Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Uncomfortably Numb. I Cracked A Crown And I Care.

I fell in love with popcorn when I was a child.  In spite of  being culinary challenged, my mother did make a mean bowl of popcorn.  I loved to badger her to make a bowl. My favorite trick was to wait until she was on the phone and mime out what  I wanted.   Between the phone in one hand, a cigarette in the other and talking to her friend with the phone wedged between her head and shoulder, whatever gesture she made I would naturally interpret as a go-ahead.  “But when you pointed the cigarette at me and exhaled smoke, I thought that meant yes.” More often than not she agreed. Boom!  I would race around the kitchen,  pulling out the large soup pot, small saucepan, butter, oil and the bag of popcorn.    Under her strict supervision, I would pour  3 TBLs of  oil into the pot. When the oil started to shimmer, I would toss in a test kernel (my favorite part), wait until it pops…, toss in the rest of the popcorn, cover, shake, and when the popping stops, dump it into a bowl, add some melted butter and salt and you have yourself a party.  And the best part, the very best part, were the un-popped kernels.  They had one job; to pop.  Not complicated, it’s actually your name.  John Wheelwright makes wheels, William Taylor makes clothes, popcorn is corn that is supposed to  explode.  But sadly, for some reason, known only to them, they failed in their mission.  Well, lucky for the un-popped kernels,  there are people, who love them.  I’ve loved anything crispy or crunchy ever since I was a kid so, unpopped kernels, lollipops, and fireballs were the best.

My mother and I would fight over them.  First off the partially cooked ones were always first to go. Then we would actually divide up the remaining un-popped ones.  My mother, being a mother,  would always give me the larger portion.  But,  if I wasn’t looking or paying attention she would try and sneak a few back.  It was her thing. She used to do these commando raids, actually crawling on the floor at night, to steal my father’s M&M’s which were locked in his night table, and then belly crawl back to her side of the bed.  So, from a tender age, I had a mother who was an original member of Seal Team 6 and a lover of un-popped popcorn kernels. 

My current tale of woe starts   at the end of the summer.  I happily spent a summer eating oysters, clams and  mussels in Maine and Cape Cod.  All summer long.  Yum!  I come home, go to my favorite pizza place, order my favorite pizza pie, white clam if you are wondering, first bite and CRACK!  Of course I chip a tooth on a stray bit of clamshell in a pizza joint 50 miles inland.  Go figure right?  So Ole’ Snaggletooth goes to the dentist, who puts  a veneer on my chipped tooth.   In passing I mention that my left molar is sometimes sensitive.  A few x-rays later, and drum roll please, a new crown is the diagnosis.  a fews days earlier I had innocently mentioned to my lovely wife that I should snack on popcorn because it is semi-healthy, and lovely wife goes out and buys  some microwave popcorn and I was hungry and well you know the rest.  

Novocaine.  Lots of it.  I mean lots.  The entire left side of my head is numb. Tongue? Can’t feel it.  Lips? Can only feel the right side.  Cheek?  Can’t feel them either.   But happily for me I can still; 
  1. Hear.  As in hear the screaming of the Dremel tool whirring at 10K RPM inside my mouth and reverberating in my skull along with the death rattle sound the suction straw is making as it sucks away all of the debris and,
  2. See. As in see the mist of finely ground tooth gently rising from my mouth as my dentist happily grinds away at the offending molar. Mercifully, it is over in just a few hours and I am now the happy owner of a temporary crown.  Temporary as in there  is more of this ordeal that I will have to endure, but lucky for me, I have three weeks to wait until the permanent one is done.  In the meantime chew on the right side and for obvious reasons avoid popcorn.  

I have often complimented my dentist on his technique.  I told him once he had the hands of a watchmaker, he quickly told me  his  father was one.  Great moment.   Anyway, on the way to my car I promptly cancel my gym plans.  The thought of bouncing on the treadmill, mouth numb, blithely gnawing away at my cheeks doesn’t interest me in the slightest.  No thank you. So back home and lie down. A refreshing nap turns into a freakin’ nightmare when the novocaine wears off, OUCH!  Everything hurts.   And while all of this is going on, my mouthguard, which I thought I put in a safe place, was found by one of my dogs who, chewed it up, and now I have another trip back to dentist, who did warn me in no uncertain terms to, you guessed it, keep the mouth guard away from pets.  

