Friday, September 28, 2012

Pac-12 Week 5 Predictions

It was a telling weened in Pac-12 play last Saturday. Let us count the ways:

1) Oregon State appears to be a lot better than they were predicted to be. Going on the road and beating an up-to-now impressive UCLA squad shows they have talent and guts not thought present before.

2) Conversely, UCLA is once again showing that they are more hype than substance. Sure, they beat weak Rice and Houston teams...and yes, they did beat Nebraska...but the first time a Pac-12 foe of any caliber shows up on their home field they lose.

3) Oregon is looking good - in particular on defense. The "D" kept the Ducks ahead in a close first half...which is how long it took the Duck "O" to get going. Once they did, they piled on 35 points, and then "D" sealed the deal late with two pick-sixes. Ducks up to #2 in the land!

4) For the second week in a row, USC did not look like a top 5 team...even though they beat Cal.

5) Oh, WSU...poor WSU. Your once promising "new start" just got derailed into "going nowheresville" as you lost to a horrible, horrible Colorado team - at home...after spoiling a late fourth quarter lead. Next up for you? Oregon.

OK, enough about last week, here's what I think will happen this week...

Oregon vs. WSU in Seattle. Cougs come out and play better in front of a Seattle crowd, maybe even keep it close in the first two quarters, but that doesn't last. Ducks win by the score of 45-17.

Oregon State vs. Arizona in Tuscon. Conventional wisdom would say Beavers keep momentum going after their UCLA win and beat up on a downtrodden Wildcats team followng their beat down at the hands of the Ducks. But no, I'm going to reverse that and say Arizona bounces back and wins 27-16.

Cal vs. Arizona State in Berkley. This should be a good match up. ASU is hot. Cal, while losing a couple close games, still has good talent. I think ASU has too much going for them and they will win 31-20.

UCLA vs. Colorado in Boulder. The Bruins are down after a loss at home to the Beavers. The Buffs are high following an unexpected win on the road at WSU. The reality of where both these squads are in 2012 sets in for as UCLA wins comfortably 33-13.

USC vs. Utah at Salt Lake City. Won't be close. USC wins 42-14.

NOTE: Washington played Stanford on Thursday and pulled off the upset 17-13, but I did not get around to predicting this week's games until that one was already over. Nice win for the Dawgs for sure, especially since their defense showed up big. A note to them,'re going to need to score a lot more than 17 to beat your next opponent on the road, Oregon.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Exploring Peru - Trekking in the Andes Mountains II

I hope you've enjoyed reading about our recent trip to Peru. You can read previous posts HERE and HERE if you have not yet and want to catch up.

Also, I've posted more pictures to my Peru set on Flickr that correspond to this new post. See them and previous pictures HERE.

Waking up after a good night sleep, we knew that today held a loop hike up to and returning from the Humantay glacial lake. Essentially, this was another acclimation day, but the hike would prove a challenge none the less.

After a tasty breakfast in the lodge consisting of eggs, bacon, fresh bread, fruit, juice and local coffee, our group strapped on day packs, put on our kinking boots and filled our water bottles for the day. Exiting the building, a number of people picked up locally made hiking sticks topped with hand knitted characters. I've never found walking sticks to be useful for hiking myself, so I passed on taking one. But, I did take a picture of them.

As we strolled around the side of the lodge, we exited the shade and entered the brilliant Andean sun and bathed in the spectacular view of both the Salkantay and Humantay peaks. Walking in front of the lodge, several llamas grazed. A few jerked their heads up to see just who was ambling by. Satisfied that we were not a threat, they each went back to their gentle business.

Humantay Lake
And with that, the day's hike commenced in earnest. The first part consisted of a slow rise away from the lodge and up past some rock-built huts that some locals lived in. Soon were swung to the left and started a consistent uphill section that took us along a small river valley and provided us views of the meadows on either side. Horses, cows, bulls and a few condors soaring majestically overhead provided interesting distractions as we huffed and puffed our way up. Our occasional stops for water and to catch our breath offered ample opportunity to take in the view, see the details of the landscape and really enjoy our surroundings.

Over the course of the next hour or so, the meadow-y terrain gave way to more rocky and alpine surroundings. Eventually we came to a roaring stream cascading over a series of rocks as the water rushed away from the glacier above and down, down, down. Our trail skirted this feature and once we were up and around it we came to an open spot in the valley that revealed a spectacular view of the impressive Humantay Mountain. Time for another break.
After that respite, the group turned its attention to the final push up the next ridge and to the lake. After a while, the steep incline started to flatten out such that we found ourselves again in a wide flat spot, but this time Humantay was even more directly ahead and over us. A few paces later, and we could see the first glimpse of the turquoise blue waters of Lake Humantay. Next we had hiked down from the ridge and to the shore of the lake. I could write quite a bit about this, but you know...nothing does this place justice more than just seeing it. So, here you go...

Descending from Humantay Lake
We lingered at the edge of the lake for about an hour, enjoying the sun, snacks and - of course - the view. Eventually, it was time to say goodbye to this beautiful spot and head back to the lodge. Going back, we took a different route down - mostly a straight shot over the fields vs. any type of switch backs. As we rambled along, you could see the lodge in the distance as we got closer and closer. Off to the left, we could also see the adjacent valley we would be hiking up the next day that led directly to Salkantay Pass.
Hot Tub, Cocktails and Offerings
Arriving back to the lodge about 2 p.m., our group was offered a choice - take the rest of the afternoon off or go on a horseback ride. Most of us opted to clean up, rest up and take a dip in the hot tub. A few more hardy souls among us decided to ride the horses. We were in the former group. Hitting the water at dusk, we were joined by some of or own group members and a couple from another tour group. Situated in front of the lodge with a HUGE view of Mount Salkantay, we enjoyed the conversation and a nice glass of Peruvian red wine. OK, here's my review of the wine: Was it the best red wine we'd ever had? No. Was it much better than expected? Yes. Were we sitting in a hot tub in the Andes looking at a majestic mountain at dusk...drinking a nice red wine? Heck yeah! Big thumbs up. The only problem was that once the sun goes down up there at 12,000 feet, it's COLD! We scampered into the building and right to a hot shower. 

