Moray and Maras, Cusco, Peru, Day 5 of Our Trip

One of the recommendations for people who are hiking into Machu Picchu is that they acclimate in Cusco for 2 to 3 days first. All of the preparation just to walk 37 miles over several days might seem overkill. It isn’t. Those of us that fared best out of the group we hiked with were the ones who wore the most comfortable hiking boots, trained with an intense hiking regimen before going, and were the most comfortable hiking at altitude. We had yet to meet our group. Some of the people from the group finished the trek, and others didn’t. There was illness, there were injuries, and there were adult meltdowns. It really is an intense 37-mile hike. I don’t want to make it too daunting in case it’s something you’re interested in doing, but you should be forewarned that it’s not a casual stroll in the park. IMG_0445 This was our last full day in Cusco, and we decided to go off the beaten path and visit some of the less touristy sites. Have you been wondering where the llama photos are? We had two llamas at home, so the llamas didn’t make a big impression on us. Here is one I found while going through the photo album as I was writing this post. IMG_0462 This is the side of a native house of the type you see once you get out of the city. Even today most Peruvians live a rural life. They make these bricks from the clay soil near where they live and mix it with water and hay. The bricks do not dissolve in the rain as you would think they would. Peru mudbrick day five village day five Peru   This is a typical looking rural village. They are not very big. These photos show typical dress in the country. Peru women walking day fiveIMG_0480 IMG_0481 The life expectancy in the country is mid-40s. Why? The people chew coca leaves, which inhibit their appetite. Plus they eat a meal of mostly meat and potatoes. The life expectancy in Lima and the cities is the mid-70s. Peru donkey guinea pig food day five The donkey in the back is carrying food for guinea pigs. I’m not kidding. The first stop today was at Moray. “Moray or Muray (Quechua)[1] is an archaeological site in Peru approximately 50 km (31 mi) northwest of Cuzco on a high plateau at about 3,500 m (11,500 ft) and just west of the village of Maras. The site contains unusual Inca ruins, mostly consisting of several enormous terraced circular depressions, the largest of which is approximately 30 m (98 ft) deep. As with many other Inca sites, it also has a sophisticated irrigation system. The purpose of these depressions is uncertain, but their depth, design, and orientation with respect to wind and sun creates a temperature difference of as much as 15 °C (27 °F) between the top and the bottom. It is possible that this large temperature difference was used by the Inca to study the effects of different climatic conditions on crops. Speculation about the site has led to discussion about Moray as an Inca agricultural experiment station. Its microclimatic conditions and other significant characteristics led to the use of the site as a center for the ancient study of domestication, acclimatization, and hybridization of wild vegetable species that were modified or adapted for human consumption.” IMG_0483 moray Peru day five This is huge there are four of them. The terracing and depth creates different micro climates, with different temperature, water, and wind zones. The difference in the humidity and temperature from top to bottom is surprising. You start out chilly and dry at the top and end up warm and damp from humidity at the bottom. As much as a 59 degree Fahrenheit temperature difference has been measured from the top to the bottom.

This is another smaller area showing a similar structure.
This is another smaller area showing a similar structure.

