Salkantay Trek

For my work, a colleague and I decided to propose a new travel study course that would involve a combination of our interests – sociology of sport (hiking, specifically) and exercise science. Our original course proposal wasn’t approved, but our International Programs Office agreed to fund us to scout out a trek in Peru to improve our application and fill in details for the second time we propose the course. As a result, a colleague (Abe) and I spent a week in Peru in August of 2018. We spent a few days in Cuzco acclimating before heading out on the (Super) Salkantay Trek which covers about 34 miles (64 kilometers) in 3 days, ending in Aguas Calientes. The following day we took a bus to Macchu Picchu. This post is a brief summary of the trek.

We flew from Tampa to Miami on a Saturday afternoon and then from Miami to Lima that evening, arriving around 9:30. In retrospect, we should have spent the night in Lima and then caught a flight to Cuzco the next day after getting a good night’s sleep. Instead, we spent about 5 hours in the Lima airport (me trying to sleep; Abe pacing the airport) until our 3:50 am flight to Cuzco. The travel agency that arranged our trip included an airport transfer to our hotel which, unfortunately, wasn’t ready when we arrived at around 5:30 am. So, we kind of slept on couches in their lobby until our room was ready around 8:30. By that time, daylight was upon us so we went out exploring in Cuzco. We spent a couple of days in Cuzco exploring the city and the cuisine while acclimating to the elevation (Cuzco is at just over 11,000 feet). We visited some museums, tried a few restaurants, and even did a trial hike up to the Temple of the Moon, Q’Engo Chico, el Cristo Blanco, and Saqsaywaman.

Here’s the route we took:

Despite having spent a day in Cuzco, we could still feel the elevation as we hiked and knew it would take a little while to acclimate to this elevation.

In the afternoon on our second day in Cuzco, we met up with the rest of our group for the (Super) Salkantay Hike at the headquarters of G Adventures and met our guide, Ever. There were 16 of us total: 3 from the US, 1 from Canada, 2 from Switzerland, 2 from Denmark, 2 from South Africa, 2 from Wales, and 4 from England. We had a briefing session, had a chance to rent any gear we needed, and then were given duffels that would carry our sleeping bags and pads and any extra gear as we would only have to carry day packs during the day. Porters (using donkeys) would carry the duffels, tents, and food from campsite to campsite. Having just completed a serious climb of Mt. Rainier in Washington, this seemed like a walk in the park – let someone else carry all the heavy stuff and I just have to get myself from point A to point B every day. Elevation aside, I wasn’t expecting a particularly challenging hike.

On August 6th, we got up around 5:00 am, had a quick bite to eat at our hotel, then hopped aboard a bus that drove us out to the beginning of our hike (stopping for a more substantial breakfast on the way). We started hiking around 10:30. It quickly became apparent that we had different levels of hikers in our group, with several quickly falling behind. I tried to stay at the front as I didn’t want to get caught behind a slow hiker. Our guide, Ever, set a pretty good pace. About 30 minutes in, we started to have light rain and everyone donned their rain gear (for many, this was just light ponchos; luckily, I have complete rain gear for hiking – top and bottom). As we continued, we started to gain some elevation. The rain also started to get a little harder. As we got higher up in elevation, the rain started to transition into sleet. Eventually, it became snow. Basically, we were caught in a snowstorm on our way to Salkantay Pass, which is over 15,000 feet in elevation.

We continued our ascent and the snow got thicker. We stopped about an hour from the pass for lunch. The porters had set up a tent on about 6 inches of snow for us to dine in and had already prepared hot water so we could have tea and hot chocolate. They also made us a hot meal (soup and chicken tenders with rice). It was still freezing cold in the tent but we were largely out of the wind. I was generally warm with all my layers on (except for my hands in my light gloves), but there were many in our group who were much less prepared (one guy was in shorts the whole time). Additionally, one member of our group was slow enough that they had her ride a horse part of the way up the mountain.

After lunch, we continued up the mountain, eventually making it to the pass where most of us huddled behind a large rock to get out of the wind as best we could while we waited for the rest of our group to make it to the top. Our huddle reminded us of a bunch of penguins trying to avoid the cold.

A bunch of people in our group huddled together for warmth.

We stayed on the summit until everyone had made it to the highest point of our hike then began our descent down the other side. It didn’t take long before the wind died down. Then we descended below the snow line and were hiking in mud and light rain. We hiked until just after 6:00 pm when the first wave of us made it to the camp for the night just as it got dark enough to warrant headlamps. It was very cold and raining at the camp but the camp had some buildings with tin roofs (where we ate and the porters slept) and our tents were already set up. The stragglers took another 30 to 45 minutes to arrive in the dark with flashlights.

