First the Incas and now the Mayas…

  I found a link to this site today, where you vote for your favorite city in the US. I chose San Francisco, but Boston, New Orleans, and DC were close seconds. Anyone know how Charleston, Minneapolis, and Orlando got in there?

  Last night Danny & Oswald were eliminated on the Amazing Race, which means three teams I can’t stand are left instead of four teams I can’t stand. I think my least favorite of the remaining teams is Charla & Mirna, but I really don’t like any of the teams left.

  Work was kind of uneventful today, except I’m getting closer to getting some of the things I’ve been working on done. Since I’m not in maintenance any more, I have to depend on the maintenance department to get certain things done like software changes or implementation of new hardware. I can see why operations used to get frustrated with us at NAS because we had our own priorities, but now I assume they’re ignoring operations. It’s really frustrating because I could just do the work myself if it wouldn’t mean stepping on people’s toes.

  The best news from today was that it looks like my next big trip will be with my buddy Dave, and we’ll be going to Guatemala. Jean gave me the OK over the weekend, and Dave’s wife gave him the OK too. I’ve asked Jean in the past about going to Gaute, but she’s always said she didn’t care anything about going there, so it was exciting that Dave was interested in going. I had also asked in the past if my college roommate, Phil, had wanted to go to Guatemala, but he wasn’t ever that interested.

  I let Dave check out my 3 year old Lonely Planet Guatemala book over the weekend, and I was really surprised today when he brought up going to the same three places I really wanted to go to down there! The most surprising was that he said he’d like to go to El Mirador in the Peten region. I bought two new books on Guatemala last week, and here’s what Rough Guides says about El Mirador:

“The conditions are very difficult – marshy mosquito-plagued terrain”

“El Mirador is perhaps the most exotic and mysterious Maya site of all. Encircled by the Peten and Campeche jungles, this massive city matches Tikal’s scale, and may even surpass it.”

“Only 1200 visitors make it to Mirador each year, and it’s hoped that this number will rise to about 10,000 by 2010. The jungle tracks to the main sites will no doubt improve by then, but for now the ruins are all very difficult to get to and require a minimum of a five-day (return) hike through dense jungle with pack horses and supplies.”

  Dave is into hiking and camping too, but I was surprised when this morning he said “what about that El Mirador?”. I hope we can arrange this trip into the jungle to see it, but it’s going to require a good amount of planning to make sure it’s done safely (all the immunizations, supplies, etc). We also are thinking about going into Honduras for a day to see the Mayan ruins at Copan, plus a trip to north-central Guate to the most famous ruins, Tikal.

  I’ll post more details as we plan them…

  Tomorrow night I’m going to some steakhouse for a dinner to celebrate Carlin and Dave’s promotions, so that should be fun except that I’ve got to dress up.

Updates to old blog entries…

  Carol and I basically did nothing all day, but man was it relaxing! I did go back and edit recent posts about Peru by adding pictures. I was dissappointed to see that Yahoo! News disables links to their news stories after only a week or two, so I have quite a few broken links that I need to take care of this week too.

  I plan on going back to all the posts from the RTW and adding pictures that go with the stories, and you will be able to click on the small pictures to blow them up to full size.

Olé! Olé!

It’s overcast and much cooler today in Southern California.. Yesterday it was in the low 90s and right now it can’t be more than 70F. Yesterday was the first time we’ve turned on our AC since we’ve lived in this condo, but we’re back to opened windows now. I finally got everyone out of bed this morning, and we all drove down to the 7-Eleven to pick up some Gatorade.

  I had asked Carol to get some pictures of her family when everyone was together for a big luncheon they had, but she didn’t for whatever reason. Instead, she took some pictures of her brother, “Junior”, in his masons outfit because he’s now the leader at his local masonic lodge and needed to get a picture for an ad they’re going to run. I still don’t know the secret masonic handshake, but I sure did enjoy both National Treasure and The Da Vinci Code. Maybe once Jean and I are married Junior will let me in on some of their secrets.

I was surprised to see another story about Macau on Yahoo’s front page this morning. I’ve said it in a previous post, but again, I hadn’t even heard of Macau until about a year ago when we started looking into places to go for the RTW trip, and now I’ve seen 3-4 articles about the place.

  I’m also getting more and more
excited about next weekend’s deep-sea fishing trip. I know there’s a possibility that we won’t catch anything, but I really hope we come back to Ontario with 2 coolers full of fish. I also wish I could take off 4-5 days and Phil was going to be out here longer so we could go camping down the Sea of Cortez side like Carolyn and I did this time last year.

Well I’m off to work on another DVD and Carol is doing something downstairs (probably something involving beads), so Ole!

Chef Carol Jean to the rescue

  Jean and I rested for a while after cleaning up, and then we went to Michael’s to try and get the art we bought on our recent trips framed. The nice lady working there suggested that we wait for 2 weeks and come back for their 50% off sale. We had her quote framing one canvas piece and it came to $380, so since we had a total of 4 pieces to be framed we decided it would be a good idea to wait.

  Next, we headed to Target to pick up a few things… We needed a new DVD stand since our old one was broken during the move from Kentucky. We also bought a few CD/DVD storage cases since we’re making DVDs from our home movies taken during our RTW and Peru trips. I’ve finished the Australia, Hong Kong/Thailand, and Cambodia DVDs but have a few more to go. I’ve made three copies so far – 1 for Carol’s mom, 1 for my mom, and another for my dad. If you’d like a copy, please just email us and let us know and we’ll make a copy and send it.

  When Jean and I started dating over 7 years ago, the most she ever cooked was putting together a sandwich once a week. She basically skipped breakfast, ate lunch in the mall’s food court, and then skipped dinner every single day. She use to joke about not being very domestic and that I could expect to make my own meals forever if we stayed together. I can happily report that this evening she’s made a red velvet cake, chicken & dressing, and homemade macaroni and cheese. She has about 15 different meals she makes fairly regularly and they’re all awesome.

  Tonight she slipped a little bit by putting the icing on the red velvet cake as soon as she pulled it out of the oven without anticipating that a 400F cake would melt cold icing, but I told her it’s a learning experience & just the first of hopefully many cakes to come. Between her mother’s unbelievably good southern cooking and my mother’s own cookbook, Jean will have plenty of opportunities to cook up a storm. Carol is a natural in the kitchen!! I hope I’ll be able to go to one of her family’s parties sometime soon so I can sample all the great dishes I’ve heard so much about and beg Jean to try and make those! I also hope I can talk her into making some of the things my own grandmothers made that I love (Jean’s derby pie and pot roast, or Nana’s fried okra and cookies/fudge).