So, knowing me, I will swear off popcorn for about, oh,  a day or two and then back to my tricks.  Although, I will concede to not eating any more of  the unpopped. As I was listening to his instructions of what to do if the temporary crown comes off, which it won’t, but if it does, put it in a plastic bag, provided you didn’t swallow it, and let’s hope it won’t happen because he’s going on vacation, but if it does…  Anyway, within those instructions, root canal was mentioned twice not once but twice and trust me, once was enough.  So where in the world are my fireballs?  

Monday, January 1, 2018

It's Freezing Outside, At Least In New England

New Year’s Day in New England and it is bitterly cold and very windy.   The peel your face off if you are not careful, mind numbing type of cold.  The you could be wearing ten layers of clothing and still be cold kind of cold.    So I decide to stay in and do some e-shopping.  Cold weather for me means L. L. Bean.  Good stuff and they stand by their product.  I type in their address and off we go.  First stop: gloves.  I am notorious for ripping, tearing, losing, somehow ending up with two right hand gloves type of glove owner.  Needless to say, I use my pockets a lot.  But we are in the middle of a  cold spell with no end in sight and it is  tough driving a car with your hands in your pockets, so off I go looking for a new pair of gloves.  The men’s Carrabassett gloves look awesome in brown and gray, are incredibly warm, but their $89.95 price tag forces me to move on.  The GTX PrimaLoft has great reviews, but it’s got all these straps with pulls and things dangling from it, looks pretty complicated, big and puffy, and I really want them for going out and besides, I like leather gloves.  So the hunt continues.  Finally, deerskin gloves, cue angels, ahhhh! Light, warm, my size and on sale.  Boom! I’m in.  Drop it into the cart and hmmmmm.  It’s still pretty cold out and the weather guy just said we will be getting an “impactful” snow storm later on this week.  Well, that’s a blizzard where I come from, so lets go look at sweaters.  

 First up, Cardigans.  While I love the theory of the cardigan, in actual practice, at least for me,  it falls rather short.  I try them on and  think, “I look pretty cool.” Open, buttoned, sleeves up/sleeves down, nice.  However, when I try one on in the store  when my wife is present, she heckles me unmercifully.   “Looks good for a man in his nineties,”  “Do you want to be buried in that thing?”  “You look homeless.” That kind of stuff.  Needless to say I don’t own any cardigans. Next.  

Ah, the fisherman sweater.  I love them. Big, bulky, warm and good looking.  It must be  good looking because that is what I was wearing when I met my wife.  At least that is what it was according to my wife.  That was over thirty years ago. She also remembers the color and pattern of the accompanying shirt I wore.  I couldn’t tell you what I wore yesterday with a gun to my head.  Glad I didn’t wear a cardigan when I met her.  But here is the problem, the big, bulky warm and good looking fisherman sweater only comes in that off white, creamy color.  Which shouldn’t be a problem except for the fact that every time I have gotten a sweater in that color one of two things are going to happen.  I will either get a coffee stain or a tomato sauce stain on the sweater. Guaranteed. And just wait one second.  Fishing is a dirty, sweaty smelly, way to make a living.  Why the hell did they pick off white for the color of their sweaters which screams stay clean when we all know that is next to impossible?   

 I could be wearing an apron over a bib inside a level A hazmat suit, survive a breakout of ebola  and yet  sure as the sun will come up tomorrow I will somehow get a stain on my cream colored sweaters.  Never fails.  Last year I tempted fate, foolishly thinking that I perhaps grew out of that phase.  I bought a few moderately priced cream colored sweaters.  Sadly, they too succumbed to coffee stains.  What’s worse though is wearing a cream colored sweater and  not knowing it has a stain on it.  I would be halfway to work, look down and sure enough old coffee stain.  Shit!  Go to work with a coffee stain and suffer humiliation or go home and change.  Go home, change and call in late.  That damn highway, always accidents.  Yep.  Truth is out.  

V-necks? Nope.  Never liked them.  Ever.  Next. 