Here’s the route from the first day of the hike:

Per my watch, we covered 8.84 miles. Our starting elevation was about 12,562 feet; our peak elevation was 15,175 feet (highest I’ve ever hiked). The total elevation gained during the hike was 3,006 feet.

We had about 45 minutes to get our sleeping bags and pads set up before dinner. At dinner, we once again had warm drinks (which were a delight) and ate well. The guide also laid out the plan for the next day, which was the longest hiking day.

We went to bed around 9:00 but the hot drinks worked a number on our bladders. Abe got up to pee four times. I had to get up once, around 10:00 pm, to pee. Given the urgency, I didn’t put my pants back on and was caught in someone else’s headlamp in my underwear taking a piss. When you got to pee, you got to pee!

We were up again around 5:00. We packed up and were met with warm water to make tea and hot chocolate or coffee again. After our meal, we finished gearing up and getting ready for our longest day of hiking. Here’s a photosphere of the campsite:

Since we arrived when it was nearly dark, we really couldn’t see the amazing mountains that surrounded our campsite. In the morning, we had a few breaks in the clouds and realized just how amazing the location was. Alas, we only saw it for about 30 minutes before we headed down.

We had a lot of hiking ahead of us – all day. However, it was also all down hill. As we descended, we crossed from a high altitude mountain region into a wooded area and eventually into the rainforest. It was actually quite interesting as our guide said that we would know when we were in the jungle when we saw bamboo and palm trees, both of which I have in my backyard in Tampa, Florida – I guess I live in the jungle.

I tracked our hike from morning until we stopped for lunch (when I had to recharge my watch). Here’s the route:

We did 6.58 miles before lunch, descending about 4,000 feet.

We stopped for lunch for a bit over an hour. I made the poor decision to take my socks off to air out my feet to try to prevent blisters only to get bit about a dozen times by black flies in the 5 minutes I had my socks off. Terrible idea. My feet itched nonstop for the next three days!

Anyway, after a yummy lunch, we hit the trail again (though, at this point, three members of our group opted to take a van down to our campsite for the night). We hiked through a beautiful area surrounded by mountains and began passing plantation after plantation – corn, avocado, passion fruit, and squash were the major crops. We even stopped at one to break into a passion fruit:

We were hiking next to the Santa Teresa River for most of the afternoon. There was a road on one side of the river but people lived on the other side. In order to cross it, they built cable bridges and would pull themselves across, like the man in this video did:

Towards the end of the day, I was getting tired. It wasn’t hard hiking like the day before but we just kept going and going. We finally reached our campsite just as it was getting dark around 6:00 pm after hiking another 10.53 miles. Here’s the route:

Our campsite this night was basically at the far end of a town, La Playa Sahuayaco, and even had a small bar near our campsite (where we could get beer and pisco sours, which we, of course, got). There was also a hot shower here. We had another 45 minutes to set up our sleeping bags in the pre-arranged tents before dinner. After dinner, our guide explained that our porters would be headed back over the mountain the next day to prepare for the next group of hikers and from here on our gear would be transported by vehicle. He also explained what our hike would be like the next day – a steep climb up a mountain until we overlooked Macchu Picchu followed by a steep descent then a bit of a march to the train station where we’d catch a train to Aguas Calientes and spend the night in a hotel.

Our third day of trekking was as described. We had a relatively steep ascent up a mountain but it was definitely worth it. On the way, we stopped at one break area that had a pretty cool rope swing that allowed you to swing out over the mountain:

It was a short distance after this that we made it to Mirador Llactapata, which is an Incan ruin as well as a lookout spot over Macchu Picchu.

We stayed here for a bit then began our descent down the mountain. It was close to two hours of a steep descent. At the bottom, we crossed another rope bridge then walked for a bit to a train station where we had a late lunch then boarded our train to Aguas Calientes. After three days, we got to take a shower and sleep in comfortable beds. It was nice getting back to civilization. Total mileage for the day: 8.59 miles.

Our total mileage from the hike: 34.54 miles spread over three days.

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Greece Trip – Metochi

Thanks to my work on nonreligion and atheism, I was invited to participate in a week-long colloquium (May 13th through May 20th) in Greece by LeRon Shults in which I would serve as a “subject matter expert” helping LeRon and his team develop computer models to better predict who joins atheist organizations. You can learn more about LeRon and the project here. There were about 16 people who attended in total, with about half of them being subject matter experts like myself. We spent about 6 hours each day developing the models and thinking very carefully about the many factors that contribute to changes in atheist identity and affiliation.