  Enough about food. Tomorrow we’re planning on taking the dogs for a walk in the morning at the high school right across the street and then going to Home Depot. Other than that, we only plan on watching The Amazing Race tomorrow night. I suppose we’ll try to clean up some more and maybe I’ll make the Nepal/India DVD too.

G’nite,

Matt and Carolyn

Spring cleaning

JEAN AND THE DOGS ARE HOME! I was really happy to see them last night, and Charlie was really happy to not be by herself in a cage under a plane. We stayed up trying to watch all the Amazing Race episodes we missed while we were out of town (thanks again, Anna).

This morning we got up kinda early and went to Burger King for breakfast before returning to begin our day of spring cleaning. Jean and I decided that we’d work together room by room and try to enjoy this cathartic experience instead of loathing it like we usually do, but after we finished our bedroom we went ahead and split up. I worked on the bathroom while she did the kitchen. We’ve now pretty much abandoned the entire project so I can play on the computer and watch movies while Jean beads. You’re supposed to enjoy your weekends anyways, so I guess 4-5 hours of cleaning wasn’t too bad, and I like having dust-free blind slats!

I also found some old pictures that I decided to scan into my computer, using the Christmas gift Carol gave me 2 years ago, which I’ve been using a lot lately, a 3-in-1 copier/printer/scanner. I figured that these old pictures would continue to deteriorate over time and I wanted to save them forever, so they are now digital. Click on the pictures to see the larger versions.


My mom in the back of a truck with some groceries, and it looks like she’s exhausted.


My dad with long hair, looking like a hippie in ’73.


My dad when he was a baby.




I think Jean and I will do a little more cleaning and then it’s back to watching the Amazing Race All-Stars! I also need to make reservations at a hotel in Baja for next weekend at some point, and we need to go to Home Depot to buy more stones for the back patio. I also hope I’ll be motivated enough to go back through all the blogs and attach pictures or links so they’ll be a little more interactive.

Sweet Home Ontario.

It’s only one more hour until I pick up Jean and the dogs from the airport! I’m happy they’re finally gonna be home, and I’m sure Charlie will be relieved to be out of the plane. She gets really frantic when we leave her in strange places, and she absolutely freaks out when being checked as baggage at the airport. I know she’s trembling in her cage in the cargo hold right now.

Today was pretty uneventful at work. A guy from the roll shop retired, but I didn’t go to his party because I barely knew him. It’s strange working somewhere where guys retire almost weekly. My last company was such a young company that I may have seen 1 or 2 people over 35 every day, and I’d probably see 50-80 people in total. At my new job I see 10-15 people over 40 before my 7:15AM meeting every day.

I did see an article today about a US Border Patrol agent being charged with murder for shooting an illegal alien after being threatened. When did America lose it’s way? When did we decide it’s better to build a fence or forgive criminals and grant them amnesty than to post guys like Patton along the border to take care of this type of threat? I think these agents willing to put an end to this massive influx of criminals should be given medals of honor. Mexico is a lawless country where police either take bribes or they’re decapitated by drug runners, but their goverment complains when a US agent kills one of their “citizens” for breaking one of our country’s federal laws. I think I’ll write a letter to the governor of Arizona and the Cochise County Attorney’s Office telling them as an American I appreciate Nicholas Corbett protecting our country’s borders without consideration of politics.

On a different note, I’ve been thinking lately (actually for the past 2 years) about riding the Trans-Siberian railroad at some point. I’ve read stories on the internet about the long trip across all of Asia, and thought it would be fun for Jean and I to take one of the variations of the trip – probably Moscow to Beijing. The different itineraries I’ve read about have their terminus at either Ulaan Bataar in Mongolia, Beijing in China, or Vladivostok in Russia. We would obviously take the backpacker version where there are no showers but plenty of vodka for 8 days because the new one they’re talking about on the link above costs around $20,000 per ticket (9595 British Pounds), while the regular ticket we’d buy costs around $400.

Now I’m off to the airport to pick everyone up!

Come on home, JEAN!

  Welp, I didn’t make it to the pipe mill today. I had planned on it, but I forgot my camera and I spent the day working on other things… I would do it tomorrow, but Jim’s taking the day off to work on his second job, building iron fences. Maybe Monday. I just hope filming hasn’t wrapped up before then.

  I did manage to read a few news articles today, and thought Jean and I were lucky to stay in a hotel in Istanbul for 4 nights without it collapsing around us. Istanbul is a really old city – called Constantinople and Byzantium in the past, so I’d expect there to be some crumbling old buildings, but the article says most of the modern buildings aren’t built to normal standards.

  Another article I thought was interesting was another one about India. Again, you hear about how progressive India is all the time lately — CNN just recently ran a two hour special about India’s emerging highly educated upper-middle class youths with lots of money. It’s hard to believe a country experiencing all this change for the better and also known as the “world’s biggest democracy” would allow a warrant to be issued for the arrest of an actor who kissed a woman on the cheek. I would expect this from some backwards Muslim country like Yemen or Saudi Arabia, but not from a country that produced the Kama Sutra and where men regularly use the bathroom in public view (yes, #2 also).

  I’m excited that Jean and the dogs are headed home tomorrow, but I need to get my act together and do laundry and dishes tonight before I’m in trouble. 🙂

Iron Man in Fontana

Work was pretty boring today.. I don’t have much to do right now, so I just try to keep busy any way I can, and today that meant watching the Five Stand operators spend 45 minutes trying to stick one work roll in Stand 5.

I was pretty excited to find out that they’re filming a movie out at the pipe mill this week. Iron Man, starring Robert Downey Jr and Gwenyth Paltrow is based on the Marvel Comics character, and supposedly they’re blowing stuff up in the soaking ponds by our pipe mill this week. I talked to my buddy, Jim, who use to be in the office next to mine before I moved last week, and he was telling me about how he use to sneak around the Mission Impossible III set when they were filming at our company. Tomorrow I’m bringing my camera, and we’re gonna hop on his buggy and head out there to see if we can spot a star, get a few pictures, and maybe hone in on their catered lunches we heard rumors about today.

