Monday, July 23, 2012

Machu Picchu, Peru

My first 'long off' from work in Brazil and I decide to head to Peru.  It just so happened that our shift schedule is aligned with the shift schedule of our co-workers in another location within Brazil.  My friend, Nate, and I decided to make the journey to Peru together.  It had been a while since I have this sort of opportunity and had forgotten how much effort it takes to plan.  Multiple issues while planning but I knew in the end it would be worth it, and I was was not disappointed!

Our flight to Lima, Peru left at night leaving us with a 6 hour layover in the Lima airport.  Luckily, everything in the airport stayed open 24 hours so we sat in a cafe drinking beers and eating food waiting for our plane. At 545AM, we were on our way to Cusco, Peru!
One of our multiple snacks during out layover in Lima.
Cusco, Peru
Granted it is winter time in the southern hemisphere right now and we are in the mountains with little humidity, but I did not put the two together and realize how cold it was going to be.  And to top things off, the buildings did not have heat.  Luckily, I brought my scarf and gloves and many long sleeve items where I could layer up to keep warm.  When we arrived at our hotel, we were given delicious Coca leaf tea (apparently the same Coca leaf used to produce Cocaine).  

The streets are very narrow and the buildings do not look that big.  From the outside, one might think there is not much behind the door however, it is amazing how vast the area is when you walk into places.  It slowly warmed up throughout the day so I could shed some layers of warmth.  Almost like a dessert-like region where it's super cold during the evening/night/early morning where  you wear winter coats/hats  and then during the day you wear short sleeves.   
Narrow streets of Cusco, Peru.
The historic part of town was very quaint and had a nice square in the middle where many locals would like to sit and enjoy the weather.  There were two historic Catholic churches located in the square.  We took a tour of one which they explained the various local influences which pushed back on the European influences.  For example, their Jesus is of darker skin, positioned looking down, wears a longer skirt and has longer hair. A local artist would depict certain biblical images with local fruits and meats.  The tour guide mentioned that the other church had what they statues of Jesus and one of them was black.  Originally the color was dark skin however, with the use of the Llama/Alpaca oil for light, the smoke ended up covering the statue and turning it black. Unfortunately Nate and I ended up crashing early and did not make it to see the black Jesus.
A cross in the square - unfortunately, we could not take pictures inside the churches.
Machu Picchu, Peru
We took a taxi the next morning to the town of Poroy to catch our train to Aguas Calientes which we then took a bus to Machu Picchu.  We took the lazy man route and did the train because of our limited time.  Both of us would like to return at some point in our lives to hike up the mountain, which takes about 4 days.  We splurged and took the luxury train, Hiram Bingham, named after the scholar who decided to try to restore these ruins in 1911.  We opted for this train because a ticket to Machu Picchu itself was included as well as an English tour.  We had the hardest time trying to buy tickets due to the government suspending sales of tickets outside of Peru. The views from the train were gorgeous as we traveled the 3 hours to Aguas Calientes - small towns, farms, rivers and snow capped mountains.  

When we arrived to Machu Picchu, I expected there to be more hiking than we actually did.  But then again, we did take the lazy way.  Once we got to the top of the trail and walked out to the open - there was Machu Picchu.  The view was absolutely breathtaking and seemed almost fake - unreal that I am standing overlooking this beautiful Inka estate.  There are many theories as to why this estate was built, abandoned, how the community functioned, etc. Restoration still continues to this day. We spent a total of 3 hours or so walking around the ruins.
The spectacular Machu Picchu, Peru
 That night was spent in Aguas Calientes.  The town was small and cute like Cusco but definitely made for the tourists - everything was overpriced. We had seen signs at restaurants in Cusco for Alpaca and Guinea Pig and were determined to try both types of meat.  The hotel directed us to this restaurant which was supposed to be the best in town and served Alpaca and Guinea Pig.  We made reservations because they said it is difficult to get a table, although when we arrived more than half the place was empty.  Upon skimming the menu, our meat was no where to be found.  We decided to take our chances and pick the place that did not try to lure us into their restaurant.  The Guinea Pig meat itself was delicious but the skin was thick and chewy while the Alpaca meat was lean, dense and a little tough for my liking.  We enjoyed some live entertainment at another eatery after dinner before calling it a night.