This is a different ring, one that has not been fully excavated yet. It was much windier at this ring. This is important because some plants need wind to pollinate. The piles of stones came from the walls and are being put back into them as this site is restored. stairs Moray Peru Day 5 This is a staircase going from one level to the next. stairs Mare Peru Blair day 5 Sean is at the top, and missed the cool stairs. There was no way to get down to the bottom with crutches. more stairs Moray Peru day 5 These steps are at least 600 years old. Can you imagine? IMG_0504 Each of the levels have many of these irrigation channels around the circles. To this day they do not know how they did it, but the bottom levels do not pool water. The water drains perfectly. Moray Peru from the bottom up day 5 This is a major site for New Agers. It is supposedly one of the most important energy centers on earth. The group in the center at the bottom are communing. All I really know as a chemist is, energy is damn interesting, and just how life comes out of it, I am speaking on the atomic level here, is fascinating. Not that I am a New Ager. It is just something to think about. Moray Peru new age day 5 The Andes: Even if you are from the mountains, the Andes are spectacular. Andes Peru day five Facts I learned today about the Andes” It is 13 degrees south of the equator. It is the longest Mountain range in the world. The mountains are 300 million years old. 7500 = the length the range grows in millimeters every year. The first snow we have seen was up on high in the Andes today. maras peru day 5Our next stop was Maras. This is from the top on the way in. The small white squares are individual salt flats. The salt mines have been in continuous operation for more than 1000 years. They’re pre-Incan. IMG_0538 IMG_0549 The photo below shows how the water gets to the pans. Are you wondering why there would be an archaeological site for salt? And even if there was why would someone visit it? Well, in the millennium before everything could be bought anywhere at any time, some commodities shaped history. People (and lots of other animals as well) need salt, but salt is not available everywhere. Salt used to be worth its weight in gold. A very interesting book on this subject is called Salt. It is nonfiction and tells the history of salt. This author also wrote a book called Cod, which is a fish that changed history. Both of these foods changed history more than many documents and most historical figures did. IMG_0550 IMG_0553 “Since pre-Inca times, salt has been obtained in Maras by evaporating salty water from a local subterranean stream. The highly salty water emerges at a spring, a natural outlet of the underground stream. The flow is directed into an intricate system of tiny channels constructed so that the water runs gradually down onto the several hundred ancient terraced ponds. Almost all the ponds are less than four meters square in area, and none exceeds thirty centimeters in depth. All are necessarily shaped into polygons with the flow of water carefully controlled and monitored by the workers. The altitude of the ponds slowly decreases, so that the water may flow through the myriad branches of the water-supply channels and be introduced slowly through a notch in one sidewall of each pond. The proper maintenance of the adjacent feeder channel, the side walls and the water-entry notch, the pond’s bottom surface, the quantity of water, and the removal of accumulated salt deposits requires close cooperation among the community of users. It is agreed among local residents and pond workers that the cooperative system was established during the time of the Incas, if not earlier. As water evaporates from the sun-warmed ponds, the water becomes supersaturated and salt precipitates as various size crystals onto the inner surfaces of a pond’s earthen walls and on the pond’s earthen floor. The pond’s keeper then closes the water-feeder notch and allows the pond to go dry. Within a few days the keeper carefully scrapes the dry salt from the sides and bottom, puts it into a suitable vessel, reopens the water-supply notch, and carries away the salt. Color of the salt varies from white to a light reddish or brownish tan, depending on the skill of an individual worker. Some salt is sold at a gift store nearby. The salt mines traditionally have been available to any person wishing to harvest salt. The owners of the salt ponds must be members of the community, and families that are new to the community wishing to propitiate a salt pond get the one farthest from the community. The size of the salt pond assigned to a family depends on the family’s size. Usually there are many unused salt pools available to be farmed. Any prospective salt farmer need only locate an empty currently unmaintained pond, consult with the local informal cooperative, learn how to keep a pond properly within the accepted communal system, and start working.”,_Peru Urubamba River Peru day five That is the Urubamba River that flows through Sacred Valley. The Maras salt mines are on a slope of the Qaqawinay Mountain that goes down into Sacred Valley. The Urubamba is a major tributary of the Amazon River. The Amazon River has so much of its water flow into the Atlantic Ocean every year, that it has a major effect on the Atlantic Ocean’s chemistry. The little creek shown below is the source of all the salt pans, and it is not bigger than it looks. It actually made me think of some of the pools we have around Bridgeport. This little stream does NOT have a major effect on the chemistry of the Atlantic Ocean 😉 River maras Peru day five The stones along this stream were put there to line it more than 1,000 years ago. This is pre-Incan and still here. The stone work around the natural settings is incredible. These stones highlight the reason for hiring a guide. Without a guide you would walk by and not realize how spectacular something this simple is. How many structures near where we live will still be there more than 1,000 years from now? thousand year old stonework Peru day 5 We have to get back to meet our guide for the trek and our group and to have dinner. By the time we got back, it was just starting to rain but people were lining the streets waiting for the parade on Good Friday. We were told more than once that Cuzco is a muy Catolico City. Cuzco Peru day 5 stilts Cuzco Peru day five evening IMG_0584 The ashtray? I have no idea why. No one smokes here. And you would know why if you walked through this area for even an hour. ashtray Peru day fiveIMG_0287 IMG_0294 IMG_0281 These steps lead to our hotel. Here are some foods that are native to this area. IMG_0599 IMG_0591 IMG_0588 IMG_0597

Check out day four here.

Cusco, Peru, Day 4 of our trip to Machu Picchu


Cusco, Peru, Day 4 of our trip to Machu Picchu

When my husband Jim told me he had booked a trip for us where we would hike into Machu Picchu over several days, I was not pleased. In fact, I was irritated about it. It is embarrassing to admit now, but I had no desire to go on vacation and hike and stay in remote lodges along the way. He was surprised. He had booked the trip as a surprise for me and thought I was going to be delighted when I found out. It turns out he was right. It was one of the most fantastic trips I have ever been on.

Once I wrapped my head around the fact that this was going to be a great trip, and we were going on it, I began training for it. The plan was to hike our way with a guided tour in to Machu Picchu along the Santa Teresa Trail. It is remote, and other than guides who have some first aid training there are no medical facilities. You are at a high altitude for the entire hike, and even if you are fit the altitude can become a factor. My goal with my training regimen was that I never wanted to have to think about putting 1 foot in front of the other. I wanted to be able to focus exclusively on the sites and the people around me. I was successful. At the time we were living at 6000 feet in the mountains in California. I began hiking in the mountains 4 to 6 miles a day, six days a week. By the end of it I was in great shape and so were my dogs. Our pug looked like the fittest, sleekest potato you have ever seen.

