Monday, June 23, 2014

Peru - 3rd Time the Charm

The idea of traveling to Peru is always in our thoughts. Not only is it a chance to travel out of country which is something thoroughly enjoyable but we also have a close friend in Lima. We'll refer to him as Carlos since he is retired military and want to keep his last name out of print. Carlos had a particularly interesting and precise occupation in the not so far past.

His job, and thus the requirement for anonymity, was to hunt down terrorists who belonged to the Sendero Luminioso (Shining Path). The Shining Path was a group of murderers and thugs led by Professor Abimael Guzman who went into the hinterlands of Peru terrorizing the farmers. Guzman espoused a Maoist form of Communism and wanted the government of Peru to have a total regime makeover. The military government of Peru allowed for the first time a free election in 1980 but instead of getting involved Guzman and his followers decided to start a guerrilla war against the government which left countless dead in the next twelve years until his capture in 1992. According to a report from 2012 there is supposed to be nearly 4,000 current members of this terrorist group who still raises its pathetic but dangerous head to murder innocents.

Then again, what terrorist group doesn't kill innocent men, women, and children? Remember Beslan in 2004? If not read my novel 'Soft Target'.

Unlike many countries who want to treat terrorists as common criminals, Peru had a different approach. Elimination versus long stretched-out court appearances which tend to make terrorists into celebrities. No, Peru's idea was efficient, quick and permanent. As a Russian spy once told Carlos - "In Russia we will build monuments for any civilians who die as we wipe out these terrorist thugs. It's how we do business and our business is short and lethal to those who want to vent their nonsense by taking hostages." Barbaric? I'm just a writer and not in the first hand field of ridding the world of those who make it their goal to terrorize.

Enough of the philosophical typing.

My lovely spouse, Lauren, and I first met Carlos while on our honeymoon in Peru. Typical tourists we took in everything we could see in that first short trip in Lima, Cusco and Machu Picchu.

What you looking at?
 It had been such a marvelous trip that we decided to return to Peru with our three daughters, Erica, Jessica, and Kelly. This time we stayed for a month and they loved it just as we had, but despite the occasional complaint since "Dad's" idea of an easy day while vacationing is leisurely twelve mile hikes around cities and sites.

"Rub your feet tonight but let's get some miles in. Never know if you'll be back here again in your lifetime."
The three girls grinned and stepped up. 

It seems only a few short years, later we found ourselves back on a Lan Peru airliner heading to South America to see Carlos. This time there were three of us, John, Laureen and our great friend Paul Bakas who would be the videographer and confidant.

We have action
The purpose of this journey was six-fold: visit with Carlos and family, research for John's new novel, obtain material for our blog, film a trailer in the Amazon, do some twenty-two minute video segments on traveling, and to have fun.

The fun, there was no doubt, would be had.

When we land back at LAX we will be hitting the keyboard with tales from Peru and especially from Iquitos - the largest city in the world, with a population of over 400,000, which can only be arrived at by boat on the Amazon or by air. There aren't any roads in or out.

And the golf course issues machetes with each bag of clubs.

If my ball is eaten by a Caiman - is it a one stroke penalty?

Monday, June 16, 2014

Summer Solsctice

Summer Solstice  - A Time to Celebrate

The sun is directly overhead at "high noon" on the latitude known as the Tropic of Cancer, according to NASA scientists. No exactly a call to "draw yer guns," but it does become an interesting notion if you've ever been lucky enough to travel down south. And I mean way down south, on the Baja peninsula, venturing past Mulege and Gonzaga Bay, over to see the artists in Todos Santos. 
This event heralds the advent of summer in the Northern Hemisphere, winter in the Southern Hemisphere. Focusing our attention on the Northern Hemisphere, it is the longest day of the year. Although an argument can be made for other days spent waiting in anticipation or dread of upcoming events -- some of those days seem much longer than twenty four hours, but I digress. So, the longest day, meaning a lot of sunshine, right? But, and this makes sense when you think about it, the North Pole receives 30% more solar energy on that day than does the equator. Centered on June 21, the sun will rise and then not set for three months. Now that's a long day.

Al Ahram, Giza, Egypt
Interesting, but is it important? Well, it's not just NASA, but mankind has considered this even significant throughout the ages. J and L lives to do research and explore, so first the research.: The term solstice is derived from two Latin words. Sol meaning sun, and sister, meaning to stand still. The solstices and equinoxes are unique and predictable events which have created the changes in seasons which have given sustained life on this planet. So it stands to reason the Earth's journey around the sun would take on cultural and spiritual significance.
Sacsayhuaman, Cusco, Peru

Traditions, rituals, and events dates may vary slightly as you travel, but there is something special about Midsummer. In pre-Christian rites, most celebrations are held to ensure fertility and rich harvests. The night of midsummer was considered very potent for midsummer maidens who wished to conceive.Vikings, always big on burning things,  visited healing water wells and built huge bonfires in celebration.