I’ve almost finished making arrangements for the chartered boat in Ensenada, Mexico (Baja) for when Phil comes out over Cinco de Mayo. We’ll be on Top Dog, trying to catch some whoppers out near the Santo Tomas Reef. Hopefully I’ll get some good pictures of that weekend. It had been a toss-up between the chartered boat or an “Alabama Bass Boat”:

Matt

ps – I finally finished typing up my dad’s blog on our Sacred Valley tour in Peru! You can find it a few posts below this one.

Sound familiar?

I’ve never claimed to be a real estate aficionado, but I’ve been reading plenty of articles on the housing market ever since February 2006. I constantly heard realtors and writers sponsored by realty companies saying that the market was barely slowing down but blah blah blah — there is no bubble and it will never burst blah blah blah. Well, having had our home on the market for 12 months and having to reduce the price by over 15% and finally selling it for LESS than we paid for it over three years ago, IT IS BURSTING AND WILL CONTINUE TO BURST! Normal working people can’t afford a $700,000 home with 1400 square feet, built in 1986! Your little homes simply aren’t worth anywhere close to what you’re asking, and it doesn’t matter that you live in California because waitresses and construction workers don’t make $300,000 a year!

Anyhow, after all the articles and the pain of dealing with moron realtors (ahem, Marty Estenfelder and Cindy Cahill, ahem), I couldn’t believe the article I came across today. It was written about Carolyn and I, and couldn’t have been more poignant. I just wish someone had written/published it before I took the job out here. Looking back on it though, I couldn’t be happier that we moved out here, but it wasn’t easy. The problems we went through also showed me just what kind of company I work for, and I don’t think I could work for a better place given the support they provided me during the transition. I’ve been lucky to always have the perfect jobs at the right times in my life. Free videos and a small paycheck was perfect when I was in high school, and working at Chevron as a freshman in college helped my friends and I ignore the problems associated with being 18-19 in a college town, while working at a girls dorm was perfect for me between relationships, IBM opened my eyes to what engineering really was, NAS gave me more experience and opportunities than anyone my age could have ever dreamed of, and now my new company is the perfect fit.

Enough of my rants… I thought this story about India was pretty funny. Everything you hear is about how progressive India is: how they’re going to be the next Global Super Power, they have more billionaires than any other country, they’ve surpassed the US in technology, and then you see a gem like this one about teachers sprinkling their young Indian capitalist students with cow piss. Very progressive. Maybe they should try that in Malibu.

I got a small package yesterday with a few of the things I ordered off of Amazon.com — Frommer’s Guatemala and Wetback – the Undocumented Documentary. I watched Wetback, and was kind of disappointed. It is a documentary about illegal immigrants coming from Central America (Nicaragua and Honduras) to the US. I was surprised about how the Central Americans feel about Mexicans — they hate Mexicans and say they receive infinitely more abuse from Mexican gangs, border patrol, and police than they ever would from US officials.

I didn’t like that the director started with two guys in Nicaragua, but abandoned them and moved on to other guys once those two gave up in southern Mexico. I wish he would have edited them out and found others that got further, or something else. I also hated how he portrayed the minutemen militias that patrol the borders because our own government does absolutely nothing to stop the flow of the people.

He interviewed people that went on and on about how much the illegal immigrants do for the US, but never mentioned how they clog American emergency rooms and cause our healthcare rates to sky-rocket because they don’t pay, or any number of other problems they cause (stealing identities of law abiding citizens to work illegally, using publicly funded services without paying federal/state tax – roads, police, fire departments, etc etc). They did point out that these illegals pay social security and sales tax though, and pointed out what percentage of their respective GNP’s are made up of American dollars sent home – remittances made up such an overwhelming part of Honduras’ GNP that they replaced their own currency (Colon) with the US Dollar in 2001.

I hope one of the front-runner Presidential candidates will make immigration a major campaign issue and be strongly for no amnesty. I don’t care where they fall in the rest of the political spectrum at this point, I’d vote for them. Come legally or not at all, and then assimilate.

I’m not sure why I’m writing about all these things today, but guess I needed to vent since Jean isn’t hear to listen (or most likely ignore and just shake her head like she’s listening).

Jean had lunch with my mom today, and then went to Amy’s house in Helena to visit the new baby, Truman, and Riley. Here are a few shots of her with our nephews:

Now I’m off to read about Guatemala.

G’nite,

Matt

Bachelor countdown at T-minus 4.

  Another boring day… I went to work, came home, and now I’m about to go to bed. Work was OK – I’m working on better alarming for leaks in the roll bending hydraulic system.

  I spent a good portion of last night and this evening trying to get rid of Spyware/malware off my laptop. I infected the laptop with this “Sheriff” software over the weekend and it was a pain to remove.

  The highlight of my day came right after I left work and was headed down 4th Street between Etiwanda and Milliken, when I almost ran into the car in front of me. Carolyn and I lived in the Homewood Suites right there for 6 months when we moved out here, and in the once empty lot in front of the hotel is now a large sign announcing the addition of one of my favorite BBQ joints, Famous Dave’s. There was a Famous Dave’s in Northern Kentucky that I loved (great dry-rub ribs), and I even introduced my mom to this place and she has since been to the chain in other states. California may have a bazillion hamburger shops, taco stands, and about everything ethnic type food you can imagine, but they basically have no bar-b-que restaurants. The ones they do have are almost all pitiful, except Lucille’s at Victoria Gardens.

  On another topic near and dear to my heart, I believe I mentioned in my post yesterday that the A-Day Game had a record crowd, and here is the proof from ESPN.

  Jean had dinner with Anna (thank you so much for taping TAR for us!) and Junior at some Thai restaurant, and I thought that was odd since Jean didn’t really care for the Thai food except for fried bread. Maybe she just needs to try more.

Falling asleep to the history channel,

Matt

Movie reviews, checking on the steel plant, and thinking of things to do.

This weekend has been basically uneventful. I watched both of the new DVDs I bought Friday, and Smokin’ Aces was a waste of money and the writer should be put out of his misery, but The Last King of Scotland was fantastic. I don’t know why Hollywood has been putting out a stream of genocide in Africa movies recently, but they’re really entertaining. Hotel Rwanda was great, Blood Diamond was pretty good (I don’t ever want to go to Sierra Leone), and now this Last King of Scotland is my favorite of the three.

