Saturday, November 24, 2007

Thanksgiving airports

November US Thanksgiving is strange. First of all, we (as in Californians, which I am by employment still - many other states too, but not all) get the Thursday and Friday off. So I don't usually complain about this. But it really turns the long long weekend into a zoo. It's as bad if not worse than Christmas. Freeways are ridiculous, airports worse. So obviously I decided this is the weekend to take 3 flights!!

I was planning on flying to SF or LA and then driving to Joshua Tree to go climbing. But some flakey friend hurt his shoulder (don't want to say who, but starts with an "S" and rhymes with ham). So instead I flew from Charlotte, NC (about 4 hour drive from my field site) direct to SF. And after one day in SF I flew to LA. And on Monday I'll fly to Orlando. My solution has been to make sure I get direct flights everywhere. That way if you get on the plane, you'll make it. So far, so good!

Yes, I realize this is the most boring blog post in the history of the internet... what's your point? You can only complain if you have a blog of your own. No? Then talk to the hand!!

(sorry, went to bed at 1AM, woke up at 5AM (8AM in North Carolina), cement truck showed up 650AM, cement truck left at 820AM, me finishing blog post at 850AM)

Sunday, November 04, 2007


I know, I know... I blog once in 2 months and now 3 times in one day...

So, I'm on per diem on this job, but only $40/day for food. Which is really fine since I'd rarely ever spend more, but I look at per diem as a way to make money too (fond memories of Alaska where per diem was $75/day and there for over a month which gave a nice expense cheque bonus at the end of the job!). But the other good thing about per diem (as compared to just straight expensing meals) is that it makes me less likely to go out for big meals (which I sometimes tend to on straight expenses leading to a big gutt or at least a less healthy feeling). Per diem encourages me to make my own lunches and dinners, and for some reason, much more so than when I'm paying for my own lunches (which I do like the rest of the world when I'm not travelling for work).

I should mention that my breakfasts are free as well - hotel continental breakfast with a waffle maker, but no fresh fruit :( Next week I'll be at the Hampton Inn and breakfasts will be better.

So I went shopping the first day I was here and spent $54 on food and here's what I bought for lunches and dinners:

- mini cans of tuna & beans (have pull off lids, which are great for lunches)
- chips, salsa and cheese (I could live on this)
- pickles, salad dressing (both from the $1 section)
- peanut butter, cream cheese and humous (spreads)
- bagels and soft tortilla flat bread (spread receptacles)
- hot chocolate, chocolate milk, pomegranate juice, small cans of spicy V8
- oranges and bananas (also snag fruit with breakfast)
- one nice bowl, one nice mug, cutlery (I hate plastic)
- one travel coffee mug as I left mine in Montreal (I now have about 6 in Winnipeg and 3 in Montreal)
- ziplocs and ziploc bowls (will also use for work, so expense will be expensed)

Isn't that what all of you wanted to know? But I've been here for 7 days now ($280 worth of per diem) and have maybe spent $70 eating out (one steak dinner, one quesdeilla, one McDonalds trip (when out of town for CPR course), and a few beer here and there). I'm not short on cash in the slightest, so not sure why I'm being a cheap ass, but buy my count, I'm up by:

$280 - ($54 + $70) = $156 (

Did math in my head, hope its okay. Given I'm in North Carolina and I just get this general feeling that people are stupid (as I currently listen to some morons outside having an argument that would be considered dumb in Grade 3 - though I appreciate I'm in a small hick town and I'm very much generalizing, but I digress), I feel I must immediately go spend my $156 on something useless and short lived. Maybe they've got a casino around here? I was in Atlantic City yesterday, but the wrong Atlantic City...

so how y'all doin?

Sorry, this is what happens when you get stuck in small town North Carolina (Jacksonville, NC to be precise). Observations so far:

1. The most often seen billboard is a breast enlargement add with a well endowed woman in a bikini.

2. This area must set a record for density of tattoo parlors.

3. I've been told (and have accepted the advice) that bars around here aren't advisable as marines like to fight. If I really want to go to the bar, the advice is to avoid the day of and several days after payday.

4. Point #3 is reinforced by the broken windows in the hotel room on Sunday morning and the 4 marines trying to sneak a free continental breakfast and the front desk staff calling the MPs.

5. Amazing number of for sale signs - even in the nicer beach areas there are apartments and condos and houses for sale everywhere. Not sure if this is a regional thing or part of the mortgage crisis...

