October 2006

Wired has a post on Dance Dance Immolation, which I saw my friend Bort play at this year’s Burning Man. They also have a 6-word short story from one of my favorite sci-fi authors, James Patrick Kelly.

On Saturday, I failed yet again to find a Geocache in which to store the travel bug I have been hoarding at my house for the past several months. Mr. Teef is getting hungry, because I can’t find even the simplest of caches.

I’ve been traveling so much I am starting to get confused about where I am, what time it is, and what the temperature should be outside. Lima was one hour behind Fairfax, foggy and mild. Iquitos was one hour behind, HOT and HUMID. San Francisco was warm and sunny and three hours behind. Fairfax was downright cold, near freezing, when I returned. Then it warmed up some and rained. Now I’m an hour behind and it’s hot again, though dry. ‘Course, we fell back for Daylight Savings Time last night which means that when it is 6 o’clock pm here, my stomach thinks it is 8 pm. It doesn’t help that in my travels today there was Seattle’s Best Coffee in Atlanta, See’s Candies in the San Antonio airport, and a Walgreen’s with signs PRIMARILY in Spanish and secondarily in English right near my hotel. Melting pot indeed.

An absolutely beautiful view of the Antennae Galaxies was just released. Go see it.

The beast attacks

Originally uploaded by Alisonchilla.

I made the mistake of opening the door to my townhome and speaking to some local Jehova’s Witnesses a few months ago. At the time, I was amused because I got to have a conversation in Spanish with them. I am no longer so amused. They have been back at least 4 times, each time leaving pamphlets with an increasing tone of urgency (in Spanish). The latest one asserts that the end of false religion is approaching. The pamphlet points out that SOME religions believe in REINCARNATION. And other TOLERATE GAYS. Can you believe it? The Watch Tower Society definitely does not condone this, at least not according to the pamphlet they left me.

But they do, apparently, believe that some multi-headed beast will soon take vengance on non-believers. Image scanned from actual pamphlet, left this morning.


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.

Today I used RSS to Javascript to make a page of the feed from Pandora that has my latest bookmarked songs. The RSS to Javascript thingie loads pretty slow. Neat idea tho. See the link in the right sidebar.