Lest you think I’ve been sitting on my lazy butt instead of blogging, here’s what I’ve been up to in the past few months.

Mexico City
I ventured to Mexico City which is neither as dirty nor as insane as I was led to believe. In fact, in a Lima vs. Distrito Federal smackdown, D.F. would win by a knockout. There’s just so much more life and vibrancy there. AND I didn’t feel like I had to watch my back every second. I was hoping I wouldn’t stick out as a tourist too much, but alas, I could not pass as Mexican. I took a Spanish class leading up to this trip and it was great to have a refresher — especially since it meant I could speak to more people at the conference with confidence. The International AIDS Conference is one of my favorites to attend. It has such a positive and fun vibe compared to the academic conferences I attend over the course of the year for work.

Here’s a photo from the excellent Museo Nacional de Antropologia, which I managed to see in some free time
Death God
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Wilmington, North Carolina
Shortly after returning from Mexico, I waited in the airport for far too long to get to my brother’s wedding in Wilmington, North Carolina. Note to self — it would have taken about the same amount of time to drive. DRIVE NEXT TIME! Herb and I stayed at a fantastic B&B suggested by my folks called the C.W. Worth House. The food and company was good at breakfast-time. Perhaps the most amusing was the young Italian couple that came to Wilmington because the husband was a huge Dawson’s Creek fan and wanted to see if he liked the real place as much as the fictional one. Unfortunate wedding moments: melted cupcake frosting, thinking TJ might throw something REALLY embarrassing into the slideshow, Grammy apologizing for “ruining the wedding” by tearing up before the ceremony began, me doing man-arms on the way back down the aisle. Great wedding moments: the iPod music went off without a hitch, excellent entrance and exit music, my baby cousin breakdancing, my brother donning a rubber glove to take off the garter.


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Burning Man
I went to Burning Man with the best people in the whole wide world. Camp BloodyMaryLand rules! I agree with Bort when he says that if we wanted to, the people of our camp could rule the world — hell, we even had a nurse and doctor on hand! The dust on Day 1 was awful, so awful it made the news. Fortunately no one decided to quit camp and we made it through the rest of the week in good spirits. Things to remember: Building a bike trailer isn’t that hard; building a good hitch is. Chili is awesome desert food. Freeze-dried puffed fruit and truffle salt should be added to our pantry. There are sneaky ways to pee on the playa, but taking the contraption off can be painful. If you haul a ladder out into the middle of the desert, it’s OK to be ‘mean’ and use it for yourself. Showers are good. Getting to and staying on the playa is HARD, and you wouldn’t have the same caliber of people in your midst if it were easy. You’ve seen one boob, you’ve seen them all. SQUISHY BASS. Keep your eyes open and explore more. That is not a camp-marking flag, it is the official flag of Alistan!

When the absurd becomes ordinary, you know you are at Burning Man


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Salt Lake City, Utah
I just got back from travels to Salt Lake City for the SACNAS conference (Chicano and Native American Scientists). Salt Lake is a pretty, quiet town, surrounded by mountains that takes its pedestrian safety VERY SERIOURSLY. Do not jaywalk. You will get stared at, admonished, and stopped by bored police. No joke. At crosswalks not at a light or intersection, you will find neon orange flags to carry across with you to make you more visible to oncoming traffic. You are to deposit it in the receptacle on the other side when you are done. It is very odd. If you ever travel there, I recommend getting your exercise by walking up to the statehouse and taking in the views. It is quiet and peaceful there.


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So, Boing Boing just picked up on a story at National Geographic that they are building a new salt hotel in the Salar de Uyuni.

It’s by far one of the most spectacular natural sights you’ll ever see. I hope with all my heart that they try to conserve the area and keep it beautiful. So much of the rest of Bolivia was littered with garbage when I was there in 2002.

Here are some more pics of that area from my trip. Click on a photo to see it enlarged.

1)Yes, this is what it really looks like on a salt flat just after it has rained. No photoshopping.
2) Bagging salt after it has been dried.
3) Outside the old hotel
4) Inside the old hotel (taken through a window)

Salar de Uyuni making salt outside salt hotel Inside salt hotel


Originally uploaded by Ben Brown.

No sooner had I returned from Peru with bugbites and bloated intestines, than did I get on another plane and travel to the opposite coast of the US.

Now, working at a trade show can be incredibly dull, but the California Science Teacher’s Annual Meeting was kinda fun.