There it is; the Double L Cotton Sweater but, of course, they don’t have my size.  Big sigh.  I’m beginning to feel discouraged. It’s not getting any warmer and I can’t find a sweater.   I’m ready to cut my losses with just the gloves and go look for a sweater on the REI site, when I take one more look and there it is.  The Classic Raggwool sweater.  Charcoal grey. Perfect for hiding coffee or spaghetti sauce stains. Crew neck. One hundred percent lambswool.  All the bells and whistles.  Free shipping.  American Express and it’s on its way.  I check the email and confirmation and, oh shit, I didn’t take the discount.  A nice chat with customer service fixes my stupidity,  and it looks like the gloves and sweater will be here Friday; just in time for the impactful snow event that the weather people are talking up.  But, I’ll be warm in my new duds.   Sipping coffee and eating lasagna.  Happy New Year and thanks for reading this.  

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Where is U? Peruvian Teachers Strike Again!

Visiting Machu Picchu was a moving and emotional experience. I was overwhelmed by its majesty.   You can look at thousands of pictures and none, I mean none, will do it justice.  I won’t even try. You have to see it yourself. Not only  was  it a spiritual moment for me, but every Peruvian I met said the same thing. It’s a spiritual moment. And they all brought their hands to their hearts when taking about it. Everyone.  

So having toured and explored this amazing place for about five hours, it was time to head back to town.  A moderate wait for the bus and an uneventful ride down the mountain.  My son and I walk into town and proceed to Toto’s House Restaurant for some coffee and empanadas.  We have a few hours to kill and this place is perfectly situated for people watching.  Perfect.  An Incan quartet of pan flutes and guitars are playing for coins and selling CD’s.   Better than perfect.  We hang out here watching the comings and goings, listening to live music, talking and laughing.  That nice ache settles and another beer just might do the trick.  The beer is exceptionally good down there by the way.  

Finally it’s getting close to 4 PM and we have a train to catch. I had the hotel hold the bags and send them to the train station.  There they are, and now I’m schlepping around my suitcase and backpacks. They let us through the gates and the station is PACKED!  Oh and did I mention utter chaos?  That too.   Remember those striking teachers?  Yep.  The striking teachers are at it again. This time disrupting the rail service.  They put logs and rocks as well as parked trucks on the rails.  People are everywhere and more and more are coming through the gates.  There is nowhere to sit, people are camping in the gardens, under trees, all over benches and occupying every square inch of this place.  You have to plan your moves if a seat looks like it’s going to become available.   I pounced on a bench when a young lady stood up to stretch and she offered me a seat.  Ah. Bless you child!

So here we have hundreds and hundreds of people, all speaking different languages, mind you, sitting asshole to elbow, trying to;
 a) Listen to any news over the “loudspeaker” which it is an oxymoron because it was neither loud nor audible, even in English.  It was as if you were speaking through  a tired old speaker with a hole in it trying to talk over hundreds and hundreds of unhappy people while holding your hand over your mouth. And you were underwater as well.


b) Get some sort of answer from the overworked, exhausted, and just as much in the dark as we were, train attendants.   Those poor employees had no clue as to what was going on either.   They did not know when the trains where coming in. They were not getting any information from the Ministry of Transportation.  They were exhausted as we were.  We spoke to one attendant who had been there for 18 hours and had another four hour round trip ahead of her before she could go home.  

Now all of the food is gone because the mob is not only big but hungry as well.  We had a few leftover energy bars and lots of water.   But now those are long gone and the trains are not rolling in.   They are 6 hours behind schedule.  Yep.  Six long hours.  Wait! Hold it! And here comes a train.  The entire  station erupts in jubilation. But there are a lot train security and they are checking the tickets and times carefully.  Not our train.   Later on we met a bunch of kids from Ireland who missed that train  by minutes.  Those poor kids were devastated.  Soon we befriend a group consisting of an elderly couple from Australia, along with two teenage girls from Venice and Saskatchwan, who have coalesced into a traveling unit because of this shared misery, led by Bruce, a very tall man in a bright red jacket and big white straw hat.  And they were in the same carriage that we were in. 