I made a long list of things to do this weekend, but of the 13 things I only managed to finish 1. I did move forward on 3-4 others though. I captured some of our home videos from Cambodia onto my PC so I can make a DVD, I almost finished transcribing my dad’s blog post on Peru, I gathered all my receipts to try to balance my checkbook, etc. I also got up at 6:15 this morning and headed in to work.

I was always on-call at my last job, and I got calls in the middle of the night, almost every weekend, and nearly all holidays. At my new job I will be on “weekend duty” like 4-5 weekends a year. I’m in the rotation now and start in a few more weeks, so I went in to do a walk-through with Mike P so I’d know what they generally look for… I’d already done a walk-through with Carlin a few months back, but wanted to make sure I get it right when it’s my turn. There really isn’t much to it. You go in for like 1-2 hours and basically walk around the different mills and make sure there are no huge problems (basements flooded, lines down, etc). If there is a problem, you act as a coordinator by making sure the proper people are called in to fix the problems. Much better than the policy at the last place…

Tomorrow I’ll be in my new office, and counting the days until Jean and the dogs come back home. Jean sent me some pictures of the dogs, and Charlie has blown up and looks like a little chalupa. She’s been in heat, so that means she’s spent a lot of time in her cage, but it looks like she’s been eating lots of pizza too. I miss her.

I’m also excited about my college roommate, Phil, coming to see me in a few more weeks. There is almost too much to do in this area, so we’re having a hard time figuring out what we want to do for the 4 days he’s here. Vegas is too far away for such a short visit, and the new rules for visiting Mexico make that a problem. The good thing is that it hasn’t gotten too hot for camping. I’d really like to go deep-sea fishing, and Phil wants to go whitewater rafting. It looks like both options are expensive. A two day rafting trip to Kern River is like $320 per person, and chartering a private boat for fishing is over $300 too.

Amy and Truman came home from the hospital this morning, and Carol went to church with her mom. I think my dad got his internet working again by hiring a fifth grader to troubleshoot his network problems. My grandfather also called me last night, saying the A-Day game drew over 92,000 people!! The A-Day game is when Alabama spring football practice ends and they split the team into a Crimson squad and a White squad, and play each other. During my time at UA, I went to 2 A-Day games, and don’t remember there ever being over 10,000-15,000 people, but supposedly they were turning away people during the second quarter yesterday & Bryant Denny Stadium holds just over 92k!! Roll Tide!

I plan on going back through the blogs and either linking photos to the text or inserting photos so that people can see what we were talking about.

I also started thinking about future trips now that the ones I’d been planning for a year are over. I’ll be married soon, and then hopefully Carol and I will start having kids, but she is really interested in going to Bhutan soon. She became really interested when a girl in Kathmandu told us about it, and she even started doing a little research. If Jean is serious about wanting to go, maybe that will be our next trip. I also plan on taking a week and going somewhere with my buddy from work, Dave. Dave likes camping and hiking too, and we’ve started talking about doing Guatemala next year.

Laying in bed reading,

Matt

Here comes Arlo Truman McArdle!

  I know, I know… I never finished my dad’s blog entry and I haven’t posted in a while either. My dad’s entry is on like 50 3×5 cards and I’ve been really busy since getting back from Peru.

  Jean left for Birmingham on Thursday to pick up the dogs and visit her family, I spent today moving my office two doors down, and Amy had a baby. It’s hard to take care of yourself once you’ve been in cohabitation for so long, plus I’m trying to watch Red Dawn for the 174th time. How did Charlie Sheen not win an Oscar?

  Amy gave birth to my second nephew, Arlo Truman McArdle, today at 3:03pm CST. Tru was 9lb 7oz. I’ve heard that his older brother’s first words were “I love him”. Here are a few pictures of Riley and his new brother, Truman, and a few of the whole family (click the picture for a bigger version).

  After work I went by Circuit City and bought two DVDs since Carol isn’t here to monitor my expenditures. Smokin’ Aces and The Last King of Scotland. I also picked up some Chinese takeout. Being a bachelor isn’t too bad until it comes time for this colorblind guy to figure out how to wash the clothes for next week.

Home Alone,

Matt

Stomach explosions, rude airline representatives, and lots of skulls!

  We are now back at our condo in sunny Southern California. The traveling for 2007 is now over. I plan on writing more about Peru this week, but instead of doing that tonight I opted to finish typing out my dad and Jean’s posts. Please see the post below for the full versions of what they wrote about the Sacred Valley tour and our time on Lake Titicaca.

  My pop left on Saturday night, and Jean and I took it easy on Sunday. We planned on doing some local site-seeing on Monday with Hotel Aleman’s resident Limanean guru, Domingo. I’m not sure what I got into on Saturday, but something was not right with my digestive system when I got up to answer Domingo’s call around 7am on Monday. I started out just having a mildly upset stomach, but this quickly moved into a hellacious period of writhing in the bed with severe stomach pain, followed quickly thereafter by liquids pouring out of all orifices. I had a similar bout in Chihuahua, Mexico over two years ago – I was never sure if it was the little bean fritter I bought from a small vendor at a train stop in the Copper Canyon or if it was the three tiny pieces of ice in the one margarita I had at our hotel. I believe the Mexican experience was cholera based on the descriptions I’ve read on WebMD and other websites, but thank goodness the Peruvian strain didn’t last as long. 1 day instead of 2.

  I managed to slip out of the hotel for almost two hours for a tour with Carol and Domingo. We went back to the San Francisco monastery to try and see the catacombs which were closed on Good Friday when we had first tried to visit. We skipped the whole tour group thing because one guide was speaking Spanish and another was speaking Italian. We hurried past all the paintings (I think South American Catholics have an absurd amount of saints — there were no fewer than 75 different saint paintings/alters around this small house of worship), but I did manage to snap a forbidden photo of San Mateo! I was happy we split from the group because the catacombs were pretty creepy and fun to explore without standing in line with another 15-20 gawking tourists, all stopping for the obligatory photo. We were the only ones down there for almost 40 minutes. I still wasn’t feeling too well, and the putrid smell of thousands of dusty bones without any ventilation got to me. I felt like crap. We hurried out and after a 20 minute walk to Lima’s main Plaza de Armas, I asked Domingo to take us back to the hotel (he did try to stop at the “Lover’s Beach” in Miraflores, and we drove through the Plaza de San Martin — San Martin helped Simon Bolivar with liberating Peru from the Spanish).