Later, the group gathered for dinner and then two additional fun activities. First, we learned how to make the national drink of Peru, the Pisco Sour. The bartender asked for volunteers, and when everybody hesitated for an uncomfortably long interval, Diane jumped in and said she'd do it. After donning a Peruvian knit hat and a bartender's apron, she was shown to all our benefit how to create the drink. It's pretty simple: 3 parts Pisco, 2 parts lime juice, 1 part simple syrup and 1 egg white...put it all in a cocktail shaker with ice and shake well. You then pour it into a glass and add 2-3 dashes of bitters. Done and ready

Miguel Performs the Offering
Next, we went out into the cold night, now replete with a blanket of twinkling stars to learn more about the ancient Inca religion. Our guide Miguel proceeded to enact the traditional offering ceremony that consisted of placing a prepared package onto roaring fire. The package looked like a Christmas present, but it was not filled with a single item. Rather it was packed with lots of small items - food, tokens, icons, paper and more. All of these things - Miguel described - are symbolic to the wishes, desires and needs of whomever is making the offering. As the package settles onto the fire, it is slowly consumed. At this point, the ceremony calls for a ring of water - or any liquid - to be laid down around the perimeter of the fire to ensure it remains pure. This was done. From here, the ceremony proceeds by the smoke increasing and inevitably floating up into the air and presumably (and to the point) up to the very face of the mountain. Via the smoke, the wishes and prayers of the people are literally delivered to the mountains so revered and seen as gods in their own right. Finally, with so many stars visible, Miguel showed us many of the constellations - many we did know, but then also a few that were more special or particular to the Incas. Thus ended our event. Off to be we went to get a good night sleep, for surely we would need all our energy for what tomorrow held in store.

Getting to 15,000 Feet: Salkantay Pass
Arising early, we again filled up on hot, fresh breakfast and saddled up for the big push up to 15,000 feet at Salkantay Pass. Leaving the lodge for the last time, we said our goodbyes to the nice staff and, a few minutes later, as we walked away from the building we bid adieu to the llamas patrolling the front "yard." The first 10-15 minutes of today's hike were the same as the day before. However, we then veered right and up and adjacent valley...the one leading to the pass. I'd say that no one part of the hike was super steep or daunting on its own. Diane and I have hiked much steeper trails around the Cascade foothills near Seattle. However, two things differentiated this (and other) alpine hikes in Peru: 1) The altitude. The thin air quite simply makes inclines that at sea level would be no problem, difficult. 2) The view. Just not like anywhere else. In fact, check out a couple shots I took along the way up to the pass...

Trail to Salkantay Pass
We took several breaks along the way of course, a couple of which were longer stays to eat snacks, refill on water and recuperate for the next section of the hike. Usually, these extended rests were in meadows or clearings with their own impressive view. In a couple places there were local highlanders selling their hand made knit hats. How could we resist? We didn't and bought one really great, unique hat featuring a condor pattern. Eventually we reached a section that the guides called "the snake" because the aggressive switch backs looked like a snake slithering up the side of the mountain. This proved to be the most difficult portion of the day for me...doable, sure...but the one steep section combined with altitude made it a heart pounder. Soon enough, we were up the snake and within eye shot of the summit. Now, another thing about altitude is that it turns short distances into longer walks. With your eye, you can see that your destination is only 200 yards away, for example. But, you start walking at a crisp clip up a hill at 15,000 feet and, well, you have to take short rests every now and again...and so it takes longer than you'd think to go those 200 yards. But it's worth it!

Check out these pictures from the pass....

Prayer rocks at 15,000 feet
Here, we also were told by the guide that locals practicing the traditional religion take three of the all-sacred coca leaves in their hands, hold them sequentially in each of the north, south, east and west directions while making a wish or prayer...and then placing them in a stacked pile of rocks for safe keeping up on the mountain. That's what you are seeing in the picture at the right. With such spectacular and expansive views, the group lingered at the pass marveling at what we were seeing, but at some point we needed to move on and start our decent towards lunch and then the next lodge for the evening. The trek down off the pass put is in a different sort of terrain...more rocky, more heather, streams and closer valley walls. Also, some clouds and fog settled in, making the feel of the place different or even strange. We plodded along for quite a while, still interested in what the next turn the trail might reveal. Some time later, we arrived what appeared to be a campsite, but we know otherwise. Indeed, this was our lunch spot for the day. A large tent in the center of the area was our dining hall and the other tents were the kitchen and quarters for the cooks and attendants. We filed in and took seats at the long table, and soon enough hot bowls of corn soup, fresh bread, a grilled lunch and then desert were all served. Very civilized. After eating, the sun had come out some and we were invited to lounge about the area in some nice chairs - digesting, resting and taking in the view. Here is a picture I took of our group doing just that. See immediately below.