6. Amazing number of trailers. They seem everywhere, not just in trailer parks. Given that North Carolina does get hit by hurricanes every now and again, this seems less than wise...

7. There were 6 people in my CPR class including 4 women (including the instructor) and 2 guys (including myself). If there was a scale present, I'm sure I would have weighed the least out of everyone. Damn are people fat here!! Day before, three of us went to Applebees and couldn't find one waitress to admire without getting into the bussers who are under 21... how sad!!

strange week at work...

I've been here since Monday supposedly installing 600 foot monitoring wells. But there's two geos onsite and only one rig has shown up so far. So I've taken the weekend off (well, yesterday I did my CPR course which had expired and was causing me mucho grief from our H&S people). To sum up the week so far:

Day 1: Monday is a travel day from Montreal w/ a 2PM departure, so a nice slow day departing from Montreal; unfortunately my black jacket gets left in the black trunk of the cab and I have my glasses and maybe my watch in my jacket (not my expensive glasses, but my superstore glasses); travel includes an extra 6 hour layover in Washington Dulles (as in DC) waiting for plane to be fixed; get to hotel at 2:30 AM (I guess that actually makes for a Tuesday arrival).

Day 2: There are two drill rigs, the first one gets set up (see photo), but I'm on the other rig which is dragging it's but and the driller isn't scheduled to show up for ??? My first impressions are that things are a bit antiquated? old? slow? These drillers are used to doing things on their own and not used to having supervision. But since the 2nd rig is no where near ready to drill, I get to watch them set up the drill site - i.e., someone dump and spread a truck full of grave. This is highly exciting, even more when the operator manages to slice his finger open while operating the front end loader (i.e., he's in the cab and cuts his finger on one of the levers!). This sucks as I've just ordered the first aid kit and it's being delivered to my hotel tomorrow morning. Fortunately, I've got my camping first aid kit on me to apply some antibiotic ointment and bandaids. I get to spend an hour filling out a H&S Incident Report in the evening (which makes two for the site as another driller on an unrelated project is knocked into a mud pit when a drill rod falls from the rig - something that never happens and could easily kill someone).

Day 3: I'm going to watch someone excavate a mud pit (a 20' x 10' x 8' deep pit which is then lined and filled with water & drilling mud) except that on the very first scoop of the excavator we dig up a ~50 strand telephone bundle. Sweet! Pretty sure it's not fibre optic, which incurs fines of say ~$300,000/day, but still big problem. I scramble and hours later we find out it is dead / abandoned and not a big deal. Lucky.

Day 4: We stretch the liner on the mud pit and fill with water. I hang out mostly on the other well, which is drilling slow because driller is from 1963, has no mud kit, is trying to drill with water instead of mud, the mud pump on the rig isn't working, etc. etc. Let's just say the pace is underwhelming and I'm looking for things to do.

Day 5:
The 2nd driller arrives onsite, so I should be able to get working, but the first driller's sister just went into the hospital, so we are still at 1 driller. Doesn't really matter as the mud pit at the 2nd site has collapsed (if had been filled with drilling mud instead of sitting for 2 days, probably would have been fine...). But the new driller has his act together, has a mud test kit (confirms my observation that mud is way to thin), orders a new mud pump for rig #1 and orders an external mud tank & shaker system for the 2nd drill rig (so now mud pit can be abandoned), etc. etc. Things looking up, but won't have a 2nd driller till Monday.

Day 6 & 7: Well, that takes me to this weekend, which should be Day 6 & 7 of a ten day shift, but which I've taken off except for my CPR course. Which means that I don't get paid, but... I could have sat around and billed 8 hours a day, but I don't mind a couple days off as I got almost no time off before this job and I have some chores and fun stuff I've been wanting to do (backing up laptop, programming my GPS unit I got for my birthday in 2006, making a couple CDs, new music on the MP3 player, watching TV, etc.). A 2nd driller will be onsite tomorrow, so I'll be working soon enough.

So how was your week?

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Alaska - Pt. 2

I haven't been in Alaska in a nearly a couple months, but I did finally get my photos and stuff together. Though I lost a memory card (sure it fell between the seats in the rental car) so I got a bit discouraged. Such is life...