We hiked with a group of people, most of who did not train for this trip. One of the people who began the trip was even afraid of heights. If you are afraid of heights, you do not want to hike into Machu Picchu. If you do not train for this trip, or take comfortable waterproof or Gore-Tex hiking boots you are definitely going to spend a lot of the hike thinking about placing 1 foot in front of the other. It doesn’t sound too demanding sitting in a chair in Southern California thinking about hiking 37 miles over several days. It’s a different story when you’re actually doing that hiking in an unfamiliar country at altitude.

turn right at Machu Picchu

Before leaving I read the book Turn Right at Machu Picchu by Mark Adams. It just occurred to me that was the last book I read aloud to Sean, sniff…sniff… It wasn’t about Sean’s reading level, but I don’t think he would have finished the book without me reading it to him. The book takes turns staggering chapters. It staggers one chapter telling the story of Mark Adams’ journey hiking over Hiram Bingham’s path with another chapter telling Hiram Bingham’s story. Hiram Bingham has been credited with “discovering” Machu Picchu.

coca leaves

That is what coca tea looks like. These are the leaves cocaine is made from, but chemically they are no more like the cocaine people abuse than ephedrine is to crystal meth. The leaves have to be processed to become the drug. The tea is very mild and quite yummy. It tastes sort of like hay smells when it is freshly cut. It is recommended that low-landers drink it when visiting because it helps you to deal with the altitude. Which luckily we have not yet felt any ill effects from except being more out of breath than normal when we climb steps. Supposedly the tea is a mild stimulant, similar in strength to coffee. I am drinking it this morning because I don’t want to wake the boys up, and until they wake up coffee is not available. Our doctor suggested we drink the tea while here. She said, “The people in that area have been drinking it for thousands and thousands of years. They know what they are doing.”

The next few photos are a series showing a traffic jam in Cusco. The streets are so narrow my jeep would BARELY fit down the streets. The cars are driving fast, too. You have to hop out of the street when one is coming. The streets are two-way even though they are barely wide enough for one car. This jam had cars going in all directions.

traffic jam one traffic jam 2 traffic jam 3 traffic jam 4

sauxhuawamen 1

These ruins are in the hills above Cusco. The name is Sacsayhuaman, which is pronounced sexy woman. It was spectacular. The Incans have been dubbed the Romans of the Americas, and when you visit a site like this you know why. This is also the site of one of the most bitter indigenous rebellions against the Spanish conquerors.


I have taken the following text directly from the site,

“Sacsayhuamán (also known as Sacsahuaman) is a walled complex near the old city of Cusco, at an altitude of 3,701 m. or 12,000 feet. The site is part of the City of Cuzco, which was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1983.

When the Spanish conquerors arrived first to these lands; they could not explain themselves how Peruvian “Indians” (ignorant, wild, without any ability of logical reasoning, one more animal species according to conquerors) could have built such a greatness. Their religious fanaticism led them to believe that all that was simply work of demons or malign spirits. Still today, many people believe in the inability of ancient Quechuas to create such a wonder, so they suggest that they were made by beings of some other worlds, extraterrestrial beings with superior technology that made all that possible. However, our history and archaeology demonstrate that those objects of admiration are an undeniable work of the Incas, Quechuas, Andean people or however pre-Hispanic inhabitants of this corner of the world would be named.

The imperial city Cusco, meaning ‘navel of the earth,’ was laid out in the form of a puma, the animal that symbolized the Inca dynasty. The belly of the puma was the main plaza, the river Tullumayo formed its spine, and the hill of Sacsayhuaman its head.

One of the most imposing architectonic complexes inherited from the Incan Society is Sacsayhuaman, which because of several of its qualities is considered as one of the best monuments that mankind built on the earth’s surface.

The wall or rampart is the most impressive section, built with enormous carved limestone boulders, this construction has a broken line that faces to the main plaza called Chuquipampa which is a slope with 25 angles and 60 walls.The biggest carved boulder of the first wall weighs about 70 tons and like all of the other rocks was brought from a quarry called Sisicancha, three kilometers away and where there are still rocks that were transported part of the way. Each wall is made up of 10 fronts with the most important ones known as Rumipunco, tiupunku, Achuanpunku and Viracocha punku.”


There are caves throughout these hills. Just like California, what is now Peru was once the seabed of an ancient ocean. These hills are made from limestone in many places. In others they are basalt.

our guide Hector

When we arrived at Sacsayhuaman there were guides hocking their services at the front gate. We had never hired a guy before, and didn’t really feel the need, but we felt sorry for the guides because there were a lot of them and they were not asking for very much money. We learned something from this. Guides when you are at locations that you don’t know very much about are a good thing. Since then when we have visited sites where there are guides available, we always hire one. We have very seldom been disappointed that we did.

Shawn in the throne

Do you see the face on the left side of the throne?

family photo cave

We are in a cave in a tunnel. There is a cave system all the way to Cusco from here, which would be a long way to dig a cave.

for funneling water

How the Incan funneled water into areas.

burial Lake

This is a burial site. Along the outer ring there were tombs. The inside was a lake. The Incans revered water so they had the mummified remains of some emperors looking out on this man-made lake.

for sizing

That is not a throne; it was used as a model for stone size and shape. So the architect could say, “I want 100 of that size.”