People are starting to go from a spirited, we are all in this together festive mood, to edgy, then, angry, onto loud and finally everyone for themselves.  People are clapping and chanting.  Someone start shouting informacion! Informacion!  Others quickly join in.  My son and I along with our new traveling partners are able to find a quieter place in the station and wait there. We take the philosophical approach; nothing much we can do, out of our hands, oh well.  

Finally our train rolls into the station.  The carriages  are marked M, N, O, P, Q,R,S,T, V, W, X, Y, Z, L.   Oh, and we were all in carriage U.  Yep, carriage U.  The one that’s not there.  That carriage U.  They are checking your ticket and passport to the manifest and if your aren’t scheduled for that train and carriage, you are not getting on it.  Period. I’m going from attendant to attendant, dragging my suitcase and backpacks screaming Donde esta U?  Donde esta U?  Where is U?  Where is U?  They didn’t know where U was either.  They mostly spoke into their walkie-talkies and then said something to me in Spanish that I didn’t understand and walked away.  Great.  I keep an eye on Bruce in the bright red jacket and big white straw head to see if he has made any headway.  

They start closing the doors and I see my new mate Bruce standing by the last carriage.  L.  It dawns on us.  L is the new U. My son and I race to  Carriage L.  Bruce and his wife are boarding, I hear Bruce scream to the attendant those are my daughters.  More like grand-daughters Bruce’s wife snickered later.  The two young ladies from Venice and Saskatchewan get on the train.  I show my ticket to the attendant and saying, “U is L, L is U!” She gives us a weary smile and  lets us onto the carriage.  She doesn't even bother checking our passports. The doors close.  

We leave the station.  No actually we don’t, for some inexplicable reason, we wait for about a half an hour, and then leave the station.  We start chatting it up with our new traveling partners, swapping stories, and spend a pleasant train ride back to Ollantaytambo.  

Throughout this ordeal we kept in touch with David, The Best Tour Guide Ever, trading information about the travel delays and making sure we were all up to date.   The train pulls into Ollantaytambo at around 12:15 AM.   Beyond exhausted, we step off the train to be greeted by David, The Best Tour Guide Ever.  He grabs our bags and hauls them to his car.  We settle in and now we have to go into town and try and find a hotel.  Easy enough right?  Not when the only road leading into and out of the railroad station is blocked by a van that is stalled in the middle of the road with a dead battery which  is resulting in cars, vans, and busses all making a huge traffic jam.  David TBTGE, jumps out of the car, rounds up a few other people and pushes the stalled car out of the road.  

We finally clear the traffic jam and head into a very quiet Ollantaytambo.  David TBTGE, starts going up and down the streets pounding on doors of hotels and finally finds us two rooms at the Hostal Sumac Chaka on Calle Medio.  It was clean, it had a bed, it had a bathroom, it had hot water. It was inexpensive and vacant.  Boom, we pay the not so happy manager who was, prior to our, arrival fast asleep and are shown our rooms. I wash up and I am asleep in minutes.

One of the best days ever.  

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Yet Another Tent On The Beach Story

I love watching people put tents up on a wind swept beach.  It never gets old and the laughs are simply non-stop.  My latest sighting was on Footbridge Beach in Ogunquit, Maine.  A beautiful but breezy beach that my wife and I love.  We stay at the Gazebo Inn.  An absolutely amazing bed and breakfast.  My gold standard for hotels.   Anyway back to the beach.  Their breakfasts’ are off the charts.  Sorry.  The beach.   So a family strolls onto the beach carrying everything you can imagine.  They were very,  well let’s just say they could have stood to lose a few pounds and   maybe hit the gym every now and then.  The point being that they, in no way shape or form, had anything to do with the great outdoors.  And now of course, they are the proud owners of a brand new tent.  Sealed in the box.  Never opened.  The husband, who eventually proved himself to be extremely inept at tent assembly, was going to attempt to set up this tent on a windy beach.  Add to this his lovely wife who carried an adorable newborn in a sling across her shoulders.  And a beautiful young daughter of around 7 or 8.  