Ollantaytambo, Peru
Since we were unable to get tickets to climb Huayna Picchu the following day to see the sunrise on the ruins of Machu Picchu, we decided to spend all day in the small town of Ollantaytambo (Sacred Valley).  This town also had some small ruins but we did not pay to see them.  Instead we hiked up the of the other side of the valley for two reasons: one, this side was free and also had some ruins of a castle and two, it was higher which gave a amazing view of the entire valley.
Ollantaytambo, Peru
Upon arriving, we found our hostel then proceeded immediately to a wood carving class.  It was just Nate, me and our translator, Amanda, in a side room of a house where Julio works on his carvings.  He taught us the simple design that many Peruvians learn when starting woodcarving.  Woodcarving is a family business and he takes great pride in his work.  He is more about the artistic and creative expression of art rather than selling them to tourists.
Julio and my attempt at wood carving in my hand...
In the later afternoon, we took a Peruvian cooking class where we learned to make stuffed peppers.  Again, it was just Nate, me and our translator, Sam, in the kitchen of a local restaurant called Pachamama meaning Mother Earth.  She was super nice and showed us each step and gave it to us to finish.  These were the yummiest stuffed peppers I have ever had.  They were even delicious cold the next morning as our breakfast in the taxi at 530AM.

I really enjoyed the ability to interact with locals on a one-on-one level.  This was organized through the group called Awamaki,, which is a non-profit org trying to involve the tourists more with the local community.  Their main purpose is to revitalize the weaving tradition of the local communities in that area. 

Back to Reality
The entire trip was long and tiring but completely worth the effort. We woke up at 445AM to catch a taxi back to the Cusco airport to spend the day on planes, buses and taxis to eventually return home and go to work the next morning at 8AM.   Cannot wait for the next long off adventure...we are thinking The Amazon!

More pictures of our trip can be found on my Picasa page, click HERE.

Monday, July 16, 2012

It's Been a Year....I know

I kind of fell off the blogging band wagon and I do realize my last post has been over a year ago.  Recently I have traveled to Brazil for work which has given me more motivation to write.  Plus, this saves me from repeating and writing the same story to all my friends and family.  I will try to write a brief synopsis of each of my assignments over the last year since they were all in the States.  Pictures will be available for viewing on my Picasa page.

Chicago, Illinios
I had a six month assignment in the engineering department at work.  Since I had travel for a year and a half prior to being stationary, I had forgotten what it was like to be able to plan events in advance more than a week.  During this time, I was able to go to four weddings, visit Tom in Trinidad multiple times, see my newborn nephew and run a 10k race with my bro-in-law, visit my parents on Thanksgiving, go on a ski trip to Colorado, and much much more! But by the end of this temporary assignment, I was ready to get back on the road for a bit.

Lake Charles, Louisiana
By March, I was back on the road and back to Louisiana.  The assignment originally was only 10 days but turned into one month.  I ended up working straight 12 hour night shifts for more than half of this time so did not explore too much.  Went on a two hour swamp tour where I saw lots of birds and even a few alligators...ate alligator for lunch afterward.  Drove to Beaumont, TX to visit some fellow friends/co-workers on an assignment there.  I was even able to get probably five feet away from an alligator, if I got closer he would hiss at me....and those suckers are fast.  Did not want to take any chances.

Toledo, Ohio
Straight after Louisiana, I traveled to Ohio.  Again, this assignment was longer than expected as are most assignments.  Also, two friends and also co-workers were in the same town at a different refinery on an assignment.  I tried many yummy restaurants because of them.  The Art Museum I checked out in town had a very interesting glass blowing demonstration.

Long Beach, California
This assignment was awesome because it was in California and only 45 minutes from my grandparents. Since I had to take a safety class the Friday before I was supposed to go to work, that gave me the weekend off.  Saturday morning I went on a whale watching tour where I saw two groups of grey whales (both a mom with her baby), common dolphins and bottle-nose dolphins.  That night, I headed up to see my Grandparents.  Ate home cooked meals and yummy fruit from my Granny's garden.  Surprisingly, this assignment was a lot shorted than actually expected.

Corpus Christi, Texas
Last minute trip to sunny Texas.  My first weekend there, I went to the beach and got burn extremely bad.  Ate really good Mexican food while there and went to a local bar and heard a different kind of country music -  forgot what they called it exactly.  I was even able to see Tom and go to a friend's wedding - a perk of working on assignments in the States.

North Padre Beach

Santos, Brazil
I finally went out of the country again and Brazil is not a bad place to land :-)  I arrived at the end of June and have loved every minute here.  It's winter time here but luckily stays anywhere between 15-25C (60-75F).  Things are super expensive here - shopping, groceries, restaurants, transportation, etc.  The food is delicious and the people are super nice!  I am slowly learning Portuguese.  Portuguese and Spanish are somewhat similar but unfortunately, I took German in school and do not know a lick of Spanish.  The town we are staying in is on the beach and our hotel is only a couple blocks away.  Have taken full advantage of running on the beach multiple times!  On my first long off - I took a trip to Machu Picchu, Peru with a friend/co-worker who is working in a different area of Brazil on assignment.  That post is forthcoming!
Santos, Brazil from Ilha Porchat

Monday, June 13, 2011

Only a Week?!