Can you believe the guys almost didn’t slide down this?!? I have a saying when we travel, “We have to do this. We might never get this way again.” At least the boys are pretty good sports about it. One of my stepsons told me once that I had a reputation for talking to random-assed people all over the world. I don’t usually cuss on my blog but I am proud to say that he’s right. I do. I often have friends tell me that I would be the perfect person to travel with. I am not sure that everyone would actually like to travel with me. I am not the sit on a beach and read a good book on a vacation type. I am the let’s see every single thing that there is to see and meet as many people who live here as possible type. We usually come home from our vacations exhausted.

sauxhuawamen 2

There are 4 theories about the shape of this wall 1. Puma teeth 2. Snake 3. Lightening 4. To prevent it from falling when earthquakes occur. Cusco is on a fault line. There have been three major earthquakes since it was constructed, and it has withstood them all.

family 2

Look how little he is. Now Sean is the tallest of the three of us. If you’re wondering what the deal is with his foot, I will tell you in a day or so in a shorter post.

family photo at sauxhuawemen

The Incan’s had no heavy machinery and no draft animals. It is still just a matter of theory as to how these were built.

puma foot

Do you see the puma foot?

guinea pig

What about the guinea pig? These rocks are absolutely huge by the way.

stone doorway

These are Incan doorways. They reminded me of Ireland. Lots of piles of stones always remind me of Ireland.


This is a llama. A piece of paper could not fit between any of the rocks, and all the angles and offsets from one rock to another are on purpose. It is an ancient form of earthquake proofing.


We are standing at 12,352.4 feet in altitude.

Incan baths to Incan baths 1

The next site we went to was called Tambomchay. Tambomachay is an example of Incan baths, aqueducts, and temples. The volume of water is always the same coming through the holes.

stones lining the Creek
This creek is lined for 2 km up with stones that were put there during Incan times. This is just the beginning of our trip; by the end we were convinced that Roman masons had nothing on the Incan’s.

red Fort

The next stop was Pukapukara, the red fortress, named that because of the red rocks used. It was a military garrison built to protect the valley, because it is at a high point.

looking back at the Incan baths
The Incan baths where we just were.

root veggies

At 11,000+ feet altitude they grow mainly root vegetables. Peru is on the equator so even at 12,000 feet it never snows.


These are representative of the local houses around Cusco.


More earthquake-safe building. Think of a doorway shaped this way as the difference in stability when you plant your feet shoulder width apart and when you stand with them together tightly. If someone tried to knock you over, which would be more stable, your feet shoulder width apart or tightly together?


Jim ate guinea pig drumsticks. He says Jojo and PJ, our guinea pigs, have nothing to worry about.

Check out my post about days one through three here and day five here.

Cusco, Peru: Days 1 through 3


Before traveling to India in December of 2013, I wrote my travel blogs on Facebook. I have been meaning to transfer the photos and information to my WordPress blog for a while. When the daily photo journal of our trip began posting to the section of Facebook that shows what I was doing on this date in the past I decided there was no time like the present to transfer the trip we took to Peru three years ago. It was a trip to remember. One of best trips I have ever been on in my life. If you have visiting Machu Picchu on your bucket list, do it! Do not mess around, do it!

On the road, day 1: 1st we took a car then a plane then another plane then another plane. Life’s a journey. And this one only has plastic forks!! Waiting to go to Houston

Day 2: In Houston. I just spent 1 hour and 603 calories on that. Setting 16: hill: Whew. I am so ready for Machu Picchu.

I am already having a great time. I am such a vagabond. Funny how I am. I love my posse of friends so much, and their husbands and kids. And then there are all of my own kids. But wow do I love to see the world. Good thing I was born in this time so I can always have both. What I figured out in the last hour: 1. Skrillex sounds like Mickey Mouse on roids. Thank you Sean for adding that to my playlist, and 2. I wonder if I should go native and speak with my Texas accent for the rest of the day? Even after all these years it still sounds authentic.

Just waiting now to take the red eye to Lima. We will be in the air when it goes from today to tomorrow. After tonight 2 weeks of photos from Peru! Talk to you then.

Day 3: We did not leave the airport when we got to Lima. We sat around for a couple of hours and then caught the plane to Cusco. We will stop and spend some time in Lima at the end of our trip. At this point we just want to get to Cusco so that we can begin acclimating to the altitude.

These are two way streets on the way to our hotel.

When we travel I like to find places off the beaten path. I spend a lot of time looking for really cool eclectic places especially at the start of the trip. Often when we travel we only book rooms for the beginning of the trip. It is important to book those rooms though, because when you land you will be exhausted, and you don’t want to be looking for a place to stay then. Upstairs at our suite/ apartment. All the rooms are decorated to theme. This is the imperial Inca suite.

Our room has cases of potsherds from ancient Inca times found when they renovated this hotel.

The view from our room at the Quinoa Boutique Hotel. Both Jim and Sean told me I did a great job choosing hotels:) Cusco is pretty amazing already. Flying from Lima to Cusco you fly over mountain tops peaking through the clouds. Cusco is at 11,000 feet. The descent reminded me a little of flying into Aspen with all the banking and mountains. We are staying in the San Blas area of Cusco. It is the historic district. It is COOL!

The courtyard where we are staying.

Cusco is built on steep hills. We got in and slept a couple of hours. Now I just need to get Jim moving so we can explore.


If they could only see how our guinea pigs live! Ha ha. Jim tried the alpaca. He said it was pretty good.

