Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then I said, here am I; send me. (Isaiah 6:8)

Today is a special day, a day of remembrance; one’s whose genesis; meaning and importance are at times unfortunately forgotten.

Some of us spent the day at work, others enjoyed the holiday to sleep in or run errands. Others were lucky enough to spend time with their kids and or with their spouse. There is nothing wrong with this, it’s a holiday after all; however, many of us do not realize what this holiday actually means. It’s the recognition of the sacrifices of what it entails to serve one’s country.

Some were drafted, while others more recently volunteered, all are equally deserving of our respect, admiration, and thanks for serving in foreign lands fraught with danger.

Nearly a century ago a great war was fought, with formal hostilities ending on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month (of 1918) when the armistice with Germany went into effect. President Woodrow Wilson’s words ring true to this day:

“A year ago today our enemies laid down their arms in accordance with an armistice which rendered them impotent to renew hostilities, and gave to the world an assured opportunity to reconstruct its shattered order and to work out in peace a new and juster set of international relations. The soldiers and people of the European Allies had fought and endured for more than four years to uphold the barrier of civilization against the aggressions of armed force. We ourselves had been in the conflict something more than a year and a half. – With splendid forgetfulness of mere personal concerns, we re modeled our industries, concentrated our financial resources, increased our agricultural output, and assembled a great army, so that at the last our power was a decisive factor in the victory. We were able to bring the vast resources, material and moral, of a great and free people to the assistance of our associates in Europe who had suffered and sacrificed without limit in the cause for which we fought. Out of this victory there arose new possibilities of political freedom and economic concert. The war showed us the strength of great nations acting together for high purposes, and the victory of arms foretells the enduring conquests which can be made in peace when nations act justly and in furtherance of the common interests of men. To us in America the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with – solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service, and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of nations.”

Today be thankful of all veterans, they merit it.

Home Again, Off Again…

Okay so the hours are long, the workload heavy, the time spent away from family painful; fortunately the work remains rewarding and wifie has not (yet) changed the locks on the front door.

Banana1

Rice field and shack outside of Babahoyo, Ecuador.

As a Foreign Service Officer, I must explore the countryside, engage with people, and report on new things.  These are requirements that appeal however to Diplomonkey’s inner Viking’s wunder lust.

In recent travel to Ecuador alone, I have seen the snow-capped Cotopaxi volcano towering over the cloud line to shrimp and tilapia farms along the Guayas River to even Arabian pure breed horses in lush mountain pastures 3,000 meters above sea level (far removed from the burning sands of their origin in the Arabian peninsula).

Cotopaxi Volcano

Cotopaxi Volcano and Quito.

Arabian Horses at Altitude.

Arabian Horses at Altitude.

Bulls Up High.

Bulls on up High.

At the same time, I have walked along the route that Francisco de Orellana took in the sixteenth century when he set out to explore and conquer the Amazon.  Pretty cool, but surreal nonetheless (can you say Indiana Jones).

Francisco de Orellana

Statute of Francisco de Orellana, Spanish Explorer and Conquistador.

Camino de los Conquistadores

Walking in the Footsteps of Orellana along the Camino de los Conquistadores.

Sanctuary of the Virgin of Guapulo and Convent - or simply the Guapulo Church

Sanctuary of the Virgin of Guapulo and Convent – or simply the Guapulo Church.

Anyhow, it’s off to Texas and Florida again in a couple of weeks to look at cattle for export to South America.  In the meantime, to make amends while still in Lima I will make wifie a Chilcano with ginger syrup tonight.  For the more adventurous, the recipe follows.  Cheers from Lima.

Ingredients:

  • One jigger Peruvian Pisco (use the Mosto Verde – Torontel variety if possible)
  • Half a jigger of Ginger syrup
  • A dash of Angostura Bitters
  • Juice of half a Peruvian lime (somewhat similar to a large key lime), leave the seeds that fall in for effect
  • Top off with Ginger Ale (about three jigger’s worth)
  • Add an ice-cube or two and gently stir.

Top Banana

Okay it has been a while since the last post; and as usual it is late in the evening so Diplomonkey needs to get out a quickie post before he falls asleep.  Otherwise I guess folks will wonder if Diplomonkey has survived yet another trip to Ecuador.  Type bad monkey, type…

Banana1

Babahoyo rice field shack.

This time around old Captain Jack went to Guayaquil and out into the wilds of Babahoyo.   Nothing quite like speeding down dusty back roads in a black, unmarked armored car.  Swish go rice and cane fields in a blur.

Babahoyo field.

Babahoyo field.

Eventually Diplomonkey arrives at the banana plantation. Thousands upon thousands of hectares of the green not so little things being picked, processed, and shipped to the four corners of the globe.

Banana cultivation.

Banana cultivation.

Bananas coming off the field; the hose down.

Bananas coming off the field; the hose down.

One banana for me and one for you.

One banana for me and one for you.

Packing bananas for shipment.

Packing bananas for shipment.