It does not seem as though a week has gone by already - serious, where does the time go?!

During the week we decided to go the our favorite restaurant in Aliaga - the one on the hill I mentioned upon first arriving. You would think by now we would write it down and learn how to say it but nope.  We went twice this past week just because the food is so yum.  My favorite part is the salad because the different types of olive oils and vinegars as a dressing then topped with cheese and olives!  I think Turkey has officially changed my outlook on olives, not all but some.  Ramo was our waiter and, of course, was extremely nice - he even took us back to the kitchen area and showed us the proper procedure to make Turkish tea!  Do you recall my mentioning there are a lot of stray cats around here?  We believe they are just tolerated and why wouldn't you, they are just adorable.  We had the cutest kitty by us during the meal but then he proceeded to jump up on my lap, multiple times, which when you are not expecting startles you for a second.  He was cute but a little annoying.
Beth, Ramo and me

Really, how could you resist this cute face?!
Friday night we decided to drive into Izmir, have dinner, and catch a later showing of X-Men:New Class.  We ate dinner at BayDoner and had delicious slices of lamb over cubes of bread covered in a slight tomato sauce with a side of yogurt!!  For dessert we went to a cafe shop for Cay(tea) and Kahve (coffee).  The movie situation was a little interesting and new for me.  Our ticket said 9:30PM for the movie to start.  Upon arriving at 9:25PM to the theater doors closed we thought maybe previews and/or the movie already started; however no one was in the theater.  Doors opened at 9:30PM and we were ushered to our assigned seats.  After 20-25 minutes of pre-movie entertainment of commercials and previews the movie began.  Alright, up to this point everything seems fairly normal.  During an action scene of the movie the theater lights started to come on and we hear the announcer speak Turkish.  Only an hour had pasted so I knew the movie could not be that short; turned out this was a 20-25min intermission with commercials and previews as well.  All-in-all, our thought to be 2 hour movie experience turned into almost 3 hours.  We are going to try to catch an earlier show next time or at least not a late show during the week. 

Saturday was our day of relaxation since we did not know whether we would have to work Sunday yet.  That night we drove to a local winery that Beth had spotted on the side of the road while driving to Foca.  As expected the food and wine was good.  As the evening progressed the mosquito's worsened so we did not stay too long into the evening.

 Turns out the catalyst loading contractor would not be ready until the beginning of the week so we decided to take Sunday and go on a boat tour of the islands around Foca - including the Siren Rocks as in the Odyssey.  The tour lasted 6 hours and we cruised around to various locations to swim in the Mediterranean sea.  We anchored for lunch and was served fresh fish the captain caught and prepared himself plus a local beer, extremely nice meal.  The boat only had 8 people aboard but more than enough areas to spread out if you wanted to rest.
Siren Rocks

In case you do not remember your Odyssey literature, Odysseus is supposed to pass by this area on his journey.  He went to a prophet who said you must not listen to the sound of the Sirens.  Any ship that has listened has crashed upon the rocks.  Odysseus returned to his ship and told his men to put wax in their ears to avoid hearing the Sirens singing.  He, however, was curious and wanted to hear the beautiful singing so he told his men to tie him up and not let him free as they pass.  The men held him tight as he struggled to get free to follow the sound of the beautiful singing of the Sirens.  The ship pass the Siren Rocks safely.

Beth avoiding the singing of the Sirens
Me leaning in to hear the Sirens sing.

                      More pictures of the Foca Boat Tour are on my Picasa page if you click HERE.

Monday, June 6, 2011

First Weekend in Turkey

Smoked Turkey, apples & cheese - a type of Toast
Beth and I packed a lot of activity into two days!  On Saturday we drove to go see the ancient Greek/Roman ruins of Ephesus or Efes in Turkish, which is near the present day town of Selçuk.  For lunch we ate at this Mom and Pop type cafe, St. John's Cafe, which we gravitated towards out of Beth's handy Lonely Planet book.  It was delicious and highly recommend.  They noticed Beth looking at the Lonely Planet book and actually asked if we would write a review on the cafe in addition let the authors know they had some information in the book that was incorrect.  Pretty cool!