  I spent the remainder of the day somewhere between the hotel bed and the toilet. Jean proved once again to be the awesome woman I love spending my time with… She took great care of me – providing wet towels, getting extra toilet paper, trying to call the airline to push our flights back, etc. We were supposed to leave the hotel at 8pm for an 11:30pm flight, but Carol was feverishly trying to push the flights back to give me time to recover. Neither United (cashed in frequent flyer miles with them) nor American Airlines (airline we were actually flying on) would help us, so we pressed on to the airport. I didn’t have any serious physical problems other than a stomach ache for the remainder of our trip home.

  Our problems switched from my Fujimori’s Revenge, to dealing with a Keystone cop-like airline. I have never flown on American Airlines, or at least that I remember. I always flew Air Tran in college because they were so cheap, and I only flew Delta or United while I worked for NAS. The 18+ legs we flew on the RTW were with many different airlines (Bangkok Airways, Indian Airlines, Korean Air, Air France, KLM, etc), but never American Airlines. I have now flown with American airlines for 3 segments and will never fly with them again. Furthermore, I will try to avoid Miami’s pathetic excuse for an airport at all costs.

  We waited in line for our boarding passes at the American Airlines desk in Lima for 65 minutes – luckily we were there 3 hours early. Our flight leaving Lima was 2 hours late almost to the minute.

  When we got to Miami, the stewardess just shrugged her shoulders when Carolyn asked if we’d make our 8:30am connecting flight to LAX. When you enter the U.S., you have to collect your checked bags, pass through immigration and customs, and then re-check before transferring to your connecting flight. Our baggage tumbled out onto luggage carousel at 8:34am. We picked up our bags and stood in a long customs line where customs agents were screaming for people to move in closer because for some reason they thought smashing everyone in tightly would speed up the process of their idiot agents’ fumbling through everyone’s bags looking for commercial items that needed to be taxed. We got our bags x-rayed for the 3 time that day and headed to an elevator because when we tried to re-check our luggage, the American Airlines rep said we’d need to be re-ticketed for a new flight. We stood in two separate huge lines waiting for the only three elevators in the whole Miami airport that can take you to the second floor, and after 15 minutes we got to the second floor.

  We had been confused when we passed through the Miami airport on the way to Lima, but this trip took the cake for annoying airports. After having been in well over 30 airports in the past 2 years, and something like 19 in the past 3 months, I can easily say Miami is the worst.

  They are doing construction, so there is crap everywhere. Not a single airport representative or individual airline rep was even close to helpful, and that was if you could actually find one, and then throw in the throngs of confused passengers of whom only 10% speak English. Going through Miami’s airport would be akin to going through a provincial airport in Bangladesh without any electricity.

  When we finally found the American Airline’s desks, we were told that we needed to get re-ticketed at counter “B” by agent “A”. We stood in line at counter “B” for a little over 25 minutes before agent “B” said “I don’t know who told you that, but you need to go to the International counter to be re-ticketed”. We left counter “B” and stopped by counter “A” and spoke to agent “A” again, where I asked her to follow me back to counter “B” because they said she was wrong. I was probably not very friendly at this point, and she said something in Spanglish that amounted to “I’m not speaking to you anymore”. Luckily this idiot followed. Agents “A” and “B” had a shouting match for 3-4 minutes in front of everyone about which one was correct, and eventually Agent “A” stormed off and Agent “B” told me (verbatim) “You just need to stand in line here. I don’t know, so just deal with it.” As you can imagine, I didn’t take this attempt at customer service very well. I told her exactly what I thought of her and her airline, and made sure the closest 20 people heard. The three people behind us in line had also missed their connecting flights because they were on the late flight from Lima, and they all agreed with me.

  We waited in the same line we’d been in two other times when we were told we needed to go somewhere else for an additional 30 minutes. We finally got up to a very terse agent who motioned for me to pass him our passports when I said I needed to be re-ticketed because his airline had caused us to be 2 hours late. He was rude for about 45 seconds before telling me the next flight with confirmed seats wasn’t until 2:30pm, but we could try standby at the 11:30am if we wanted to. I told him we didn’t really have other plans, so we’d try the standby first, and then he realized we had automatically been given seats on the 11:30 flight. I told him he seemed like the only person working for American Airlines that had a clue, and he smiled and asked me to say that louder. Next thing I know he bumped us up to business class and gave us a meal voucher for breakfast. Had we not ran into the two fools that kept sending us back and forth, I may have forgiven the airline, but two out of three proves to me that they hire a large percentage of morons, and that’s not who I want to trust my life with while I’m hurtling through the air at 30,000ft while going 600mph in a metal tube. You would think with the stiff competition in the airline industry that they would stress customer service, but I think that 15 year old’s slapping each other with mops at McDonald’s are more savvy.

  Enough long winded complaints about my last 48 hours. Peru is beautiful, my future wife is awesome, I had a great time seeing my dad, and I’m off to eat chicken squares that Chef Jean has just whipped up!! Back to my job, which I love, tomorrow. By the way, Jean is leaving me for more than a week tomorrow night so that she can go back to Birmingham to pick up our children (Charlie and Tank) from their grandmother’s house. Nancy and Junior have been wonderful to help us by looking after the dogs, and we’re excited about getting them back because we miss them tons. Also, I’m excited to see my newest nephew, who should be born in the next week sometime! Amy is having Arlo Truman (or Truman Arlo) soon, and hopefully I’ll be able to see him and Riley when I go to Birmingham sometime later this year. Other good news, my college roommate and best friend, Phil, is headed out to Cali to visit in another few weeks.

When in Incaville, do as the Incas do.

  As I said in the post below, made earlier today, we are back in Lima. We didn’t post on the blog for the past five days because we’ve either been running around crazy or in a place without internet, or even electricity in some cases. Here is a quick rundown of what we’ve been up to recently:

Sunday – Toured Cuzco’s Sacred Valley.

Monday – Missed our train to Machu Picchu, so caught up on rest.

Tuesday – Took an early train to Aguas Calientes (town outside MP), and ate/shopped all day.