Cheers and enjoy so picture of life in the foreign service.

Diplomonkey

The Adventure Has Only Begun

A couple of months ago while contemplating our Florida R&R travel, I came upon the brilliant idea of working with the dudes on a father and son project.  A rocket project nonetheless.

Rocket

Designing a Rocket

The months went by, but true to my word I ordered a scale model V-2 rocket from Estes and had it shipped to my in-laws.  Despite the threat of another government shutdown just prior to our travel date, (the last one for us occurred while we were on evacuation status from Embassy Cairo) we make it home for Christmas, the first time in four years.

Channeling the spirit of Wernher von Braun, one of the “fathers of rocket science,” the Diplomonkey crew dives into the construction of its mighty rocket.  Even Jack Jack Smack Attack helps with the build, accompanying the senior Diplo to the model shop and Home Depot for primer, glue, paints and the ever so sharp Exacto knife.  Boy, that knife sure is sharp.

V2 Rocket

V-2 Rocket Ready to Go

With the build, the black and yellow test pattern paint job, and final detailing complete, the Diplomonkey rocket scientists head to the model shop to purchase a set of powerful “D” engines, a launch pad, and controller.  With all the accouterments demanded of modern American rocketry in tow, and with a narrowing launch window since we have to return to Peru, we schedule the launch for a crisp but spectacular south Florida winter afternoon.

Launch Controller

Launch Controller

Dream Big

Dream Big, Greatness Lies Ahead

Five, four, three, two, one, oops a misfire.  With the problem assessed, yep Captain Jack had inverted the blasted connectors to the engine igniter – let’s try it again with a fresh igniter.  Five, four, three, two, one, blast-off in the best NASA style!

 

Rocket 8a

Thanks to Captain Ivan and aunt Jillian, the Diplomonkeys have great memories to share.  With two successful launches under their belts, the Diplomonkeys are now part of the space age.  Which, I guess makes us Diplonauts.

Always dream big and reach for the unreachable!

The Adventure Has Begun

The Adventure Has Only Begun (Michael Mitchell, Space Shuttle Engineer).

Cheers from Lima!

Diplomonkey’s Quito Adventures

Just back from stateside travel, Diplomonkey is required once again to travel, this time north to Ecuador. Yippee! The adage goes that there is no rest for the wicked; and old Diplomonkey is such a wicked little monkey – no bananas for you today, buddy boy.

So despite being home for less than a week, and that after nearly three weeks on the road, Diplomonkey heads out to Lima’s airport at dawn on a fine Sunday morning to catch a flight to white country map-land as eldest son Samtser refers to Peru’s northern neighbor. Why does Carmina Burana: O Fortuna roll around Diplomonkey’s noggin?

An unexpectedly quick, but still hour-long drive to the airport is followed by an hour-long wait to check in his bag. It seems that the traffic absent on Lima’s streets decided that Sunday morning to congregate in the Lima airport terminal. Oh well.

Fortunately there’s just enough time left before boarding to make a quick stop at Starbucks; ah the siren song of mocha coffee tempts Diplomonkey.

Starbucks Mocha Coffee

Starbucks Mocha Coffee and Alfajor

Fortified however by great coffee and an alfajor, Diplomonkey like an elephant in a china shop bursts through the ranks of massed well-wishers anxiously waving kinsfolk, friends, and significant others off to clear the security picket. At immigrations he is greeted by a somber official and given the de rigueur bureaucratic stare down. Not deterred, Diplomonkey pleasantly smiles and bids the straight-laced Ms. Bureaucrat a fond Starbucks mocha coffee-laden farewell. Ah the joys of another travel day.

Airborne, Diplomonkey sees Lima quickly fade away as his plane heads out over the Pacific and then northwards along the coast.

Peru's Northern Coast

Peru’s Northern Coast

He stares out his window and beholds a tawny-colored arid coastal plain sandwiched between a deep blue-colored ocean and the white snow-capped peaks of the Andes in the distance.

The rarefied air at 35,000 feet always makes Diplomonkey wonder at how fortunate he is to have such a great career.

By late afternoon Diplomonkey makes it out to Quito and his home-away-from-home favorite hotel with its view of the snow-capped Cotopaxi volcano.

Cotopaxi Volcano

Quito City in the Shadow of Cotopaxi Volcano

Picking up a city map at the front desk and grabbing his trusty iPhone and well-traveled Nikon D-70, Diplomonkey heads out in search of Quito’s famed native handicrafts market – a leisurely twenty-minute walk down the road.

Quito Craft Market Seller 1

Quito Craft Market Woman

Quito Craft Market 2

Quito Craft Market Women 

Quito Craft Market 3

Quito Craft Market – Buyers and Sellers

Quito craft Market 4

Quito Craft Market – Pan Flute Player and Wares

At the market, on Calle Jorge Washington (i.e., George Washington street), Diplomonkey sees cool handicrafts. Limited funds, and even less free bag space, will limit purchases on this trip.  Diplomonkey realizes that retail therapy must be kept at a bare minimum, with photographinating compensating for the purchasing shortfall. Ah the joys of Chimping in one of Diplomonkey’s favorite Andean cities!