The highlight of the Alaska work was not the work :) I think the last post summed up the drive there (near Mt Denali aka McKinley) and a couple small weekend roadtrips and such. And the last week of work I worked with Paul, an electrician who I did utility locates with (me on a GPS unit, him with essentially a fancy inductive metal detector). And it turns out Paul has a log cabin in the middle of nowhere, but this nowhere is exactly half way between Fairbanks and Anchorage via the southern route (via Delta Junction, nearly into the Yukon and Whitehorse), which is exactly the route I was planning.

Turns out Paul's cabin is a very nice 2000 sq. ft. log cabin above the tree line on Summit Lake. And most importantly, it has nice wood burning stoves and a solar system to make life easy.

When I first arrived, it was a dark, foggy, gloomy almost surreal afternoon / evening. The place was totally deserted with not a car or person to be seen anywhere. And because above the treeline, you could see everywhere (no such thing as privacy here)...

The next morning, everything had come to life! I don't know if you can tell just how scattered the cabins are on this treeless plateau. There's a little townish type clustering of houses around the lake (though definitely no shops and no people whatsoever when I was there) and then a scattering of cabins on the upper ridge. Just felt very strange with no trees...

After leaving the cabin, I took about a hundred photos, all on the card I lost. So here's what stuff looked like... (note, use your imagination).

Here's a couple river scenery photos for Carole (the 2nd being a river that starts at the distant glacier - the glacier used to be at the highway)...

And some random pipeline photos, since I was along two major pipelines at various times - I think both started at Prudhoe Bay (aka the North Slope) and one went into Canada (Alcan)and eventually Fort St. John and the other (Alyeska) to the port at Valdez (the infamous namesake of the Exxon Valdez).

The road trip took a rather random detour to Valdez just because (and where the fish are big, almost as big as in Kenora!)...

The road to Valdez was very impressive with glaciers and waterfalls around every corner in the road. Of course, most of these photos are goners, but here's a few...

And I was lucky, because they had just had torrential down pores the previous day and the road was nearly flooded out in a few places (it look more impressive in a few other places where the backhoes were doing there job, but I was trying not to get killed stopping in random places on the highway - this little stream going through the culverts is the runoff from the glacier I had just hiked up to in the previous photos). Apparently this happens every year and people just accept being stranded for a few days now and again. If I had been there a few weeks later you can take a ferry to Anchorage, which would have been sweet!

And lastly, just some more miscellaneous photos...

Since Alaska, I've been to Seattle for a couple days to visit Justin, then to Montreal for a week with Mel, then to Calgary for a day, Edmonton for a week of work, Winnipeg for a weekend wedding, back to Edmonton for a couple weeks, then a Jasper roadtrip with Carole, back to Edmonton for a couple more weeks of work, then to Calgary for a day and now I'm in Montreal for 3 days (in a cafe right now) and heading to North Carolina tomorrow for a month or so? Working 10 days on, 4 off and not sure how many shifts, so everything is very week to week shall we say. Anyway, with one paragraph I've covered the last month or two and now I'm up to date - sorry, don't feel like being wordy anymore :)

Friday, September 14, 2007

Alaska - Pt. 1

Hey folks. Nice to know a few of you complain when I am lazy and don’t blog. I’m in Alaska finishing up my 3rd of 4 weeks of work. Currently sitting in a coffee shop on Saturday morning - I do have internet at the apartment, but my roommates girlfriend just flew in so I’m being scarce.

And yes, apartment... usually I stay in hotels for fieldwork, but the company has rented 4 apartments for the project. Which is very nice since we have a per diem and are able to eat at home. Might be the first bit of field work where I loose weight! And a good crew out that all gets along and takes turn grilling fresh salmon on the hibachi and such. Life is tough...

The work started off a little funny. Was supposed to be installing wells and doing soil gas sampling in basements, etc. But delays in approvals and such meant the first week or so ended up being mostly hand auguring soil piles. Though I’ve been doing a lot of GIS and GPS work too - mostly tracking down as-built AutoCAD drawings, compiling in GIS (ArcInfo), uploading to a GPS (Trimble unit that does real-time corrections to ~2ft accuracy) and then field locating pipelines, drill locations, etc. etc.

So Alaska and you think cold, but temperatures have been high 20s (Celcius that is), even pushing 30 a few days (mid 80s F, which if I’m doing my conversions correctly, is about 30 C?). Apparently this is quite nice weather for this time of year. If fact, I nearly got heat stroke one day while auguring a tad too fast, but I digress…

So what's up besides work? (before you fall asleep)... last Sunday morning a handful of us drove to Chena Hotsprings about an hour east of Fairbanks. Was a nice hotsprings, definitely developed, but done somewhat tastefully. Though I only took photos of somewhat interesting things in the front...