Cusco is one of the few colonially conquered towns that did not demolish the native masonry. The walls here at the bottom were built by the Incas. The Incas were excellent masons.

There are lots of Incan women walking around with these types of clothes on.

The main square in San Blas

Cusco has the largest population of any high altitude city in the world. Which makes sense when you think of how few cities there probably are at this altitude. Our cameras just do not capture the beauty of the rolling green hills/mountains/peaks with a city sprawling over them, with roosters and dogs crowing and barking in the background.

They made chocolate here. Peruvian chocolate does not taste like European or American chocolate. It is less sweet and less creamy. They make a drink called Mayan hot chocolate that uses chili pepper and very little sugar.

From our hotel balcony at night.

It was Ash Wednesday in Cusco

Check out day four here.

Lunar Ramblings

Lunar Ramblings

As I watched the lunar eclipse, I had what I call lunar ramblings are thinking about my homeschool journey with my son .

Once again I woke my family up in the middle of the night. Sean does a better job of waking up than Jim, and the only dog that wakes up well is Sean’s pug Jezzie. The other two dogs would rather sleep even when I go outside. I have been waking the entire family up for almost two years now as I have been writing REAL Science Odyssey Astronomy 2. They have been waking up to see meteor showers, alignments of the planets, and finally a lunar eclipse. I say finally because the other two were hidden by clouds. I didn’t wake them up for those. Jezzie and I were the only two who got up and went back to bed after giving Jezzie a treat of course.

Sean and his pug, Jezabel, Lunar Ramblings
Sean and his pug, Jezzie.

The Cliffs of Moher
The Cliffs of Moher

Sometimes Jezzie prefers to ride. Don't you agree isn't it fun to see cool things, like pugs who ride in backpacks!, lunar ramblings
Sometimes Jezzie prefers to ride. Don’t you agree isn’t it fun to see cool things, like pugs who ride in backpacks!

We went outside to watch the eclipse about 20 minutes before the total eclipse. As we watched Earth’s shadow block more and then more of the sunlight that would have reflected off the moon, I felt the same way I do when I travel. There are so many cool and amazing things to see on and from this planet. I wish my atoms gave me a memory of all the things, living and not, they had been a part of before being part of me. I wish reincarnation were real, with you being able to remember all your past lives; I wish I could travel to every corner of Earth and see what is there; and I wish I could have seen the world as it has been over all of geological history. Although if that could happen I would probably be dead in a short amount of time after being exposed to a virus or bacteria I have never encountered before.

Sometimes you do not have to go very far to see coolness. This is on the campus of UCSD, my alma mater.
Sometimes you do not have to go very far to see coolness. This is on the campus of UCSD, my alma mater.

I was at a group retreat once. There were about 50 adults and we were asked a series of questions. We wrote down the answers and then everyone shared theirs. One of the questions was what is your dream birthday? I didn’t hesitate; I knew the answer immediately, my 100th. LOL, I was the only person who answered in that vein. Ah well, I just do not ever want to stop seeing the amazingly cool things the world has to offer.

This house built into a rock face is in France across from Leonardo Da Vinci's house.
This house built into a rock face is in France across from Leonardo Da Vinci’s house.

There are cool places to see without leaving the planet, lunar ramblings
There are cool places to see without leaving the planet

Bad Water in Death Valley
Bad Water in Death Valley

While I was watching the moon it occurred to me if you could travel back and forth in time your best bet would be if you encountered people who were more curious than they were superstitious. Although maybe that wouldn’t matter; the Jain people in India had their superstitions but you would probably be safe if you traveled back in time to a Jain civilization.

Jain Temple

These fanciful things were what I was thinking about as my 14-year-old fell asleep in my lap while I watched the moon come out of its eclipse. This is an interesting age for a parent who has been as close to their child as I am to this one. He is growing up and away, as he should be. I have worked hard to make sure he has the skills he needs to go out in the world without me holding his hand. But still… He doesn’t fall asleep in my lap very often any more. When he was little he used to get in bed with me every morning. Life is a journey. His and mine are entering a new phase.

Sean injured himself skiing and rode horseback on the Santa Teresa Trail, lunar ramblings
Sean injured himself skiing and rode horseback on the Santa Teresa Trail

The rest of us hiked
The rest of us hiked

to Machu Picchu, lunar ramblings
to Machu Picchu

Watching the eclipse was a visceral reminder that our life’s journey is on a ball that is hurtling through space. Isn’t it all just amazing when you think about it? Sean informed me the other day that given the chance of exploring the universe he would do it, even if it meant never returning to Earth and never seeing his family again. He wondered if I would do the same. I would do it with him, I replied. “No Mom,” he said, “you would have to leave all your family behind, and you would never see any of us again, including me.” I told him, “No way. Watching you grow up is not something I would ever give up, not for any adventure.” I guess I am just going to have to get up in the middle of the night every once in a while and imagine what is out there instead.

eclipse, lunar ramblings
Lunar eclipse, 10/7/2014

What happens to scientific theories when definitions change or new information comes to light? Read here.

