys are interested in. One theory about the lines is that they were built by aliens as landing strips. I am much more skeptical today (University education does that to most people) and there is ample proof that this awesome feat of artistry is man-made - a testament of the skills of the pre-Incan civilizations.

The flight to the Nazca Plain and the famous Nazca lines was about 15-20 minutes. The figures are amazing - the largest being over 900 ft long. The lines were made by moving the rocky surface aside exposing the lighter soil below. The plain, part of the northern Atacama Desert, is dry and virtually windless which has allowed the figures to last at least 1,300 years. Today tire tracks from tourist cars and motorcycles are a bigger threat to their existence then the forces of nature. Our tour pilot was hilarious. First he would bank hard to the left then hard to the right to give all the passengers the best view possible. He was obviously having fun. I spent most of the flight with my eye to the view finder of my camera praying that the pictures would come out. If they didn't, I would have missed a lot. Fortunately for me most of them came out. In the pictures you can see the Spaceman, the Monkey, the Thunderbird, the Spider, the Hummingbird, and the Hands. Here is the Alien Landing Strip. On the trip to and from the lines I took some great pictures of the desert landscape - some of my best pictures if I say so myself. We were all happy to get back onto Terra Firma - all the bank-right-bank-left-ing was a little too much for some people and my stomach was a little queasy after that amazing roller coaster ride over some of the best scenery I have ever witnessed.

We got back on the bus and made a brief stop to the
Huaca China Lagoon. Legend has it that a maiden was bathing in the water was discovered by a hunter from another tribe. Her tears became the lagoon and her robe, billowing as she ran from the hunter, became the dunes that surround the oasis. The maiden is said to have transformed into a mermaid and lives in the lagoon. Today the lagoon is a vacation spot for many Peruvians and the dunes are used for "Snowboarding."

That evening we spent the night in Paracas just north of Ica on the Pacific coast. Our guide said we should wear jackets and hats for the next morning. She emphasized the hats. The next morning we got on a boat and headed out to the Ballestas Islands. On the way to the island we got a view of the mysterious Candelabra of the Andes. The Ballestas Islands used to be used as a rich source of guano. Every seven of so years, workers from the Andes would be hired to collect the bird droppings that, after seven years, would be feet thick. The guano was used as fertilizer in Europe. The islands are now part of a nature reserve. Colonies of sea lions, pelicans, cormorants, boobys, and penguins live on the islands. The need for hats and jackets soon became apparent as waves of birds flew overhead and do what birds do best - guano. As our boat cruised around the islands, huge flocks of birds - I mean THOUSANDS flew overhead in waves. I have never seen so many birds in one place at the same time. When I looked up and saw the wave upon wave of birds, I was completely full of awe. On the way back to shore we were escorted by some dolphins.

Later that day we went into Paracas and did a little shopping. During our last meal in Paracas, the guide pointed out that my birthday was only a day away. She also pointed out that our Doctor from Sioux City had just celebrated a birthday. Everyone sang Happy Birthday but, since we really weren't on a first name basis yet, the song faded into incoherent mumbling when it was time to sing the names. We all got a laugh out of that. A chocolate tort was brought out, we blew out our candles, and we all partook of birthday tort. The Doctor and I were given
cool gifts from our guide. We drove back to Lima and went to bed early as we had to get up very early the next morning to catch a flight to Cuzco.

Here ends Chapter Two. Pictures can be found
here. Coming up in the next chapter: Our flight to Cuzco, the Sacred Valley of the Incas, and Ollantaytambo.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Out Of Town

I'll be in Rhode Island for a business meeting this week so I won't be posting. I am hoping I'll have time to geocache and sightsee while I'm there but there is no guarantee. I'll be back Friday. Have a great week!

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Hiking Ventura County #19: Hummingbird Trail - Rocky Peak Park

I saved a relatively short hike for this weekend as I'm going to Rhode Island next week and I didn't want to be too sore on the plane. The Hummingbird Trail is similar to the Chumash Trail in it starts low and goes up until it reaches the Rocky Peak Fire Road. This trail differs in that there are more rocky outcrops along this trail including a really large rocky slope part of the way up. The rock was pitted where rain water accumulated. Some of the pits were the size of bathtubs but they were all dry. Unfortunately the rock is covered in graffiti. There actually is what appears to be an advertisement of HD Disks painted in 12 foot letters on the stone - sad.

Other than the defacing of nature, the views along the hike are pretty spectacular. The wildflowers were still in bloom. I saw a deer and a rabbit (not rabid) along with the ever present lizards. The birds were out in force including a Raven and what looked like a Hawk. (I'm not good at identifying birds.) When the wife first moved out to Oxnard and saw the size of the ravens out here, she christened them Pterodactyls. They are pretty big. The rock formations provided a multitude of caves and cubby holes for dangerous animals to hide in - I saw none though. Hidden amongst the rocks was the "Cache Twentytwo" geocache.