Wednesday – Went to Machu Picchu and took the train back to Cuzco.

Thursday – Took a plane from Cuzco to Juliaca, then a combis van to Puno, found a hostal and then signed up for local tours around Lake Titicaca.

Friday – Took a tour boat to the floating islands of the Uros people and went for an overnight stay on Isla Amantani in Lake Titicaca.

Saturday – Returned on a local boat to Puno, took a tour of Sullastani, flew back to Lima, and saw Hubert off for his flight home.

Sunday – Got some laundry done, played on the internet, and generally just relaxed.

  I had asked my pop to write about the Sacred Valley tour and for Jean to write about our Lake Titicaca tour. It took my dad 5 days to piece his together, and Jean spent a good amount of time writing earlier today. I am posting below this little blurb both of their stories as they wrote them, but I may have made typos as I had a hard time reading my dad’s cursive and I was rushed to type Jean’s because I was running out of time on the computer. It may be out of sequence, but at least the blog will tell about what we’ve done this past week in more detail… I’ll be posting about Machu Picchu once Jean and I get home on Tuesday.

Bone-da-knees (“Buenos dias” as Fred Sanford says),

Matt y Jean

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Sacred Valley Tour — written by Hugh Bland
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Sunday – 4/8/07

  As we eagerly awoke on Sunday, we readied ourselves for a full day of sight seeing by renting a brand new Toyota Yaris from Eric’s Adventure.

  The night before we were enthused by the price of renting a car that included insurance, plenty of miles for what we wanted to cover, and the freedom to go at our own pace. Having read from books about the area among the 3 of us, we knew we were prepared. Despite all the good signs, Eric’s rep seemed a bit shyster-like.

  The first thing out of the adventure rep’s mouth on Sunday morning (Oh, I forgot to say that the brand-new Yaris belonged to the sales rep’s brother-in-law…) was “Oh sorry but my brother-in-law can’t let you rent his car today because something came up at the last minute. Not to worry! I have a great car coming with very low miles and it will be here very shortly.”

  After about 15 minutes a white Toyota station wagon rolled up in front of the office. I went out to see the miles and reported it had 78,000. When the agent was confronted by this untruth, he just smiled. Within 2 minutes he’d printed out a contract with the following points or non-points:

1) Renter is responsible for all problems with the auto (forget what I said last night about a $500 deductible to cover all problems, and never mind about switching from a new Yaris to an old clunker)

2) Yes you may have a credit card to pay for the rental (and you must waive all rights to refute anything we do to you hereafter, especially you are not to challenge anything we do to you after signing.)

  We laughed and we left.

  Mattie went one block down the street and negotiated.

  When we waited in the souvenir store – travel agency – money exchange place to meet our English speaking guide that Matthew hired based on his great English speaking skills, Carolyn and I eyeballed everyone who entered the store for 15-30 minutes.

  When the fellow who entered and appeared to be the “guide”, Carolyn reported to me that our driver may only have one arm, to this, at the time, seemed a problem due to the straight shift car, but we found out in just a few minutes that we actually had both a driver named Jonathan (who had two arms and one heavy right foot) and a guide named Ruben (who’s second arm we never viewed in over nine hours).

  We were set to go!

  In less than five minutes, I knew our investment in a native driver and guide was genius! Mattie rules!

  The path Jonathan, the drive, was given in Spanish by Ruben, the guide, led to multiple turns that had us out of Cuzco in less than 15 minutes. (Would have taken us an hour or more to get out after reading our 4 books and just possibly have at least 2 or more opinions of where to go…)

  Immediately, I was impressed with Ruben’s spectacular English that Matthew had assessed in a one minute phone conversation before bringing him aboard.

  Secondly, he started in Incan, Andean, and Peruvian historical events, characteristics, people, etc.

  I am confident those of you knowing me and Matt can fathom our INTERRUPTING him with our own questions. Every time we’d get him off track by telling us why rural houses mounted on the roof two bulls and a crucifix, or something he’d say “Now back to the history…”

  Ruben took pride in the “Andean people” both today and yesterday. He explained their work ethic, their customs, Catholicism, Spanish rule, and how he became a guide. At college he studied what I’d call “tourism”. At the time, in the early 90’s, this was a cutting-edge line of study. He explained that for many years, Peruvians felt ashamed of their culture due to a comparison to other S. America and world cultures that appeared far advanced than Peru. In 1992, a college professor of culture/tourism had an intellectual upheaval to prove to the people of Peru that the Andean people, especially and other Peruvian cultures, compared favorably to those of the Greeks, Romans, and all other esteemed people from any historical period.

  He told us he’d worked as an Incan Trail guide for 8 years when he’d do 40-45 4 day tours a year. Now that he’s married, with two children, he is a free-lance tour guide.

  Jonathan never uttered one line to the three of us, but he did have the Cusco soccer team’s game bellowing out of the Toyota’s radio for most of our trip.

  Though I could brag about Ruben appearing not to be as interested in our money as some other locals, he actually took us to all the local spots for tourists.

FIRST STOP:

  He explained to us that he was going to take us to a craft co-op where the indigenous people got 30% of the profit (at the time that sounded pitiful though he was bragging, but after seeing the co-op’s prices and others around Cuzco, Machu Picchu, and Puno, maybe 30% was good).

  For sure, to me, the crafts at this place were the best in all of Peru: hats, bags, rugs, etc. No others, except for a co-op in Cuzco, compared; however, their prices were 100%-1000% more than other places, with no more than 10-15% negotiating room.

  Mattie bought a beautiful hat that others marveled at (both the quality and price he paid) it for the rest of the week. I saw a couple of rugs I wanted to buy, but the prices were way too high.

  One of the best pics of the week was taken here. Carolyn caught Matthew running from a biting llama. My son was fast enough to save his finger, despite being spit at by this large animal in a petting zoo on the way to the artisan’s co-op shop.

  The rest of the week when we were around alpaca and llama experts, Matthew asked more and more in depth questions about how much danger he could have been in and what to do the next time!

SECOND STOP:

  Pisac’s market in all our tour books was noted as one of the largest in and around Cuzco, especially on Sunday. So, for sure, it was on Ruben’s list for our next stop. Not only did he get a cut of everything sold to us, he was most interested in the little flour filled delicacies fried & sold in a hidden area where buses & guides parked.