From Jodhpur to Delhi for our Last Day in India

It is an 11 hour drive from Johdpur to Delhi. We flew instead. We needed to be at the airport at noon. Before we left Johdpur Sodhi picked us up to take me shopping for spices. People kept telling me to buy my spices there. I had already bought a few spices in Dubai and Jaipur, but I waited to do most of my spice buying here. I bought the spices then checked on the US Customs website to make sure I could bring them home. That was a backwards way of doing it. Yes! I can! I fell in love with Indian cooking. I really cannot wait to start experimenting with it. I also bought myself an Indian vegetarian cookbook.

The spice merchant told me he has 3 grades of spices, Indian, medium, and American/European. His rating system is based on heat. According to him even American/European’s who like heat can only stand the medium. I took the American/European version of everything except the ginger. I like my ginger as hot as an Indian person we found out. When he found out how much I like to cook he invited me to his house so that his wife and mother could cook for me. Bummer, we are leaving today. He is the third person to invite me home to cook for me. Every time we could not do it for one reason or another 🙁

This is the clock tower in downtown Jodhpur.

We got back in the car, and Sodhi asked if we wanted to see fabric or antiques, or something I was not quite sure, but said yes, of course. At first we were surprised by what looked like a big warehouse or fabric store. It ended up being really fun and different than anything else we went to on the trip.

There was just no way Jim was going to agree to my bringing any of these big pieces home. The prices were amazing though. We walked downstairs through a lot of fabric items, too many to name really.

They began laying out bedspreads. Here they are one on top of the other.

This is Khush, the person who helped us. It was fun to sit and have them show us the different things they make and discuss the techniques. I could not believe the prices either. Yes, we did shop a bit here. Now I have to buy another suitcase for sure.

I did not buy this, but thought I would show it to you. This is the piece women put on their head so they can carry things on it.

Sodhi took us to the plane. Then he began the long drive back to Delhi. He stopped at our hotel in Delhi to drop off our new purchases.

We started to line up for the plane. One of the guards told me, “No, not line up.” Okay, so we moved over. Once they started boarding it was sort of a free for all to get on the plane. It didn’t matter because we all had assigned seats.

We are spending two nights in Delhi, then heading home. We decided to stay somewhere nice for those two nights. Prices on really nice hotels are very good by American standards. I checked out Delhi hotels on TripAdvisor and chose the Oberoi. Oh my goodness, did it turn out to be nice. When we got to the gate of the Oberoi they checked under the car with mirrored sticks. Then they checked our bags before letting us into the hotel. It is a beautiful hotel and the service is over the top great.

This was waiting for us when we got up to our room.

We decided to eat at the Asian restaurant upstairs at the hotel. I ordered a dish I had never heard of. It was an appetizer called crispy spinach. They gave me the recipe when I told them how much I liked it.

After that bed, in a really comfortable bed. Tomorrow we have to get up early to go see the people at Vidya Munirka one last time.


Chopped spinach

Little bit of sugar

Little bit of salt

Aromats, which is something with a small amount of MSG

flash fry this 10-15 seconds in a wok with nicely heated sesame oil

Serve immediately

Check out yesterdays post here and read about our drive to Jaisalmer here.

Jodhpur, India

Today we got up and drove to Jodhpur. We are spending one night in Jodhpur, then flying to Delhi. A few kilometers outside of Jaisalmer we passed a long procession of people and animals. Jim thinks there were a couple of thousand people in it.

Jodhpur: Procession out of town

First came the people with camels

Jodhpur: On the road

He is pushing a cart and pulling a camel


That is pulling a wagon

With people walking behind the loaded wagon

At first the groups of people were small

Interspersed with elephants, camels, goats, sheep, and cows

I am embarrassed to say, this is the best photo we have of our driver Sodhi. He helped make our trip as great as it was.

Oh yes and horses

Then kilometers of people

“Sodhi, I really need a photo of a free range camel.” That was all I wanted before leaving Jaisalmer. We had seen them everyday for the past 4 days, but I had yet to get a photo of one. I was told these camels are not wild, that people just let them out then collect them again.

Jodhpur: Camels

In addition to driving us where we ask him to, Sodhi is a big help in choosing what we see. Sometimes we have something specific we want him to take us to, but often we just ask him what he thinks we should see. When we got to Jodhpur we checked into our hotel. Sodhi told us he would pick us back up in 45 minutes. Then he took us to another fort. You might think we would be done with forts by now, but each one has been different from the others. We have enjoyed them all. I will never read another story about a fort the same way again. Another issue we deal with is whether to get a guide or not. Sean prefers not to have a guide because the guide sets the pace when we go through, not us. I usually prefer to have a guide, because I get more out of the site when we have one. This is not a guided group tour, those I dislike as much as Sean does. A personal guide is almost always worth it. Our guide’s name was Pawan.

The walls of the City fort in Jodhpur are 180 meters high

Jodhpur: City fort

and 10 kilometers long.