First, I got to see my pals Weaver, Ben Brown, Katie, Chris, Brooke, and Kevin. They made my evenings so much more enjoyable. This photo was taken by Ben after we had eaten at a fabulous Italian place and decided to stuff ourselves some more on gelato. The day I adjusted to the new time zone was the day I left for home, so I was falling asleep throughout the meal. And oh, did I mention that some strange guy gave our table a bottle of wine for “waiting patiently” to be seated. Very odd.

Went to a comedy club on Saturday night and got some laughs watching Jim Norton. Raunchy humor. I should really go out and see standup more often.

Also, I got to see the MythBusters on Sunday morning. They made me laugh by showing some un-airable clips. Flatulence is funny.
Do Pretty Girls Pass Gas?
Lighting the Emission
Watch them before they are yoinked off of YouTube.

I’m so far behind in posting to this blog. And I’m off again tomorrow to San Antonio for work, so forgive the brevity.

Photos of the trip are here:
Lima to Iquitos
Iquitos to Lima

This trip reinforced my feeling that it is time for a new camera. The delay from when I press the button to when the picture is taken on this camera is just too long. And the zoom is not great. And the new cameras all do video. And the price of a digital SLR makes me cringe. *sigh*

Anyhow, Herb and I had a fantastic time. We transitioned slowly to the Spanish-speaking world by passing through the Miami airport on the way down. It seemed that nearly 4 out of every 5 people we passed was speaking Spanish there. Once in Lima, we got ourselves safely from the airport to our hotel. Though we were warned several times that tourists have been targeted in taxis for smash-and-grab theft (through the taxi window, taking the bags off your lap), we managed to make four trips from and to the airport without incident.

Speaking of taxis, I had forgotten how silly drivers in Peru can be. Politely honking their horns at every intersection they come to, presumably to warn pedestrians to get out of the way. Though really, they seemed to do this even when no one was around, so I think they may have just liked the sound of their own horns. In addition to that nonsense, we survived one hair-raising taxi ride – we picked only taxis with official-looking lit-up signs on top, but whoo boy, the inside of the one that took us to the center of Lima was a mess — missing the handles to open the windows, beat-up dash, non-funcioning seatbelts. We zoomed past other motorists on the expressway, tailgating behind someone traveling in the right-hand lane. Our driver even managed to piss off the other taxi drivers. However, we arrived at our destination safe and sound, and we tipped the guy extra not because the driving was great, but because he forgot to add in the gringo tax (10 soles had to be the same rate the locals paid) and his poor beat up car looked like it could use some repairs.

In Lima we saw the Museo Arqueologico, Plaza Mayor, outside of the Catedral, and the inside of San Francisco, which includes some neat catacombs. We ate cebiche and drank pisco sours. We even ate at a sketchy local place and had milanesa de pollo (fried chicken, thinly sliced) with rice and soup. The food there was good, but SOMEPLACE ruined our digestive systems along the way, and that was probably the place that did it. Hard to know for sure, though.

Herb raved about the Coca-cola that contained sugar instead of high-fructose corn syrup, and we both found ourselves munching on Frac cookies whenever we got hungry. Inca Kola remained off limits though. I’m all for living like the locals, but that stuff numbs my senses with bubble-gummy sweetness.

Lima, on the whole, is OK, but I have no great desire to go back and visit anytime soon. The jungle, our real destination, proved to be so much nicer.

We flew out from Lima to Iquitos at an ungodly hour in the morning. We had to leave the hotel at 2:30 am to be at the airport 2 hours in advance of our flight. The Lima airport is as modern as you can get, with nice stores, sparkling floors, and LCD displays. The Iquitos airport is a world apart. It has one runway, rusted out hulls of abandoned planes nearby, and a couple of baggage carousels. We were greeted by a representative from the Muyuna lodge, and he transported us from the airport to their offices in downtown Iquitos. It was nice not to have to pick out a legit taxi driver or haggle over the price of our trip into town.

Once at the Muyuna office, we met our guide for the week, Moises, and he gave us a quick tour of the surrounding city blocks. Iquitos is a city of about 400,000 people, and is only accessable by boat or plane. Since there is no cheap way to import goods, it is relatively expensive to live there. Iquitos prospered during a rubber boom in the early 1900s, and sadly it doesn’t look like the prosperity lasted. There doesn’t seem to have been much progress made to keep the city clean or improve infrastructure.

From Iquitos we hopped a boat 3 hours upstream at a pace of about 35mph. We stopped along the way at one village, where they had a “toilet” (aka, hole in the floating house that emptied directly into the Amazon, in which there were many children swimming). Our lodge, a little further up the river, off a tributary of the Amazon, was quite nice. Running water was pumped from the river into our cabin, and though there was no electricity, kerosene lanterns lit the walkways and our cabin at night.

