Peru: Machu Picchu

In my blogging excitement, I somehow managed to write about the rainforest, areas around Cusco and Ollantaytambo and then go straight on to describe our train ride to Puno. In a rather major omission I seem to have missed out a post about visiting Machu Picchu. Since its one of the seven modern wonders of the world, its quite a serious oversight, which I will now fix.

Machu Picchu is a mountain-top city built by the Incas - the people who ran a large South American empire until the Spanish turned up and did it better (and more violently by the look of it). There are two things which immediately struck me as odd. Firstly, this city is very nice but its on the top of a mountain in the middle of a cloud forest ... not exactly well-connected. Secondly, despite all the emphasis on heritage and that the whole thing was lost under forest for a few hundred years and then rediscovered - this isn't actually an ancient site and is in fact only about 550 years old. Which is old, but to a European, not that old.

The day we visited was very wet so although I have approximately the usual selection of photos, some of them are quite eerie, with layers of cloud appearing at funny heights and giving an illusion of the whole city levitating in the mist.

Machu Picchu in the Clouds

Machu Picchu in the cloud

We got absolutely soaked on this trip, and since we'd stayed overnight in Ollantaytambo, quite a lot of our stuff got very wet as well. Happily this means I also have have the tourists-in-rainbow-coloured-ponchos photo again.

Rainbow Ponchos at Machu Picchu

Its an absolutely awe-inspiring sight (did you know "awful" at one time meant "full of awe"?), and although the site is quite large, we did brave the rain and explore pretty much all of it. We had a guided tour and then some free time afterwards and despite the inclement weather it was a stunning place to spend an afternoon. Also, we're British - proper raincoats, sensible shoes, quick-dry trousers and a packed lunch are an essential part of our kit, even if its sunny in the morning!

There are a few more pictures in the flickr set for the day in Machu Picchu if you are interested, I tried but the photos really don't do it justice.

Peru: Andean Explorer

I've already written about my time in Peru - in the rainforest and in and around Cusco. From Cusco we travelled to the city of Puno - by amazing train journey on the Andean Explorer. This trip is more expensive than flying I think but it was a fun experience in itself!

The trains themselves are first-class, 1920s style affairs with armchairs for seats and silver service.

Place Setting on the Train

The train was in a time warp, with organised events (live music, pisco sour distribution (at 10am!), and even a fashion show of wildly expensive knitwear), and silver service performed by synchronised teams of waiters who leaned to either side of the aisle in time with one another. The food was nice but the dancing servers reduced me to giggles every time they arrived.

The views were spectacular, as we left Cusco and travelled through the Andes and across the Altiplato - a large (HUGE, this was a 10 hour train journey) plateau between the two sides of the Andes - and along to Lake Titcaca. The whole trip is at altitude - like a normal landscape, but 3000 to 4000 metres above sea level!

Growing Corn Outside Cusco

Train Tracks

The train lines in Peru are kind of exciting in that they often run along streets and are completely unenclosed. There are animals, people, vehicles and who knows what else all along the tracks, its madness! In Juliaca (a place just outside Puno), there were lots of little stalls with bits of car parts and so on, seriously a different world. There are more photos in my flickr set for this part of the trip.

Peru: Cusco and Sacred Valley

I'm on holiday in Peru at the moment, and writing about the various places I've been - first stop was the rainforest and from there we went back to Puerto Maldonado and flew to Cusco. At 3300ish metres above sea level, this was my first experience of anything like this altitude. I had a nasty headache and the experience of the room moving as if I was drunk (which I wasn't, before anyone makes any suggestions!). I was prewarned about the lack of oxygen - but still found it hard to slow down enough for my body to cope! This wasn't at all helped by the location of our (very nice if basic) hotel - halfway up a road so steep there were steps in the pavements.

Steep Street

One thing I wasn't warned about (and yes, its obvious, but didn't occur to me in time) is that everything kind of explodes when it suddenly finds itself under so much less atmospheric pressure. My lip gloss was spectacularly pink, sticky and sparkly when I took the lid off and it all flowed straight out of its tube. Even more fun was my rollerball deodorant which popped the ball off across the bathroom floor when I took the lid off it :)

We had most of a free day in Cusco before heading off on our next trip, and then another day when we got back. Its a nice city, with plenty of shopping and restaurants around, and people were really helpful with questions about things like stamps. When we returned a few days later, we visited the Sun Temple and also fitted in some excellent shopping. I even commissioned a bespoke bag, from a man surrounded by bags, with a sewing machine and (I discovered) his suppliers' stall was just across the aisle. I demanded colour and shape, paid about 6 GBP for it, and was able to pick it up in 2 hours - amazing service!

