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A chinese lion statue

Welcome to my blog. I have been lucky to travel the world and I will share my future and past trips here. I also discuss local events and sporting competitions that I do. Your comments, thoughts and suggestions are welcome and very much appreciated.

I will occasionally include retrospectives of what I did many years ago, even before I started this blog. As you can see, I invite you to come back often to see what I have added.

I am also on Facebook in the group "Still Traveling with Pierreo" where I will also provide links to my travel photos and other resources as I find them. If you join this page, you will get regular notifications when I add content to my blog.

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Costa Rica – San Jose

February 19th, 2019

Every year, Bee and I try to go somewhere new for New Year. This time, we had decided rather early that it would be Costa Rica, but given that we moved to Houston and were distracted by many other things, we only booked our trip very late. Most of the time was spent with Wilderness Travel on a fantastic tour of some of the best National Parks and wildlife reserves in the country.

However, before and after this adventure, we spent a few days in San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica.

On our first day there, we took a walking tour of the city. We started at the Post Office a superb pre-Art Deco building (completed in 1917) with a secret inside (which we discovered the next day on our second walking tour). Still today, most people do not receive mail at home. The use of street name and addresses is rather new in the country and people still use landmarks rather than street names to give directions. Families own post office boxes and there are thousands of them in this building.

San Jose is also full of street art. These are just some of the better statues that we saw on our walks

My favorite is this tribute to the ordinary working men and women, placed right in front of the Central Bank. Members of our tour group decided to pair up with the statue they liked best.

This is a metallic building from the late 1800’s.  It was made in Belgium and shipped here in parts then re-assembled.  There is also a metallic school, all pink that was also made in Belgium.  It seems Belgium was very famous at the end of the 19th century for its metallic constructions and exported them all over the world.

There are many historic buildings in the Center of town.  These are examples of the windows on the upper floors; they are the only ones that have been preserved.  Everything on the lower floor has typically been renovated to modern store-front

Bee and I love markets.  They are places where you can meet locals and see what they like and what they live on.  On one of our walking tours, we stopped in a banana wholesaler’s shop and got a good description of the banana trade, and how bananas are matured off the tree.

This is (was) the hotel where we stayed.  In a shop we saw this old photograph of the hotel where we stayed.  There is now an additional floor where reception and the restaurant are located.  It is a very nice hotel of the Curio brand from Hilton.

We stopped at a coffee shop where Bee was fascinated by the local drip coffee device.  Very simple but effective.  You put the coffee grounds in a fabric filter that hangs on a wooden support, and slowly pour hot water into the filter.  Place you cup under the filter.  We loved the local coffee and brought back 4 kg; we decided to be reasonable and not buy one more coffee maker though.

On our second day there, we saw a horse parade right in front of the hotel.  There is clearly a love affair between humans and horses in Costa Rica.  This gentleman was making his horse prance while signing in the portable microphone.  He did not miss a beat.

For a second I thought that even the Canadian Mounties had decided to attend when I saw this group from a distance.  However, these are local law enforcement.  Costa Rica does not have an army; they banned it way back in 1948.  They have been the most stable government in Central America since then.

More views from the parade.  This is a very friendly parade where the participants are more than happy to mingle with the crowd and pose for photos.  It took me a while to get the attention of all three beauties in the last photo.  I think they are actually riding side-saddle, which is unusual these days.

This is the National Theater, THE attraction in San Jose.  It was built in the late 19th century with money donated by banana barons in order to be able to attract the top artists and place San Jose on the world cultural map.  The main stage is very similar to some of the top theaters in Europe, and actually reminded me of La Fenice in Venice.  The interesting tie bit is that the floor where the seats are can be raised to the same level as the stage, using a single, manually operated wheel.  It takes 8 people to turn that wheel.  Once raised, and without the seats, it makes for a huge dance floor.

The upstairs reception room, used before the show and during intermission, is typical of the late baroque period.  Clearly, the banana barons were not short of money and wanted to show it.

We made several attempts at visiting the Municipal Cathedral in San Jose.  Every time we tried, there was a mass, and we decided not to intrude.  On the last day before the trekking, we were finally successful at finding a slack in masses, which clearly does not happen often.  The church turned out to have very nice decorations inside.

