Opinions Caring for Your Introvert Friday 15 September 2006
Through Neal Stephenson's site I found this at once funny and oh-so-true article about introverts written for extraverts.

Extroverts are easy for introverts to understand, because extroverts spend so much of their time working out who they are in voluble, and frequently inescapable, interaction with other people. They are as inscrutable as puppy dogs. But the street does not run both ways. Extroverts have little or no grasp of introversion. They assume that company, especially their own, is always welcome. They cannot imagine why someone would need to be alone; indeed, they often take umbrage at the suggestion. As often as I have tried to explain the matter to extroverts, I have never sensed that any of them really understood. They listen for a moment and then go back to barking and yipping.
Books Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson Wednesday 13 September 2006
Before my trip I went to a bookshop to get a book for the journey. I had no particular book in mind, it just had to be a really thick paperback so it would last 5 weeks without weighing too much. While scanning the shelves my eye first fell on Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson (910 pages), and three hours of consideration later I ended up buying that one.

Cryptonomicon has two parallel stories. One is set during WW2 and deals with the efforts of the allies to break the codes used by the Germans and the Japanese, and with Japanese efforts to hide their gold towards the end of the war. The second story is about a present-day company that specialises in encryption software. Ultimately, they will try to launch a private, electronic currency using encryption software for security, and dig up the Japanese war gold to back up that currency.

I loved the book from start to finish. The concept and story are brilliant and the content is just smart with lots of erudite information about WW2, cryptology and many other occasional topics (from role playing to geology to dental surgery), written with a much richer English vocabulary than I'm used to and without hesitating to include graphs and formulas when they're useful to explain a concept. All very refreshing after just having read brainless novels by Dan Brown and Tom Clancy.

Stephenson's writing is witty throughout and at times hilarious, it made me laugh out loud regularly. Click more to read some excerpts...

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Work Back in Belgium & Back to work Sunday 3 September 2006
So I'm back in the home country since Friday morning and I've been very busy. On Saturday I had the interview about the job I first heard about by mail less than a week ago. I immediately signed a contract, and I'm starting on Monday, i.e. tomorrow, with a whole series of courses at the SAP offices in Brussels that will last until mid November, at which point I have to pass three exams to become a certified SAP Netweaver consultant.

So it's back to work much sooner than I thought, but this is a great opportunity; I've always wanted to break into SAP and this is a first class launch. Also nice is that in this job I can choose my own car :) (after 6 months)

When I find the time I'll be going through the 5000 pictures I made in Peru and Bolivia. Step 1 is rotating all the vertical ones, step 2 is eliminating most of them (I often have 10 shots of the same things, just wanna keep the best one then, not to save space but for convenience), and after that I'll start making a report as usual. It's gonna take months before I get to the end so I already wrote down the last days below before I forget them. I remind you you can already watch many of the best pictures on my web album where I backed them up.

This trip has been just great, one of my best. This was a relief because after the previous trip I was worried I didn't like traveling anymore, but it turns out I just didn't like India. For my next trip I'm thinking of South America again because it's a really fun place to travel with spectacular nature everywhere, but I also still want to visit Iran and black Africa, so it'll depend on the time of the year and the company.
Traveling Day 37: Atlanta Thursday 31 August 2006
We landed in Atlanta at 8am, and by 9am I was out of the airport and on the metro train to the city center. I had printed a little Google Map of downtown Atlanta at home on which I'd marked the things I wanted to see, and it served me well. Atlanta is the HQ of the Coca Cola Company and of CNN and those are the only things it's famous for, so those were my two destinations.

I first headed to World of Coca Cola, a sort of corporate museum. I mainly went there as a sort of joke, but apparently Atlanta really considers it a highlight because the speaker on the train mentioned it. I first asked a random guy to take a picture of me in my bright yellow Inka Kola T-shirt in front of the building with its huge Coke logo. By a freak coincidence, this guy was a Peruvian staying in Atlanta so he happily cooperated. The museum itself consisted mostly of pictures showing Coca Cola's marketing throughout the years. Beside that there was a bottling machine at the entrance, and at the end a series of drink machines where you could try the dozens of sodas Coca Cola sells around the world - that was fun.

I had just enough time left to check the nearby Georgia State Capitol (the parliament building of the state of Georgia of which Atlanta is the capital) before I had to head to the CNN building to do a tour of the studios at 11:50 - I'd made a reservation for this two months earlier. The CNN building is very impressive (a huge atrium) and the tour was just fantastic. I've watched CNN for countless hours so it was great that we could peak into the studios while they were broadcasting. Especially the CNN domestic studio was impressive; the anchor sits at a desk on a podium with three robotic cameras in front of her and behind her about a hundred desks where the whole news team is working, and we could see all this from a gallery right under the ceiling. Unfortunately I couldn't take a picture because I'd just been told this was forbidden and there was a lot of security.