From Cusco, we went into the Sacred Valley, which is a very fertile and green place (this is rainy season). We're so close to the equator here that its easy to forget that even the lowest points in this landscape are at dizzying altitude, everything grows just fine. Our trip took us via Corao and Pisaq markets (no photos of these, I think I was too busy shopping. I bought all the usual things like jumpers, scarves and presents - and 12 balls of shocking pink llama wool. From there we went up to Ollantaytambo.

Ollantaytambo is a nice little town, and also the name of an Inca site. We visited the site first, its very steep - and when we were there it was raining and I was very amused by the convoys of rainbow-coloured ponchos people had bought from the street sellers!

Ollantaytambo

Rainbow Ponchos at Ollantaytambo

While in Ollantaytambo, we stumbled over Hearts Cafe which is a great social project as well as an excellent cafe. We got a proper English afternoon tea (very welcome at 4pm after a long day) and also ordered packed lunches which we picked up the next morning for our trip to Machu Picchu.

More photos are in my flickr set for this trip - plenty more of these to come though so keep checking back.

Peru: Tambopata

I'm currently on holiday in Peru, including ten days organised touring in different parts of the country. I got back and discovered I had almost 900 photos which will take some time to process, so I thought I'd write a series of posts, rather than one monster one. The first stop on our trip was two nights in the rainforest up the Tambopata river, staying at Explorer's Inn.

It was an early start for our flight to Puerto Maldonado, followed by three hours trip upstream by boat. I've never been anywhere like this before so it was pretty impressive. We saw Capybaras from the boat, and also got quite wet when it rained (we're British, we just put on our raincoats and weren't bothered).

Rainforest

The lodge itself was basic but fine. I'm a fussy eater and still had no trouble getting enough that was edible, which was great. We went out on the river again at night, and the following morning had another early start to walk to Lake Cococha. It was a 5k walk in wellies, through bits of jungle and swamp, not too hot on the way out but we walked both ways at a very fast pace so the walk itself wasn't much fun. The lake, however, was breathtaking. I'm not much of a traveller so this is probably the most remote place I'll visit in my life.

View from the Hide

Palm

While at the lodge, I noticed lots of little metal bottle tops had been nailed to the floor (if you're not laughing yet, that's fine, skip to the next paragraph) to stop the steps getting slippery. Here are the bottle tops, followed by what a blue and yellow macaw thought of having bottle tops nailed to the floor!

Little Metal Bottle Tops Nailed To The Floor

Macaw and Bottle Tops

More photos in my Tambopata set on flickr if you're interested

7 Things

It doesn't seem like that long since the last time this happened, but apparently its been two years and the "tell us something new about yourself" meme has come around again. I was trying to ignore it but now I've been tagged by Matthew, Davey and Kathy I guess I can't.

  1. People often mistake me for being younger than I am. This will be more fun when I'm older but right now I'm 28 and wishing people would take me seriously as a professional. (28!! Pay attention people)
  2. My family has a system called "Family Post" - if you want something transporting, you give it to someone who might see someone who might catch up with someone who has a family member in the same town as the person the item is intended for. Sometimes this system takes years but we can transport almost anything to anyone in the family, free of charge, including plants (and look after them on the way). There is no tracking system however, you just have to throw in your item and hope for the best
  3. My secondary education was at an all-girls grammar school (state-funded, examination entry). I even have a GCSE in Latin to go with it
  4. I have been dating the same man for over 8 years, which probably most people know. What I don't usually mention is that when we met, he was already in a relationship and we're now close friends with his then-girlfriend. In fact we're just about to go to South America for 2 weeks to see her.
  5. I am terribly domesticated. I am a great cook and can feed varying numbers of people with relatively little stress or warning. I can knit and sew, so I can make clothes, soft furnishings, pretty much anything really. I am a competent gardner and an accomplished pianist.
  6. My boyfriend and I bought a 100+ year old house with 4 bedrooms over 4 floors which needed a lot of renovation. Its our first house and we've since discovered neither of us is great at or enjoys DIY. We'll get through this experience but I wouldn't recommend it
  7. I have no idea what I want to do when I grow up and I don't have a 5 year plan. If I'd had a 5 year plan 5 years ago, I'd have had a much less interesting life so far.