Dad attempts to open the box but is unfortunately thwarted by the steel band-like twenty layers of cellophane tape keeping it sealed.  No knife of course, so they start to tear the box to shreds finally get the tent out. Out billows yards and yards of mutli-colored nylon fabric and three, count them, three ridiculously long, jointed, elastic poles.  The daughter pitches in only to have dad poke her in the stomach with the poles.  “Thanks dad.”   The wife is reassembling the torn box and pointing to the pictures telling the husband what it should look like.  I don’t know what it looked like on the box, but what this guy was doing with the real thing didn’t resemble anything that I have ever seen.  

Ten minutes go by and those poles and yards of fabric still don’t resemble anything that could remotely be considered shelter.  This guy lives in a house, for most of the year.  What does he know about tents?  Finally something that appears to be a tent is up flapping in the breeze.  I haven’t seen the box but I’m pretty sure that the picture on it and that tent had little resemblance to  each other.  In fact, the two of the three tent poles were waving back and forth in the stiff wind looking like huge bug antennae.  I don’t know if it was my imagination but I thought my cell service suddenly got better.  

The husband must have compared the picture on the box to what he was sitting under and concluded that nope, doesn’t resemble the box. So out he pops, tears the tent down and starts anew.  The wife and newborn pick up the tent and begin to put it together; taking directions from the husband who is now looking at the torn box picture. After a few minutes they trade places and the wife begins to point at the picture and shout instructions to the husband.  The daughter wisely stays out of range of the tent poles.  Don’t forget the wind is blowing at a fair clip.  

Finally the tent is up. And NO it’s not.  Down goes the tent.  The husband now sits amid all of these poles and nylon and  pulls out his phone.  Then he starts to open all of the zippers on the tent to see if something is hidden under the flaps.  Finding nothing of value he abandons the zippers and starts in with the tent poles again.  Third time’s the charm and up goes the tent.  Finally figured out the little black tabs attached the tent to the pole.  

Eureka! The tent is up and my cell service is excellent.  

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Lobsta For The Lazy-Ass; That Would Be Me

I’m currently on the Cape Cod portion of my summer.  It’s a great part; sun, beach, seafood.  Who could ask for more? I actually could ask for a better way   to get here than the usual practice of endlessly sitting in traffic for hours on end with two bigs dogs in the backseat, listening to the Beatles on Sirius radio and swearing to myself non-stop. But, that’s just me.  

Finally we get here and set up.  Get the dogs settled in and decide where we are going to eat tonight.  It’s going to be fish because why come to Cape COD and eat anything other than seafood?  It’s named after a fish for crying out loud. 

With very little prodding we decide on Captain Parkers.  If you’ve been here you obviously know what I’m talking about, but if you have not, it is an old school “lobsta”  restaurant; police patches from all over the world adorn the bar, nautical theme, and really great food.  And the best chowder for many years running.  It’s really good.  Order a bowl, not a cup, you won’t be sorry.  So thick, you can actually stand your spoon up in the bowl!

So after a moderate wait, it’s always busy so be prepared to wait, we are seated.  While we are perusing the drink menu I overhear the guy next to me order the prime ribs.  I roll my eyes and silently curse mankind.  Who comes to a fish place and orders meat?  The seafood is so fresh it's as if the oysters flung themselves off the dock and on to your plate.  Anyway, being on permanent vacation has caused me to be, slightly, a little bit,  ahhh, shall we say lazy.  Maybe a little more than a bit, but anyway I’m thinking lobster, but man I am beat from all those hours of sitting in traffic doing nothing but swearing to myself.  And after a few drinks I’m even lazier and lobster is even less appealing because frankly eating lobster is a lot of work.  I think I even read somewhere that because you have to work so hard at breaking off a piece, cracking it open, picking the lobster out that you actually burn more calories  than gain. Even with the butter.  It's like eating health food.  I could be making that up, but the fact remains is that it is a lot of work.  I want to simply stab a piece of lobster with fork, insert in mouth, repeat. Also, I hate wearing a plastic bib.  I’m in my early sixties, when I see I guy my age eating with a bib wrapped around his neck, I shudder.  

When the waitress comes over, I first tell her my tale of woe, driving all day, tired, and do they have anything that resembles a lobster that some else has done all of the work for me; i.e. picked out all of the lobster? Well, it is my lucky day because they have a steamed lobster that not only comes cracked, but the tail is split open.  Perfect.  I'm down.