I had lunch in the atrium, watching a huge sceen (showing CNN of course) with a few hundred other people. Afterwards I spent two more hours just walking towards the skyscrapers that looked nice and making lots of pictures, before heading back to the metro. There I stumbled upon Underground Atlanta, the oldest part of Atlanta that has been roofed over and is now an underground mall, strange but cool.

I arrived back at 15:30, only a good two hours before my flight to Brussels, which might seem tight with all the new security measures, but I could do a self-service check-in without any waiting, and going through security took all of 5 minutes, so I actually had a lot of time to spare. I spent it counting how many times I've flown a plane now, among other things.

The flight to Brussels was my 46th. I met my parents and sister on the airport at 9am Belgian time on Friday, 44 hours after I woke up in Lima, but by dozing on the planes I felt just fine.
Traveling Day 36: Goodbye Lima Wednesday 30 August 2006
Woke up at 6, watched an episode of Rome on my pocket media player, spent quite some time packing and arranging my backpacks for the last time, and then began the last but very long day of this journey. I first went to the Museo de la Nacion, the national historical museum of Peru. It wasn't up to par with the fantastic museum in Mexico City due to a distinct lack of spectacular exhibits, but it was still very interesting to go through all the many ancient cultures of Peru with explanations and examples of their crafts (mostly pottery) and I could take my time for it and was allowed to make pictures, so it was good.

In the afternoon I went to the Mercado del Indios, a group of buildings with artesanal shops that sold souvenirs from all over Peru. The range and quality was much higher here than anywhere else, and so were the prices. I was just going to find a statuette for Danny's collection, but ended up buying 4 of them + a mask for my wall, all in the primitive but cute style of the pre-Inca culture of Chancay (examples of maskes).

I spent the evening in the mall that is spectacularly built in the cliff over the beach of Miraflores (the part of Lima I was staying in) and watched a movie in Spanish (The Ant Bully, called Las Aventuras de Lucas el Destructor in Spanish). I could follow it without a problem but then it's an animated children's movie :) At about 21h I took a taxi to the airport where my plane to Atlanta took off shortly after midnight.
Traveling Day 35: Back in Lima Tuesday 29 August 2006
So I'm back in Lima. This time I'm staying in the area called Miraflores, which kicks ass. It's the bustling and prosperous part of Lima and it shows, with fancy shops and casinos everywhere and a nice promenade along the ocean. Quite a different Peru this.

I ended up in one of those hostels where Israelis concentrate. It's cool that Israelis travel so much but it's beyond lame that they tend to group together in the same places, as if they want to take their country with them when they travel. One of the funnest things about traveling is precisely mixing with so many nationalities. Spent yesterday evening playing pool with an Irish guy, for example.

This is the last update on the road. Tomorrow I spend the whole day in Lima, at midnight I take a plane to Atlanta, where I'll spend 10 hours on Thursday before flying on to Belgium. I'll be awake for 42 hours by the time I arrive there since I can't sleep on planes, but it looks like I may have to go straight to a job interview - that'll be amusing. Anyway, see you in Belgium!
Traveling Day 34: Islas Ballestas + Paracas Monday 28 August 2006
Saw hundreds of sea lions, thousands of penguins, and millions of pelicans and other cool birds. The group of 24 had 8 Flemings and 4 Dutchies, which I suspect is a regular thing since the guide could pronounce "aalscholver". I have to find out why flamingo and Fleming is the same in Spanish, me and my fellow smurfs keep wondering about that.

Tomorrow I'm off to Lima, where I'll just visit the Museo Nacional. I'm hoping for the sun to break through so I can hit the beach at least once this trip, it is warm enough now (though still winter) but cloudy.
Traveling Day 33: Huacachina to Pisco Sunday 27 August 2006
Nothing to report today, just moved from one place to the next. This is my last destination before returning to Lima, tomorrow I'll spend the day visiting the natural reserves here, see some penguins and if I'm lucky wild dolphins.