The colloquium took place in what was formerly a monastery on the island of Lesvos called Metochi. Metochi is actually an annex to a larger monastery called Limonos. The larger monastery is connected to Metochi via a 1.5 km hiking trail through the surrounding hills (see below for more details). Metochi has, in recent years, been taken over to some degree by Agder University in Norway (where LeRon works). Agder University updated the former monastery, modernized it, cleaned it up, and now largely runs it as a quasi-owned university extension site. Metochi still has other guests (no monks), but many of the people who visit Metochi are affiliated with Agder University. Here’s a photosphere of Metochi’s courtyard:

We would typically spend about 4 hours working on the project in the morning, have lunch, then take a break in the afternoon to either relax or go explore (the same time many of the people on Lesvos where taking a nap). Since I prefer exploring over relaxing, I typically used the afternoon break to go hiking or do something else active. Here’s a rundown of what I did while I was there.

May 14th

This was the first free time I had and I was itching to go for a hike.  Living in Florida, there are no hills or mountains to climb. Being nestled in among some hills, I really wanted to get out and climb something. One of the other subject matter experts and I hiked to the Limonos monastery, walked around there a bit, then came back. Here’s a photo of the monastery from the trail:

Limonos monastery from trail to/from Metochi

And here’s the route from Metochi to Limonos and back:

May 15th

LeRon arranged to have a local bike shop owner come out and rent us bikes. There are a couple of towns that are pretty close, including Kalloni, Dafia, and Skala Kallonis. One of Skala’s claims to fame is that it was a temporary home of Aristotle where he studied biology. I biked to Skala with a few other people, walked along the beach, then sat and chatted with one of the subject matter experts I know fairly well.

Here I am at Aristotle’s beach (it’s not actually called that, but there is a statue of him about 50 meters from here):

me at Skala Kalloni beach

Here’s the route:

May 16th

The day I arrived I noticed that there was a hiking loop that could take someone to all the monasteries linked to Limonos. I saw the information on a board right in front of Metochi.

Information board on the Limonos loop hike in front of Metochi
This is a close-up of the loop itself.

The board indicated the loop was 9 kilometers and suggested it would take hikers about 3 hours. Since my afternoon break was just 3 hours, I figured I’d have to do the hike faster than that – ideally 2 hours, but 2 1/2 would still work. I managed to do the whole thing in 1 hour and 46 minutes (skipping a few extensions of the hike along the way). My route was 5.52 miles (or 8.88 kilometres), which is pretty much the route they laid out. The hike is pretty good. There is some elevation gain (533 feet) and there are parts that are really beautiful. The route from Metochi to Moni Panagias Mirsiniotissis through Dafia is actually not that great. It’s really just a hike on dirt roads and then through a town. However, the route from Moni Panagias Mirsiniotissis to Limonos in particular and then to Metochi is quite lovely. I’d recommend just hiking from Metochi to Moni Panagias Mirsiniotissis and back.

Here are some photos of the route:

The route is fairly well-marked by these red diamonds. There were a few spots where the distance between the diamonds was pretty far and I wasn’t sure I was going the right way but I managed to stay on course for the most part.
I’d recommend hiking down to this point if you only do the northern half of the loop as it offers really impressive views of Moni Panagias Mirsiniotissis, but this is as far as I would go. Just past this you’ll be walking past the garbage dump of Dafia which is much less impressive.
Most of the route from Limonos to Mirsiniotissis is actually a beautiful rock trail like this. It’s gorgeous!
This is a shot looking at Skala bay from above Metochi (after leaving Limonos). You’re just leaving the olive groves at this point.

Here’s my route:

And here are some of the stats from my hike so you have a better sense of the elevation gain and my speed compared to your own:

I was moving pretty fast as I had to get back to my seminar.


May 17th

This day was a scheduled off day. LeRon arranged for a bus to take us to Petra which is a bit of a tourist town on the coast where we got to do a little shopping, have lunch, and walk around for a bit. I walked around with another subject matter expert and even visited the chapel that stands on top of a massive rock in the middle of town. You can see the top of the chapel in this photo:

The Panagia Glykofilloussa in Petra

Here’s a photosphere from inside the chapel:

Petra is a cute little town with small, winding streets and nice places to shop.

After Petra, we went to the Lifejacket Graveyard (informal name) where thousands of life jackets from refugees have been dumped on the island of Lesvos. The original aim of putting them there was to keep them out of sight. However, as the life jackets piled up, they became an impromptu monument to the thousands of refugees – both those who survived and those who did not. It’s a very somber experience to visit.

One of the tougher aspects of visiting the graveyard is when you see kids lifejackets, like this:

One of the many kids life jackets at the Lifejacket Graveyard.