  When we arrived the woman greeted Ruben by his first name & he explained to us the various kinds of “empanadas” sold there. There was quite a few kinds but Carolyn and I got the traditional, while Mattie wanted a ham and cheese. On a scale of 1-10, the hot “traditional” scored an easy 8-9. It was outstanding.

  This was our first major bazaar area to walk through in Peru! Carolyn was in love with the place and bought the first of many hats, here.

  Matthew was a patient consumer and decided not to purchase anything here having bought a hat at the co-op for 600% more than Carolyn’s Pisac hat, but remember the “quality”.

  I ended up buying two things: wall hanging & a marble hand, each after bargaining and walking away. This was a strategy Carolyn & Matthew taught me in Morocco & one they had even further developed in the world tour.

THIRD STOP:

  Though mostly historic, Mattie opened his wallet, again, but Ruben didn’t get a cut.

  Just as we entered the Pisac Market mentioned as the largest in the area, we’d spent our allotted time entering the area. (Carolyn’s hat, my hand & hanging & the empanadas)

  As we walked into this gigantic market, Ruben said it was time to go to the Pisac ruins. (Before we left, Ruben returned to buy a full large bag of empanadas for his mother! Go Ruben!)

FOURTH STOP:

  We went almost straight up the mountain, up a dirt road that was not marked. We laughed that had we worked out the rental car experience without a driver and a guide that there would never have been a possibility of our finding this place.

  This was the 1st time in a week filled with exhausting steps up 60 degree inclines, with the 3 of us panting & heaving, then stopping & demanding our guide, leader, or group wait for the 3 gringos with the faces looking like they were ready to die.

  Here we found that Incan villages were divided into three areas: agricultural, spiritual, & political. Each area was distinctive. Though all three were magnificently engineered, the spiritual area was always the best; the political was mid-level but nothing like the spiritual or agricultural; and the agricultural was always the largest, but the rock and engineering work in the area was less impressive.

  Ruben was like a college professor on this stop:

1) He explained history;
2) He spoke of culture & looting of this particular site over the years;
3) He compared & contrasted the Incan culture to other Andean’s and the Spanish

  The entire time we were being hypnotized by Ruben’s knowledge & delivery, an Andean native dressed in his native culture was playing a flute that filled the mountains and valleys for miles.

  Yep, you’re right; Matthew bought a CD from this native on our way out of the mountain after a hour of being students.

FIFTH STOP:

  It’s now time for lunch, so we end up in Urubamba at a place where our driver & guide sit with a table of other guides and drivers. Carolyn and I order a la carte & Mattie decides to participate at the end of a long Sunday morning – early afternoon buffet (he blows the Pepto Bismol plan to the wind).

  Though our waiter messes up Carolyn & my order multiple times, he was enthusiastic. After listening to our redirections, he would smile, shake his head affirmatively, & jog happily away to mess up once again.

  After about one hour, all three of us had finished our meals, when an “authentic” Peruvian band set up beside our table. After three songs, we were accosted by a band member to buy the band’s CD, he left one on our table. Since he & the band were in cahoots with the waiter, our driver, & our guide, we were not getting out bill, yet.

  After each of the three Americans seated at our table demanded our checks & finally settled our eating bills, one of the band members was back in my face requesting $ for the CD I had placed on a table next to ours.

  As I stand up to leave, he demands payment, and I continue walking away, just like I’ve already done to Peruvian sales persons at least 100x already in just two days.

  On the road again: To see real Incan engineering & to realize how pitifully out of shape I am! As each of you who have been reading this blog over the past months, I am sure at some time you’ve been impressed with Matt’s mastry of names of the places he & Carolyn have visited. Well, for my $ this next place we traveled to where he pronounced correctly all week is spelled: Ollaytaytambo!

  I give him an A+! Who would have known in second grade that his pronunciation skills would be world class someday.

  Ruben explained to the three of us multiple times why the Incan’s steps were so steep & high most of the time & at other times why they were separated by space & shorter in height. Later in the evening when the three of us were recuperating from climbing some 600 steps, most of them 12-16 inches in height, we all concluded that not one of us knew why the Incan steps were so steep.

  A short lesson in Peruvian breathing. We entered Peru at Lima (sea level). We flew from Lima to Cuzco (10,000 ft). Denver is at 5,200 ft. Matthew & I both knew someone who exerted themself while working out near Denver & died! It’s hard to breath that high up despite being served coca tea, seeing ads for altitude pills, etc. So, our weak winded efforts at Ooly Bombay as I pronounced it, may be considered heroic by some.

  Anyway, seeing the way the Incans put together these gigantic stones & placing them hundreds of feet above the ground without any modern devices amazed us all. I am sure Matt will post a pic of the gigantic stones placed at the top. This was preparation for what we would later see at Machu Picchu.

  Again, like at Pisac, we saw three distinctive areas that served the Inca community in the 1500s.

  Amazing – the Incan’s engineering skills & Mattie’s pronunciation skills!

  Parteeee! The regional (if not national drink) is an alcoholic drink called chicha. Throughout the day Ruben had laughed when telling us different stories about chicha. He mentioned that many laborers and farmers drink it during the day and it gives them endurance to keep doing hard work throughout the day.

  One morning at 7:00AM in a busy area of town, we saw a traditionally dressed Andean woman with no shoes walk up to a chicha wagon & throw back a red and then a yellow chicha. This woman who looked like a pauper started her day like a Peruvian champion.


  Back to the tour: we ended up at a Peruvian distillery where chicha was made fresh daily. Of course, there were several buses there when we stopped, so we had to wait about fifteen minutes before we could enter the one room bottling house. While waiting, we watched tourists play a game of FROG (the precursor of corn hole). Additionally, (you’re not going to believe this) we were shown a small corral of guinea pigs. Guinea pigs are often held in ones yard in preparation for special events. Having a roasted guinea pig for your family & guests on Easter Sunday is a honor and expected.

  When we were finally able to enter the room where the chicha was made daily (it looked like Kennett’s distillery artifacts he had out on Springfield Rd.), we had the opportunity to buy sovenirs, etc. None of us bought anything.

