Thursday, January 22, 2009

A Lost Post

I think Lost has become my new favorite show. I have a few comments/questions to bounce of people who watch it. If you aren't caught up, there are some spoilers here.

I'm almost positive Jin is dead, despite what others think. Suppose he managed to get off the freighter before it blew up and survived. The Oceanic 6 didn't see him in the water, so what happened to him? He was further out than the helicopter and the freighter disappeared from the view of the island so he didn't go with the island to wherever/whenever it went. So if he wasn't in the water or with the island, I say he's dead. I wish he weren't, but people die on the show all the time, and if I remember right usually before new characters come along.

Pierre Chang in this video yells about the baby, and then in the premier is with a baby. Is the baby significant or just there?

They had better bring Walt back in an awesome way. He's one of my favorites and I want to know what makes him special. I was thinking that since Ben gave him permission to leave he wouldn't have to come back, but Ben gave Kate and Sayyid permission to leave and they have to go back, so I don't think my theory works. Why isn't Ben concerned about bringing him back?

I was sold on the idea that Ben and Widmore were constants, which was why he didn't kill him. But if Ben is banished from the island, why would he need a constant? Can he still move through time?

Is Charlotte Ben's friend Annie when he was young who moved to England before the purge?

Does Vincent play a role, or is he just a dog?

Any other thoughts?


I thought of you all on my lunch "break"

For a "good" time, "click" "here."


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Happy Inauguration Day

I know I'm a day late, but oh well.

One of the blessings for which I am most grateful is the fact that I live in this country. There are many great things about this country, but one of the greatest is the peaceful transfer of power established by the Constitution. You don't have to look too far to find places in the world where the leaders refuse to give up power or abide by democratic elections.
Anyway, here's to America, elections, and peace!


Sunday, January 18, 2009

I Make Salad

I invented a salad today. I'm sure if I were to google spinach apple salad I'd probably get hundreds of recipes, so I didn't really invent it, but I had never made it and was just throwing stuff together that I found in my fridge. I chopped spinach into little pieces, grated a granny smith apple, grated a carrot, and then grated about 1/3 of a small onion (I'd add even less next time). I poured a little raspberry vinegar on it (to tie together the apple with the spinach and onion), and a bit of olive oil, salt and feta cheese. It was shockingly amazing. All part of our goal to have a healthy vegetable (ie, besides iceberg lettuce) with every dinner.

(Imagine a picture of spinach apple salad here. In a red salad bowl)

If I had a lemon, I would have soaked the grated apple in lemon juice before I added it to the salad so it wouldn't turn brown.


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Taken to Heart

This year on Christmas eve, perhaps in an attempt at creative gift giving, my dad gave everyone a big scare by letting his heart stop for a few minutes. After coming back to life (and wondering why everyone was standing over him), he proceeded to have triple bypass surgery due to the 2 completely clogged arteries and the third 95% clogged artery.

As I looked at my dad in post-op with a breathing tube, I saw my future and I decided to change it. I've always had a hyperactive metabolism that never showed any signs of slowing, but in the past year and a half (perhaps ever since this post) I've gained more weight than I did in the previous 10 years. I've never really thought about what I ate since I always assumed I was young and indestructible. And while I am still young and virtually indestructible, I'm going to start being more serious about my health.

I'm not talking about starting a diet, or making another ill-fated new year's resolution to start running again. I'm changing how I eat and how I plan my exercise. On the eating front, I've given up my resistance to drinking diet soda. I'm not quite ready to only drink water, but going from super big gulps of high fructose corn syrup to diet soda is a big step for me. I'm also changing my philosophy of eating as many calories as I want, to only eating enough or less to maintain my weight, which for me is about 2000 calories. I'm not going to count my calories, but I'll just eat less than I usually do- only eating until I am no longer hungry and not until I feel full. No more steaks with extra fat on them. I get treats and desserts and candy, but just not as much and not as often. (By the way: family- I left a bag of M&Ms and Reeses in Mom's black box by the computer. Could you mail them to me?)

As for exercise, instead of my usual "I'm going to start running again", which sometimes lasts for several months but inevitably fails because of weather, boredom during workouts, and the fact that I always allowed myself to miss a few days each week (which prevents good habit formation), I'm just scheduling in 1.5 hours of exercise time every day from 8 to 9:30. To tackle the weather problem, I bought a year membership at the community gym which has an indoor track, and for the boredom problem Jenny is lending me her old ipod. I'm not dictating to myself what I have to accomplish in those 1.5 hours, I just have to be there doing something, even if its just stretching. I think this one will stick- I've already done it for a whole day!

My goal(s): Not die from preventable health problems before I'm 95, finally get the body of my dreams while I am still in my prime, and, regardless of what I end up looking like with my dream body I'll at least feel good from being in shape and eating decently.


