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Elephant Seal outlook - Point Reyes day trip

Last weekend, our plan was to go see the super bloom of flowers that is moving north over the California hillsides. This thing was so huge it was visible from space, per reports from the missus!

We went on a day trip with the cousins to do multiple things.. Have a trip with family after a long time, go see the elephant seals at Point Reyes and catch the flowers on the hillsides. We did all three..  

The view from the elephant seal lookout trail was amazing. You could see the seals nursing pups and the visibility was great. 

you can see the seals basking in the bottom of the picture.. thousands of them! 

Here is a slideshow of the views from the trail in HDR..

There was a fourth thing that was on the cards.. Take a picture of San in the fields of flowers.. Call it the DDLJ Kajol shot if you will.. I had to work with winds that could knock you over (my cap flew off in the wind and had to be retrieved!) and it was difficult to hold the camera steady. It was bright and sunny, but you want to understand the concept of wind chill, you should visit Point Reyes! 

The photos in a sea of flowers with the sea in the background were not a roaring success, but it got a "satisfactory" grade! 

A slide show of the seals and the seal colony.

And a few videos .. some timelapse of the waves at the lookout and others of the seals and their noises!

Strongly recommend this for a day trip in early May! 

Next time I should go with a nice jacket!


Peru Day 6 - Lake Titicaca

The little one saw me editing this and said "Seriously, we went to Peru between Christmas and New Years! and you are still not done with this?"

The short answer is yes. It takes time to go through a 1000 photos, select a few, edit them, post them etc. The good thing is I am disciplined enough to do it. The bad thing is that things like work, dentist appointments three days in a row, jet lag etc. come in the way. 

Day 5 post is here..

If Machupicchu was the first highlight of the Peru trip, Lake Titicaca was the second highlight. At 7000 feet above sea level, a navigable lake, with floating islands of reed and villages built with reed and a tribe that has been living like this for thousands of years!

We left early in the morning to reach the dock and went on a boat ride to the Uro villages. There were went on a reed boat ride, followed by demonstrations of how the islands are built, how the people live etc. They did not welcome visitors till recently and now they have solar power and their kids are going to school. Soon this way of life as we see it might be over. Technology is leveling everything! 

The reed villagers were very nice and hospitable. Their kids were adorable! 

There are lots of pictures that capture this experience. Here they are in a slideshow.

Then we had a long ride on the boat to Isla de Tequile, which is one of the larger islands in the middle of the lake. We started on one side of the island, went on a steep and long hike to the top to have a lunch to remember facing the lake.

This island was relatively empty except for our group. The locals were not around trying to sell us stuff like we were used to over the last 5 days. It was quiet, just us and the scenery.

Then it was another long hike to the other side of the island through the church and square. It was a hot day with perfect views. We got a few family portraits on the island..

Another slide show with views from Isla de Tequile and lake Titicaca


Finally we walked back to the boat. They have built a beautiful dock on one side with amazing views of the lake. We got to goof around there for a good 30 minutes before the return journey to Puno.

Puno has a nice plaza with lots of restaurants. We found one where the owner was nice and we got custom vegetarian food. 

A slideshow with only the HDR shots. If you go to Peru, do not miss this! Something you don't see everyday!

Our day 6 in video!

At this point our trip was pretty much done and we were packing our bags that night. We had to make our way from Puno to Juliaca airport the next morning, fly to Lima, spend 10 hours in the Lima airport and board shortly after the ball dropped in Times Square..

Little did we know that our plans were subject to change for day 7!

As promised to the little one, I will post day7 later tonight.. 


Peru Day4 - Machu Picchu

Peru Trip day 3 last stop post is here..

On day 4 we were asked again to get up at 4AM. We were to leave the hotel at 4:30AM on a 2 hour car ride to Ollantaytampo train station. Get a short restroom and breakfast break there and leave on a 7AM train to Aguas Caliente, the small town at the base of Machu Picchu. The train ride was almost 2 hours. 

So off we went. It was a scenic drive early in the morning with snow covered mountains for backdrops.

A slide show of pictures from the taxi and train rides..



Once we got into the train after that long drive, we settled in to enjoy more scenery along the way.

It was a Mystic experience, alright! To add to the mysticism, they kept serving coca tea to help with the altitude sickness. 

The train winds its way along the banks of the Urubabma river and the Andes mountains provide a breathtaking backdrop..