Resting over, we moved on along the last segment of the hike for the day, culminating in our arrival at the second lodge of the trek. Now, if you've just spent an entire day hiking up to and down from 15,000 feet, what's perhaps the first thing you going to want to do? Maybe...take a shower? Right. Well, upon arrival at the otherwise very nice lodge, we learned that, well, the hot water heater wasn't working. What! Right. We were told that they'd fix it and tell us when it was working. In the meantime, what were we to do? Hit the bar. That's right. Hit the bar. Or, at least after a cursory face wash and change of clothes. Settled into the lobby lounge with some ice cold beers, we were soon approached by one of our fellow trekkers, Josh, who suggested we play Scrabble. We did. Hilarity ensued. Eventually the hot water heater was fixed, and we retired our room to get clean and rest up some before dinner. As we did, darkness fell and the beautiful view out our window turned to black. We gathered for dinner, but didn't eat until we received another well presented session on Inca religion and festivals from Miguel. That's one of the things that's great about a tour like learn new things all the time as you make your way day to day. And then we ate.

And that was pretty much it for that day. Get up early, hike to 15,000 feet, eat lunch on the mountain and get to the lodge. Done and dusted. We were zonked and turned in early.

Check back in a week or so for the next installment of this series where I'll get us all the way to Machu Picchu and back to Cusco - along with more pictures of course.

NOTE: All pictures in this post were taken by or belong to Marc Osborn. No use of these pictures of any type is permitted without permission from Marc Osborn.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Refpocolypse: A Seattle Perspective

Well, it's been nearly 24 hours since the entire western world came to an end.

Yep, in case you've been living off the planet over the last day, you know that the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers played a Monday Night Football game last night that was marred repeatedly by bad calls by replacement officials working the game instead of the league locked out regular officials. The game culminated in a highly controversial call on the last play of the game in which a Seattle receiver was awarded a touchdown catch when it looked like a Green Bay defender had intercepted. The result, even after review, was to uphold the call. Seattle won and Green Bay lost.

And oh how the media and, well, the general populous has reacted. Middle East troubles? Presidential election? Unemployment? Nothing compared to this today.

The overwhelming sentiment can be summarized as: a bad call at the end of the game "cost" the Packers the game...and how big a shame that is. Horrible! Detestable! Unacceptable!

That's right. Pretty much anywhere outside of Seattle, the conventional wisdom and outcry is how badly the Packers were wronged...on the last play. But that's not what most people in Seattle think. Far from it. Sure, most of us realize the final play of the game was controversial and probably was not called correctly by the officials. But here are four perspectives from the Seattle side of things that you will not be hearing anything about in the national or sports media, but explain our side of things...

First, the Packers owe their lone TD to poor officiating too. What? How could that be? After all, the media is just talking about the last play. Well, if you watched the entire game, you'd know that the officials made many, many bad calls during the four quarters....benefiting and hurting both teams. This includes two calls on the one drive the Packers could put together - the drive resulting in their lone touchdown. Yes. There was an absolute abortion of a pass interference call against Seattle mid-way through that drive that bailed the Packers out of facing a fourth down and moved the ball substantially down field. Then, later in the drive when it appeared very obviously that Seattle had stopped Green Bay on the one yard line and forced them into a field goal attempt, the officials bungled the review of the placement and clearly made a mistake in giving the Packers a first down...which they then capitalized on for their lone TD.

Got that? To re-cap...THE PACKERS BENEFITED from horrible ref calls too - and in particular two calls that resulted in their go-ahead TD. Take away those calls, and it's an entirely different game. Who wins? Who knows. But, it's a different in which the Packers are either still behind in the fourth quarter or only up by two points late.

Two, the Seattle defense had just as much to do with the outcome as the officials. That's right Green Bay fans. You think you team got robbed? How about your offense play better and score more than 12 points? Oh, that's right...they couldn't. They were dominated all game long. Or even, hey, forget all that...just make a first down late in the fourth quarter in your own end. Game over. You couldn't and had to punt it back to the Seahawks and, well, you know what happened next.

That was a serious butt whipping administered by the Seattle D and this should not be forgotten or overlooked.

Three, the Seahawks fan base is probably the most unsympathetic to the "the Packers were robbed" cries than any group of human beings in the sporting world. That's right. The Seattle Seahawks have been on the losing end of two of the most egregious officiating fiascoes in modern NFL history. Packers fans, you will get no sympathy or shame from them. Here's why...

  • First, in the 1998 season, the Seahawks played an important late season game. It was against the NY Jets. It was a close. Near the end, the Jets drove the ball down near the Seahawk end zone. Their QB ran the ball and was tackled at about the three yard line...where his knees were down. He fell forward and perhaps the crown of his helmet touched the goal line after he bounced forward after hitting the ground. The ball was literally nowhere near the goal line. But the officials signaled TD. It was reviewed and upheld. Seahawks lost the game on that and it played a big role in them missing the playoffs that year.
  • Next and more significantly, the Seahawks were consistently on the wrong end of several MIND BOGGLING calls by the officials in Super Bowl XL in Jan. 2006. There was the phantom pass interference on a Seahawk receiver on a TD reception, a phantom holding call that negated a big play that could easily have ended up setting up a score, there was a baffling "blocking below the knees" call on the Seattle QB as he tried to tackle a defender who had intercepted his pass, and then their was the super eerie repeat of the Jets situation from 1998 when Steelers QB was tackled and down short of the goal line on a fourth down, but then bounced forward after hitting the ground near the end line. Refs called TD, it was upheld. These calls really did cost the Seahawks the Super Bowl win. It was so bad that the referee of that game eventually apologized publicly.

Keep in mind, these horrific calls in 1998 and 2006 were made by REAL DEAL NFL officials. Not scabs. Oh, and you know what the hew and cry was - if any - following BOTH these incidences from the media and other fans? Get over it. That's football. Move on.