Here’s a photosphere of the Lifejacket Graveyard:

After the Life Jacket Graveyard, we went to the castle in Molyvos. We arrived just a few minutes before the castle closed but I managed to run through most of it. Here’s a shot of the castle near the entrance:

Molyvos Castle

And here’s a photosphere from near the top of the castle:

From there, we walked down into Molyvos. I ran into one of the subject matter experts after leaving the castle and he and I wandered through Molyvos before finding a bar on the beach and ordering a few drinks. We chatted for a couple of hours before heading up to the restaurant where we had dinner reservations. The restaurant had a stunning view and the food was amazing!

The sunset from our restaurant in Molyvos.

May 18th

Metochi is surrounded by hills that are covered with large boulders. Seeing those large boulders and hills day after day but not finding any hiking trails to climb the hills, I finally decided that I was going to go off-trail and see if I could climb one of the hills. That was a terrible idea. Despite donning some of my hiking pants, my gloves I brought for hiking Mount Olympus, and all my other gear, I still had exposed arms and my neck and face were exposed. The hike started with me wading through thick underbrush. Two minutes in and I was covered with burrs, had encountered multiple thistles, and I had lost a fight with a stinging nettle bush. Ten minutes later, my arms were covered with red bumps where one of the plants I had encountered had started an allergic reaction. I made it halfway up the hill, fighting my way through thorns, thickets, spider webs, and a variety of other plants, each of which really wanted to cause me serious pain. By 20 minutes in, I gave up. I’m not one for quitting, but it was the smart choice this time. I still had to work my way off the hill and down to a trail, which meant wading through some more vicious plants (seriously, everything had thorns). A scant 45 minutes after I started, I returned to Metochi covered in burrs with dozens of bumps on my arms. Hiking off trail in Lesvos is a bad idea.

May 19th

On the last day in Metochi, I hopped back on my bike and rode with a few other individuals down to Skala again. This time, I wore my bathing suit and spent a good hour and a half wading and swimming in the bay with another subject matter expert as we discussed various research projects. We got some lemonade at a cafe on the beach afterward, then rode our bikes back to Metochi.

Waiting for our drinks at a beach bar in Skala Kalloni.

Some concluding thoughts on Metochi

I really didn’t know what to expect when I was told we’d be holding the colloquium in a refurbished monastery. I was thinking I’d end up with a small cell (6 feet by 6 feet) with a tiny bed. It turns out my room was fairly spacious. It did have three beds in it (a single and then a bunk bed), a small desk, and a closet for clothes. With the room to myself, it was spacious. It also had a nice window overlooking the hiking trail. Bathrooms were shared (there were four on my floor) as were showers (there were four of those as well, but I often used the outside showers, which was refreshing in its own way). The room and facilities were kept clean but they did occasionally smell. The restrooms and showers were cleaned every day, but the plumbing is still a little wonky. We lost water there once (and power a couple of times). Throwing toilet paper into a trash can instead of the toilet took getting used to, but when in Greece…

The rest of the facilities at Metochi were also good. We used a couple of other rooms for our workshops and seminars. There was a large seminar room that could accommodate 40 or 50 people with two projectors and screens. The room I spent the most time in was just off that room and could hold about 8 people. It had a TV for projecting someone’s computer. There were other rooms for meetings but I never went into those.

The food was pretty good. All the food was served in the dining area, which was very unique. It was like a cave with a curved ceiling and walls. We ate in there the first night but the rest of the meals we got our food there but ate outside on the picnic tables. We had the same salad for lunch and dinner every day (cucumbers, tomatoes, red onion, and some oil and herbs) and breakfast was typically the same as well, but the main dishes were varied for lunch and dinner. I enjoyed the food.

The one thing I didn’t love was the bugs. Obviously, being in the middle of nowhere, you’re going to be closer to nature. But I have never seen so many moths in my life. Every bathroom had like 10 moths in it at any one time. I’m sure I inadvertently killed dozens of them just by showering, closing doors, etc. They were everywhere. There were also lots of flies whenever we would eat outside. Every meal I spent a good amount of time swatting flies off my food. A fly every now and then would have been fine – that’s life. But this was a lot more than that. There were other critters, but the moths and the flies were the annoying ones.

Ending on more positive notes… I took a black light a colleague lent me and went out scorpion hunting a couple of nights. In the rocks right outside the front of Metochi I found a scorpion both nights I looked. Scorpions are there, they just hide well during the day. I also found an injured one right in front of some of the rooms (someone must have stepped on it unknowingly as it tried to climb into someone’s room after the sun had gone down). In short, there are scorpions. Check your shoes before you put them on.