Jodhpur: The view from the wall
Jodhpur: Another view

You can still see where cannon balls struck the wall, and I am not very impressed with the amount of damage either. I think arrows dipped in pitch and sent flaming over the walls would be much worse. The cannon balls were fired during a war between Jodhpur and Jaipur. Both were part of the Sun Dynasty. Jaisalmer and Bhati are the only areas in Rajasthan ruled by another dynasty. They were both ruled by the Moon Dynasty. Or what about a vat of boiling oil? That would do serious damage in Jaisalmer or Jodhpur, except it might cool down too much by the time it reached the attackers below. Here is a thought, you have a bunch of human feces right next to the outside wall, what about just throwing that, deadly no, but it is not something to run toward either, LOL.

Building on the City Fort started in 1459 and took 350 years to complete.

The word falsa means gate. This gate was built sometime during the 15th century.

It used to be a custom for someone to sacrifice their life prior to the construction of forts and palaces. This person would be buried alive. This was done to protect the building in perpetuity. The person sacrificing their life volunteered for this so they would obviously be very loyal to the person it was being built for. This loyal spirit would stay at the site protecting it. This stone is in commemoration of the person who was buried alive sacrificing their life to protect the City Fort of Jodhpur.

This is called the Iron Gate. The turn is so no one can get a running start to ram the gate when attacking.

This is the suttee wall. Suttee is the practice where widows throw themselves on their husband’s funeral pyre while it is burning. The widows subsequently burn to death. This wall is meant to discourage suttee. The British banned suttee in 1814.

This is called a peeking palace, because ladies would hide behind screens and gates and peek out through the grillwork looking down at events. We have heard a few times that the segregation of women comes from the Muslim influence.

Palanquins are used to carry people by people.

These are elephant saddles.

This man gave us a demonstration on the practice of smoking opium, which is against the law, but alive and well as far as practice goes.

In addition to demonstrating the technique used to smoke opium, they were giving a turban wrapping demonstration here.

Often in Indian art the faces are in profile. This is a stylistic thing. I would breeze by much of the art, Sean is the reason we spend time checking it all out. He finds it very interesting. He would much rather go to an art museum than a history museum. In fact he has dragged me into two art shops this trip just to look at what they had on display.

These are the last three kings of Jodhpur. The last one is on the bottom. Doesn’t he look a lot like Prince?

I hate to break it to the restaurant where we ate a marvelous vegetarian dinner, but lamb piccata is definitely not a western dish 😉

Delhi Day 5, Exploring Temples, post 2 of 2


This is the Bangla Sahib Gurudwara Sikh Temple. But first…

We started the temple tour with a mosque. The mosque is the Jama Masjid, it is the largest mosque in India. It was built between 1644 and 1658 during the reign of Shah Jahan. It is in old Delhi. This is a predominantly Muslim area. In Delhi all the religions live peacefully together. There is a cupboard at the mosque which houses a red beard hair of Muhammad’s, his footprints, and his sandals.

The approach to the mosque is through Old Delhi. This must be where people come to get old car parts.

This is from the steps of the mosque looking back down into Old Delhi.

We have to take our shoes off to go into the mosque.

The photos below are from the courtyard at the mosque.

Check out my shirt. I was taking a nap and was woken up and told I was late to leave for the temple tour.  The women had to wear our salwar kameezs, so before napping I took my top off so it wouldn’t wrinkle. On the way in to the mosque Wendy noticed that my shirt was inside out.  Vicky looked at me and told me to leave it that way until we reached the Hindi Temple.

These are Korans.

Blue lines are painted at the mosque when someone dies.

 The actual mosque, Muhammad’s beard hair is in there somewhere. The call to worship from this mosque  sounded quite different from the one we heard at the mosque in Dubai.

This is Lalit who works for CCS. He is showing us how this sundial works. This is in the mosque.

Everywhere we go, people want a photo with Alecia.

Now we are on our way to a Hindi Temple.

The Hindi temple was so large it was impossible to get it all in one photo. It was beautiful inside, but we were not allowed to take pictures.

Hathi at the temple. Hathi means elephant.

The swastika has been used by people of the Hindi faith for millennia. When it is on a location it draws the attention of the Gods to the location.

The Hindu temple we went to is called the Lakshmi Narayan Temple. The temple has shrines to many of the Hindi deities.

The Hindi temple has a shrine to The Lord Buddha.

A photo as we left the Hindi Temple. Next we went to Bangla Sahib Gurudwara, the Sikh Temple.

The Sikh religion was founded in 1469 A.D. in a village near Lahore, Pakistan. Sikhism is another religion whose basic tenet is tolerance to all people. There is no discrimination between the sexes and there is no caste system.

Sean and Jim had to put on head-gear at the Sikh Temple. How is that for equality! It’s about time.

Vicky is Sikh. His head-gear is way cooler than ours.

I am washing my feet to go into the Sikh Temple.

Going into the Sikh Temple.

We finished the tour with a trip to the food kitchen in the Sikh Temple. Both the Sikh Temple and the Hindi Temple had huge areas set aside for pilgrims to sleep and hang out. This is where the Sikhs feed pilgrims and anyone else who needs food. Anyone of any faith can volunteer at the food kitchen. Check out how huge the pots and pans are.

I want one.  Before leaving I bought yet again another cooking dish. When Jim saw what I had bought he said, “Blair, you are a woman with a lot of pots.” LOL.