And finally, four, you would not be hearing much about what happened last night if were the Seahawks who were "robbed" on the last play OR if the Seahawks had been playing, say, the Kansas City Chiefs. Indeed, one of the NFL's "darling" teams was the "victim" in this. And that. Can. Not. Be. Right. Nope, if roles were reversed or if there was a different visiting team, today's news would have been more along the lines of, "Well, there you go...just one more proof point that darn it, we gotta get the real officials back." But instead, with the Packers on the "wrong" end of things, it's "The world is ending, get the real guys back NOW!" That's why this is as big a story as it is.

So to much as Seattle fans also want the real NFL officials back just like everybody else, no America, you are NOT going to get any sympathy or shame from Seattle fans for winning that game last night. In fact, I think most Seattle fans would give you the same advice oh so many of you and the media gave us when this sort of thing happened to our team...get over it. That's football. Move on.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Pac-12 Week 4 Predictions

Another week, another set of interesting results in the Pac-12 this past Saturday.

In particular, USC loses to Stanford - for the fourth year in a row! And conversely, wow...all of a sudden Stanford is looking better than projected. This throws both the Pac-12 North and Pac-12 South races into question. Doors are opening for both UCLA and other pretenders/contenders in the South while Stanford looks like a threat to Oregon in the North.

What will Week 4 bring? Here's what I think...

Oregon vs. Arizona in Eugene. This will be the first real test for the Ducks this season with a talented Arizona squad coming into Autzen. I think the Ducks will win, but they will show some vulnerabilities as they match up with a much better team than they've played to date. I say UO 28, UA 24.

Oregon State vs. UCLA in L.A. This one could be the best game of the week with both teams exceeding expectations so far this season. I'll give the nod to UCLA as it's a home game for them and from what I've heard they are really peaking early this season. I say Bruins win 36-21.

WSU vs. Colorado in Pullman. Neither team is particularly good, but Colorado is embarrassingly bad. WSU wins easily by the score of 31-6.

Cal vs. USC in L.A. Hmmm. Last week Cal just barely loses to Ohio State and USC loses to Stanford. One might think this is a setup for a great game...and no doubt the media will hype it. But, I say USC's talent edge, home field and motivation to get back on the winning track prevail and they actually win big - USC 44, Cal 17.

Utah vs. ASU in Tempe. Based on all evidence to date, this should be an evenly matched game. I say ASU 27, Utah 16.

Not playing this weekend: Stanford and Washington.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Exploring Peru - Trekking in the Andes Mountains I

I hope you enjoyed the kickoff post to my "Exploring Peru" series that will recap our recent trip. You can check out that post HERE if you haven't seen it and want to catch up.

Also, I've posted a new round of pictures that correspond to this new post in the "Peru" set on my Flickr Photostream. See them HERE for more visuals from this and earlier portions of the trip.

And now, picking up where my last post left off, on to...

My initial thought was to do one big post retelling all of our hiking adventures, but then I thought that might be way too long as we did and saw quite a bit. I mean, I know you're interested, but I'm not going to make you read through one massive post. So, I'll divide it up a bit...probably three parts. Today, we'll look at our trip to our first trail head and Day 1 of trekking.

Hitting the Road
Awaking in Cusco on the second day of our trip, the group had a delightful breakfast at the hotel and then loaded up into two vehicles for a drive through the Peruvian countryside and to the first trail head. REI Adventures advised that each of us "pack light" for the hiking portion of the tour as donkeys would be carrying our bags for a great deal of the journey. I scaled back my pack and left a lot of stuff in Cusco for when we returned. Diane took a different approach, which was to bring her whole bag. We kind of laughed about it, and I said to her, "I want to shake the hoof of the donkey that carries that bag on our hikes."

Typical scene on the side of the road
In any case, off we went. Driving up out of the city, our guide Miguel informed us that the street we were taking was also the route that the Spanish took in the opposite directly when they arrived in Cusco the very first time. Soon we were in the countryside and whizzing past fields, farms, huts and brick-built villages. It was along these roads that you could see how much of Peru lived their daily existence - buying produce on the side of the road, waiting for a bus, walking to a job and more.

Some in our group had not brought bandannas for the hike, and we stopped in a town along the way to so they could pick some up. Miguel assured us that we'd want them on certain portions of the trek where it was dusty. Back on the road, our vehicles wound up and down hillsides, cresting passes and circumnavigating ridge lines...ever deeper into the Peruvian wilds. As the green and brown valleys came and went, towns gave way to villages, villages gave way to clusters of two or three huts. Suddenly we rolled up and stopped at a valley site that featured Inca ruins, a spot called Tarawasi.

Tarawasi Ruins
Inca Tarawasi Ruins
In a valley, near a river and strategically placed on an Inca trade route radiating out from Cusco, one could easily see why the Incas decided to build a temple and other structures here. Similar in construction to what we saw in Cusco at the Temple of the Sun, the ancient structure featured tightly fit stones and alcoves. Because it was an important location to the Incas, the Spanish of course built their own structure here when they arrived in force. That building was also still standing. Interestingly, here the Spanish did not build a church or chapel over the top of the Inca structure. Rather, they built their building alongside near by. In any case, the two structures offer a stark contrast of the two cultures and styles.

Another important thing Tarawasi included was a restroom. Yes, the family living right next to the ruins had a restroom that we could use. Remember, we're drinking, drinking, drinking water continuously to avoid altitude sickness...and this creates a pretty much continuous need to, well, pee.

Relieved and educated, we jumped back in our vehicles and continued onward.

Mollepata market
About an hour later we disembarked out of our transports and alighted in the town of Mollepata where we learned a little bit about how Peruvian artisans color their wool yarn to create the hats, scarfs, sweaters and sock they are so well known for. Turns out that most the colors come from various plant leaves, bean innards, molds and other natural compounds. Next we walked through the town square where there was some sort of festival or town market happening.