The chowder is terrific.  Thick, creamy, full of clams.  Yum.  Lobster comes, I decline the bib and proceed to have at it.  I don’t even break a sweat taking that lobster down.  I make sure I finish all of the broccoli because of the health benefits, order a cup of coffee and we are done.   No wait, we are not done, because we want some dessert.  We decide on a brownie/ ice cream thingie.  How bad could that be right?  I like a few bites of something sweet after dinner.  Not much, one or two.  The waitress brings  this absolutely enormous bowl of ice cream, topped with a can of whipped cream, drenched in hot fudge sauce and of course, the brownie somewhere in there.  Seriously, this thing was gigantic.  Well, you know it is summer and I have been running again, ok can’t let a nice dessert go to waste.  We polish off the dessert and waddle out the door!  A great start to my Cape vacation! What's for dinner tomorrow?!!!  

Friday, August 4, 2017

August First Doesn’t Suck Anymore

I was a teacher for over twenty years.  For me it was a great profession.  Extremely rewarding personally and professionally, the knowledge that you are actually making a positive impact in children’s lives,  and a lot of vacations.  I’m a vacation kind of guy; I love my leisure time.  A lot.  Really. A whole lot. In addition to all of the usual holidays and vacations, and enough personal and sick time that you could make your own mini-vacations (but you didn’t hear that from me) that teaching offered, you had the holy grail of vacations.  Summer.  Ten week of uninterrupted, sun drenched bliss.  No work, all play, everyday. We all loved summer vacations. Right? I never met anyone, I mean anyone, that didn’t love summer vacation as a kid.  Why most people gave that up to get two weeks, begrudgingly  given to you, and you better not take two consecutive weeks, and make sure you check your phone every two-seconds, I’ll never know.  Or even committing the most heinous  sin of all, unused vacation days.   How is that possible?  Hmmmm.   Let’s see.  Would I rather occupy my time with some mindless bullshit, or do what I please?  I think the answer is obvious.

I recently retired and have rather taken to retirement life.  As a former teacher when August first came around, I got a sense of dread.  You know, the little bit of queasiness in the pit of your stomach.  Any teachers reading this, you know what I mean.  September is right around the corner and its back to work time.  Plus the added bonus of August flying  by fast AF, Well, you get what  I mean.  Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t like going to prison, in fact, I loved my job a lot, a real lot. I was lucky; it wasn’t work for me.  But, I still got those August First Blues.  

No mas.  August first has come and gone with nary a whimper. Hell, I’m writing this a few days after the first and everything is cool.  The sun still rises and sets.   August first?  I laugh at August first.  Yes, I know, it was only a few short months ago that I would never look August first in the eye and sneer, but times have changed.  I’ve moved on.  To my  former teaching colleagues and other teachers who may be reading this as well, I wish you an easy August as you wind down the summer and get back to teacher mode.  Yours is one of the hardest jobs out there and you all do it so very  well.  Your time will come when every day is Saturday, but until then enjoy every moment you have in the classroom.  You really make a difference.  

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Peruvian Teachers Rock, Literally and Figuratively!

My first introduction to the Inca culture was a long time ago in sixth grade.   It wasn’t part of the curriculum, but rather something that my crew and  I discovered during indoor recess.   Way, way back teachers actually trusted the kids to play without adult supervision while they enjoyed their coffee and cigarettes during lunch hour (oh and it was a real hour).  Back then, teachers weren’t paid a whole lot, and most if not all had to work two or even three jobs to make ends meet.  So a real, uninterrupted lunch hour was sacrosanct.  

On rainy or snowy days we had indoor recess.  For us, indoor recess meant hanging out in the library.  We weren’t nerds, oh no, we were geography experts.  We would search the National Geographic magazines for pictures of naked women, and then project the picture on the movie screen using this old time machine called an opaque projector.  It made indoor recess tolerable to say the least.  We never got caught, but I suspect that if we did, we would have gotten off with just a promise to knock it off and never do that again (sure, uh-uh, right). 