Lone column from Temple of Artemis with Stork's nest on top
 Afterwards, we stopped at one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World - Temple of Artemis.  There is no temple there anymore but a lonely column, which was once accompanied by 126 others.  Typically the goddess Artemis is worshiped as the goddess of hunt but in ancient Ephesus they instead looked upon her as the goddess of fertility.  They say a stork's nest can usually be seen at the top of the existing column.

Ephesus in the later afternoon
At Ephesus, we were free to wonder about the ruins area.  It was very cool to be that up close and personal with some of the artifacts.  Since so much has been unearthed there are random bits of columns places along the pathways.  My friend Kathy, who has previous been, pointed out that she was surprised at how unprotected these ruins are from tourists compared to others - such as Italy or Greece.  That thought did not even come into my mind but probably should have seeming that I was climbing all over the place :-)  We went later in the day since we had to go into work that morning but it worked out for the better having less people there and the temperature slightly cooler.  An extravagant wedding was being set up while we were walking around - it would be an incredible place to get married. Beth and I were planning to hide out and crash the wedding but opted not since we were not dressed appropriately - next time!
Breathtaking Foca

Sunday afternoon was a day for relaxing.  About 40 kilometers away is the town of Foça, Turkey.  It is a smaller town that is known for the fish caught by the local fishermen.  The views going to and from Foça were incredible.  I did not think the water was going to be that crystal clear and blue!!  We found a public beach area but went a little further where not as many people were located.  The water was a little chilly to me, not to Beth, but once I was in and swimming around I warmed up a bit.  There were many sea urchins on the rocks so we wore our sandals in the water to avoid accidentally stepping on one!  To dry off, we laid out on the wooden docks basking in the warm sunlight.  This area would definitely be one where you could easily fall asleep in the sun and burn because the breezes are so cool that you do not realize the sun is beating down on you!  No burn for me - just lightly sun kissed :-)
Drying off on the docks

 More pictures of Ephesus and Foça can be found on my Picasa page if you click HERE.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Joys of the Job - Now in Izmir, Turkey

I have seen people return to the office from an assignment to turn around that day or the next to travel to their next assignment.  Luckily, thus far in my road career, I have been fairly lucky where I have had a minimum of a week between assignments...until this past Friday!  I had Memorial weekend planned out plus plans the following weekend; however, on the first half work day Friday of the summer, I received an email stating I was assigned to Turkey at the last minute to assist another UOPer (which happens to be my friend Beth).  Beth already had a plane ticket to fly out the next evening - which I was able to book the same flight path.  It turned into a 24 hour hurray up to run all errands you put off and pack day.  It's the name of the game with this job and I am definitely not complaining - but I am bummed I am missing what was planned!

Pardon the mess - Guest House room
The assignment is located in a smaller town outside of Izmir, Turkey called Aliağa.  I believe I pronounce the town close enough to correct as 'a-li-ah', because when you have a ' ğ ' in Turkish it is essentially silent in the word.  The town is very pretty, clean and the weather is gorgeous.  We arrived Sunday afternoon and made our way to refinery guest housing in Aliağa.  This is my first time staying in refinery housing and I find it pretty decent.  The area is quiet, surrounded by many trees; the rooms themselves have a larger mini fridge, sitting area, large closet with drawers, large open space, a decent size deck with good view and a shower with incredible water pressure and hot water!

View from my deck of my room - already have wine to sit outside and enjoy after work!

Beth enjoying our first meal in Turkey at the Guest House.
 The first night after Beth and I already ate dinner at the small restaurant in the guest house, which only had one option it was that small, Mehmet from the refinery came to greet us unexpectedly.  He took us to dinner at the restaurant at the top of a hill which overlooked the water, city center and the refinery in the distance.  It was beautiful - the camera shot with my point and shoot just does not do it justice.  He ordered lots of food which probably only a third was consumed.  We had calamari, Turkish meatballs, salad and of course local beer!  Needless to say, Beth and I were overly stuffed but it was delicious!  It was quite chilly being being night but the waiters came out with shawls for those who wanted one - apparently this is quite typical here.
View at dusk from the restaurant on the hill our first night.

We have our own rental car which is nice so we can explore on our own a little easier.  Beth and I went into town to walk around, grab dinner and pick up a few snacks at the local grocery store.  City center has both a slight European and Asian feel to me.  Many people were walking around or sitting in front of stores conversing, eating or observing, although we noticed it was mostly men.  Beth and I sat down at a little grill stand to have some food.  We were not sure how it operated and of course our Turkish is slim to none, but closer to the none, therefore we made an open/close motion with the hands saying "menu" in English.  The young man at the grill looked at us, turned around and grabbed a half loaf of French bread that was sliced down the middle.  He made the same open/close menu motion with the bread as we did - so we smiled and said "Yes, two please." 
Many stray cats but the look reasonably healthy compared to stray dogs we have seen elsewhere.
It has not even been a week yet and so much has happened.  We have a variety of places on our list to try to visit and I will do my best to update you in the meantime!