Score:
  Like chicha – JMB
  Not like chicha – CJM & JHB

  Last Stop: For History & Retail
  From Chicha Land we had a long ride cross country. It was some of the most spectacular farmland I’ve ever seen. In and around Cusco, at 10,000 ft, where it never snows, they enjoy a semi tropical climate. The farmland was rolling hills with small patches of different crops, colors, textures, heights, etc. It looked like a painting from some great Italian master. It went on & on for miles.

  During this part of our tour, Ruben began telling us how Peru had & was evolving politically. He felt that Peru was moving toward democracy, even though 35% of the population voted socialist during the last election.

  I asked him about local elections: city, county, state, etc. What he told us next shocked all of us. He said that all the farming areas (and for that sake all rural areas) are run by an elected local president. The land and crops are farmed by ALL the people. Regardless of whether you like your neighbor(s) or not you are required to help the community when someone needs help.

  He went on to tell us a story that happened just recently where two people had a conflict with a party who thought they had been wronged. Without any due process as we might know it in the states, the two persons perceived as being the wrongdoers were killed. Nothing was done about this.

  When I asked Ruben if this system could be corrupt, his answer was, “Yes!”


  About the time the sum was going down we arrived at the 1700 Catholic Church in Chinchero, where outside was a large sales area (surprise – NOT). After a short tour of the crowded, dilapidated, and small church, I was exhausted.

  I went to the entrance of the sales area (church grounds) and waited for Carolyn, Matt, and Ruben. Even though I am confident that Ruben has seen many variations of how to respond to sales pitches, I was later told be my son that Ruben was surprised and laughed often when he watched how Carolyn & Matt worked the various sales ladies pitching their goods.

  FINALLY, we were off to our hostel: a 45 minute drive. We learned of Ruben’s estimate of each S. American country’s strengths & weakness and we shared our US understanding of its relationship to S.A.

  A great day with a great driver and guide.

  A great Easter Sunday!

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Lake Titicaca Tour — written by Carol Jean
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  On April 13, which was Friday the 13th, we left Don Julio Hostal for our tour. The tour consisted of the Floating Islands and Amantani Island in Lake Titicaca.

  The boat ride was long and slow. The boat was a tourist boat, but it looked like a local boat with seats against both sides of the wall and outside. There was only 20 life vests and about 25-30 tourists, not including the tour guide and two other guys that were operating the boat.


  After arriving at the first Floating Island, we all got out of the boat and sat down on a bundle of reeds. It was shaped like logs. The tour guide had talked to us about their history and also got us each individual reeds from out of the lake to eat. Oh, by the way, the lake is “only about 15% polluted”. The tour guide said it is good for the teeth and stomach (for altitude sickness), and it tasted like celery. We did not care for it and from the looks of it, no one else did either. After eating some reed, the tour guide showed us how they build their island, homes, and boats. Everything is made out of the same reeds, and they grow in Lake Titicaca.


  The family we visited was very nice and had some souvenirs to sell and grandma was sitting outside on the reeds grinding some wheat for bread. She would let you take a picture of her while she ground the wheat, but when you finished taking the picture she had a little bowl wanting some soles (Peruvian currency).


  After the history lesson, the group got a chance to ride on a reed boat to another floating island. We declined the ride because the seats are actually the edge of the boat, and black people can’t swim and the other island was too far to jump to – white people can’t jump. So, we met the group at the island by riding the tourist boat.


  On the next floating island, the guide talked about why their skin is so dark and why their cheeks are darker than the rest of their face, because they are out in the sun and the high altitude. They never get skin cancer or sick from the sun though. There was also a cute little girl named Maya, playing with everyone. She was so friendly, letting tourists hold, tickle and play with her. They also had a small museum with about 20 different stuffed birds and a coyote.

  After a quick stop there, we pressed on to the Amantani Island. It was a three hour slow going boat ride to the island. Everyone nodded off to sleep on the way there. When we arrived at the island, we had to walk up a steep hill. Mind you, we are all out of shape and on top of that, oxygen is very thin at that altitude, so we were dying going up the hill. We couldn’t find an Incan anywhere in sight to carry us up the hill.


  We finally stopped where the town people were standing to greet us. The tour group consisted of about 10 individual groups, so each group was assigned to a family to go stay with. Our family included a grandmother, grandfather, and two granddaughters. Thank God Matt knew some Spanish because we would have been in bad shape. After we got paired up with a family, we had to walk up more hills to get to their house, and it seemed like it was taking forever.

  We were dying for oxygen and of thirst, but Marissa (granddaughter) was on cruise control going up the hill. I would say everyone else made it to their family’s home before us. We finally made it to the house and we met her family. Marissa was 19 years old, and the first female president of her community, a kindergarten teacher, owned a neighborhood store and was the host for tourists in her home. She is a busy lady.

  After meeting her family, she made lunch for us. Lunch included soup, cheese omelets, Indian carrots and about 5 different potatoes. After lunch we walked farther up the hill to the soccer stadium to talk about more history. There were some girls from the neighborhood with hats, scarfs, and handbags for sale that were all hand made. Some of the girls continued knitting while the tour guide talked to us about the history of the island. After the tour guide finished talking, the group walked up another 500ft to see the sun set, but remember that we are already at over 12,000ft above sea level (that’s 1/3 the height of Mt Everest). Matt and I just walked around and took pictures of the sunset while the group hiked up the hill.

  Matt met an old guy and the guy was so friendly. He stopped and talked to Matt for about 10 mins. He told us that we could go across other people’s property to take pictures of the lake and sunset. We also saw snow capped mountains in Bolivia, so we were very close to Bolivia.

  After taking pictures we walked back to the house for dinner, and it was made up of soup and a rice and potato gravy. It was good and filling. After dinner, the tourists and town people had gone to the community center for a party. We were too tired to go. They dressed the girls in a traditional Peruvian outfit and the guys wore ponchos. We could hear the party from our family’s home and it sounded like they were having fun. We stayed in the house and went to bed because we had to get up at 6:00am for the local boat ride back to Puno.

Long time comin’

  Hello from Lima! We are almost outta here. My dad left last night, but Jean and I don’t leave until tomorrow night (Monday). We are sitting in an internet cafe next door to our hotel, but we have to head down the street in a few minutes so we can pick up our laundry. I will post more about what has happened in the past week later today. Check the Peru photo sections to see what we were up to — Machu Picchu, Cuzco, Puno, Lake Titicaca, etc.

Bone-da-knees,

Matt and Jean