In the afternoon after the hotsprings we did a hike up Angels Peak, where we got rained and hailed on just as we reached the peak. I really wasn’t expecting much of a hike so I was wearing sandals, jeans and a cotton t-shirt (the hiking shoes, gortex jacket, etc. were in the car). Oh well, since the weather here has been warm, the hike down was muddy, but not too cold despite looking like drowned rats. Side note, And we saw a moose and a bear in the same day too.

A less exciting day was a trip to the north pole. Funnily enough, one must go south to get to the North Pole. The North Pole is actually a town with a ridiculous amount of Christmas theme stuff for everything. We had also thought about driving to the Arctic Circle (ummm… is it the 15th or 30th parallel)? It's a bit of a drive though, and not necessarily nice rounds along the Alaskan Pipeline (which I saw last week as well - not very exciting, but...). Isn't the 2nd photo of Santa strange... almost like if one were to rearrange the letters in Santa one would get Satan!! HMMMM???

Well, that’s a quick update. I’ll be finished here on Sept 9 and then taking a few days to get to Anchorage - get to drive past / through Denali Natl Park, Mt. McKinley (tallest mountain in North America), etc. etc. – Then looks like I’ll be heading to Seattle for a day or two, then Montreal for a week or so and then off to Edmonton for a repeat of some work I did last fall. I had no other plans after Edmonton (even Edmonton still hasn’t 100% confirmed) until 2 days ago and then things went crazy. I got 2 emails in the morning trying to get me on a project in Nevada and then that would conveniently start near San Francisco the following week. I was contemplating how to make these fit in with Edmonton when my OL (operations lead – sort of my boss) called asking if I wanted a 2-4 month placement in Honolulu and he needed to know ASAP. What was I to say? But just as quickly, things aren't looking as good. So looks like my surfing skills may remain poorly developed :(

Friday, June 22, 2007

geeky work babble from Florida

I've just finished my first 10-day shift here in Florida. I'm drilling geotechnical borings for a proposed nuclear power plant (I should mention the drillers would probably say they do the drilling and I just watch, but...). Right now it's just swamp and forest with some interesting wildlife (at least for me). So far this week:

- three scorpions (in my empty core boxes first thing in the morning)
- one 4-foot long alligator described as "poor" by the driller who caught him and declared that he needed to be moved to better hunting grounds
- two armidillos that were squished on the access road by the drillers (I'm convinced the guy aimed for them - it is the south you know)

Did you know that this week the US just put their first nuclear power plant online in something like 20 years, and there are going to be lots coming online in the next handful of years. I digress...

I was just looking for some money from this job (12 hour days, two 10-day shifts, time and a half after 8 hours, all expenses paid = many thousand in the bank after 3 weeks of work). But this has actually turned out to be interesting work. I typically do water supply or environmental wells in unconsolidated alluvial / fluvial / glacial type sediments. If the sediments are lithified (i.e., cemented), we often call this bedrock and stop. So I rarely get to really look at interesting rock. The rock here is rock (limestone), with lots of fossils, voids and some nasty big cavities (think 10-foot caves filled with water & sediments 100 feet below the ground). These big cavities scare people because foundations for 423 billion tonne reactor buildings, cooling towers, etc. have a tendency to compact soils & rocks and cause such cavities to collapse resulting in... well, preventing such things is why were here swiss-cheesing the landscape with borings and preparing plans for foundations, grouting programs, etc. etc. I can't say life here is exciting, but interesting from a geologists point of view - life for me is mostly about sitting under a canopy, supervising the drilling and logging core. It's more usual for me to focus on well construction and hydraulic testing, so it's great experience to be here with some very experienced geologists focussing on logging rock.

And everyone has now gone home, except me. I've got 4 days off, but for me to go anywhere where I know people is either a non-direct flight into other time zones or an $1800 flight (which company would pay for, but grudigngly and does seem excessive for what would really just be 2 days once you lose the travel days). So I've decided to stick around and do a road trip on the company (I don't get paid, but expenses are covered - it's cheaper for them to have me travel about than pay for my travel time). I'm going to start heading down to the Everglades in a couple hours. I've chosen this as a general plan, though we'll see which way the car points when I get on the road. Could also go to the Keys or Miami or the beaches or ?? Though it is nearly noon, I haven't left my hotel room, am on my 3rd cup of coffee, and am very much enjoying taking it easy, doing emails, etc. etc. Perhaps I'll give an update on what happens later...