I loved how there were chairs and tables all over the place at Metochi. I learned a really valuable lesson going there. Being isolated like that – with no TVs or other distractions – made for a lot of time to contemplate. I think I now understand why they called it the “contemplative life” for monks and nuns. Removing all the regular distractions (we still had internet, but we were encouraged to just get together and chat) gave us a lot of time to think. Of course, thinking too much can be a little scary at times. But I found the experience beneficial. In my busy day-to-day life, finding time to just sit and think is rare. I should do that more often.

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NY-Mount Marcy

Summit Date

August 12, 2017 (around 11:00 am)


Ryan Cragun, Mark Woolley, Tom Triplett

Trip Report

In my big swing across the US that allowed me to complete most of the highpoints in the Northeast in 2013, I didn’t manage to fit in Mount Marcy. It’s a solid day hike, and I just didn’t have the time. I ended up arranging a trip to Lake Placid, NY specifically to hike Mount Marcy, with my two hiking buddies.

We all flew into Newark on Friday, August 11th, picked up a rental car, then headed to Lake Placid, stopping in Albany for dinner and food to take up on our hike the next day. We arrived kind of late (close to 11:00 pm) and planned an early start the next morning (on the mountain at 7:00) in order to hopefully avoid the impending rain storm that was forecast for the next day.

The trip reports we read about the hike varied quite a bit. Some suggested it was really challenging, with a lot of uphill and rugged terrain. Others suggested it wasn’t that challenging and was a pleasant hike. We also got variable times and distances for the hike. Some trip reports suggested it would take as short as 4 hours while others suggested as many as 15 (that’s a pretty big range). Mileage estimates were also varied, though with a smaller range, hovering between 12 and 17 miles. Because of all the varied estimates, we planned for a 10 to 12 hour, 17-mile hike, just to be safe. As it turns out, using my GPS enabled watch, I now have much more accurate information on the hike.

We stayed at a B&B in Lake Placid, got up at 6:00 am, and drove straight to the Adirondack Loj. There is a parking fee there ($5.00), and by the time we arrived just before 7:00 am, the lot was getting pretty full. This is obviously a popular destination for hikers. We got our boots and gear on, did some stretching (a requirement once you hit 40), signed the register, and hit the trail.

We made good time for the first three miles or so, covering them in about an hour. The first three miles of the trail are fairly level and it is mostly a well-maintained dirt trail, with a few roots, rocks, and other small objects in the way. But around the 3-mile mark, there was a noticeable shift in the trail and terrain. Not only was there substantially more uphill terrain, but it became rocky to the point that at times you are literally boulder hopping.

Me on a nice patch of the more rugged terrain.
Me on a nice patch of the more rugged terrain.

I’ve climbed a lot of mountains and was impressed with how rugged this trail got. This is not a trail you’d want to attempt in light tennis shoes (unless you’re an experienced trail runner); sturdy boots are a very good idea for this hike, ideally with good ankle support. We didn’t make as good of time on the remaining 4 miles to the summit but still did fairly well.

We arrived at the summit at just under 4 hours. When we arrived, the summit was completely enshrouded with clouds. We had no view whatsoever. We spent about 40 minutes on the summit, eating a little food and chatting with the forest ranger on the top who was reminding people to avoid the vegetation, which they are trying to get to grow back.

The three of us at the summit marker just below the actual summit.
The three of us at the summit marker just below the actual summit.

Alas, about 20 minutes after we dropped off the summit, the clouds broke and we finally had some nice views. It was at this point I took a photosphere:

We got better photos at this point, but we were still worried about the impending rain storm. The top of the mountain is largely exposed rock that wouldn’t be all that fun to ascend or descend in the rain. As a result, we opted not to return to the summit and instead to continue our descent. We stopped a few times on the way down to take advantage of some of the toilets that are along the trail and took a quick detour to the waterfall that is also fairly close to the trail. With our detours and stops, we returned to the parking lot in just under 8 hours. The distance on my watch indicated exactly 15 miles. So, there you have it – it is a 15-mile hike. Our average moving pace was 26 minutes per mile. If you know how quickly you can move on fairly rugged terrain, you should be able to estimate how long the hike will take you. We were passed by a couple who were clearly trail runners. They were the only ones moving more quickly than we were and they probably did the entire hike in 6 1/2 hours. I can see how this hike would easily take 12 hours if you’re not an avid hiker and in good shape. It is genuinely rugged terrain, particularly after the 3-mile mark, and you should be prepared for it.

Obviously, if you can, try to go on a nice day. The views from the top are supposed to be quite nice. But even hiking in cloudy conditions, the terrain was pretty. We passed through multiple types of forest – pine and maple – and really enjoyed ourselves.