Monday, January 05, 2009

Day 8: Sabado – Lima

I was up at 5:45 to catch my flight. When I got to Lima I took a cab to the hotel where Jenny, Tom and Destiny were. The cab driver told me he had an American name and showed me his taxi license and it read “Jhony.” I didn’t have the heart to tell him his name wasn’t exactly American as written.

After I got to the hotel we walked to a few little markets. As we were walking to a restaurant we wanted to go to we walked by Huaca Pucllana which are pre-Incan adobe pyramidal-type ruins. They are just hanging out in the middle of the city. It was built between 200 and 700 AD by the people called the Lima and was used for religious purposes by this peaceful people.

We had a good lunch where they gave us purple corn juice for free since it was our last day in Peru. Tom, Jenny and I went to the catacombs in the San Francisco cathedral, which were amazing, but we couldn’t take pictures. A bunch of the bones were nicely arranged in patterns. The catacombs were below this church and used until 1821 and somewhere between 25,000 to 70,000 people were buried here.

We passed by this colorful neighborhood on the way.

We then walked around some plazas next to the catacombs.

On the way to the catacombs we saw this guy on his bike.

We walked down a street to catch a taxi with shops on either side. I don’t remember this happening, but Tom caught it on camera.

We ate dinner at Pardo’s Chicken by our hotel that had some amazing chicken. We then stocked up on goodies before heading back and going to bed. The Marriott was right on the Pacific Ocean and we had a great view.

Domingo – Home
We were up around three in the morning and headed to the airport, flew through Bogota and then back to DC. We were only in Bogota for a short time, but we had to go through security after getting off the plane to head to the terminal for our connecting flight. Then we had to go through security again right after the first checkpoint. We had to go through yet a third time before we got on the plane. But my favorite part of the airport was the bathroom. The individual stalls did not have toilet paper, there was just a big dispenser on the outside.

At Dulles the shuttle we got on after we landed was blocked in by a plane so we were stuck on the shuttle for a while. I then got held up at customs. Then it took a while to get to our car since we didn’t know exactly where it was. Then none of the toll booths worked and it took forever before we could get out. Finally we made it home and crashed. It was by far the most work I had ever done on a vacation, but it was worth every last bit.

Here is Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5, Day 6 Part 1, Part 2, Day 7, Day 8


Day 7: Viernes – Cusco

Tom, Jenny and Destiny flew back to Lima on Friday. I bought my plane tickets after they did and the Friday Cusco-Lima tickets were sold out so I had the day alone. I woke up at 5:30 with everyone else and then couldn’t fall back to sleep so I got out of bed and headed for the Plaza de Armas. I went into the cathedral and saw the famous last supper painted with a guinea pig as the meal which was done to appeal to the Incas. The inside of the church was beautiful but no picture taking allowed.

I then went to Koricancha, a church built atop an Incan temple. Cusco was viewed as the navel of the world and Koricancha was the religious center. I wasn’t too impressed. When the Spanish first came the temple was full of gold but it is long since gone. There were some paintings from the 15th and 16th century that were nice, but nothing spectacular.

I went back to the Plaza de Armas and got a taxi to go to Tipon. On the drive we passed a few people who had filled the gutter with carrots to wash them, which made me question the quality of the food I had been eating, despite the rich flavor.

Tipon is a short drive from Cusco by a little town and has an irrigation system that the Incas rigged. The fountains are supposed to have ceremonial purposes or it was a royal garden (I’ve read both). There was a sign in the front that said the water was not to be used to wash cars. I guess enough people were using this 500 year old irrigation system to clean their cars that it became necessary to post it.

Driving away from Tipon there was a sign for a zoo and so we stopped by. It was private and the guy let me in for 3 soles (a buck) and the taxi driver in for free. It was small, but it had anteaters, monkeys, a condor, a puma and some other random animals. It was worth the dollar.

Here’s the bridge we crossed to get to it. It is typical of smaller bridges that I saw.

After the zoo we went to Pikillaqta, or City of the Fleas in Quechua. These are ruins from the Wari (roughly 700-1000, I’ve seen various dates for them, none of which completely agree) who predated the Incas. The Wari conquered many of the surrounding people and oppressed all cultures of those they conquered. There is support that the Incan culture borrowed from the Wari. Their ruins were similar to the Incas – lots and lots of rocks stacked on each other.

I contemplated going to Andahuaylillas, at town further out that has a beautiful church, some call it the Sistine Chapel of the Americas. But I felt like the cathedral on the Plaza de Armas was good enough for the day and it wouldn’t be worth it to pay the cab fare to walk around a church for half an hour. Instead I had the cab driver take me to the Tambomachay ruins outside of Cusco. Tambo means lodging with the necessary accommodations and machay means place of rest. Tradition calls the location the “Bath of the Ñusta” due to two aqueducts that have clean water all year coming from wells. The bathrooms there were marked with dolls by the doors. I went in and as I was standing at the urinal two girls walked in looking for someone. They left the door open on the way out so I could enjoy the scenery as I was standing there.