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Florida tomorrow.

I've been slacking on blogging I know. I have a Peru blog in progress, but...

I'm off to Florida tomorrow for a week or three in hot humid weather. Drilling wells at a future nuclear power plant in the northern Gulf region of Florida (a couple hours north of Tampa). That's really all I know. Got a few things printed I'll read on the plane tomorrow.

Right now I'm at Gabe's packing at 11PM - well, only sort of Gabe's see he moved out, but such a small technicality :) Have had a couple fun weeks in SF since Peru. Definitely miss SF every time I leave (though I seem to come back often).

Just as a foreshadow... there's some talk of me working in Alaska for July & August, which doesn't really fit in with other plans, which is why it's just talk. But spending some time in Alaska would be neat! Especially in the summer!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Peru & Bolivia Travel Blog

Hola!! I'm back in San Fran reflecting on a fun trip to Peru and Bolivia. I know several people who are considering a trip to Peru, so I thought I'd give some details about what we did in 22 days, a little on how we got places, highlights, etc. But mostly, just a lot of pictures, which because the post is so long, most of you just look at the pictures :) Also, more pictures (read WAY too many) at my flickr account (

And here's a map to follow along:

Lima (Day 1 / April 30)
I left for Lima early Monday morning (thanks to Gabe & Rebecca for the ride to the airport!). Flew United to LAX and then LAN Peru to Lima - no points :( Got into Lima that night (actually 12:30AM the next day) and Mel arrived via Air Canada (direct from Toronto) about half an hour later. I made sure my plane got in at the same time as Mel, my personal translator, to avoid having to speak spanish :)

That night we got a mediocre hotel in central district. The hotel wasn't particularily nice, and the area wasn't great, but at 1:30 in the morning, does it really matter?

The next morning we packed our bags and toured (i.e., walked) abount central Lima (with backpacks on our back, which is a rarity). There was a festival or celebration of sorts in the Plaza de Armas (the center square, which every town and city has). Central Lima was okay, but it was hot and muggy (see photo), with backpacks, and we weren't all that impressed. The central Plaza district is nice, but not that great an area (very relative, but for most cities it is often the highlight).

In the afternoon we headed to our new hotel in the Miraflores neighbourhood, which is much more or a trendy neighbourhood (more touristy too, I guess) and also right on the ocean. We walked down to the ocean, walked on the beach, I nearly got run over by a bicycle, the usual. On our return from the beach we splurged and had a very nice meal with wine at an outdoor restaurant (reminded Mel and I of a place we ate at in the Italian District in New York).

On our 2nd day and last day in Lima we headed about 40 km south of town via local buses to visit the pre-Incan (built between 200 and 800 AD) city of Pachacamac. (And when I say local buses I mean vans called combis that I think are all privately owned - buy a van and then drive everywhere honking at and picking up people - it's really rather crazy and random, but also quite functional.) Below is a picture of Mel with one of the ruins in the background. It was very dry here - definitely a desert by any definition. Surprisingly few people here - we were almost literally the only people.

After Pachacamac, late in the afternoon we left Lima on the night bus for Cusco. It was a very nice Cruz del Sur double decker bus with 4 front turning wheels (I found this interesting, Mel less so). We had the front window seats on the 2nd level providing a nice view. There are many bus lines and Cruz del Sur is the most expensive - they video tape all passengers and have pretty top notch bag check in / luggage claim services, so that makes you feel pretty safe (read later stories for other examples of bus service). But in retrospect, we would have considered flying to Cusco as the flights aren't much more expensive and would have saved 20 hours. On the other hand, the long bus ride gives your body some time to adjust as you go from sea level at Lima to 3500 meters in Cusco (we ran into a few people who flew and were quite rough on their first day in Cusco).

Cuzco (Day 4)
We got into Cusco around 3PM and took a cab to a hostel/hotel a short walk up the hill from the Plaza de Armas (chosen from the Lonely Planet). The hotel wasn't anything special except that it had hot showers. It was almost sunset (6 PM) by the time we got out wandering. A pretty easy uneventful wander about evening with some incredible seafood soup that we talked about for days (also some pizza!!).