Let me list some weird and noteworthy things about Peru:
  • When you order a Coke here, they invariably ask if you want it warm or cold. To me that's like asking if you want alcohol in your beer or tobacco in your sigarette, but apparently many Peruvians prefer warm Coke.
  • US Dollars are used for many large transactions here, so I brought USD from Belgium. It turned out the ATM's here can feed you USD as well, but there's something very special about my own USD: whenever I hand out some of the 2$ bills I got, this causes cheers of joy with the recipient who will often call other people to come and watch the treasure. Apparently 2$ bills are a very rare and wanted collectors' item here.
  • If you read my Middle East report, you may remember me raving about encountering herds of Dodge Coronets (the car from the Dukes of Hazzard) in Syria. Well, Peru has even more of them, and I found large concentrations of them driving around in some suburbs of Arequipa for example, where they were simply the most common car. In Nazca the car that got me to the necropolis was a Dodge Coronet (and the German girl who was in my group looked just like Daisy Duke, mmmm), and the driver could tell me why there are so many in Peru: the Dodge Coronet was the token Peruvian police car in the 70s, and later the police sold off all their cars to second hand dealers.
Traveling Day 32: Huacachina Saturday 26 August 2006
I signed up for a trip through the desert in a 9-seat sand buggy this morning and it was pure rollercoaster fun as the driver raced up and down the high sand dunes. We made regular stops on top of a sand mountain to slide down on a snowboard. The trip was supposed to include instructions but instead the driver just made us lie down on the boards and slide straight down.

Great fun, but I had to try it standing up. After a while I managed to do it in a crouched position, going straight but using my rear hand as a break, and I slided down majestically that way... until the speed made my hand too hot and I had to lift it. Since I have no idea how to steer a snowboard I kept accelerating and 10 seconds later lost control and summersaulted down the rest of the mountain. Luckily the only damage I got was a bit of a headache, but my trousers got completely torn in the process. Well, that helps alleviate my lack of backpack space problem :)

While we raced back to the oasis in our buggy the American girl in my group got a panic attack twice, after which the driver decided to drive carefully - bummer.
Traveling Days 30-31: Juanita and Nazca Friday 25 August 2006
Yesterday on my last day in Arequipa I only visited the museum of the 'ice princess' mummie Juanita, who was sacrificed on top of a 6000+ mountain 500 years ago. It was as lame as I thought, they make a big fuss about treating this mummie respectfully while elsewhere I've already seen other mummies stuffed into glass display boxes between old pottery and textiles. It was also ridiculous how they did their best to present this common practice of sacrificing human children on mountain tops as not barbaric.

I spent most of the rest of the day wandering around an 'artesanal' market buying souvenirs, and as a result my back pack is now overfull and I got to wear my fleece around my waist all day. My favourite souvenir is an Inka Kola T-shirt (Inka Kola is the most popular drink in Peru) which I plan to wear on my visit to Coca Cola World in Atlanta.

At 9pm I took a night bus out of Arequipa, where I've stayed 8 days (2 of which climbing El Misti and 3 in Colca Canyon though). To make the night bus less painful I'd bought an expensive ticket with the luxury company Cruz del Sur, who let me pick the seat behind the entrance for extra leg space and who assured me a vegetarian meal (the trip was dinner included) was no problem. On the bus, the layout turned out to be different than on their reservation system so my seat was an ordinary one with little leg room, and my dinner turned out to have plenty of meat in it, so I was pretty pissed off and of course I didn't sleep for a minute. Fuck Cruz del Sur.

Nazca is famous for the Nazca lines, huge figures drawn in the sand some 1400 years ago by an extinct culture that probably never got to enjoy their work themselves since you can only really see the figures from the sky. We arrived in Nazca at 5am. I planned to just wait somewhere until 8am to arrange a flight, but a guy came to me and said I could wait in his agency and use internet which was too good an offer to turn down so I booked with him and uploaded the Colca Canyon pictures below while waiting to go to the airport.

I decided to pay 10$ more to fly with a 6-seat mini plane because the guy said I'd get the seat next to the pilot coz I'm tall (hear that Cruz del Sur?!), and it was a fantastic experience. I actually had to move my legs aside when the pilot needed to use the handles in front of me. I was tempted to pull some of them myself to find out what they do :)

Over each figure - we saw about a dozen - the pilot first banked almost 90 degrees to the right to circle around it once and then banked almost 180 degrees to the left to make another circle around it for the passengers on the left. Two times a loud beeper went off to signal that we were almost stalling. It was an absolutely stomach twister and after 5 minutes two of the girls in the plane were already throwing up. My stomach held though and the bad smell didn't ruin my fun.

As for the lines themselves, since they're in the desert you have no sense of scale and the figures look disappointingly small. They are beautiful however, pure Keith Haring avant la lettre. I bought a silver ring with the nicest Nazca figures engraved in it at the beginning of this trip and have been wearing it since, so I know those figures by heart by now and it was fun to finally see them in real. I have good pics of most of them so I'll post a nice collection in my report, along with some of the movies I made.

After the flight I made a short excursion to the Nazca necropolis out in the desert where dozens of mummies are on display in the open, making the Juanita museum in Arequipa look even more futile.