In the church there was the traditional nativity scene.  This one was quite elaborate and this poor photo does not do it justice.  There was insufficient light for a decent photo and i did not want to use my flash.

On our last day in San Jose, we went to explore the area called Barrio Escalante, a residential area that is bohemian and more laid back than the center of San Jose where we had spent all our time until then.  This is the old Customs House, now converted into an entertainment center.  However, for us the top attraction were the multi-colored tress that were planted in front.

Inside, we were surprised to find a copy of Rodin’s The Thinker.  It appears to be genuine but I have not been able to find any history of where it came from.  Wikipedia has an entry with ALL of the statues in the world, and this one is not listed.

Inside the Customs House there are very large spaces that can be rented.  One area was being renovated and prepared for a temporary exhibit.

Elsewhere in Barrio Escalante, there is clearly a sense of humor. or very slow service!

The train passes back and forth – this is actually the main line from San Jose to the Atlantic (Caribbean Sea) – the safety standards for passenger trains are not as high here as in other countries.

We spent two nights at a hotel just outside the center of San Jose – it had a huge garden and not much else to do so we spent a few hours in the garden looking for interesting animals.  I liked the statue of the crane.

We also saw a spider inside its funnel web and a dragon fly that was resting for awhile.

We saw a lot more animals in the other parts of Costa Rica which we visited and that will be the subject of future posts.

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Bee and Pierre Adventure to the Wild West – 5 days to go

September 26th, 2018

It all started almost a year ago when our technology manager asked me, innocently, if I would be interested in an assignment to Houston.  My answer was not an immediate YES!

After a lot of discussions with Bee and others, and the prospects of very interesting jobs in Houston, we both decided to go.

It has been a real rush since then – many business trips and even more leisure trips.  Throwing away the things we have not used in over 10 years; consolidating the items where we had three or four of the same, donating old clothes and electrical appliances.

We got our Visas in August, made travel arrangements in early September and also booked the days for packing our house.

As you have seen from Bee’s posts on Facebook, we are now living out of hotel rooms for the foreseeable future.

Here is some evidence from yesterday:

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This is our living room looking in from the dining room.  The outdoor furniture has quickly been pulled inside the house as it was threatening to rain and we did not want it to get wet – it did not rain, but it still provides a nice place for us to sit and work n ow that all ther est of the furniture is packed.

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This is the dining room from the living room.

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Our dressing room is a mess – all the clothes are now either in suitcases that are already in the US, in suitcases that are in our hotel room, in boxes that will be sent by air or in the main sea shipment.  I have way too many clothes!

Between yesterday and today, they finished the second and third floor.  Tomorrow, the container comes and everything gets loaded.

We have already spent two nights in our hotel here in Brussels.  Each night we tried a different restaurant we had  not been to before.

On Monday, we tried Ricotta and Parmesan, not far from La Monnaie.  We really enjoyed it.  We had Pasta and Zabaglione for dessert.

On Tuesday we went to L’Atelier de Willey – even better.  Food was excellent and portions were not too big.

Unfortunate that we are discovering good new restaurants on our last few days here.

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Bee and Pierre Adventure to the Wild West – 7 days to go

September 24th, 2018

What a great opportunity to start my blog again.

There is a lot going on and great stories to share.

We are spending our first night in a hotel as our house is being packed and no longer liveable.

We just had dinner in an Italian restaurant we never tried before, and it was really good. Unfortunate to discover a good Italian restaurant just a week before you move out.

The last few weeks have been hectic to say the least. We have had to empty supplies built over years! Supplies of spices, wines, frozen stock, lamb and much more. We have thrown away things we should have retired long ago. We have given away things we will not be able to use for a while. We have sorted our things and done work around the house that just never seemed urgent before. All that while working full time too.

For the next weeks, we will be living out of suitcases. Three each, to be exact. We already have one suitcase in the US and two more with us. Not sure our room in Houston will be able to store all that, we will see.

More to come in the next days as our departure approaches.

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Greece – Santorini

July 23rd, 2017

I am very late, but I want to continue the Greek Odyssey before I start other trips.
From Amorgos, we headed to Santorini, the place I probably anticipated the most of the whole trip. There is indeed room for disappointment here.

As we left Mykonos, we passed the fast ferry probably coming from Santorini.