The next day we had breakfast and started trying to figure out what we were going to do. Cuzco is the launching point for Machu Piccu, either by train or trek. Trekking to Macchu Piccu via the Inca Trail is quite common, but needs to be booked months in advance and planning that far in advance just wasn't in the cards. But there are several other trails, some arguably nicer due to less trekkers, that can be booked one day in advance. The catch is that you really need at least 2 or 3 days in Cuzco to acclimatize to the elevation before undertaking a trek. And the treks are a minimum of 3-4 days in duration. So with travel, getting used to elevation, trekking and then a day at Machu Piccu, we could easily use up 8 or more days of our 21 day vacation. We were concurrently contemplating diverting the trip into Bolivia for either a jungle excursion and/or Salar de Uyuni. So this is what we did...

After breakfast we spent some time talking with a travel agent and decided against a trek, decided on a 4-day Pervuvian jungle trip, and then spent the rest of the day on horse back touring some of the local ruins surrounding Cusco, maybe most notably Sacsayhuamán. Was a nice change to get on horses, though of course our butts paid the price and reminded us of our decision for several days.

The following day we left for a self-guided tour of the Sacred Valley on route to Aguas Calientes (which is the base town for Machu Picchu). We left our big back packs at the Cusco hotel and just took day packs. We took local buses (i.e., no other tourists) and visited ruins along the way. See map of the region below if you want to follow along:

The first bus stop was the ruins at Pisac. We got off at downtown (i.e., where the roads cross) and rented a taxi for a handful of hours to drive us to the ruins (a two hour hike straight up from the town which would have been great, but didn't have time). Turned out to be a few ruins on a couple hills with very nice terraces between. The terraces are grass covered now, but when you get away from the ruins, the terraces are still the way farming is done on the slopes (a little different from Manitoba). They also had some pretty need irrigation systems (see photo of dumb tourist inappropriately using irrigation system to wash mud off of foot).

The other highlight was Ollyantaytambo - a "valley town" (see photo) that is where the road ends (literally) and is therefore the last place to catch the train to Machu Picchu. Turned out to be a very nice town and we wished we had spent more time there, maybe even a night (a highlight was some really great mushroom soup!). It has very nice ruins that over look the town (i.e., the photo). But alas, we had a schedule (due to jungle booking) and took the 8PM train from Olly to Aguas Calientes. This would keep us on track to get to Machu Picchu early early the next morning. Unfortunately the hotel in Aguas had a night club next door, leading a rhythmic night's sleep.

Machu Picchu (Day 7)
We were up at 5 AM to be on the first buses up to Machu Piccu (Mel decided to get up early but then I was up dragging her out of bed!). But very glad we got up early as the crowds are much much more bearable (many people do day trips from Cusco arriving via train at 10:30 AM - resulting in an onslaught of people; others hike up from Aguas Calientes or as coming in from their treks). When we first got to the ruins (the first photo) it was largely fogged in. The fog then cleared a bit and we snapped some general big picture photos (the ones you see on the postcards). We assumed that we'd take more later when the fog was gone, but turns out that later the fog was still there and there were a few thousand people in the ruins, so turns out these morning photos are as good as it gets (the fog kind of gives a nice look as well).

After a couple hours of walking about the ruins, we did a hike up Wayna Piccu (the perfect shaped peak / hill / mountain that you see in the background of many Machu Piccu photos). Was a great decision with great views and some pretty fun trails, caves, outcrops, etc. And good practice for Mel who really doesn't like heights as you may notice in some of her expressions! I was a hero as well and carried Mel's pack since she wasn't feeling well (this came to be more of the norm by the end of the trip!). Look carefully at the first photo and you can see people on the trail winding there way up (click on any photo to see it full size - or about a 1 Megapixel or so photo).

After coming down from Wayna Piccu, it was a little after noon and we found the ruins to now be overrun with people. We toured about a little bit more and contemplated life (deep looking photo).

We felt fulfilled and ran from the crowds (note photographic evidence below that Mel even tried to climb out) and took a bus back down to Aguas Calientes (photo below of switchback road that bus takes to get up). We had a couple hours in Aguas to tour about, shop, get lunch, etc. before catching the 3PM train to Cusco. And the train trip turned out to be very nice. We had maybe purchased better tickets (?) and seemed pretty high end. And there was a fashion show on the train! Quite humorous!

We got back to Cusco around 8PM and checked back into the same hotel. I think we then did some visits to the church, a museum and an art gallery around the Plaza and then a nice Mexican place for dinner. But was also a long day and returning to the same hotel with hot showers and getting our luggage was relaxing.