I then walked to Pukapukara – Red Fortress, which you can see from Tambomachay. Tradition says that after visiting the baths of Tambomachay Incans would go to Pukapukara for lodging.

I think I would have enjoyed Tambomachay and Pukapukara much more had I not gone to Machu Picchu the day before. Everything seemed less impressive and not as important. But they were still worth the quick visit. I then walked the five or so miles back to Cusco.

Back in the city I went to the museum of ancient history. I was not impressed and could have skipped it and not missed anything. It was small and didn’t have much in it besides some pictures similar to those in Koricancha.

Walking from our hotel to the Plaza de Armas we passed buildings which still have walls build by the Incans. This stone is famous for having so many sides, yet fitting in perfectly.

For dinner I ate alpaca. It was cooked in a lomo saltado fashion and served with rice and was excellent. I planned on having alpaca on Thanksgiving, but the restaurant where we ate on Thursday didn’t serve it, so I delayed my Peruvian Thanksgiving meal for a day. The restaurant where I ate was on the Plaza de Armas and so afterwards I went and sat on the stairs in front of the cathedral to try and write about the trip. But vendors kept coming up to me trying to sell me things. People are everywhere trying to sell artwork, and this kid Pablo Picasso Jr. came by. It was the third or fourth time he had tried to sell me paintings since I had arrived. Some girl came by and told me all the American presidents from the current Bush back to Hoover. I was impressed, but not enough to buy anything. Other people came by and I gave up. I went back to the hotel to pack and headed back to the plaza because I was bored. I saw an internet café and went in, it was the first time I was online in more than a week. The internet was slow and I gave up after less than half an hour. As I was walking back to the hotel some girl stopped my and offered me a massage; these people are everywhere in Cuzco. It was around 10:30 and I said it was a little late. She said she would give me “algo mas private” (something more privado). I just started laughed at her and kept walking.

Here is Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5, Day 6 Part 1, Part 2, Day 7, Day 8


Saturday, January 03, 2009

Day 6 Part 2: Jueves – Machu Picchu

Eventually we made our way down Huanya Picchu and the mist had all vanished.

Jenny and Destiny went to the hot springs in Aguas Calientes, while Tom and I stayed to walk around some more. After walking to the top of the ruins we decided to go up to the Sun Gate which is on the path that is barely visible here to the dip in the mountain.

It’s another long distance view of Machu Picchu on the opposite side of Huayna Picchu. It took us about half an hour to get to the gate. It was on the trail the Incans used to get Machu Picchu. Along the way there were some structures and at the top there was a building of sorts that made the Sun Gate.

We then walked back and split up to enjoy the site on our own. These are Tom’s pictures.

These are mine.

Despite the thousands of people that visit Machu Picchu everyday for the last little bit I was mostly by myself. I wondered around some buildings that led to other areas that sometimes would dead end. In one building I entered there were two Andean rabbits in the rocks.

We headed back to Aguas Calientes to eat and catch our train. We went to a restaurant called Indio Feliz or Happy Indian. This was our Thanksgiving meal and I had been wanting to eat alpaca for Thanksgiving all week. But they didn’t have any so I had mango chicken instead. It was delicious like all the rest of the food.

Along the way to the train station we ran into a bunch of kids who wanted their picture taken with us. We were a bit confused since there are thousands of tourists that go through the town everyday, but whatever.

We then made it to our train to Ollantaytambo and took a taxi the rest of the way back to Cusco. The trek was amazing and Machu Picchu was everything we had hoped it would be and more, with Huayna Picchu being our favorite part of the day.

After we arrived in Cusco we were surprised to learn that we were supposed to tip those who accompanied us. We gave each of the horseman $10, the cook $15 and Willy $20 which meant we were out $55 extra, so if you ever go budget this in with the cost of the excursion. Even with this it was still more than worth it.

Here is Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5, Day 6 Part 1, Part 2, Day 7, Day 8


Day 6 Part 1: Jueves – Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu's awesomeness cannot be contained in a single post. This is the first part of the day.

Thanksgiving was the day for Machu Picchu. We were up at 4:15 so we could be at the bus station by five to be on the first busses at 5:30. Machu Picchu is on a mountain by the town Aguas Calientes and it took about half an hour to arrive. We entered the park about when it opened at six.