Quito Craft Market - Local Cloth

Quito Craft Market – Local Cloth

EQT 4

Quito Craft Market – Cotopaxi Volcano Painting

Masks

Quito Craft Market – Local Animal Spirit Masks

Cheers!

Robotic T-Rex – Terror of Lima’s La Molina District!

Diplomonkey, in a moment of fatherly magnanimity, acquires for Sam-the-man-Sam a build-it-yourself solar-powered T-Rex robot while awaiting his Houston-to-Lima flight. The senior chimp could not pass up the opportunity to get the Samster a robot that we could build as father-and-son project, combining little big man’s fascination of dinosaurs with automatons.

Solar Robot T-Rex - Terror of Lima's La Molina

Solar Robot T-Rex – Terror of Lima’s La Molina District!

So with much fanfare out comes the robot kit, and of course the “toolbox,” itself a hodgepodge of bits-and-pieces that escaped going into storage in Virginia and tools purchased in Egypt and afterwards while on evacuation in Washington. All-in-all assembly progress quickly until the Diplomonkey father-and-son team encounters a technical setback. Oh no!

Robot4

Super Secret Robot Assembly Tools

Robot T-Rex Parts & Instructions

Robot T-Rex Parts & Instructions

In Virginia a missing screw and washer would mean a trip back to the store for an exchange or a refund. In our case, the store being a few thousand miles away kind of rules out that option. So the father-and-son team does the next best thing; improvising by channeling the skills of its tool building hominid forebears, fashioning a new washer out of cardboard and repurposing a second-hand screw from an old laptop. Heck, we didn’t need to cannibalize parts from other toys – certainly the Toy Story characters are proud of us.

With assembly complete, followed of course by a congratulatory high-five, the Diplomonkey team proceeds to charge up its robotic T-Rex on a sunny Lima Sunday afternoon. Although the robot is not as fast as we would have hoped for, it works and beats the bolts off another robot.

Robotic T-Rex Running

Robotic T-Rex Running – Plastic Forks Optional

With the sun driving the robot, the Samster discovers that his shadow will fossilize the terrifying robotic T-Rex dead in its tracks. Lessons in robotics and solar energy make for a great a father-and-son project. Not too bad for a lazy Sunday afternoon in Lima.

Cheers!

Exploring Lima’s Craft Market with the Dudes

Just back in time from stateside travel to enjoy the Columbus Day holiday, Diplomonkey is off with the family to Lima’s mercado artesanal (i.e., native crafts market) in Miraflores.  In the Foreign Service there is nothing better than a U.S. holiday overseas with the family; it feels…just like playing hooky from school, but in this case it’s federally sanctioned.  Yippee, Uncle Sam really must love me!

Lima Craft Market Sculpture

Lima Craft Market Sculpture – A Mounted Picador

So the Diplos pile into the Jeep.  Up over the mountain and across Lima’s concrete and asphalted coastal plain we are off towards the coast eight miles and an hour away on a good day.  The dudes of course fall asleep, which gives wifie and Diplomonkey a chance for some adult conversation time.  Should have stopped for Starbucks, darn it.

GPS-less, but with a Google map on the iPhone we arrive in the general vicinity and find covered, secure parking in a wonky department store lot for 5 Soles per hour – not a bad deal.

So the intrepid Diplo explorers begin their search for handicrafts and especially for Chullos, the classic Peruvian wool hat with ear flaps – Diplomonkey is getting flashbacks of Nirvana and the age of grunge.

Okay, I guess I’m once again digressing.  The handicrafts are Christmas presents for family stateside, the Chullos for the dudes’ Christmas photos.  Little cousin Sophie scores a Chullo and an Alpaca wool dress – very fashionable I dare say so for an eight month-old.

Peruvian Good Luck Bulls

Peruvian Good Luck Bulls

Okay so it’s not Cairo’s Khan el Khalili, but cool nonetheless.  Need to go back for chess sets, local rugs, silver, and maybe some mounted creepy crawlies for the guys.

Lima Craft Market

Lima Craft Market

Lima Craft Market - Creepy Crawlies

Craft Market – Creepy Crawlies

Peruvian Country Scene

Lima Craft Market – Peruvian Country Scene

Mission accomplished, partly, but now running on empty we search out local eateries for sustenance.  The Diplos by happens chance come across a hole in the wall café, a true “Rincón de los Famosos” that brings back teary eye memories of a somewhat similar one from a Miami now a lifetime away.  Get some spectacular mocha coffee, sorry Starbucks for my transgression, some alfajores, and exquisite little cheese sandwiches, crepes, and freshly made lemonade.

Craft Market Mocha Coffee

Craft Market Mocha Coffee

Ah life is good in Lima’s Miraflores, even the sun appears.

Cheers from a Chullo wearing, mocha coffee drinking Diplomonkey.