Jungle Excursion (Day 8)
To set the geography, Lima is in a desert region that runs along the coast (i.e., near sea level). Cusco is several hundred miles inland and in the Andies, which run north south (roughly paralleling the coast) at anywhere from 3000 to 6500 m elevation. As you go further east, you drop back down from the Andies to only a couple hundred meters elevation and the climate turns to Amazon jungle hot and wet. Cusco had a very hot sun and comfortable days, but quite cool evenings (jacket and even touques were worn on occasion).

The morning after Machu Piccu we caught an AeroCondor flight from Cusco to Puerto Maldonado. Was quite a shock to jump on a plane in Cusco and then get off the plane in Puero Maldonado with humid, high 30°C weather! Within minutes we were taken by a funky "jungle bus" to a long boat and then for about 2 hours down the Rio Madre de Dios to the lodge. Not sure what we were expecting on this jungle tour, but definitely wasn't private cabin / huts, super nice meals (e.g., fresh avocado with most meals) and a swimming pool!

That afternoon we took a short boat ride to what the call Monkey Island where we saw, ummm... yeah, you guessed it... monkeys. They were wild, but at the same time, they were tamed.

After dinner we did a night boat trip up river to see caymans along the shore. Very dark on the water and amazing view of the stars. Luckily our cabin had a ceiling fan to help cool us off and get to sleep!

Our first full day in the jungle we got up at 5AM to do a boat ride / trek in mud / canoe / trek / and finally drift in Lost Lake. Was a great morning with lots of wildlife including various birds, caymans, spiders and gigantic snails. Mel was hoping to see a jaguar, but just didn't happen this day :( The paddle was initially through a marsh / creek with monkeys heard though not seen and lots of parrots and such.

The day ended with a hike to river at about 1PM and long boat ride back to the lodge. When we got to the lodge is was 38°C and very humid. Then as we were walking up the dock, the winds picked up and nearly blew us over. Within half an hour the temperature had dropped to below 20°C. Apparently storms / weather fronts like this blow through once or twice a year and we happened to catch one. C'est la vie. Because of the strange & windy weather, boat trip were out of the question for the afternoon, so we did a short hike in botanical gardens learning about medicinal uses and such of various plants (ate some more coca leaves of course).

The 3rd day in the jungle was still very cold. We spent the morning just hanging and talking with our guide (Raphael) talking about his life, Indian life in the junble, legends, etc. (Raphael grew up in a jungle tribe until he snuck away on a boat when he was 11 and has been a tour guide for most of his life). The rest of the day included a short hike, a paddle at a nearby lake and a night time jungle walk (some of which was without lights - no one died).

Our fourth and last day in the jungle was essentially a travel day. We were back in Puerto Maldonado by noon and back in Cusco by 2PM. This left enough time for us to do some shopping (read: for Mel to shop). By this point I had bought essentially nothing while Mel had bought enough to require a 3rd bag (which I usually got to carry around, much to my annoyance!). We picked up our big bags from the hotel, had dinner, and then caught a night bus to Puno.

Lake Titticaca (Day 12)
The night bus arrived in Puno at 5:30AM. Seems brutal, but actually worked out very well. We checked into a nice hosel (with cable tv!), repacked our bags and left for day-long boat tour of the floating islands and Taquile Island by 6:30AM. The islands are in Lake Titicaca, which is the highest elevation navigable lake (3800 m) in the world.

We both found the day to be a little tourist nutso and even artificial, but the floating islands (Uros) are quite unique (a tribe that began building island out of marsh grass / plants many hundreds of years ago to avoid being conquered by the Incas and to this day several thousand people continue building and living on these islands). We were contemplating spending the night on Taquile Island, but decided we wanted to get into Bolivia sooner.

We had a lazy morning in Puno including watching tv and long hot showers and then left for Copacabana, Bolivia in the early afternoon. Copa is also on the shores of Lake Titicaca, just across the Bolivian border. Very surprised by how nice the hotels are, how good the restaurants are, just impressed in general. Hotel is $10/night and maybe the nicest dinner so far costs ~$13 (100 Bolivianos), which includes a bottle of wine!

The first day in Bolivia we jumped on a boat to Isla del Sol. There we did a hike to some ruins, and then for about 3 hours across the island. All very nice. We were waffling as to whether we were going to spend the night on the island, but because Copa was so nice, we decided to just make it a day excursion and caught a boat back.