We popped in the front of a little shop and then quickly out its back door into a quiet courtyard where we had a snack and some hot coca tea. That's not chocolate tea people, we're talking "coca" - as in the same leaf that cocaine is made from. To my mild disappointment the tea did not have a "cocaine affect," but it is supposed to be good for avoiding altitude sickness. It tasted OK too. More on the importance of the coca leaf to Peruvian culture in a future post in this series. For now, suffice it to say it was a pleasant and very mild stimulant (like any tea really) addition to the round of snacks we were having.

"Cuy" in Mollepata
We humans weren't the only beings in the courtyard either. Right behind our tables stood a hutch with, mmm, I'd say about 30 cute little guinea pigs ("cuy" to the Peruvians). Now, the shop owner didn't have these as pets. No, they were future meals for him and his family. You only needed to look at the rather explicit poster on the wall showing the steps of a sanitary butchering of a "cuy" and you knew that these little critters were on borrowed time.

At this point we changed into hiking gear, slathered on sun screen and slapped on our hats as we were finally near our first hike. After about 20 min. of driving outside of the village, we got out, geared up and hit our first trail.

First Hike, First Lodge
Today's hike was billed as a "4 mile warm up," but the group consensus was that it was more like "a 7 mile challenge." No joke, even one of the guides said it was actually seven miles. And, for the first part it was all up, steep. That's challenging for people still acclimating. But I'm not complaining. The views were spectacular as we ascended up through meadows to the first ridge, then we hiked along that ridge going up sometimes, down others as we paced our way toward our first lodge destination.

First valley of our first hike
Perhaps the highlight of the hike was the lunch stop. Situated at a bend in the trail, this vantage point offered views of where we had came from, but - enticingly - where we were going...with the main feature being our first view of both the Humantay and the towering Salkantay peaks. Yep, from where we sat on the hillside munching our lunch, we could see the simply stunning peak and ponder its beauty, its history and, well, just how tall it is.

First hike, nearing our final destination
Speaking of the history of the mountain, the Andes range was formed by two great tectonic plates running into each other and the land being shoved up...way, way up. So, similar to the Rocky Mountains in the U.S., there are not any volcanoes. Also, the Incas worshiped the mountains given their obvious immensity and proximity to what people thought of as "heaven" or "the spirit world." This practice endures today among the indigenous people of the Peruvian highlands.

Anyway, we packed ourselves up after lunch and moved out toward the lodge - eventually arriving at Salkantay Lodge about 4 p.m.. With sweeping and spectacular views of the mountain, llamas plodding around the grounds, a warm and welcoming interior, private rooms and a hot tub...the lodge was a welcome oasis. We would spend two nights here as further acclimation before heading up to Salkantay Pass.

Our arrival at Salkantay Lodge
The next two days would bring hikes up to Humantay Lake and then the big push to the tall Salkantay Pass at 15,000 feet - subjects I will cover in my next post. But for this evening, we rested, ate well and called it a happy night. Slipping into our bed, contented with a tough day of hiking and views, we drifted off in the absolute darkness only possible when you are literally out in the middle of nowhere.

Check back in a week for my next post!

NOTE: All pictures included in this post were taken by Marc Osborn and are not permitted for any use by any part without prior written permission from Marc Osborn.

Romney's 47%

I've come across three very intersting, and I belive educational, pieces regarding the most recent Romney know, the one where he says that "47 percent of Americans pay no tax and are dependant on the govermnent, so they won't vote for me."

First, see the info HERE from NPR about who pays Federal income tax and who does not. To summarize, most people paying no tax are either elderly retired, poor, disabled or are using common goverment credits to lower their tax burden. That last group - government credits, deductions and similar - is where fat cats like Romney fit in...a group that is 6% of the 47%. Obviously, that's a small percentage of the overall group paying little or no income tax.
Next, see where most people paying little or no tax live in the chart HERE. Look familiar? Yes, yes indeed...the states that vote the most conservative look to be exactly where most people getting or using goverment created programs, funds or credits. That's right, people in states that consistently vote for small government are the biggest beneficiaries of government programs. That irony is rich, but it's not funny becuase a primary reason people in those states are paying no tax is becuase they are poor. States like Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, South Carolina, Louisianna, Texas and others have major populations of poor people. So that just makes it sad that these poor, elderly and/or disabled are in states that so clearly vote against their interests when they go Republican.

Finally, if you want to read more about how Romney's recent comments make him out to be a disconnected, arrogant, out-of-touch rich guy bafoon...don't take my word for it. Check out today's column in the NY Times by their conservative columnist.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Exploring Peru - Series Kickoff & Cusco

When most people think of Peru, majestic and misty visions of the "lost Inca city" of Machu Picchu come to mind. And sure, if you were paying attention in high school when you were forced to read Moby Dick, you would remember the artfully crafted passage referring to the typically gray/white pallor of fog and clouds that hover over and inundate the coastal capital city of Lima. And OK, if you think for a minute you realize that virtually all nations south of the United States speak Spanish, so you might deduce that the Spanish must have arrived in Peru at some point in history.

But that's about it. End of common American knowledge about Peru.

Well, Diane and I knew a few more things about that country that tipped the balance in its favor as our big travel destination for 2012. For example, neither of us had been anywhere in the Americas south of Costa Rica, so Peru offered a first foray into South America. That was an enticing prospect, and we'd known others who had been there and liked it. We also knew that the Andes Mountains are among the world's tallest and most spectacular landscapes. And, we knew that hiking through those mountains would offer us not only a visual feast, but also a bracing physical challenge that would focus our minds and clear our stresses. All things we were up for and enjoy. And finally, we knew that one could do all that in a small tour group via the excellent REI Adventures.