One snowy day, during the geography quest,  while I was searching for our favorite pictures, I came across an article about Peru.  I was stunned when I first saw pictures of the Incan ruins.  No, it wasn’t because of the naked pictures,  they didn’t have any, but the absolute grandeur and majesty of the terraces, temples, and ruins of the Inca.  I thought to myself if only they had some pictures of… No actually I thought that this would be a cool place to see in person.  

I recently retired and was looking for an interesting place to visit.   My first thought was to visit Azerbaijan; a small country in the Caucasian Mountains in central Asia.  It is a very friendly, western looking country with a great food scene.  Oh, and it was on the Silk Road so it had a lot of history as well.  That idea got shot down and plan B was Peru.  My son, and traveling partner, made all of the reservations and off we went.  

Our first adventure in Peru was a bus ride and tour of the ruins of Pisac and Ollantaytambo in the Cuzco region of Peru. Cuzco was the capital of the Incas.    I felt fine for the first day but the next morning I was suffering from altitude sickness.   Too bad for me because the bus is here and now it’s off to Pisac.    We are above 11,000 feet and we have to climb even higher to go over a mountain.  The bus is swaying back and forth, the roads are all mountain switchbacks, (fun in a sports car, not so much in a rickety old bus) and I’m starting to get worse.  I quickly motioned to the guide to stop the stop.  Silly me.  Who stops a bus on a narrow mountain road in the middle of nowhere? No one I know.  Soooo I  became the guy on the bus that we all hate.  Yes, the one who despite all of the warnings about altitude sickness, and throwing caution to the wind by not taking altitude sickness pills, promptly throws up on the bus.  Lovely.  The lady in front of me kindly offers me an altitude sickness pill.  I’m usually loathe to accept drugs from strangers but would have welcomed cyanide at this time because I was  mortified.  Lucky for me it settled my stomach, helped along by a huge wad of coca leaves that were stuffed into my cheek.  

Mercifully the bus ride is over  and here I am staring at some of the most beautiful ruins in the world.  The Incas were an amazing people who despite not having a written language, the wheel, or metal tools, managed to create one of the greatest civilizations in the world.  They left us a magical world of terraces built into the sides of mountains, granaries, temples, housing, art, science, astronomy, botany, and much more.  

After exploring the town, having a light bite to eat and some souvenir shopping(found out how to identify real silver from fake) we get back onto the infernal bus and we are off to visit Ollantaytambo. 

We had heard from some sources that the teachers in the Cuzco region were striking because of low pay.  Apparently going to the university for five years nets you about $500 a month as a Peruvian teacher.    Even though the cost of living is lower in Peru, $500 a month anywhere in the world is lousy pay.  All of a sudden the bus stops in the road.  I see a group of schoolchildren, dressed in their uniforms, holding signs,  walking towards the bus.  Ah, how charming. Then, immediately behind them the adults, only they are holding rocks and boulders in their hands.  Uh-oh.  Angry, underpaid, overworked teachers.  Who, incidentally, had been on strike for months.  I’m thinking to myself, “Barry, how do you say I am a teacher in Spanish?”  Just in case they start throwing rocks at the bus.  Repeat after me, Yo soy un profesor! Yo soy un profesor!  Lucky for me and the rest of the people on the bus they started throwing the rocks and boulders onto the road.  This was the only time that I was happy that my wife wasn’t with us.  Sal is a staunch supporter of the teachers’ union and was a very active in her local.  She would have been the first one to jump out of the bus and join the protest.  Finally the mob slowly passes, followed closely  by a battalion of very unhappy looking police in riot gear.  

Sooooo, now we are in the middle of the road, in the middle of Peru, and the road is covered with rocks and boulders.  What do we do?  Well we had two suggestions.  The first was let’s walk and hour and a half to Ollantaytambo.   An easy hour and a half jaunt on foot with a nice kicker of an eight to nine thousand foot altitude and carrying a load of photo equipment and a fifty pound suitcase.  Already I’m freaking out.  The other suggestion, was, “Hey! How about if WE clear the road?” So that’s what we did.  We all piled out of the bus and cleared a path of about two to three hundred yards of rock strewn road.  The passengers in the other buses and cars in back of us joined the party and in the matter of minutes we cleared the road.  

Back in the bus and on to Ollantaytambo.   Those rocking good teachers?   They came back to haunt us a few more times. I'll tell you about that later.