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We approached the Caldera from the South and this is our first glimpse of Fira, the main ‘urban’ center in Santorini

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This is Oia, the city right at the entrance to the caldera.  We will explore this on foot our last day.

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Another view of Oia – the main sites are all right at the top of the caldera, and there are wide open spaces in between these.

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Fira – You can see the path that descends from town to the old port, now only used for local tours.

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Greece – Naxos and Amorgos

December 26th, 2016

After a few days, it was time to leave Tynos and we moved to Naxos, a large island to the South.

We took another ferry to get there and had interesting views along the way.  Travelling by ferry, at this time of year, is very relaxing.  The ferries are not very crowded and therefore we just lounged around on the top deck, looking at the islands float by.

On the way we met this very interesting cruise ship which was making a stop at Mykonos – there are more and more sailing cruise ships and I think it would be a nice experience to try it, one of these days.  However, I suspect that these are fully automated and therefore there is not much “sailing” involved.

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We ended up spending only one night in Naxos as the weather was getting worse and our guide feared that ferries may not be able to sail on our planned departure date.  He gave us the choice of one extra day in Naxos, or one extra day in Amorgos and the group chose Amorgos (and I think we made the right choice).

One of the attractions is the Temple of Apollo with the “Portara” which is an almost intact door frame.  It sits on a peninsula just outside of the main town.

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We saw ferries come in and out while we were walking around.  There was a very strong side wind at the docks and we watched with interest as the “Cosmote” high speed ferry took 5-6 attempts to get its landing right.  It made for good lunch time entertainment.

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I had to take a picture of the town viewed through the Portara.

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A better view of the town, with the castle up at the top and the docks on the right.

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As I said, we did not spend much time on Naxos and took our next ferry to Amorgos.  This took several hours and was due to make three stops along the way.  We were relaxing on the top deck and I just happened to be looking around when I saw this strange sight.  Looks like a dozen high speed boats heading straight for us.  The first thing that came my mind was: “I did not know they had pirates here in Greece! What do we do now?”

Why else would a formation of high speed boats come towards us like this?

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As they approached. I noticed they were actually going past us, and I started to feel better, then they slowly, still in formation, started to turn around and come after us again.  There were 3-6 people on each boat but they did not look too menacing.

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Greece – Athens, Tinos and Delos – Part 1

December 11th, 2016

In May 2016, Bee and I spent three weeks in Greece, mostly visiting the Cyclades Islands on another Wilderness Travel adventure.

Before we joined the group, we had a couple of days in Athens on our own.

We explored the small streets of Plaka before ending in Monastiraki, which I remembered well from my first visit in 2009.

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The is the daylight view.  I had taken this night time view of people in front of the church back in 2009 – I was publishing  smaller photos at the time.

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Another church is this one, the Church of Panaghia Kapnikarea, situated in the middle of the main street from Monastiraki to Syntagma Square.  We were able to see it inside – by pure luck as we saw someone getting out and managed to convince the cleaning lady to let us in as well, for just a few minutes.

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As if often the case in Athens, the church is a lot older then the neighborhood around it.  It is thought to have been built in the 11th century, probably around 1050 (according to Wikipedia).  It may have been part of a convent at some time.

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We spent the first night at the Hilton, and our view of the Parthenon and Acropolis was blocked by a construction crane.  When we joined the tour group, we moved to a different hotel, much closer to the Acropolis and we had this great view f the Parthenon from our room.

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Peru Episode 6 – Arequipa

October 23rd, 2016

Our last stop in Peru was in its second largest city – Arequipa.

We traveled there from Puno by bus, not a very pleasant experience for me.  We had bought VIP Seats, since they were not a lot more expensive than the regular seats on the tourist bus.  Unfortunately, the seats were at the lower level of the double-decker bus, with very limited view outside the bus, and none towards the front.  I can get car sick if I cannot see outside.  What was worse, most of the drive was at night, going up and down mountain passes, and there was not much to see anyway!  The road turned a lot too.  So I just traveled with my eyes closed most of the trip.

We arrived at Arequipa very late and went to bed immediately after a quick dinner – we did not see much of the city on the first evening but discovered that we had found a really nice hotel, not far from the Plaza de Armas, or the main square of the city.