The trail ends when it connects to the Rocky Peak Fire Road. There was a bench here and it looked like a nice place to rest but before I rested I found the second cache on this hike, "Rocky Peak". This cache is very old in caching terms as it was hidden in February 2001. I was find number 174. I was surprised to find the cousin to The Mind Wanders... in the cache as swag. I picked up another travel bug, "Monument Peak (CO)" Green Jeep Travel Bug, to go with the geocoin I am holding. I am thinking about taking them to Rhode Island to drop off in the caches there. The cache was near a man-made cave and a natural cave. Inside the man-made cave was a sad scrawling. I hope whoever wrote it is well.

The walk down was uneventful. I did find a member of the Antarctica Paratroop Corp hanging out at the rock.

The beginning of the trail is all torn up and there is evidence of heavy earthmoving equipment. I hope they are making it a park and not a strip mall. The total hike was 4.8 miles with a 1,040 ft climb. Pictures are here.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Past Vacations #19: Peru 2006 - Chapter One - Lima

Our last vacation was our best so far. Peru was life altering. I am not exaggerating. We learned so much - about Peru and about ourselves - on this trip. This trip is too much for one post so I will divide it up into several chapters. Chapter One covers our arrival and our first day in Lima, the capital of Peru.

How we chose Peru for our next vacation destination was very convoluted. I started looking at ways to visit Easter Island. After investigating flights and stuff, I decided it was going to be difficult to plan. During my investigation, my target shifted from Easter Island to the Galapagos. That too turned out difficult to fit into our budget and schedule. Then I saw a tour that included the Galapagos and Machu Picchu. This led me to look at Peru. The more I looked at Peru the more I was interested. I discussed this with the wife and the target was set. All our previous vacations had been self planned. Peru was a little too complex ... well, a lot more complex than our other vacations. We decided to visit AAA to enlist their help in planning this trip. Our AAA travel agent gave us a General Tours brochure. After looking through the Peru trips, we decided on exactly what we were looking for: Grandeur Of Peru.

The vacation started with a flight to Lima via Miami. We arrived in Lima late (10-11 PM). We met with our tour guide outside baggage claim. She took us to a van and asked us to wait as there was another party on our flight that had not cleared customs yet. After a very short wait, a family of four (Parents and two older teenage daughters) entered the van. We exchanged greetings. The wife's magic struck again when we discovered that the family was from Sioux City, Iowa where my brother-in-law lives. Later in the trip we discovered that the father is my brother-in-law's veterinarian - It's a Small World after all ...

On the way to our hotel, the guide informed us that the next morning was free. She pointed out nearby restaurants and shopping. She checked us into the hotel and we went to bed. We slept in a little before venturing out to explore the area around the hotel. The hotel was located in a nice commercial area of Lima surrounded by stores and restaurants. All rooms had views of the Pacific Ocean. It was July so it was the middle of winter in Peru. Peru is fairly close to the equator so the temperature was pleasant - in the 60s and 70s. Weather in Lima and most of the coastal areas was overcast - what would be called June Gloom here in southern California. This really didn't detract from the experience.

Early afternoon we met up in the lobby and had our first chance to meet our tour mates. Our tour group was only 20 people. It turns out that everyone got along with everyone very well, everyone was on time, and there were no personality conflicts - great. We boarded a bus where another guide took us around the city. As we drove through Lima, the guide pointed out the Spanish colonial architecture with some of its Moorish influences including the enclosed balconies overhanging the narrow streets. We visited the Cathedral, the San Francisco Convent, and the Rafael Larco Herrera museum. This was a great way to start the tour. We all had time to meet each other and the pace was relaxed. We immersed ourselves in Lima and Peruvian culture.

The Cathedral was impressive. Many of the pictures I took inside did not come out as it was dark and camera flashes were not permitted. We learned how the indigenous people incorporated their religion into the catholic religion introduced by the Spaniards. We learned about Francisco Pizarro, conquerer of the Incan empire and founder of the city of Lima, whose remains are interred at the Cathedral. A beautiful Cathedral.

Next we drove to the nearby Convent of San Francisco. The church/convent is painted a bright yellow. Cameras were not permitted inside. This is unfortunate as the catacombs under the church were fascinating. Bones and skulls were arranged in patterns. I have never been surrounded by so much evidence of death but the fascination of it all overwhelmed all other feelings.

After the convent we went to the Rafael Larco Herrera museum. The museum is full of pottery, textiles, gold, and other artifacts of Incan and pre-Incan civilizations. The warehouses full of pottery was a little surreal. It is fortunate that so much well preserved examples exist for people to study.

We returned to the hotel and that evening we had dinner together at the hotel and learned more about each other. A delightful evening of pleasant conversation and good food. After dinner, our guide told us to pack smaller bags for our trip down south to the Nazca Plain. This caught everyone by surprise. Fortunately for us, we brought two collapsible bags with us, originally intended to hold all the treasures we were going to buy, that were the perfect size for the the one night stay away from Lima. I recommend similar bags when you travel for such unexpected situations.

Here ends Chapter One. Pictures can be found here. I will add pictures as I post each chapter. I took over 550 pictures though I doubt I'll post them all. Coming up in the next chapter: Nazca and the Ballestas Islands.