Superstition would have you turn around clockwise three times upon waking from a night's sleep on the solstice! Worth a try....

Temple of Kulkulkan, Chichen Itza, Yucatan

The more you travel, the more you recognize the similarities in cultures across time and space. Pyramids and temples the world over have more in common than they have to differentiate them, and yet there's something unique in the design that defies modern understanding.

While admiring the craftsmanship and durability of  El Castille, I find myself wondering why at the Temple of Kulkulkan do a series of shadows form the shapes of serpents on the equinoxes and solstices? I wonder why during our summer solstice, their winter solstice, do the shaman of Peru celebrate Inti Raymi, the Incan sun god? Is that anything like the Egyptian sun god. Ra?
Well, no, of course not. But then again, hmmm. And Stonehenge? Half a world away, another structure aligned to the movements of the heavens. These ancient societies certainly knew more, were more observant of their world than perhaps we are.

Stonehenge, Wiltshire, UK

Why spend the mass effort and years to build these monuments?

And not just why, but how did these ancient people conceive such designs?

Saint John the Baptist

Perhaps I'm asking the wrong question. With the advent of Christianity, Midsummer celebrations took on a new meaning. As has often happened, the church took the pagan holiday and gave it in honor of Saint John the Baptist. The themes of Sun/Son and water seem to intermix in every culture. Perhaps it's natural the sun and bonfires and barbecues and beaches just go together along with Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, Saint John and Vacation Bible School. I suppose it is enough that we tiny humans recognize and celebrate these cycles in our lives.

So whether you celebrate with family, friends, fireworks or in some other way, definitely take time to notice the passage of the sun, and time.

Ben Johnson: "not of an age, but for all time."

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Summer Travel with CHILDREN!

In 1972 the thespian Alice Cooper released one of his biggest hits, School's Out For Summer. A bit goes like this: 'School's out for summer, School's out forever . . . '

Mr. 'Patriotic' Cooper
The very talented musician had it wrong since even when that summer bell rings releasing smiling and screaming children school is not often over forever sadly. Nearly 60 million of those running, jumping, and squealing adolescents will be returning to the 'hum-drum' of classroom life in late August or early September. The lyrics should have read - 'School's out for almost three months . . . ' But then again, those words wouldn't seem to carry a tune so we'll let Mr. Cooper have the final word on his monster release from 42 years ago (where did the time go?).

Some school districts have ended for the year and some will be ending very soon but no matter the exact date parents, grandparents, care givers, and others are excitedly planning trips to entertain those little munchkins who have been pardoned for the summer.

We at J and L seriously hope, being mainly a travel blog, that these tens of millions of children do have plans with family, friends or camps to get outside and do some exploring. Adventure is what inspires and young people need this activity from getting sedentary, obese, or simply bored.

Sitting on a couch texting, watching the same movies over and over again, having ear buds glued into the depths of canals, and playing violent video games is not what summer is all about. No, it's a time to pack up lunches and head to the beach, take hikes in the mountains, swim in rivers, visit museums, or take a road trip to explore.

Having experience raising four children J and L know perfectly well the 'trauma' that is often times associated with taking children on trips, either nationally or internationally. Every moment was nothing short of wonder - okay, back to reality. We had fun but some simple rules do apply so the driver and co-pilot do not end up in prison for something they did after hearing "are we there yet?" "Why can't I sleep the whole way from California to Canada?" "She's touching me!" and other lines over and over and over and over again. Annoying, yes to the umpteenth degree.

We argued about some simple enforceable rules at first which but once the trip started those tantrums seemed to drift away as the asphalt melted into the rear view mirror. It also works when the tarmac slips into the jet stream.
1. No electronics or they will miss Arizona or the Atlantic Ocean.
2. Look out the window - L was forced to do that as a youngster while traveling with her family and now understands why she can tell which part of the country we're in by just seeing the vegetation or rock formations.
3. Discuss/communicate where you are and why you are there.
4. No sleeping in the car or RV all day - plenty of time to sleep when the sun goes down and they will miss a lot.
5. Plan some stops at parks, museums, historical sites - a bright child is a wonderful thing.
6. In the hotel or campsite play board games - reconnect with the children.
7. At night review what was experienced during the day.

These are just some tips from travelers who have experienced the wonderment of traveling with children. It truly is fun to watch your child's eyes widen when they see the Grand Canyon for the first time or watch them as they actually touch the Eiffel Tower.

Travel in your own back yard or a back yard thousands of miles away. But travel with your children and they will appreciate it as they become adults and look back on all those trips and 'silly' rules with relish.

Our children do and that was one of the points of being parents - to explore and to have them explore in turn.

Summer is here - start exploring as a family.