The Road to Antioquia, Peru

Okay it’s late and I’m tired, but I need to mention the hidden little gem of Antioquia which is just outside of Lima; bug bites and all.  Or better still, let me tell you about the road you take to get up there.  Foreign Service life is about exploring new places anyhow.

Curving Roadway

Curving Roadway

Antioquia is a quaint little village located 64 kilometers east of Lima in the Lurin river valley.  Like most little towns in Peru it counts with a tiny church, a plaza de armas (i.e., a main square), bodegas, and the occasional B&B.  Unlike other towns Diplomonkey has so far visited, Antioquia’s buildings are decorated with whimsical painted motifs and biblical passages.  The town is set along the Lurin river, where there is enough water to permit agriculture despite the desiccated surroundings – ah so many quinces, apples, peppers, and a plethora of mangos that just make the month water.

Putin River Valley

Upper Lurin River Valley

But for today let’s not focus on the destination but on the road to Antioquia.  I guess this post is really about a case of the means to an end sort of scenario.  Diplomonkey, true to form, again is losing focus; bad monkey, focus!

Church at Sisicaya

Church at Sisicaya, Halfway Mark

Right!  So the drive up into the Andes takes a leisurely two hours each way, which reminds me that I need to get new tires for the Jeep.  Focus Diplomonkey, focus!

Antioquia Road 2

Truck parked on the Cliff

Okay so we leave La Molina and head east towards Cieneguilla and beyond. The kilometers slowly click by as we traverse badly eroded roads along cliff sides.  Huge boulders, precariously balanced on smaller slabs of rock give way eventually to a series rickety bridges and packs of wild dogs.  Begone ye beasties, away from my Nikon D2.  From my FCS buddy, I know that most of these bridges might be American made ones; the Chinese ones on the other hand tend to fall into the crevasses. Oh what fun!

Bridge on the road to Antioquia

Bridge on the road to Antioquia

Anyhow, tonight I will let the pictures speak for themselves.  Once the weather improves, I will head out again and get some pictures of the town.  And surely next time  I will take some industrial strength bug spray; off to the MED Unit tomorrow for antihistamines.

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!

An Afternoon at the Car Museum

One of Lima’s hidden treasures, one a bit off the beaten track is the Asociación Museo del Automóvil – Colección Nicolini in La Molina.  This classic car collection is just spectacular – Jay Leno would be jealous.

Diplomonkey found it by happens chance driving out to countryside one day, making a mental note to go back there with the little dudes.  Off to the museum head the dynamic trio one grey Lima afternoon.

Car Museum Tickets

Car museum tickets, kid and adult entrance fees.

As soon as we enter the first showroom we see an incredible collection of classic cars spanning automotive history.  Dreams of racing cars and deep desert rallies become tangible to Diplomonkey in an instant.  As evidenced by the cars’ showroom appearance, all are fully restored and drivable.  A whiff of gasoline here, a smudge of oil there, are evidence of recent use.

Car Museum 3c

The shop is itself worthy of a lengthy visit.  Cars drawn from the four corners of Peru – coastal deserts, mountain highlands, jungle lowlands – are lovingly restored here; with parts fabricated on site when originals can no longer be sourced.

Definitively Diplomonkey must return to get higher resolution, more diverse pictures with the Nikon.  Until then, here is another teaser.

Car Museum 2c

Cheers, Diplomonkey!

Thanksgiving in Lima, Gringo-style

Diplomonkey’s first Thanksgiving Day in Lima sees the return of Pandora’s box. No foolish mortals, we are not discussing mythology today but rather talking about grilling Gringo-style.

Old Diplomonkey is giddy as a schoolboy; having received for his birthday, and just in time for Thanksgiving, a brand new, shiny black Weber kettle grill. You can almost see him jumping up and down for joy.

Weber Grill: Bits and Pieces

Weber Black Kettle Grill: The Parts

Inspired by the grill’s arrival, Diplomonkey volunteers to cook a full turkey just like in Virginia. The arrival of the Weber spares Diplomonkey however the need to jury-rig his Hibachi for the festive task. Wifie is, let’s say, so very happy.

The Samster, the helpful little dude that he is, gets into the spirit of the holiday, assisting Diplomonkey assemble the instrument of American culinary might. Weber proudly made in Palatine, Illinois without a doubt produces one of the best charcoal grills out there. Diplomonkey has used one to make whole leg of lamb and lamb kabobs, steak, beef ribs, and even beer-can chicken. Heck, even paella in a cast iron pan was cooked to the wonder and delight of friends and neighbors.

