4,208 Kilometers from Lima

As Diplomonkey prepares for his next Ecuador trip, he has a flashback to the fun filled afternoon spent earlier this year with the little dudes (AKA as Zos and Bo, which together make up the dynamic duo of the BoZos) at Florida’s Gold Coast Railroad Museum. Although nearly half a year and 4,208 kilometers separate us from that sunny January afternoon, the memories are as fresh today as though the visit occurred only yesterday.

Florida Gold Coast Railroad Museum 1

Florida Gold Coast Railroad Museum – Ghost Train 1594

Foreign Service life with kids is about getting the most fun with the little guys in new settings, collecting memories along the way that hopefully last a lifetime. Despite the hardships we often confront, and occasional (real) dangers, we are incredibly fortunate to get the chance to live and work in different places around the world in the service of our country.

Sam being Sam

Sam being Sam

Fortunately since most of our assignments are accompanied, we get to experience new places with our kids.  Sometimes these places, as incredibly as it might seem, are back home in faraway and exotic Florida.

Gold Coast Railroad Museum - Ghost Train

Florida Gold Coast Railroad Museum – Ghost Train 4033

Our kids growing up overseas are blessed with being able to experience unique life experiences. Our hopes and desires, as parents, are all to often tied to giving our children every material thing that they might possibly need to succeed. I guess that the Foreign Service life style, with its shipment weight allowances limitations and the ever present possibility of an evacuation, forces many of us to focus on what truly is important for the kids – experiences, memories, and the ability years later to say “I did this” or “saw that when I was a kid in the land of Erehwon (i.e., Nowhere spelled backwards, taken from an old foreign service exam).”

Zos and Bo, The Dynamic  Duo of the BoZos

Zos and Bo, The Dynamic Duo of the BoZos

Nasa Railroad Switch

Nasa Railroad SW 1500 Switcher Locomotive #2 – Because We Are Future Astronauts!

Enjoy the pictures!

Sign Post - Need One for US Embassy Lima 4208 KM

Sign Post – Missing a Sign for U.S. Embassy Lima 4,208 KM

Cheers from Lima, the land 4,208 kilometers away!

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!

Home for Christmas

JackJack this year asked Santa for a trip home for Christmas.  With the request in hand, the senior simian drafts his official decision memo, attaching a notional schedule of course, and moves forward the packet of documents in bureaucratically efficient and expeditious manner.

With the R&R travel request approved, Captain Jack and the rest of the intrepid diplomatic simian crew hop onboard LAN Peru’s (Boeing 767) Lima-Miami flight (American Airlines code-share) for a stateside break – U.S. Embassy Lima’s Santa delivered, we are so grateful.

Santa at U.S. Embassy Lima

Waiting for Santa at U.S. Embassy Lima.

Beach outings along with seaside discussions about shadows and the wonders of Portuguese man o’ wars follow spectacular breakfasts not just at Starbucks, but also at Another Broken Egg Cafe – great Bloody Mary’s and crab cake stacks, if I dare to say so myself.

Bare Foot Diplomat

The Barefoot Diplomat and Son.

Portuguese man o'war: looks like an empanada, stings like a million bees.

Portuguese man o’war: looks like an empanada, but stings like a million bees.

Nothing says Florida like a shared sunrise with its true natives, even if in suburban Palm Beach County.

Sunrise in Wakodahatchee

Sunrise in the Wakodahatchee Wetlands

Wally Gator

Wakodahatchee Wetland’s “Wally the Gator”

For the record, for me home is Florida despite the years spent in Virginia and my ties to the Commonwealth.  Life is good in Florida, go Gators.

Cheers!

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.

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.