We had to get some of that! And of course visit Machu Picchu. So, we booked our trip and set off last month for an adventure of a lifetime.

For those interested, I will be writing about some of the highlights and anecdotes from our journey over the coming weeks under the series title of "Exploring Peru." Just check back to this blog a few times this fall to read new chapters. First up is a bit on how we traveled to Peru and our initial visit to the city of Cusco.

Also, while I have posted some of my pictures directly in this piece, you can see more that go along with this post on my Flickr Photostream HERE. I will add more pictures as I add more reports. Another reason to check back!


Travel Trevails from the Get-Go
Getting to Peru proved to be a bit of a hassle. No, not because it's difficult to book flights, but because of the airlines themselves on the day of travel. Let me explain. We arrived at SeaTac airport on time - or so we believed - and attempted to check in at the Delta desk for our flights to Atlanta, then on to Lima. The kiosk I was using said I could not check in and to talk with an attendant. I did and she asked what flight I was on...and I said, "The 8:10 a.m. flight to Atlanta." She said, "Oh, that's not our flight, it's code share with Alaska...go down there." We did, but time was ticking away and the line at Alaska was really long and REALLY slow.

Eventually, I realized we were going to miss our flight if we stayed in the Alaska line, so I asked for help from a manager who was walking by. He took our passports and looked into it. He came back and said that no, we were not on an Alaska flight and that we really were on Delta...and the kicker...that the flight had been changed to 7:30 a.m. Given that it was about 7 a.m. already, we knew our goose was cooked.

We hustled back to Delta and to make a long story short, they initially said "too bad, you'll have to re-book for tomorrow," but after I reminded them of how they sent us to Alaska Airlines...they swung into action to see if they could get us to Lima some other way so we could arrive on time for the start of our tour. 
At this point, I'd just like to say, "UGGGGGGGGGGGGG!" At least that (or a more profane version of it) was what I was thinking at that point on that morning. But, it turned out OK as the lady behind the desk did get us on a series of American Airlines flights (Seattle to Dallas, Dallas to Miami, and then Miami to Lima) that would ensure we could catch our plane from Lima to Cusco and the start of our trip as planned. More rushed, more exhausted...but there on time.

Except for the super long day of travel and a few wee hours in the Lima airport Saturday morning, everything else went fine from there.

Instant Altitude
We live in Seattle. That is at sea level. So is Lima - the capital of Peru and our point of entry to the country. Cusco, on the other hand, is at 11,200 feet above sea level, and it only takes an hour to fly there from Lima. So, when we went there by air, we experienced a quick altitude gain and it was obvious as soon as we disembarked from our airplane.

Cusco, Peru
Now, we didn't have any dramatic problems, but for sure we could tell the air was thinner. Any slight uphill incline elicited heavier breathing, we both had very mild (but present) headaches and we had a bit of tingling in the legs. And the sun seemed unduly harsh on the skin. All of these are symptoms of altitude on someone not acclimated. We agreed that while it was a bit uncomfortable, if this was the worst of it we'd be fine. And, you know what? That's pretty much how it played out. We spent the next couple days getting used to the altitude and drinking a lot of water...and all was good. By the way, drinking a lot of water is the key to altitude acclimation. The thin, dry air just sucks you dry so you gotta stay hydrated.

Seeing the Town & Starting the Tour
Arriving by transport to our hotel at about 9 a.m., we met one of our fellow tour mates, Josh, but were also told that we couldn't check in until 12 p.m. So, we took our sleep deprived and altitude challenged bodies on a stroll around the old part of Cusco in search of some views, some food and, well, just a place to sit and rest! We quickly learned that virtually no restaurants in Cusco is open for lunch until 12 p.m. at the earliest. We were forced into a 24 hour pub along the Plaza de Armas where we ordered omelets, lots of water and...eventually...some local beer.

Yes, I know. People say you shouldn't drink alcohol at altitude or when you're trying to acclimate. But you know what? Screw it. We did anyway. It was sunny, we had a nice view of the plaza and all the colorful people and activity going on just made sense. And it tasted great! Cusquena beer ladies and gentlemen. That's the stuff.

Woman selling tamales
While sitting in our second story pub perch, we noticed a woman roll up and establish a table nearby on the street. Out of nowhere, a crowd of locals and tourists appeared and started buying and eating whatever she was selling. Diane said, "You should go down there and get us some of whatever that is." I was tired and put up a little resistance, and she just repeated her which I got up and went down there. I'm glad I did because what the woman was selling hot, fresh tamales. You could either get sweet or savory. "Con azucar?" "Si!"I got to sweet ones and brought them back for us to eat in the pub. Wow! What a sugary treat.

Soon after, we worked our way back the hotel and checked into our quiet room. With our tour starting at 1 p.m., we had a choice to make...go on the tour or crash in bed. Diane opted to stay in the room and I decided to link up with the group and participate in the tour of Cusco town.

Temple of the Sun detail
After meeting our guide Miguel and and the rest of the group, we headed out for a three-stop tour of  the city. First up was the former site of the Inca Temple of the Sun. This is right in the old part of town, and as you might expect in an area conquered by the Spanish...they stripped it of any and all gold right away and then, of course, built a church over the top of it. Today, you actually enter a church and courtyard, but then inside there are sections of the temple still present. This site, therefore, served as a good jumping off place for the tour for Miguel to explain not only Inca culture, architecture and religion, but also the Spanish conquest. (Side note: I read the excellent "The Last Days of the Incas" before our trip and I have to say it was fascinating. I'd recommend it to anyone, whether or not you ever go to's just an engrossing and compelling story).