The following day, we woke up to a gorgeous day with sunshine and not too hot.  Arequipa is much lower than where we had been so far, only 2400 m above sea level, but it is surrounded by 5000+m mountains covered in snow.

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We were amazed by the very intricate decoration of the front door of this church compared to the rest of the wall.  We had not seen that before in Peru for such a simple neighborhood church.  This is the Church de la Compania – right next to the Plaza de Armas, the main square of the city.

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We visited the Convent of Santa Catalina.  This is a very large convent, or a small city within the city.  There are streets with ‘private’ apartments for people who wanted to get away from the every day life, but did not necessarily want to fully embrace the life of a nun.

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The central square of the Monasterio is very colorful!

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We had an excellent guide who walked us though the convent for several hours.  We walked down several small alleys like this one.

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Peru Episode 5 – Sillustani and Colca Canyon

April 7th, 2016

Welcome to another installment of our (not so) recent trip to Peru.  Things keep getting i the way of my finishing this, but I am getting there.

I am now several other trips behind, but will catch up eventually, I guess.

We left you on a small island in Lake Titicaca and this episode actually starts still on the island, the morning after the glorious sunset which closed the last episode.  Before the boat brought us back to Puno, we had a chance to walk around the island some more and see more animals.

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The Alpacas are still there, still as cute as the day before and not afraid of us at all.

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There is bird life as well – I am not sure what this is, but I thought it had a very colorful head.

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This one had just collected a seed and was probably wondering if I was about to steal it.

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Rabbits too…

As we were waiting for the ferry to take us back to Puno, I noticed water birds that had a very strange behavior.  Every so often, one or more of them would start splashing around like crazy.  At first I was not quite sure what was going on, so I started to take pictures.

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Peru Episode 4: Machu Picchu and Lake Titicaca

February 7th, 2016

Here we are again.  Preparation for this one has taken less time that the last episode as I already had most photos selected, and the weather in Belgium has been much worse than earlier, giving me more indoor time.  However, much travel around Christmas, New Year and later in January delayed again final publication, so this one too is late!

I left you in suspense right at the entrance to the ruins of Machu Picchu, the entrance that is used only by those who have completed the Inca Trail.  Out of 2000 visitors allowed per day to enter Machu Picchu, less than 150 come in this way.

And here is the view that was immediately offered to us.

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We are still quite a long way from the main portions of the ruins and you can see the road that leads to the main entrance – several switch-backs that end near a building with green roof that blends quit well into the scenery.  After coming down, we have to take the “typical” photo from a slab that overlooks perfectly the whole site.  It is mid-afternoon and we are tired and dirty and will have a whole day in the ruins tomorrow so we go to our hotel, right at the main entrance, and relax for the evening.

 

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The next morning, Bee and I are up early in order to catch the sunrise on the ruins.  We wait in line with about 200 other people just before opening at 6AM.  Most of them have had to climb up from Agua Caliente, where most hotels are located.  The first bus to make the ascent arrives just after 6AM and therefore if you want to make it in early, you need to climb.  We were privileged as all we had to do was walk 100 m from our hotel to the entrance.

Unfortunately, the weather is not the best and the ruins are covered in clouds as we get to the vantage point we had selected the day before.

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We are not alone! The llamas have been on their own for the whole night and have taken over the place, and now they reluctantly have to leave room for the tourists.  They appear to be quite used to people.

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I am again able to take pictures close up.  The clouds are still dense and therefore I need to pass the time.

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We have a good spot, up on top of the ruins with a plunging view.  We have such a good spot that there is this lady who is doing everything she can to take it from us… for the hour that we were there, she moved her tripod 5-6 times, constantly looking at me with this accusing look.  She has Nikon, so I felt no obligation to share my spot, until I was done with my photos.

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The sun came up behind the clouds – so no spectacular sunrise and I finally let the lady have the spot she wanted for her tripod.  Bee and I went exploring briefly before breakfast and before the hordes of other tourists arrived.

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We found a two-floor dwelling.  It does not look like there was room for a staircase inside, so probably one had to go outside to get to the top floor.

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Yes, you are sseing things correctly – Bee is floating up in the air in this photo.  When I took her photo, I unfortunately cut off her legs, and therefore when I added her to the montage of the house, the legs did not appear – sorry! I still think it was worth having her in the picture.