Last time I did this I refused to tag anyone but this time I'm going to take the opportunity to introduce some of my blog readers to blogs I read myself.

EmmaJane - we have the same middle name and she's also a geeky knitter
Girls Can't What - Gretchen has a site full of brilliant female role models, and she's an ace designer
dotjay - he tagged me last time, and he should blog more
Erik - a cool colleague who will be surprised by this tag
urbanwide - I joke that Deb is "the other girl developer in Leeds"! She's a camera geek, ruby developer, and she helps me understand how "girl" goes with "geek"
Cally - the then-girlfriend in question
Mark Aitken - ex-colleague, mentor and friend

And now the rules:

  • Link your original tagger(s), and list these rules on your blog.
  • Share seven facts about yourself in the post - some random, some wierd.
  • Tag seven people at the end of your post by leaving their names and the links to their blogs.
  • Let them know they've been tagged by leaving a comment on their blogs and/or Twitter.

2008 Wrapup

Its that time of year again, out with the old and in with the new. And 2008 was in fact a very exciting year, mostly professionally, and almost entirely unexpectedly.

I kicked off my year by getting my ZCE, which seemed like an excellent start. For my next trick, I parted ways with my employers (which sounds radical but really was a long time coming). I had planned on retraining to a "proper job" (accountancy), or going freelance for a while, but this was thwarted by me being offered a job by Ibuildings. They're effortlessly the coolest employers around here in PHP, and they are happy to have me telecommute from my home in Leeds. Working from home has been a new experience, and if I've learned anything, it's that it isn't for everyone. But for me, it works. I think I've done as much work this year as in probably the previous two combined. And of course there is the slight trap of being able to pop back to my desk any time, but I think the balance is just about balanced so far.

I'd already written a few blog posts and contributed to DevZone, and once I met Ibuildings things began to spiral from there. I spoke at the Dutch PHP Conference in June (large auditorium, no speaking experience, not something I'll forget in a hurry), and submitted talks to ZendCon. I wasn't accepted to speak at ZendCon but I did still manage to attend with support from various people, and I spoke in the UnCon while I was there. I also spoke at quite a few more local events, including the girlgeek dinner in Leeds, and the PHPNW User Group. Through the year I also started broadening my skills at work, preparing and delivering training, speaking at a seminar run by Ibuildings, and also speaking at our internal developer meet.

In November I was involved with the PHP North West conference in Manchester. This was huge fun! We didn't have a whole lot of experience but we just pitched in, begged help from anyone and everyone, and ended up with a very successful event. For me it was all the joy of a conference and seeing my PHP buddies without any of the flying around the world being in another country bits that I'm less keen on. We had a fun weekend, everything went smoothly, and personally I had a blast.

For the last couple of years, I've posted little screenshots of my blog stats on here, see one from 2007 (scroll right down) and also from 2006. This year, well, I've considered my stats to be "off the scale" numerous times. In fact, at one point I was convinced I'd had some kind of attack or other malfunction when I saw the spike ... when actually all that happened was that I wrote a popular article and people clicked through! So here's this year's entry.

Its been really exciting to see the y-axis labels change so much over the course of the year on this site, and I have every intention of continuing writing through 2009. I've been prolific this year with 195 blog posts; that pace won't continue, but I hope to continue to find a few minutes on a regular basis to record useful odds and ends that I would have to look up again next time. Perhaps I should be making more of it but I do still use this blog mostly as a replacement for a good memory! I've been blogging for almost three years and its been great to take the time to write some words rather than the code I usually work with. I was also delighted to be invited to write an article for php|architect magazine - you can see it in the /etc column in December's issue.

Looking ahead to 2009, what is in my future? Well after the experiences of the last few years, all I know is: you never know what is around the corner! I've a trip to south america starting next week, and I'll be speaking at php|tek in Chicago in May. All being well, a new niece or nephew will put in an appearance in early July. As for the rest, well, I'm hoping for good health and a quiet life - and the same for you all!