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Switzerland – Matterhorn and Zermatt

Our trip to Iceland occurred because I was presenting some research at a conference in Lausanne, Switzerland. We spent a week in Iceland before heading to Switzerland. We flew into Geneva then took a train to Lausanne, where we stayed in a nice apartment (AirBnB) with an amazing view of Lake Geneva.

The view from our AirBnB in Lausanne.
The view from our AirBnB in Lausanne.

I really only got to spend two days doing touristy stuff in Switzerland – the day before the conference and the last day of the conference (which I skipped to go to CERN, ’cause it’s CERN). The day before the conference, we decided to head into the Swiss Alps to see the Matterhorn.

From Lausanne, it was a couple of hours on trains to get to Zermatt, which is the small town at the base of the Matterhorn. No cars are allowed in Zermatt, which is kind of nice. We walked from the train station through the town, snapping photos along the way:

The Matterhorn from Zermatt
The Matterhorn from Zermatt
Toren with the Matterhorn as backdrop in Zermatt.
Toren with the Matterhorn as backdrop in Zermatt.

We walked to one of the ski resorts (Zermatt ZBAG) and then bought tickets to the very top, Matterhorn Glacier Paradise. Matterhorn Glacier Paradise is a peak that has been tunneled into. Inside, they have built a restaurant, some rooms for museums and watching videos, and an entrance into the glacier that covers the mountain. Here are a few photos from inside the glacier:

Toren and Debi by an ice sculpture inside the glacier.
Toren and Debi by an ice sculpture inside the glacier.
Debi and Toren (with Rosemary in the background) inside the glacier.
Debi and Toren (with Rosemary in the background) inside the glacier.

There is also a viewing spot on the top of the peak where you can actually look down on the Matterhorn. Here’s the view from there:

The Matterhorn from Matterhorn Glacier Paradise viewing platform.
The Matterhorn from Matterhorn Glacier Paradise viewing platform.

And a photo of us on the viewing platform:

The three of us on the viewing platform on top of Matterhorn Glacier Paradise.
The three of us on the viewing platform on top of Matterhorn Glacier Paradise (Italy in the background).

We then got to walk out onto the glacier where we snapped a few photos:


Rosemary, Toren, and Debi on the glacier with the Matterhorn in the background.
Rosemary, Toren, and Debi on the glacier with the Matterhorn in the background.

On the way back down, we stopped to take a few more photos along the way.


Debi in front of the Matterhorn.
Debi in front of the Matterhorn.
Toren, Rosemary, and Debi in front of the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise.
Toren, Rosemary, and Debi in front of the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise.
The three of us in front of the Matterhorn.
The three of us in front of the Matterhorn.

We got a later start than we hoped and ended up not having a lot of time on the mountain, otherwise, we would have done some hiking. Even so, it was a great initial exposure to the Swiss Alps.

After we took the lift back to Zermatt, we walked through the town looking for a place for dinner. Along the way, we were treated to this fun encounter with a bunch of goats.

We eventually found a fondue place. Toren, Rosemary, and I had cheese fondue (dipped bread and potatoes), while Debi went off in search of a chicken sandwich.


Toren and Rosemary enjoying Swiss fondue in Zermatt.
Toren and Rosemary enjoying Swiss fondue in Zermatt.


We found a creperie along the main walkway in Zermatt as well and decided we had to have crepes for dessert:

The train ride itself was quite scenic and took us through the southwestern portion of Switzerland. We ended up getting home quite late, but it was well worth the trip.

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Iceland – final post – drone footage

I took my drone to Iceland with us. I knew that there were lots of places where I could fly the drone and it seemed like the ideal opportunity to take advantage of the drone to get shots we couldn’t otherwise get. Here’s my Iceland drone compilation:

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Iceland – Day 7 – The Golden Circle: Gulffoss, Geysir, Strokkur, and Þingvellir National Park

We saved some of the most visited sites for our last day in Iceland. Lots of buses take tourists to visit three sights in a single day: Gullfoss, Geysir, and Þingvellir National Park. This is often referred to as The Golden Circle as you can include Seljalandfoss and actually make it into a circle. Since we had already visited Seljalandfoss, we headed straight to Gullfoss.

Gullfoss is a very powerful waterfall with two levels.

To get a good view of how tall the lower falls are, you need to hike up a bit so you can see down into the trench it has carved.

Toren, Debi, and Ryan at Gulfoss
Toren, Debi, and Ryan at Gulfoss

Just down the road from Gulfoss are two geysers, Geysir and Strokkur. Geysir was the first geyser to be documented by modern Europeans and is the source of the English word “geyser.” Geysir no longer regularly erupts, but Strokkur does every few minutes.