We stopped at the Temple of the Condor.  If you look carefully, the triangular rock on the bottom of the temple has been carved to look like a condor, with a small head closest to the camera.

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Here is a closeup of that condor.

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We came back to our room just before breakfast only to find a bird that was very much angry at his reflection in the mirror.  It kept flying into it and pecking at the mirror.

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We went back into the ruins after breakfast as we had a guided tour.  Here you can see the clear difference between the high class building, such as the Temple to the Moon above and the normal buildings such as the granary in the foreground.  They spent a lot more time and effort getting the stones to fit just right for the important buildings.

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I call this the “Parade Grounds” even though that is clearly not what it was for.  My understanding is that archaeologists are not quite sure themselves what this space was intended to be used for.  There are several theories.

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Quite a nice bird hidden among the branches.

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El Templo de las tres Ventanas – the temple with three windows.  Absolutely stunning brick-work.

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There was a maintenance crew busy on one of the temples.  We were impressed with the safety features that they used to do this work.  The crew seemed to be quite well organised, and I guess I was not expecting this.

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The Osservatorio Astronomico, or Observatory – where the local Inca priests would look at the stars and planets to determine the season and if any serious event was about to happen.  It is told that the Incas could predict Solar Eclipses and the arrival of comets.  It probably took many years of observations to get there.

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As I have shown before, we ran into several groups of young children, sometimes very young, hard at work practicing dances.  Here is a group in Aguas Calientes, the town at the foot of Machu Picchu.  We had a few minutes to kill before the train that would take us back to Ollantaytambo and eventually back to Cuzco – the Inca trail and Machu Picchu adventure is over.

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On to the next one! Very early the next day, we boarded one of the highest train in the world.  The train that goes from Cuzco to Puno actually crosses a pass at over 4300 meters above sea level.

This is a luxurious train for tourists only.  The bus is much quicker, but a lot less glamorous.  There is an observation deck at the back of the train.

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and a full service bar

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which is used for some entertainment during the long (8-hour long) trip.  These guys were actually pretty good and at times, the four of them would play 8 different instruments!

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We stopped in La Raya, the top of the line at 4313 m.  An opportunity to stretch our legs, and buy goodies offered to us.

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Desolate scenery – there is quite a bit of snow here in winter, I was told.  Today, it is quite warm.

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There are Incas with a baby Alpaca, charging for having your picture taken with them.

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Back in the train, there is another musical session with the band.

They also had a fashion show and dancing girls.

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We arrived at the hotel just after sunset – this is the view from our hotel room.  Lake Titicaca is right there.

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The next day, we went to visit the “floating Islands” that Lake Titicaca is so famous for.  I was very surprised to find out that these islands have only existed for a little over 80 years! Before that, families would live on rafts and join together in this way.  However, the rafts needed to be re-built every 6-8 months and this was a lot of work.  The islands (there are over 80 islands in this area and each island is essentially one family) last 2-3 years and therefore there is less work than before.

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They still build boats to move from one island to the next – this is one recent example.  They are manually operated with long oars.  We had the opportunity to go on a ride, but declines as it was way (WAY!) too touristy for us.

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We enjoyed spending more time with the local Uros (the indigenous people who occupy these islands) such as this old gentlemen who demonstrated to us how they build these islands.  The actual flotation devices are the roots of the local reeds which they pull from the bottom of the lake (which is not very deep in this area).  Dried reeds are used as the top platform, and makes for a very bouncy support.  I am sure these guys never have knee problems!

The Uros are a very old people, actually pre-dating the Incas.  Most of them live in Peru, but some are still located on the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca.

Each member of a group living on an island is responsible for the maintenance of his section of that island.  Our friendly instructor explained that there are severe penalties against those not carrying their own weight, including one that involves a very large saw and actually a complete separation of the offending party from the rest of the island – they are cast adrift to be on their own!

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Houses are simple structures, usually just one room.  Most of them do have televisions, not flat screen TVs yet.  I am not sure what is the purpose for the tire on the roof, but in this case, it supported a very nice parrot.

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The gate at the entrance to the main square of the island we visited.  All houses are built around the main square.

The community is essentially self-sustaining.  There are special islands with schools up to secondary school and some islands have restaurants and bars for entertainment (probably mostly for tourists again).