Eventually we started seeing terraces and Inca housing and we knew we were close. 

Once at Agua Calientes we were in for a rude shock. Everyone on the train made a mad dash to the bus station. We knew we were to take a bus to the top and meet our tourguide at the entrance to Machupicchu. San and the little one decided to take a "restroom break" in the train station before going on the bus. By the time they came out of the restroom, we were standing in the bus line somewhere in the next town. I was not in a talking mood at that point. It took 5 minutes at a minimum between buses and we were going to be in bus number 15 or so.. Then all of a sudden more buses showed up and after waiting for only 45 minutes, we were on our way up. 

A funny thing happened while we were in line with Jr. debating the merits of taking a break on the train as opposed to on the ground. She suddenly said "there is a guy asking for your name". We all said "seriously, there is a guy saying sundararaman ?" and after a few minutes we had a face palm moment when a guy actually was reading out my name. Turns out jr. was right. The tour guide was also late and he had not made his way up and was trying to find us at the base! Always listen to your kids and take them seriously, especially when they tell you things that sound ridiculous!

We made our way up on an interesting bus ride into the clouds! You can see it in the video below..

Once up there, it was a steep hike from the entrance. I was completely drenched in sweat by the time I made it up on that trek with my camera bag. It was worth it though. The view of Machupicchu just makes you take a deep breath and go "how the hell did they do this up here?" It is truly a wonder of the world!

For a few minutes on the hike I was thinking 'there is a reason this place is on the bucket list for a lot of folks.. but it would be better to put it on the end of the list.. one might hit the bucket just going on this hike!"

Kept clicking photos from every vantage point. Here are some of my favorites..

The rest are in the slide shows below..

We did get two family portraits thanks to our tour guide.. 

After that sweat drenching episode, things took a good turn and my body finally adjusted to the altitude and the hiking. Eventually I put on my new Alpaca sweater that had been purchased the previous day at Chinchero.. 

It started raining after we had spent close to two hours up there. We stood in line for the return bus again for a good 45 minutes and made it down to Aguas Calientes. There were a lot of restaurants on the bus stand but we did not find anything Vegetarian with good quality. Had to settle for some fries and some Mexican food that was too oily. The kids were not happy, but we had cookies, chips and other snacks to fill up and got some Gatorade to go. 

I ran in the rain to get this picture just before heading back to the train station. This small base camp of sorts was beautiful. 

Finally at the train station, we met a lot of our previous tour buddies from before and sat together and chatted for a good hour. Then we said our byes and made it back to Cusco via train and car. When we first boarded the train we were wondering why our tour operator had booked us in the expensive Inca Rail train intead of the cheaper Peru Rail. We found out why on the return. Apparently the government owned Peru rail is cheaper but not reliable. They cancelled the previous train and the train station was packed with folks from two trains scrambling to make it into one! After a 30 minute delay we were on our way back..

That night was going to be our last night in Cusco. So we found a real nice Andean food place, but this time the owner was standing outside the restaurant trying to get customers. He saw me and asked "you are looking for good vegetarian food?" and I said "yes!" and he says "we will custom make whatever you want. just come inside". It was called Ama Lur Restaurante and they made us really good food that we picked from the menu. He even gave us rice and Yogurt! Finally the kids came back to the hotel all happy. 

When we reached the hotel, we got one more piece of good news. We had to get ready only by 5:45 AM the next day instead of 4 something! We were going on a 12 hour bus ride with 5 or 6 stops... that will be the next post!


Peru - Day 3 - First stop - Sacred Valley, Pisaq

Peru Day 2 post link is here.. and Peru Day 1 post link is here..

Day 3 started again early for the kids. We went on a long bus ride with a few stops for "restroom breaks"! The restrooms were all paid ones with 1 Sol per person per use and they hand you two sheets of toilet paper as part of the service. No soaps or hand sanitizers in the restrooms, so recommend you grab your own. They were also reminding me of the duty free shops at airports. You have to walk through them to reach the gates. You had to walk through the shops selling local stuff before reaching the restroom. Same concept! Let's just say we bought some stuff! We also had fun trying stuff and taking pictures..

We then were told about the two cows (bulls?) on every rooftop.. Apparently they are for good luck and they have some symbolism which is Christian mixed with Inca.. the animals and rooster signify prosperity, the ladder for upward mobility and the cross is self explanatory.. 