Machu Picchu is about 100 miles to the east of Cuzco and means Old Peak in Quechua. Hiram Bingham, a Yale professor, “discovered” it in 1911. The locals knew about it and some were even living in the ruins. Bingham removed many artifacts and moved them to Connecticut, where they still are today. The Spanish had missed Machu Picchu and so it wasn’t plundered like other sites. There was an epidemic of some sort (possibly syphilis) around 50-100 or so years before the Spaniards arrived leading the Incans to abandon it. Being in the jungle covered mountain it would easy to miss, especially if cloudy.

When we entered it was misty and we couldn’t see much. Willy put his hands to his mouth, did some special sounding call and the mist disappeared for a brief time so we could see. He said that he didn’t want to have to do it again. I couldn’t tell if he was serious or joking but I think he was serious.

Willy took us around part of the ruins describing different areas. It is a gigantic place.

The Incans were obviously master stonemasons, but they had different levels of quality for the job. The first wall is a wall of the dwelling for common people, the second wall the dwelling for the priest, and the last wall for the temple. The more important the job, the better the masonry.

Here is a rock carved to look like a llama. There is an eye cut into the top right that is a little hard to see.

The rock in the foreground it carved into the shape of Machu Picchu. The two mountains are to the side and the dwellings in between.

This rock is carved into an Indian head. The line towards the bottom is the mouth. The rock bulges by it since he’s chewing coco leaves.

Willy left around nine or so and Paul and Corah went off to explore together. The four of us climbed up Huayna Picchu (which means Young Peak), a mountain beside the ruins that gives you a good view of the area and has some ruins as well.

The hike was less than an hour, but it was straight up. Some of the stairs went up to my knee.

We were worried about not being able to see anything because of the mist when we got to the top, but it disappeared as we climbed higher and there it was: Machu Picchu.

The view from the top was amazing. We spent around an hour taking pictures, talking to other people and just taking it all in. This rock is the actual peak.

Here is Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5, Day 6 Part 1, Part 2, Day 7, Day 8


Thursday, January 01, 2009

Day 5: Miercoles – Llactapata

Our tent in La Playa was right next to the Turkish toilet outhouse, which you actually had to flush by pouring a bucket of water into the hole. The outhouse was right next to the water pump. (I didn’t let myself think about that too much.) For whatever reason at five in the morning or so some people were up and cutting wood by the outhouse, or less than five feet from our tent. We then had to get out of bed at 6:00. We were going to climb the Llactapata trail – up the mountain in the background.

Llacta means town and pata height. Even though Hiram Bingham (the discoverer of Machu Picchu) found the ruins at Llactapata they are not well known or excavated very much. One ruin there could be the Sun Temple for Machu Picchu, with the rest being a ceremonial sanctuary and retreat.

We started the hike walking on a road when the bus with our gear passed us. Willy told us to get in the bus and it would take us a short distance to the start of the actual path. Instead we hopped on top. There were no seats or anything resembling a proper place to sit and it was incredibly uncomfortable. We had to duck for the branches along the way. Paul had the worst problem with it. Willy ran ahead and took some shots of us.

We got to the trail, which is from Incan times. We were climbing 850 meters in elevation, and so the path was all switchbacks straight up. The going was mighty slow, but the scenery superb. It was a walk through the forest, but sometimes it would be clear so we could see the mountains in the surrounding area.

We didn’t go to the peak of Llactapata, but to a clearing on the side of the mountain where there were the ruins and a view of Machu Picchu in the distance. When you first come out of the forest there is a building which you think are some Incan ruins (last picture above). But it is a reconstruction and the actual ruins are to the side of it. They are not that impressive since they aren’t fully excavated or kept up. Apparently they are sizeable but work hasn’t been done on them yet. These are the actual ruins.

It’s hard to see, but Machu Picchu is in front of the mountain that is sticking up in front of the ridge.

We stayed here for a while and Willy told us about the Incan civilization and about the ruins. We hiked straight down all the elevation we climbed up.

Although you can’t really see it, on the last picture there is a house more than halfway up the mountain. I’m not sure who set up camp that far up or is willing to take the switch back road up and down to go anywhere, but there they are. We then walked along a creek/river past a hydroelectric plant. The plan of the power plant confused us though. They pumped water up the mountain, then shot it out a hole they created in the side of it.

We eventually made it to the train station area. We ate lunch at a little restaurant along the way and had fried cauliflower.

Willy then taught us a fun card game that we dubbed Slick Willy in his honor. After lunch we got on a train to go to Augas Calientes, the town by Machu Picchu where we were spending the night. For whatever reason partway through the train ride the engine disconnected itself from the rest of the cars and we got a new engine. Willy said that happens all the time, but we were all confused about it.

We arrived at Augas Calientes where we each had our own hotel room. We showered and ate dinner at a local restaurant then went to bed early to get ready for Machu Picchu the next day.

Here is Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5, Day 6 Part 1, Part 2, Day 7, Day 8