Link to more pictures HERE

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Indonesia Update

I've been in Balikpapan, Indonesia for 3 weeks now.  Please forgive for the absence of photos after stating I would have them posted shortly after my last entry.  The Internet here at the hotel has been extremely crappy - I would go for 24-48 hours without access.  Whatever they have done recently seems to have done the trick, fingers crossed!

We spent 10 days doing the loading of the catalyst working 10-12 hour days - it was exhausting.  Since most of the population is Muslim they take longer breaks during the day to provide those who need to pray enough time to eat as well.  I end up getting sometimes a 2 hour lunch and dinner break but after sweating all day I rather just power through.  This coming home and getting relaxed then having to put the nasty nomex on to head back to work was not enjoyable.  Let me just state that the 2 hour lunch and dinner break is not included when I say I worked 10-12 hour days...Unit to be started up shortly!

Yan, my coworker and Ida, hotel sales manager - this is a view from the refinery housing area.

Streets of Balikpapan - looks calm but they really aren't!
 Since we have been working so much there has not been enough time to really see Balikpapan.  I have gone out to dinner with my co-worker Yan as well as some of the refinery guys to taste local dishes.  I never ask what the meat is and if the texture is funny, I just swallow without chewing!  So far the food is delicious but some items are a bit spicy.  I have my first chief, Afshin, to thank in helping increase my spice level tolerance by putting spicy sauce into my food in Trinidad :-)  While at work, this is my first time to experience eating snacks right by the reactors (in addition to the lunch and dinner we get provided). Sometimes it's boiled corn on the cob, others is this fried egg thing and another one time we had this green crepe that had coconut and brown sugar in the middle - just up my alley.  They do have American fast food here - more than any place I have been yet that hasn't been a major city.  So far I have seen: A & W, KFC, McDonald's, Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts and Pizza Hut.  I have yet to eat at any of them.
Karaoke on a work night - Me, Aloq, Yoga & Yesay jamming out!

In China I would have people come up to me and want to take a picture with me but I swear I have been asked more times while inside of the refinery here by the workers to take pictures with me.  It's flattering nonetheless - just funny.  Of course when I say a few words in Indonesian they just laugh because my accent makes their language sound funny :-)
Aloq, Me & Yesay just chilling on the bench during catalyst loading.

Hopefully I will get a little time to explore Indonesia before making the trek back to Chicago in a few weeks...until I have something else interesting to post.  Take care everyone!

See more pictures at my Picasa page HERE.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


Yea, yea, yea it's been about two months since I have last posted but I really have not traveled anywhere too exciting.  I did go to Shreveport, LA but again, I reiterate that I did not really travel anywhere too exciting.  Although, I met some nice people while in Shreveport and I was able to try Which Wich sandwich shoppe for the first time...

 I am now in Balikpapan, Indonesia for a new assignment.  The reload and restart of this unit is scheduled for 6 weeks at this point but as y'all have gathered from my past assignments, it could be shorter or longer.   However, this type of assignment I believe is pretty on target.  I had to stay in Jakarta, Indonesia for two days while getting my work permit.  I had high hopes to travel around the city one day but there is so much traffic that after it took me an hour each way to get to the Immigration office and back to the hotel - I decided I didn't want to spend half my day sitting in a taxi.  Driving in Indonesia is exactly the same as in China - a two lane road can occupy 4 lanes of cars with motorbikes weaving in and out of traffic. 

I arrived to the hotel I am staying at in Balikpapan which is not bad - the room actually has a small apartment style fridge, microwave and large sink which is more than I can say for some of the rooms I have stayed at in Chicago!  The rooms are quite large which makes long term living more bearable - bed is hard as a rock but I have dealt with that before.  Immediately when I got into the tiny elevator after check-in, the smell was STRONG in cleaner smell, similar to pine-sol but worse!  Exiting the elevator you think you are in the clear but you enter the hallway to your room and your nostrils get stung with the smell of dampness and vicks vapor rub...I think I am going to start taking the stairs up to my room! Super glad my room doesn't smell like what I just described. 

When I was researching this area prior to leaving, I had read that Balikpapan suffers from frequent blackouts which can last up to a few hours.  I was not even in the hotel room for 30 minutes and there was a power blip - probably only for a minute - but it really makes me wonder how accurate that statement is now!

Pictures of the area to be posted soon....stay tuned :-)