 Finally after a few stops, we were on our way to the sacred valley. We rode along the Urubamba river which is the heart of the valley and everything else around the place. It starts in the high Andes between Cusco and Puno and eventually comes down the valley, goes into the amazon and ends in the Atlantic! Almost goes from Pacific to Atlantic. The river with many names was in full flow..The views were amazing!

Then we reached Pisaq after climing back up. We were getting glimpses of the terraces on the mountainsides which we knew were made by the Inca. The ones on the side looked eroded and not well preserved. We were in for a surprise after reaching the entrance to the site.

 This was again built in three levels across the mountain slope. Everything was stone walls, perfectly aligned stone walls and tatch roofing, nicely designed for water flow. Not as advanced as what was going on in other parts of the world at the same time, but given these guys were isolated in harsh conditions, what they built was amazing! Here are some pictures.. 

They found some gold in one of the holes on the mountainside and realized they were tombs. They dug out everything and found a lot of mummies. However it was apparently beginners luck and the first mummy was that of the important person and the rest were common folk. Now we have a mountainside riddled with desecrated remains! This also reminded us of the same thing on Cook point in Hawaii! 

Kept thinking of Ozymandias!

We got nice views from the top of the settlement as well as on the way out.. 

By the time we were done with this place it was early afternoon. We were on our way to the next stop, which was Ollantaytampo.. we had no idea what it was about, other than it had an interesting name and a lot of the folks on our bus were going to get down there and not coming back to Cusco.. 

The entire bus got off at a restaurant for lunch enroute as they had a different "coupon". For everything you hand over coupons given from your tour company. We had a special coupon for "vegetarian food" at a restaurant 10 minutes away called Tunupa. We were dropped off separately. The driver said "you get 40 minutes to eat. I go get the rest of the group and pick you up on way". 

So we rushed into the restaurant and were not disappointed. They had enough veggie options including bread and Chole (Peruvian version!). It was delicious. We finished lunch in 20 minutes. The back of the restaurant had steps that led to the Urubamba river. It was gorgeous. We got to pet some Llamas and Alpacas in the lawns and this kid was selling us stuff under her mom's watchful eyes. Apparently it was school holidays so this was part time for the kid!

We got one family picture with the river in the background, a few more shots at the entrance to the restaurant and were reunited with our "group".

We had bonded with some of the folks in the group over the previous days and by now we were talking in a mix of English and Spanish. 

Then we drove on to Ollantaytambo! 


Peru- Day 2 : Cusco, Saqsayhuaman and Qenqo

Day 2 of the Peru trip started off at 3:30 AM. We had to get ready as the car was going to pick us up at 4:30 AM. There was no breakfast open at the time, but the restaurant was nice enough to box us cute little cheese sandwiches (just mini buns with Cheese), some fruits and milk at 4AM. The driver showed up promptly and took us to the airport and we said our byes. He did not know at that time we would meet again! 

We were flying into Cusco. After a one hour flight delay we reached Cusco around 10PM. There was another 45 minute drive from airport to the hotel. We stayed at Mamasara, a cute place on the edge of the mountains but walking distance from the Cusco historic Plaza. We were told to get ready in an hour for the tour!

The hotel was beautiful. Full of cute things..

By now we were only in day 2 but the kids had had enough of this waking up at ungodly hours, skipping meals because the "tour was going to start" and this waiting on a bus for "all parties to show up" etc. 

We calmed them down, thanks to leftover idlis and chappatis, curry which had been packed. We ate whatever survived the heat thus far and went on the tour.

We were not disappointed. We got to go first to the Plaza and see the Basilica.

It was in three parts. Every painting was a gem and the altar piece was just spectacular, not to mention that everything was gilded in gold. There was no photography allowed inside which was unfortunate as I did have a camera that could take photos without a flash. . . they couldn't police it, so they banned cameras altogether. 

After walking through the churches we walked to the temple of the sun! We also got some interesting perspective on these buildings. The base is always Inca. The top is Spanish style. They literally built the Churches on top of the open Inca temples.

However, they were not winning the people over. So the Jesus is wearing local clothes, the last supper has a guinea pig in the center, Mother Mary is in the shape of a triangle (mountain - Inca god) and Jesus and Mary have Sun and Moon behind them everywhere.. the Inca gods were fused into Christianity to get "customers". 

We also saw a cleverly done painting of a Madonna. If you walk across a 100 foot line, she looks at you no matter where you are on the line. This optical trick was used to convince the natives, that they had "sinned". 