Weber Grill Technitian

Weber Grill Assembly Technician

Turkey 5

The Weber Kettle Grill

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But let’s cut to the chase. Into the Weber go two bags of Kingsford’s finest mesquite charcoal. Once fully lit, Diplomonkey arranges coals his coals in a circle of fire. Tomasito (i.e., Tommy), our Peruvian gobbler makes his appearance and on the grill he goes – sorry, no presidential pardon for our 20-pounder Tomasito.

Tomasito, before...

Tomasito, before…

Tomasito, after!

…and Tomasito after!

After three hours of crackling and sizzling, the Weber’s lid comes off followed by the sweet smell of grilled, succulent turkey. Enjoying a turkey drumstick on your behalf,

Cheers from Peru.

Arequipa: Quinoa, Cochineal, and Alpaca Pizza along with a Russian Hind Helicopter

Diplomonkey is on the move again this week heading out to Arequipa, a thousand kilometers south of Lima and a world apart. There is nothing like a 4:00 a.m. pickup for a 6:45 a.m. flight, fortunately there is always Starbucks coffee at Lima’s airport to brighten Diplomonkey’s morning. Yippy!

The early morning flight on LAN airways is not bad, nice plane (even for an Airbus) and a friendly crew, which is always a plus even on short flights. More interesting however is the view from 36,000 feet. The terrain from the air is wildly tortured; punctuated by mountains that seem to grow on top of each other only to be separated by unbelievably deep gorges. Peru is a truly a land ripped asunder by the ancient Titans.

Arequipa 6

Approach to Arequipa

 Dry, sunny Arequipa is a welcoming city set at respectable 2,328 meters (7,638 feet) above sea level.  It is a charming city full of interesting sights and sounds.

Arequipa 7

Arequipa Street Scene – Arequipa Women

Arequipa Fire Truck

Arequipa Street Scene – Yellow Fire Truck

A city since the days of King Charles I of Spain, Arequipa retains much of its colonial legacy intact (some 332 hectares). Work, alas demands that Diplomonkey leave exploration of the city for later in evening.

There is however time for a quick Starbucks mocha coffee stop on the way out-of-town. A treat made all that sweeter by affording Diplomonkey a glimpse of a condor basking in the sun on a neighboring water tower.

Outside of Arequipa, Diplomonkey hits the Pan American Highway. His drive south takes him along the Cerro Verde mine’s side roads; roadways populated with heavy trucks, tunnel construction, and even llama crossings.

Arequipa 9

Beware, Llama Crossing

Off the sierra and on the coastal plain, Diplomonkey visits quinoa plantations and a cactus farm where cacti pads are purposefully infected with cochineals (a sessile parasite) that produces the crimson-colored natural dye carmine (both used as a food coloring and in cosmetics such as lipstick). For those inclined to know more, here is the Wikipedia cochineal link.

Cactus infected with cochineal

Cochineal-infested Cacti

Cochineal buggies, before...

Cochineal buggies, before…

Cochineal buggies, ...and after.

…and after.

In a day just full of treats, Diplomonkey even gets buzzed by one of Peru’s Russian-made Mil Mi-25d Hind helicopters operating out of La Joya. Oh what a treat, so much fun.

Peruvian Air Force Hind  Helicopter

Peruvian Air Force Hind Helicopter

Harvesting Quinoa by Hand

Harvesting Quinoa by Hand

Women Threshing Quinoa by Hand

Threshing Quinoa by Hand

Arequipa 13

Road back to Arequipa – Chachani and Surrounding Peaks

With work done and the sun quickly setting, Diplomonkey starts back up the mountain. Two hours later, Diplomonkey checks into his Arequipa hotel. A quick call to wifie to see how she, the Samster, and JackJack are doing is followed by exploration of Arequipa’s historic center (a UNESCO World Heritage Site). Wrapping up the evening is a late night dinner of alpaca Carpaccio pizza and a Pisco Chilcano with extra ginger root at one of Gaston Acurio’s restaurants.

Arequipa Cathedral

Arequipa Street Scene – Cathedral Basilica of St. Mary

Diplomonkey’s stay in Arequipa, only a day and a half, is too short. He plans to return with the family in tow next time.   As he boards his return flight to Lima, Diplomonkey makes a mental note to recommend to any would be Peru explorer to add Arequipa to their visit to do list.

Cheers.

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!