We walked around the geysers for a bit and watched several eruptions, then jumped back in the car and headed to our final destination for the day, Þingvellir National Park. Þingvellir is cool for a lot of reasons. First, it was the original seat of Iceland’s Parliament and an important meeting place for the various tribes of Iceland for a long time. Second, it is the location where two continental plates are separating by about 2 centimeters per year, and you can literally see the result as the area is being pulled apart. There is a large canyon you can walk down that is the result of tectonic plates moving. You can see the canyon in this photosphere:

Here’s another photosphere from the Parliament rock, where the laws used to be read:

We spent a couple of hours here walking around the lake, streams, the church, and the canyon.

Ryan, Debi, and Rosemary at Þingvellir National Park
Ryan, Debi, and Rosemary at Þingvellir National Park

Here’s a short clip of a waterfall that drops right into the canyon:

And a photo of us in front of the waterfall:

Debi, Toren, and Ryan at Þingvellir National Park
Debi, Toren, and Ryan at Þingvellir National Park

We actually had big plans for this evening – it was time to try Icelandic cuisine. We made a reservation for a nice restaurant in Reykjavik, Þrír frakkar, where they serve traditional Icelandic fare. We ordered three appetizers and two entrees to split between the four of us. First up, fermented shark:

fermented shark
fermented shark

Everyone but Debi was able to get their piece of frozen, fermented shark down. Debi gagged on hers. Imagine the most fishy tasting fish you’ve ever had, then leave it to spoil for, let’s say, a week. Then freeze it. That’s what fermented shark tastes like. Not a winner.

Next up was, sadly, puffin breast:


We asked on our whale and puffin viewing trip if puffins were endangered and they said no, so I didn’t feel bad ordering this. It’s basically thin strips of puffin breast, perhaps lightly cooked, served with a mustard sauce. It tasted kind of like chicken, but more oily and stringy. Everyone tried it, but I ended up eating most of it.

We also ordered fish stew as an appetizer, which wasn’t particularly exotic, and most everyone liked it. For the entrees, it was a lamb steak (split between Debi and Rosemary) and a horse steak (split between Toren and me). The steaks were all good; horse tastes a lot like cow.

Dinner was crazy-expensive, but we got to sample the local cuisine.

After dinner, we headed back to our B&B to pack up and get ready for our early flight the next day. We did stop briefly at the park near our B&B to let Toren run around a bit, but otherwise that pretty much wraps up our trip to Iceland. Though, see my next post where I highlight one other thing we did while we were there…

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Things to Know About Traveling to Argentina in 2016

I’m on my second day here in Buenos Aires, Argentina and am slowly figuring out how life works here.  Here are a few of the things I didn’t know about that others may find useful.

  • How to get from the airport (EZE) to Buenos Aires:
    • When you arrive at the airport in Buenos Aires (EZE), there isn’t really a way to get to Buenos Aires via train.  I’m sure there is a bus, but most people take taxis.  You have a number of options, but most of the taxis take cash only.  However, there are a few that will take a credit card. You pay in advance and they’ll drop you off at your destination.  I used WorldCar, but there is also TiendaLeon, which is highly recommended.  These are called “Remis.”  You can get one of these just after you clear customs (which is after immigration) but before you walk out into the area where non-ticketed passengers are.
  • Getting money out of an ATM:
    • I was planning on using my debit card to get cash at an ATM when I got to the airport since I arrived after the government had gotten rid of the “blue rate” for exchanging currency and everything was a standard exchange rate.  I don’t use the money changers (e.g., Travelex) as they screw you over big time (your credit/debit card company will give you a good or the best rate).  Turns out, every single ATM in the airport was out of cash.  So, that sucked.  That’s why I was glad to find the Remis (see point above) that took a credit card.  I’ve since tried three other ATMs in various locations around Buenos Aires and my debit card doesn’t work in any of them.  I needed some cash to pay for a few things and started getting desperate.  Eventually I found out about Xoom. If you’ve got a checking/savings account in the US, this is a great, cheap way to send yourself some money.  They have a lot of places where you can pick up the cash (the primary locations are “]More[: Money Transfers” or “Giros” with a fair number of locations).  This worked really well for me.
  • Buying groceries
    • Now that people actually want to use credit/debit cards because there aren’t multiple rates for everything, any time you want to use a credit/debit card, you’ll need ID.  If you’re a foreigner, that means a passport.  I went to buy some groceries my first day here without knowing that and they almost didn’t let me purchase them.  I gave them my driver’s license, since I had it with me, and they let me buy the groceries, but be prepared to show your passport whenever you use your credit card.
  • SIM cards and cellphones
    • I brought my LG G3 from Sprint (I use as my carrier).  It has dual modes, so it will work on LTE or GSM.  I used it last year in Ireland, but it takes some configuring to get it working on GSM networks.  The day I got here, I bought a SIM card from Movistar for about $3.00 US, but for some reason you can’t actually pay Movistar for service.  You have to use a Pago Facil location to pay your bill.  The closest one to me has a line that takes forever (nearly an hour).  Also, they only take cash.  So, be prepared for this.  (FYI, the latest iterations of the Android OS for the LG G3 removed the option to adjust the APN; I had to download an app to let me do this after setting the network to GSM.  Once I did that and got the settings from Muvistar’s website, I finally get internet access on my phone.)
  • Cars and Traffic
    • I’ve already almost been hit by cars multiple times.  Cars don’t yield to pedestrians.  Be very cautious!
  • Uber
    • Going to try Uber tomorrow.  I’ll post here how it goes.