The heat and humidity were what you would expect in a tropical rainforest near the equator. The sun had a ferociousness that I’ve never felt before. It was like sitting directly under a food-warming lamp.

While in the jungle, we took many tours up and down the river in the lodge’s motorboat, pausing to look at birds, bats, sloth, river dolphins, caiman, iguana, frogs, tarantulas, and to fish for piranha. We took only one long hike, sweating and getting eaten alive by mosquitos despite wearing three different types of insect repellant. Permetherin on our clothes, slow-release DEET lotion on our skin, and picardin spray wherever we missed before heading out of our cabin for the day. On the hike we saw a pygmy marmoset, spiders, bullet ants, army ants, and leaf-cutter ants living in the biggest antill I have ever seen in my life. There were also termites, and some nasty-looking hornets that we had to creep by. We also learned about some of the medicinal properties of the local plants. One was good for wounds, another for snakebites, for example.

Recalling my previous trip to a rainforest in Bolivia, I asked our guide if any wild pigs were around. He said no, we would have to go to a slightly higher elevation to find them. He then proceeded to tell me how he was out hunting with his friend and his dog when he was about 11 years-old, in an area of the Amazon that was closer to Equador than we were. His dog went after the pigs, and the pigs got the better of the dog. They ganged up on it, surrounded it, and ate it. Nasty, nasty animals.

By far one of my favorite things to do in the jungle was to go out on the boat at night and watch the bats swoop down to catch the insects that flew in front of our floodlight. They were quite common, and Moises thought we were crazy to be so fascinated by them. I suppose I would be the same way if someone started to ooh and ahh about the squirrels around here, which are so commonplace I barely notice them anymore. Then again, we have bats in Virginia too, and I sit out and watch them from our deck at night even though I’ve seen them many times before. To each his own.

Another nice thing about our jungle tour were our travel companions. We left Iquitos with two other couples and stuck together as a group for our four days there. Wayne and Ingrid were about our age. Wayne is Australian, Ingrid, Chilean, and they had just moved from Australia to Chile. They had been there for about 3 months, and Wayne was still working on learning Spanish. Ingrid’s English, on the other hand, was impeccable. She had been in Australia for the past 6 years, and met Wayne through a diving club at the University she attended. Duncan and Maura were a bit older than us. Duncan is English, Maura, Irish, and they are now living in Ireland. Maura had a fantastic accent. I’m hoping that we get to see some of their photos soon – Wayne especially was taking pictures of EVERYTHING and I’d love some nicer shots of the animals my zoom lens was too weak to catch.

Our tour of 4 days and 3 nights was probably just about the right length of time in the jungle for anyone who is not a hard-core outdoorsman. The weather there was harsh, and by the end both Herb and I were ready to get clean and cool again. I was fed up it with the mosquitos, ants, and horesflies taking chunks out of me as well.

There are more little side-stories to this trip, but I can’t possibly write it all in the amount of time I have before I head off to San Antonio in the morning, so that’s it for this topic for now.

Leafcutter ants

I’m making a new page here to chronicle my search for information about Iquitos, Peru. I’ll be traveling there sometime in 2006. Perhaps I’ll get a glimpse of the ugly chanchos (wild pigs) that tried to chase me down and eat me a few years back. I’m seriously considering upgrading my camera and perhaps purchasing a videocamera for this trip. If I had my previous encounter on video, it would have been PRICELESS. “AIEEEEEE! RUN! {camera bouncing up and down, teethclacking and snorting in the background, camera brushes past a baffled dutch man, cut to brown sandaled feet cracking twigs and hopping over fallen logs, insane giggling of the camerawoman who can only think of how absurd it is to be fleeing for your life behind two 5 foot indian guides while 400 or so spikey-hair pigs try to chase you out of their territory}”

At the very least, I can get some cool footage of leafcutter ants. Those things are awesome.

Currently reading: Reading Lolita in Tehran. Listening to: The Postal Service


Originally uploaded by Alisonchilla.

Collapsing on a bench sounded like a good idea to me too. Three days of Christmas is fun, but a lot of present-opening.
For Christmas I got:

  • An iPod Nano – whee! Photos and songs in the smallest thing ever. I am pleased. I have also found the They Might Be Giants podcast, and am enjoying.
  • Work clothes. Because now I have “blue jeans days” given to me as a privilege, not a right.
  • The Maxx comic books – was missing a few from my collection. Er, more than I thought, actually
  • A Russian babushka knicknack. Mom, what WERE you thinking?
  • Strunk and White, Elements of Style – the illustrated version
  • Candy, books, jewelry, and a CD or two