We spent another night Copa (another great dinner) and woke up the next morning with a decision to make as wot whether we were going further into Bolivia or back into Peru. Ultimately, we decided that we didn't have enough time to really delve into Bolivia and we bought bus tickets back into Peru (to Puno) and on to Arequipa.

Arequipa & Colca Valley (Day 16 / May 15)
We got a bit shafted on our bus (wasn't a direct bus and not very turistico). Anyway, we got into Arequipa at 9:30PM.Checked into a nice hotel in Arequipa and grabbed some street / market food for dinner and settle in to watch a movie on tv. Well, actually, Mel passed out while I stayed up watching some chick flick movie (which was entirely the opposite of normal as usually I'm the one passing out).

We spent a day visiting Arequipa, Peru's 2nd largest city. There was a nice continental breakfast on a patio right outside our room and very nice weather (not to hot, not too cold). The restaurants here were quite impressive and we had many nice meals (was very reasonably priced, but the waist is still paying). There are also several museums, churches and an old convent complex (that was apparently more like a brothel that we visited. One museum had a collection of mummified girls that the Incas had offered to the Gods by throwing them into volcanoes (in the past few years they were found after they fell out of the ice - clearly the offerings satisfied the Gods as the volcanoes haven't erupted!).

On Day 2 in Arequipa we started a 2 day tour of the Colca Valley. Turns out the region is pretty interesting geologically with volcanoes, canyons they claim to be deeper than the Grand Canyon (true, but not as steep or impressive), valleys with cinder cones, etc. etc. We decided on the Colca Valley tour because we only had a couple days and couldn't do everything. Here's some volcano pictures from Arequipa and just on the way out of town (sorry for so many, but I am a geologist):

The Colca Valley and towns travelled through on the way there was all quite nice. It was a 2-day bus tour so it wasn't exactly rough going. Was some neat cultur and saw lots of stuff, not the least being some really neat condors. And everything including the towns, lakes, etc. on this venture were still at over 4,000 meters (almost 5,000 as I recall).

Nazca (Day 19)
We caught the night bus from Arequipa to Nazca and then spent exactly one morning in Nazca, which was exactly enough time t see the Nazca Lines.

Huacachina (Day 19)
Huacachina is a desert oasis town. It used to be a place for royalty where they'd come a bath in the green sliming oasis lake / pond. Now it's touristy and feels like a resort town. You don't swim in the lake, but there are massive (and I mean massive) sound dunes that surround the town like mountains and, here's the best part, you go on dune buggy rides!! Mel was quoted as saying this was her favorite part of the trip (she was likely carried away with the moment). Was some crazy shit, pardon my french. The middle three photos are of Mel sandboarding (those specs at the bottom of the dune are our dune buggies waiting for us).

Paracas (Day 20)
We worked our way out of Huacachina spending the morning lounging and the afternoonin a winery / Pisco distillery. Then we continued working our way north up the coast stopping at Pisco. We had a funny evening as there weren't any tourists here. Until the next morning that is. Pisco is the take off point for the Ballestas Islands and the Paracas National Reserve. The islands are called the poor mans Gallopagos and did not disappoint. You don't get off the boat, but rather tour around going through large rock arches, cruising by the sea lions, and trying not to get bird shit on you. Not a joke. There is so many birds and so much bird shit that they mine it. The value of the bird shit as fertilizer is one of the resources that the Spaniards valued when the colonized Peru. We toured the islands by boat during the morning, then then the park via rented taxi for the afternoon, then caught a bus to Lima in late afternoon.

Here are a couple photos from the evening we arrived in Pisco. This will be the end of the photos as the camera stopped working the next day. (Likely some sand from the sand boarding exercise)

Lima (Day 21)
Was nice to go back to Lima - almost felt like returning to somewhere familiar. We stayed in a slightly different neighbourhood (Baranco) though we walked to the neighbourhood we had been in before (Miraflores) one evening (a couple hour walk though). The hightlight of this return to Lima was the food. We had a couple very nice dinners and a very very nice ceviche lunch at a place the Lonely Planet says is the best in Peru (was getting close to North American prices to prove it). Also caught Spiderman 3 :) We got into town in the early evening and then had one night and a full day in Lima (catching planes near midnight / early hours of the morning the next day). Was just the right amount of time to unwind before heading home.