Then I caught a chicken bus to the town of Ica and from there a taxi to the nearby oasis Huacachina where I am now. This place is simply superb; it's a classic palm-tree oasis with a big lake in the middle and it's surrounded by very high sand dunes, from which you can descend on snowboards. That's what I'm gonna do tomorrow, as well as hanging around the pool of my funky hotel. Guess why I immediately decided to stay an extra night here :)
Traveling Colca Canyon pics Friday 25 August 2006
While waiting for my Nazca flight I've uploaded a bunch of pics of my Colca Canyon trip:

Colca Canyon
Aug 23, 2006 - 16 Photos
Traveling Days 27-29: Colca Canyon Wednesday 23 August 2006
Hola! I've been traveling for 4 weeks now, only 1 week to go :( I just got back from Colca Canyon. The canyon was spectacular to look at from the edge, with several villages on the opposite canyon wall laid out before our eyes on what seemed like a vertical map, but we then spent two days descending into it and climbing out again which gave no great new views, so I feel the three days weren't too well spent.

Especially since on the way to the canyon we drove through the Colca valley (from Chivay to Cabanaconde) which has the most beautiful agricultural landscape I've ever seen (terraces everywhere and a hundred shades of green), but we didn't even stop there (since we were on a public bus). On the way back this morning I made sure I sat on the right side of the bus and could at least let my eyes feast on the landscape and make a hundred drive-by pictures.

The condors didn't feel like flying much this morning because it was cloudy and cold (so bad thermics to fly) but I still got to see some which was a cool sight through my binoculars. All-in-all a pleasant three days but not a highlight of this trip.

The most challenging part was of course climbing out of the canyon, a climb of exactly 1000m which normally takes about 3 hours. Our guide said he'd done it in 1h20 once when a tourist had challenged him for a race, so I set out really fast to beat that time but halfway I was exhausted already and stumbled the rest of the way, arriving after almost 1h40 with Leo (French guy in my group) just three minutes behind although he wasn't feeling well. We were rewarded for our vertical rush with a hot shower though, while the rest of the group which came an hour behind had no more hot water by the time they were in the hotel :)

Tomorrow I'll visit the museum of Juanita the famous Inca mummie. I'm not really interested since you have to follow a guide and aren't allowed to make pictures, but I'm here anyway and it's a highlight of Arequipa. In the evening I finally leave Arequipa on a night bus to Nazca to see the famous Nazca lines.
Traveling Day 26: Lazy day Sunday 20 August 2006
Today I have nothing planned for the first time, I'm just gonna be lazy in Arequipa. I've uploaded some more pictures of El Misti to the album below (there were only six pics before) [Update: added two more pics sent by Daan]. I've also uploaded new pictures of the Huayna Potosi trip, mostly of our first training day but also the only picture I made during our nightly climb to the summit. They're all in the first half of the album:

Huayna Potosi
Aug 12, 2006 - 28 Photos

Tomorrow I'm setting out on a three-day trek around Colca Canyon, the world's second deepest canyon at over 3000m deep. The world's deepest one is right next to it but Colca is the more spectacular and popular one apparently. I have little idea what to expect, I just know it's part of the typical gringo tour of Peru and heard rave comments about it from fellow travelers. The only thing I know is that the third morning we'll go to Cruz del Condor where huge condors (the biggest birds of prey I think) supposedly fly right over your head - sounds good! Check back in three days to hear how it was.
Traveling Days 24-25: El Misti Saturday 19 August 2006
I'm back from climbing El Misti and it was great! Especially the descent, of which I've posted some movies below. I've also uploaded a bunch of pictures in the following album, I'll refer to them in my story...

El Misti
Aug 19, 2006 - 17 Photos
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Traveling Day 23: Arequipa Thursday 17 August 2006
The monasterio San Catalina in Arequipa, a city within the city, turned out to be one of the greatest monuments I've ever visited. Not that it is spectacular or impressive, it it just an endless maze of little rooms and streets, but it is so cozy and picturesque and so beautifully restored that it's a real delight for architects and photographers alike - so I enjoyed it double.

Other than that Arequipa has no special sights, but it's still the nicest city I've been in outside Europe I think - can't think of another I'd rather live in.

Umm wait of course Arequipa has another special sight: the three huge mountains right next to the city. Tomorrow I'm heading up the middle one, the 5822m high volcano El Misti. I'll sleep in a tent at about 4500m, and then Saturday I wake up at 3am to climb to the top. There'll be little moonlight this time.

The mountain looks like one big bare rock with almost no ice on it, so I'm not sure if the route will be nice, but I'm mainly going to see the "sulfurous, yellow crater with vulcanic fumaroles hissing gas", and I also won't mind the "spectacular views down to the salinas and back to the city".

Check back in two days to hear how it was. I'll try to find a place where I can upload pictures again then, it's been a while.

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