I want to volunteer here just so I can play with these big pots, seriously. 

A vat of dal

A vat of roti

This is the food hall where the people from the food kitchen eat.

We got back and the CCS cooks were making naan in this. Okay, forget the pot, I want one of these.

Those are the little naan balls.  He is about to throw the one in his hand into the naan cooker.

Then the naan is thrown into the hot naan maker and it sticks to the side. It is peeled off when it is done.


Check out part one of today’s blog here and tomorrows here.

Delhi Day 5, post 1 of 2


Here we are dressed and ready for our placements. Delhi is a place full of color similar to our outfits. Now, Sean was not feeling well, but decided to go and sit with the kids. He loves this.

Check out the suit on Sean’s left. That little boy is so cute. The volunteers call him suit guy.

This is Richie with some of the kids. Richie is with a group called Children’s Hope. He seems great. He worked on Corey Booker’s campaign registering first time voters in Newark. He just graduated from college and is figuring it out. He hopes to get a job with CAP, The Center for American Progress. He made a point of telling me the slums of Trenton are not that different from Delhi when it comes to opportunity for the children in them.

Rats it is dark. Here I am with the kids I am working with. Richie and I are working with this group. Sean has moved over to the little kids exclusively.

I taught the girls how to take selfies. They were very curious about my phone/camera today.

Anil is the teacher I am helping.

Here are Jim and Alecia with their group.

Next are a series of photos as Sean and I walked through the slum. We went over to check out the computer lab. Unfortunately the students work in this lab later in the day, too late for us to help there. They really wanted our help there, but it was not to be. CCS want their volunteers to take the time to learn about the culture in the afternoon.

The central square

A communal water pump

The walkways are narrow.

I love this color.

Here is the computer lab. About 20 to 30 people use this lab in the afternoon, taking turns to learn basic office skills on these.

Off the main alleyway there are even more narrow corridors.

Back again, isn’t suit guy adorable.

Alecia is so good with the little ones.

Drying wheat to make roti. After this we went back, had lunch, then I took a nap. Later we went on a temple tour, which I will put in another post later today.

Check out yesterdays blog here and check out tomorrows here.

A Handcrafted Education

Blair Lee - A Handcrafted Education : SEA Homeschoolers

I love coffee. My favorite coffee drink right now is a salted caramel soy white chocolate latte extra salt with just a little whipped cream to hold the salt. My favorite coffee drink has changed over time; this is just the current favorite. The Starbucks baristas are always happy to make it just like I like it. That is because Starbucks makes handcrafted beverages, it is their shtick. As I was lying in bed this morning thinking with excitement about my upcoming trip, I realized that was what I am creating for my child, a handcrafted education. Homeschooling at its finest is about handcrafting an education. Most people who do not homeschool their children don’t understand this, but all you homeschoolers do. I get all sorts of questions about my son’s education. FYI, I use what I call a learner-centered approach with a liberal arts approach. It is academic, eclectic, and personally meaningful.

A Handcrafted Education: Fun in the warm mud! It looks just like coffee.
A Handcrafted Education: Fun in the warm mud! It looks just like coffee.

Someone asked me yesterday how Sean (my son) could take a month off school to go to India. UMMN, going to India counts as school. We will be volunteering at a literacy project, helping kids and adults learn to speak English. I think that can count as school.

Sean volunteering at the Vidya, Munirka school in Delhi, India

Is he getting an education that will get him into every college? The answer is no. It isn’t our fault if college admissions haven’t caught up with the homeschool movement. Is he getting an education that will get him into some colleges? Yes. (Updated to add: He got into almost all he applied to and was offered a scholarship at several. For an academic homeschooler, eclectic is not only okay, colleges seem to like it.)

Just as some people like handcrafted coffee drinks and some do not, some colleges like applicants who have a handcrafted education, and some colleges want those who have had a mainstream education. Besides what is the worst that can happen, he starts at community college. I was a community college professor. I started my college journey at a community college. There is some great teaching going on at community colleges! All this talk about colleges makes it seem like the focus is on getting into college. It isn’t. We spend our time focusing on the ingredients, the recipe, and the process instead of spending all our time thinking about the end result.

A Handcrafted Education: Aguas Calientes, Peru (at the base of Machu Picchu)
A Handcrafted Education: Aguas Calientes, Peru (at the base of Machu Picchu) That is my son up there in the yellow shirt.

My son’s education has changed over the years just as my favorite coffee drink has. This is not the first time we have taken an extended trip as a part of it, we have traveled to Peru, Ukraine, Hungary, Ireland, France, Austria, Canada, Costa Rica, Mexico and made a couple of extended trips to the East Coast in the U.S. We live in California. This is the first time we have volunteered though. I hope it adds an extra dimension to the trip, sort of like adding extra salt to my favorite drink.

I could go on with this for paragraphs, but I have to leave with enough time to stop at Starbucks!

The next blog will be during the flight or from Dubai.

A Handcrafted Education: For us that includes travel
A Handcrafted Education: For us that includes travel. The Barjeel Guest House, Dubai, UAE

Love to all, Blair

Check out this article to learn more about Eclectic Homeschooling.