Birthday Time Again

I'm not old enough to have stopped counting the years yet - and today is my birthday. I'm another year older and actually I think I am a bit wiser than I was this time last year - its been a busy one with a new job and some new experiences (public speaking, eek!). I'd like to say a huge thankyou to everyone who sent cards, gifts, tweets, emails, or wrote on my facebook wall, its been really nice to receive so many happy thoughts from people. I've had the day off and we went to York for a bit of shopping and lunch at one of our favourite spots - we lived in York as students so we know the city well, and it was great to go back. I also bought a few nice things for myself :)

My Sister's Graduation

Yesterday I attended my little sister's graduation ceremony - she has a BA in Early Childhood Studies from University College Birmingham and I am so proud of her I can't actually express it! She's worked hard to get to here and the path was not always smooth. I uploaded a selection of pictures from yesterday to remember the day by.

I'm also very pleased to have been able to be here to cheer her on and also very pleased that we now have the sequel to a photograph taken at my own graduation day 5 years ago.

One in the gown, one in the hat One in the hat, one in the gown

Well done, little one!!

Daisy Unlocked on Mario Kart

I am a big fan of pretty much anything Nintendo, particularly Zelda and Mario Kart. I loved mario kart doubledash and this was the first driving game I really got into (I still can't do technical driving games, only kiddy ones). So when Mario Kart was launched for Wii, we got it on launch day.

When we first got the game, it seemed like I couldn't play as my favourite character from the other Nintendo games, Princess Daisy. I grumbled a bit and played as peach instead, similar character but pink dress instead of yellow dress. It is actually way more than that of course - Peach is pink and blonde and a bit mainstream. Daisy is sassy and usually unsuitably dressed, I love her :) I looked round for reviews and discovered I could unlock Daisy - she's in the Special Cup on 150cc.

Well, I'm not a brilliant gamer, but I really really wanted Daisy and off I went, time trialling each course to get myself up to speed, and then working through unlocking all the tracks on 50cc, 100cc, 150cc ... along I went, taking more and more preparation and attempts each time, until finally I had the cup I needed. Except, its not that simple. You have to win that grand prix to get it, whereas you only need to be placed (1st, 2nd or 3rd) to unlock the next race. Well that was about 8 weeks ago.

I was coming 2nd in the cup pretty consistently but just couldn't nail that top spot. I time trialled, tried to sort out manual sliding, played against the ghost data, and tried the cup over and over thinking that if I was lucky I'd do it, to the point where I'd pretty much stopped playing completely. And then, today, after a long sleep last night and Sunday Lunch in the pub, we had a quick game on Mario Kart and I beat Kevin on all 4 tracks ... so I gave that special cup another shot - and won it!! So now, I finally have Daisy and shouting "come on Daisy" at the TV works so much better when it really is Daisy in the car :)

Ever Feel Like You're Being Followed?

I've been using twitter for quite a while now, around a year. And so far, its not going brilliantly.

The problem really is that I don't "get" twitter. I am not online 24/7 so I often only look at my feeds once per day. The conversation in twitter moves faster than that so I rarely reply because usually I've missed the moment. Friends in various timezones also don't help that situation. I haven't really worked out what to do with twitter ... I linked my facebook status to it so that updating one would cause the other to update, thinking I might eventually understand what it was all about.

The only thing that's really changed since I started using it is the number of followers I have, there are more than I really expected. To put this in perspective, I follow twelve people. But seventy people follow me! Not many are complete strangers, some are colleagues, others are online friends. Some of them I would like to follow myself but they are too noisy and since I don't keep up with updates in real time, that doesn't really work for me. I do rather feel like I'm addressing an audience though, slightly spooky.

My twitter timeline is public - this is the point of twitter, its a mass collection of one-liners. It allows clever tools like Summize to show you all posts with given text in it, and things like that. Which is useful if people are talking about you, as I discovered when I was a conference speaker. But it does feel a bit, well, public.

The bottom line is, I'm fed up with twitter, I don't know what to do with it and having more audience is actually making me post less (a bit like being syndicated on the php-planet feed really!) and its so unreliable that half the time when I remember to update, I can't. There's lots of talk of moving to a rival but nobody seems prepared to make the jump. I am completely prepared but I can't find anything to jump to! I looked at Plurk but I have accessibility needs and it doesn't come close to being usable for me. At the moment I think my favourite is FriendFeed - which has the added advantage of being configurable to be private other than to people I approve. It also syndicates people's blogs, flickr accounts, and all sorts of other things, including twitter - so if we all moved to friendfeed then everyone can choose their own twitter replacement, or change it every month, and nobody needs to know because each user manages what goes into their feed that other people see.

I'm not sure if I'm moving away from twitter, stopping using it entirely, or what. Suggestions/comments/experiences are all very welcome!