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We were able to get onto an elevated platform (this was scarier than I thought at first as the platform was not very stable and built on nonexistent foundation on top of floating and unstable reeds).  However, this did provide a remarkable general view of some of the area where these islands are built.  There are two main sections, with a wide canal between these where you can see a motor boat.  Each section is made up of multiple small islands that are very close to each other, but still separated – if you look at the two yellow buildings to the left of the picture, there is probably a separation (narrow channel) between those two houses.  There is also a channel in the foreground of the picture so we are looking here at the island next door to the one we are standing on.

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After the floating islands we continued our crossing of the lake towards a more permanent island, seeing local fishermen on the way.

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We stopped in Taquile where there are other local people known as the Taquilenos – they speak Quechua, while the Uros speak Uro or Pukina.  This was obviously a VIP  – I saw him later in deep business-like conversation with local people.

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Local weaver

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And of course, a dance troupe for the tourists.  Clearly not what we were most interested in.  Before that, we had a demonstration of how they can make soap from a local herb.  Remarkably, we had a demonstration by a local aboriginal near Perth Australia in January 2016 that looked eerily similar!

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Taquile is an agricultural island with many terraces where different foods can be grown.  There is no lack of water, even though it does not rain very often.

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We spent our next night on a small private island near the Bolivian border, but still on the Peruvian portion of the lake, so I cannot claim that I have visited Bolivia.  The only thing on the island called Isla Suasi is the hotel where we are staying.

There are no inhabitants, but there are Alpacas that do not appear to be very afraid of humans.

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This one Alpaca seemed to really like the purple flowers in this one bush

 

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Who can resist that!

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We went to the top of the island, at 4100 m altitude, to watch the sunset.  The walk was not very long, only about 2 km, and we only climbed 200 m, but we were still out of breath at the top.  I took several pictures while the sun was coming down.

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As always at this latitude, once the sun is down, dark arrives very fast.  We had to hurry to get back to the hotel, but still had time for this picture.  Bee was trying to distract the Alpaca so that I could get a profile shot, and it worked.

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The next day, we will be leaving the island and soon will be leaving Lake Titicaca for Arequipa.  That will be the subject of the next episode as I have not yet worked on those photos and do not want to delay further the publication of this one.

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Peru Episode 3: The Inca Trail

November 24th, 2015

Sorry for the long delay in getting this episode out.  I think I have a good excuse, actually two or three good ones!

Since I completed Episode 2, I moved, helped my girlfriend to move into our new house and then we got married!

So Sue Me!

Here we go for the next installment of the trip in Peru.  All we did earlier, was just preparation for one of the highlights of the trip, the Inca Trail – this is a five day hike (we did one extra day outside the official trail) in the mountains, across two high passes (4200 and 3900 meters). We started from a place called KM77 with just a few houses and a rare bridge across the Rio Vilcanota; the end point of the trail is, of course, the ruins of Machu-Picchu through the Gates of the Sun.

Our first night was in luxurious accommodations.  We did not have to carry tents and sleeping bags yet, so there were sturdy tents with a cover to keep the sun out.  This is a permanent campground managed by Wilderness Travel.  We had showers, a dining room with real chairs and toilets.  All luxuries that we would not have for the next four days.

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We arrived at camp early and were able to get organized before sunset.  There was one tall mountain just to the North of us called Mount Veronica with very nice glaciers at the top.  It was often covered by clouds and our guide told us that she had been on trips where it was not visible at all so we were lucky to get good glimpses of it.

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That evening, our crew (more on that later) had a treat for us: a special meal called Pachamanca which is slow-cooked meat and vegetables surrounded by hot rocks.  The first step is to get the rocks really hot with a fire.

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What the crew did not know is that they were going to get an extra helper.  Bee has always been fascinated by fires and so she volunteered to help keep the fire going to heat the rocks.  At first, they kept a close eye on her.

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We did not get a sunset, as the sky was cloudy and we were surrounded by mountains.  But we could see the last rays of the setting sun on some of the mountains near us.

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and Mount Veronica got better and better every minute!

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Eventually, the crew decided that Bee was not going to immolate herself, or half the country and could be trusted to look after the fire alone. Continue Reading »

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