Ruins of Sachsayhuman fortress

Our next stop took us just outside of town to a ridge overlooking the city. Here sits the ruins of a massive Inca fortress built for the defense of Cusco well before they knew anything about the Spanish. Named Sachsayhuman, the fort actually did not prevent the Spanish from taking over the city in the early 1500s. Rather, at the time, the Inca king invited them in with the hope that by acquiescing to the Spanish desire for gold, they would either leave the Inca kingdom be or - better yet - go home. Oh how tragically wrong they were! The fort did come into play later once the Incas figured out they were being grossly exploited, disrespected, abused and murdered. They massed a great army outside of Cusco and inhabited the fortress. From there they rained fire bombs down on the Spanish in the town. They almost succeeded in driving them out. Standing on the fort and looking down on the city, you can see how this might have worked.

Ultimately, however, the Spanish were desperate enough to mount attacks up from the city on the fortress and were able to overtake it with their superior weapons - horses, steel armor, swords, lances and rudimentary muskets. Going forward, the huge stones of the fortress were dissembled by the Spanish for us in building structures in Cusco. This is why today the fort is just a ruins rather than standing tall as it did all those centuries ago.

We took in the view from the top of the fortress, then visited another site nearby where Inca shamans used to sacrifice llamas and then we returned to the city for a look inside the huge Cathedral.

Cusco Cathedral
Diane and I have been to Europe many times and, to a large degree, we're "Cathedraled out." You know what I many churches can a person possibly take in? Most all of them look the same and feature similar art - Jesus, Mary, Joseph, Saints, Jesus again, Mary, Mary, Mary and so forth. It's just a matter of which architectural style they are built in and if they happen to have any out of the ordinary artwork.

In the case of the Cusco Cathedral, it's the later that is of interest because you see in many of the pieces a blending of traditional Catholic themes along with local Inca ideas. This is for two reasons: 1) the Spanish wanted to co-opt the Incas religion to trick them - or at least make it more palatable - to convert to Catholicism, and 2) the Incas wanted to retain elements of their beliefs while avoiding imprisonment or execution by converting to Catholicism. For example, the Incas worshiped the mountains and the sun. Therefore, in the Cusco Cathedral you see paintings or sculptures of Mary wearing a dress that lo and behold looks a lot like the silhouette of a mountain. You also see her wearing a crown that looks a lot like the sun. Another example is in the locally created Last Supper painting that hangs near the main alter. The featured dish in the middle of the table is the distinctly Peruvian fare of guinea pig ("cuy" in their language).

At this point, my exhaustion caught up with me and I probably resembled a zombie more than a happy tourist. Somehow I made it back to the hotel when we finished at the church. There I happily jumped into bed and rested for a couple hours until we hit the streets for dinner.

Dinner and Done
Our final act on our first day in Peru was to head out with two of our tour mates for dinner at a great restaurant called Ciccolina's in the old quarter of Cusco. After or pub fare at lunch, we were ready to delve into something a bit more refined and this place did not disappoint. Most of us went "all in" on Peruvian style food. We got "causas" which are short, soft potato pillars usually with something inside them or on top of them. Their construction varies based on the restaurant you order them at. In this case, Ciccolina's causas are served...with guinea pig on top. You wouldn't have known it by looking as it was just a little strip of meat on top of the potatoes, but yep...guinea pig. The three guys in the group ordered alpaca, which tasted to me like a combination of beef and pork. Somewhere in the middle. But good as prepared. And we had a nice Peruvian wine to go with it all. Again, don't believe the hype on not drinking at altitude. Don't be stupid and go overboard, but please...enjoy yourself.

With a nice walk back to the hotel, thus ended our first day in Peru. We would be returning to Cusco later in our trip, with more adventures to come - shopping, eating, drinking and more sight seeing among them. But until then, questioned materialized. Would we like the rest of our tour group? Would we get altitude sickness later at even greater heights? How would the weather be? Would we get "gut sick" due to eating or drinking something our American systems could not handle? How would the trekking be? What would be be seeing?

I'll answer these and talk about our further exploration of Peru starting in my next post - which will be about the hiking we did in the Andes Mountains. And yes, I'll revisit Cusco to detail our second stint there following all the hiking.

Check back in a week or so for the next post, updated pictures on my Flickr Photostream set, and then come back again later for more installments.

NOTE: All pictures in this post were taken by Marc Osborn and are not authorized for any use by any party without written permission by Marc Osborn.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Pac-12 Week 2 Predictions

Last week I was mostly right in my predictions for Pac-12 football games. Cal lost to Nevada at I got that one wrong. Also, Oregon State's game with the mighty Nichols State down in Louisiana was postponed because of Hurricane Isaac...the team couldn't get to Corvallis for the game.

For the most part, Week 2 offers up more "pre-season" games for Pac-12 squads...with the exceptions of UCLA vs. Nebraska, UA vs. OK State and ASU vs. Illinois.

Here is what I think will happen...

Oregon vs. Fresno State in Eugene. Ducks dominate 41-20 with the Fresno 20 coming in the second half or late in the game when the UO is playing its second and third string.

Washington vs. LSU in Baton Rouge. UW could only score 14 points on offense against San Diego State in their opener last week. They'll have to do MUCH better vs. LSU to have a chance, but that won't happen and LSU will win by the score of 42-10.

Washington State vs. Eastern Washington. An easy win for WSU, right? No, I don't think so. I do think they'll win however by the score of 21-16.

Arizona vs. Oklahoma State in Tucson. Last year the Cowboys beat up on Arizona in Stillwater. I think they will win again even those this game is at home for the Wildcats. OK State 31-14 over Arizona.

Illinois vs. ASU in Tempe. Not sure on this one. I'll go with Illinois in a close one...21-20.

USC vs. Syracuse in New Jersey. Not even close...USC 44-10 over the Orangemen.