There were a zillion mirrors in the basilica. They are not usual in european churches. They were put in to attract the Inca people to come as they had no mirrors and seeing themselves in the mirror was an amazing experience. 

Then we walked along the plaza streets to go visit more cute places.. streets and street signs were welcoming!

We took a short break at a small grocery store to buy water and snacks. We found "fryums" Peru style and loved it. It was made of some soy bean type flour and local spices. There was lot of Gatorade. Given how much we were walking in the hot weather (yes, it is summer in the southern hemisphere in December, although there was no direct sun, it was quite warm), we decided to stock up on gatorade. 

After a brief wait we got a larger bus to take us to our next stop.. Saqsayhuaman (they say it like Sexy Woman). For a few minutes I was like "why does he keep saying we will go to see sexy woman?!" are we on the right tour?! maybe not a family friendly tour?!.. then we saw the sign board and all was revealed.. 

This is one amazing place. They set up a city on the mountain top with stones that are not from the mountain. Some of these stones are 200 tons. They had a tiered city with priestly folks, city dwellers and farmers with terraces built into the mountain side for farming. They had elaborate systems to get bath water and sewage into separate streams, a nice drain system for water to go to public baths, etc. etc. They didn't destroy this and build a Church on top, thanks to Jesus.. instead there was a separte giant Jesus statue built on the adjoining hill overlooking Cusco. You can see it in the far left in the picture below. Our tour did not take us to that statue. It reminds you of the statue in Brazil. Given we don't know when we will go to Brazil, I wanted to go see the White Jesus (they call it Christo de Blanco) up close and personal.. tour guide said "no time". 

We were given 30 minutes to roam around Saqsayhuaman including hike to the top of the bath area to get pictures (one above was taken there). Kept clicking..... processed them over time. Here are some HDR shots which bring out the detail and the depth.. no photographs can do justice to the experience of walking by those walls. 

It was worth the rushed hike up to the bath area because we got an amazing view of Cusco from Saqsayhuaman! 

Then we walked back to the bus. Somehow word had gotten out that the buses had come I guess.. there was a sudden increase in number of vendors selling stuff to the tourists! Women in colorful local clothing were wandering around with alpacas and llamas to take pictures with the tourists. You had to pay them a Sol each to pose (3.2 Sols to a USD). They gladly pose for a Sol as do the animals! 

 Some of the vendors just let you take their picture. We did buy some trinkets for the kids.. all three of them. 

I wanted to buy some colorful things and was promptly vetoed. I did get a nice cap the next day which is banned in the house now.

From this place we went to another place called Qenqo! That was a priestly sacrificial site on an adjacent mountain where the weather gods were literally present. One minute it is warm, next minute the clouds roll in so fast and we had a hail storm. It was surreal! Most of this site was unfortunately desecrated. There was a 50 foot stone Jaguar that was beheaded. It was one thing for the spaniards to kill the Jaguars, did they have to do this?! 

You also had an amazing view of Cusco from Qenqo! 

A video of the hail storm...

Finally it was time to go back to the hotel. We had a pit stop at a place that sold Alpaca sweaters and there was a small demo on how the stuff was made starting with how to get the wool and process it. There was free Coca and Mint tea for getting rid of altitude sickness and stomach cramps. It was a local Eucalyptus added to mint tea. Would have failed every drug test with all that coca tea. However it did help me cope a little bit. The eucalyptus made me throw up later that night though. 

We found the place to be very expensive, so we went back to the bus and to Cusco Plaza. By then I had a pounding head ache and skipped dinner. The wife and kids decided to eat at the only Indian restaurant in the Plaza. The food was disappointing according to them. We went back to the hotel and dozed off.. as it was going to be another wake up early day.. 

The kids were inconsolable when the driver told us "we will pick you up at 6AM. we have a lot to cover". The little one said "you call this a vacation? I would have happily just stayed home. All we see is a bunch of giant stones piled on top of each other on mountain tops.. we have to wake up at 5 to go see this over and over again?!"

Everyone has a perspective!

Jr. suddenly started siding with her sister, which has not happened in the history of time! We were worried that there was a mutiny on our hands. San did her little lecture thing about how many kids don't get to see anything and how fortunate they are etc. etc. and we hit the bed... 

Day 3 post tomorrow.. (I am reasonably sure becasue I finished editing the pictures!)