UCLA vs. Nebraska in LA. UCLA beat Rice and Nebraska defeated Southern Miss in a pair of tune-up games last week. Home field gives the Bruins some hope, but again with UCLA...until I actually see it on the field of play vs. a good team, I won't believe the annual hype around the squad from Westwood. Nebraska 36-17.

Cal vs. Southern Utah at Berkley. Hmmm. I was pretty sure Cal would beat Nevada at home last week. I was wrong. None the less, I think they'll be ready to go and beat Southern Utah. I say they get on track to the tune of a 28-10 win.

Stanford vs. Duke in Palo Alto. Stanford had a trickier time than I thought with San Jose State last week, but - like Cal - I think they'll be able to defeat a weaker opponent this week and win 24-6.

Oregon State vs. Wisconsin in Corvallis. OSU is not as bad as people think, and the Badgers are not as good as people think with Russell Wilson now in the NFL. But, "the other UW" wins comfortably by the score of 27-13.

Colorado vs. Sacramento State in Boulder. CU is not a good team. Sac State is worse...they lost big to New Mexico State last week. Buffs get the win, 21-9.

Utah vs. Utah State in Logan, Utah. A few years ago this would be a laugher with everyone assuming the Utes would win. But, State has come a long ways...just not far enough to win vs. an improving Utah team. Utes 29-13 victors.

Ladies and Gentlemen...Bill Clinton

I thought Bill Clinton's speech last night at the Democratic Party's national nominating convention delivered the goods in terms of why a) the Romney Ryan ticket is clearly the wrong choice (the primary mission of his speech) and b) why Obama is the superior choice...which Obama himself will expound upon tonight.

In fact, I think it was the best articulation of the situation I've seen yet - done in human terms, in a folksy and engaging way - but cutting and effective on the issues that really matter. Also, I liked how Clinton (and therefore the Obama campaign and the Democratic Party) embraced the economy as the central issue in the campaign instead of running away from it or offering up other issues (foreign policy for example) as the key thing to focus on. No, Bill clearly wanted to engage and discuss the economy and squarely lay out what's worked, what hasn't and the differences between the two candidates and parties.

To my ear, the most effective lines of argument issued by Clinton were those painting the stark contrast between what the other party represents and would bring to the White House, regardless of what one things of Obama. Specifically, I heard Clinton say:
  • Romney/Ryan are offering the exact same economic ideas that got us into the mess in the first place...massive tax cuts for the rich and corporations; major deregulation of finance, energy and other industries; deletion of healthcare reform laws and a big increases in defense spending all at the same time. This policy is a proven failure. It produced massive budget deficits and a major recession by the end of the 1980s and we all know what happened when the Rs enacted this policy when they ran the government in the 2000s. Why? The arithmetic simply does not - and never has - added up.
  • Romney/Ryan literally represent the Republican "zero tolerance" political philosophy of obstruct, say no and do not compromise...and that's not only bad politics, but more importantly it's bad economic policy. Related, the cynical strategy the Rs adopted five minutes after Obama was inaugurated in 2009 was to pin their mess on him, refuse to cooperate with him and, ultimately, hope the American public would literally forget that they ran the county into the ground from 2001 to 2008.
  • Romney/Ryan embody the immoral "I got mine, you're on your own...good luck" philosophy that isolates, divides and subjugates virtually everyone in society save the already rich and powerful.
  • Romney/Ryan are less than honest on the campaign trail. More than most politicians (of both parties) who "fudge" the truth and spin for effect, R/R go out of their way to just make stuff up. For example, Clinton pointed out how R/R have taken Obama's response to the requests by a number of governors (mostly Republican) to waive certain Federal welfare policy requirements so that those governors could enact even more effective "back to work" programs and suddenly turned it into "Obama wants to give welfare money to people without requiring them to work." Just not true.  
While Bill brought up other ironies, bad ideas and dishonesty foisted by Romeny/Ryan, I think these were the key "anti-R/R" points he effectively made to anyone out there who may be undecided - dishonest, obstructionist lackeys for the super rich and big corporations who offer nothing more than the failed ideas of the past.

By comparison to that, I thought the other part of Clinton's speech was equally good in terms of setting up Obama as the guy to keep on the job:
  • Obama inherited the worst economy since the Great Depression and has done a good job - despite Republican obstructions - to stem the bleeding and get the economy on at least a balanced footing.
  • Obama - despite how the Rs have treated him - still is dedicated to true bipartisan solutions that work for most if not all Americans. Now, I personally think this is what cost Obama the 2010 mid-term elections as he did not understand that the Rs were not under any circumstances work with him...and therefore they could run (and win Congressional seats) on the assertion that Obama and the Ds were not leading us out of the poor economy. But in any case, in his appeal the center of American voters, Clinton did a good job in painting Obama as a fair guy wanting to work with anyone for solutions.
  • Obama (and Democrats) belief in investing in education, infrastructure, corporate innovation and new forms of energy is a superior set of priorities that will pay dividends in the form of jobs and an expanding middle class.
  • Obama's priorities and record are about opening up opportunity, not limiting them. This is in stark contrast with the Rs.
The summary points here, to me, seemed to be that yes, yes we are better off four years later under Obama than we where following the eight years of W. Sure, there's still work to do, but things are turning around and we should stay on this trajectory with Obama.

In all, the speech was a master work by a great orator. Clinton effectively attacked the Republicans and set the table for Obama himself to lay out his plans tonight. To me, it's a clear and obvious choice which way to vote this fall...and I did not need Bill Clinton's talk last night to convince me. But, to the degree there are some "likely voters" out there who are still undecided and who saw the speech...I say that Bill did a great job in trying to convince them what to do.