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Bahamas trip – Atlantis Resort

Through my work, we had the opportunity to travel to the Bahamas and stay at the Atlantis Resort.  We were somewhat excited by the opportunity, but were also a bit wary as we had some forewarning that Atlantis is expensive, and we don’t really do expensive.  Even so, it was something new and I’m always up for an adventure.  Plus, Debi and Toren would get to swim and play for a couple of days while I went to meetings.

We flew in on the 29th.  Our visit to the Bahamas started well when we told our cab driver that we had recently been to the Bahamas on a cruise ship and wanted to see the “real Bahamas” (i.e., where Bahamians live).  He was very obliging and took us on a tour through some of the neighborhoods most tourists don’t visit.  That was a lot of fun and very informative.

Then we arrived at the resort.  It was late afternoon and a bit chillier than we hoped, but we still had a chance to float along the lazy river by our tower (we were in the Coral Towers).  The lazy river was fine, but we started to notice that the upkeep of the resort was rather slipshod, with broken and exposed pipes around the river.  Given how cold it was (in the 60s), we did just two laps around the river (no one else was in the river), then headed toward a nearby hot tub to warm up.  Turns out, the hot tub was more like a warm-ish tub.  Even so, we spent a while in there, then decided to dry off, change into warmer clothes, and go explore the resort to see what we could do the next day.

As we wandered around, we did find some cool places.  For instance, the view of the Royal Towers (the iconic towers with the arch) from the Lagoon Bar & Grill was pretty cool:

Debi and Toren at the Lagoon Bar & Grill
Debi and Toren at the Lagoon Bar & Grill

But we also noticed some other issues with upkeep.  For instance, the underwater viewing tunnel for the Predator Lagoon had a serious leak in it with a stream of water running down.  There was about an inch of water in the tunnel.  The solution the resort came up with was to put a large barrel underneath the crack to catch some of the water.  That made the view of the Predator Lagoon a bit more uncomfortable than it should have been.

We walked around a large part of the resort, as these videos illustrate:

For dinner, we ate at the Marina Pizzeria, paying close to $40.00 for a large pizza.  Admittedly, the pizza was good and enough for two meals for us, but I could get 8 pizzas for that price in Tampa.

When we got back to our hotel room, Debi and I had to check on a couple of things related to work, but didn’t have much luck.  We couldn’t get the internet to work.  We didn’t want to spend $23.00 per day on internet, but we kind of needed to.  Regardless, we couldn’t spend the money we didn’t want to spend as the portal to pay for the internet didn’t work.  This was also when we noticed that there was a hole in the wall in our room, odd cables running around the place, and our TV didn’t work:

The hole in the wall in our room and cables.
The hole in the wall in our room (on the right) and cables.
Toren trying to turn on our TV.
Toren trying to turn on our TV.

We don’t normally watch much TV in hotels, but with Toren going to sleep at 8:00, Debi and I thought we’d watch something.  No luck.  We called the front desk and they said they couldn’t send anyone for 45 minutes.  45 minutes later, no one had come.  We called again and they said they didn’t know when they would get someone to come fix the TV.  They ended up sending someone the next day to fix the TV.

Day 2:

Debi is a bit of a water connoisseur. She really doesn’t like water that has any flavor to it, particularly if it tastes/smells like sulfur. The water at the hotel tasted like sulfur, and Debi really didn’t like it.  So, on the morning of the 30th I walked over to the gym, about a 20 minute walk, hoping to fill up our water bottles with water from the gym (we’ve found that hotel gyms usually have the best water).  When I walked in, I was informed that using the gym cost $17.00 per day.  Ugh!  There was water in the room, but at $7.00 per bottle, we couldn’t bring ourselves to drink it.  So, Debi plugged her nose and drank some of the water.

I had some time on Friday to hang out with Debi and Toren before my meetings started.  We went out to the beach and walked along the beach for a while:

Then we played shuffle board with Toren for a while:

After that, we headed to the water park.  We went around the river rapids ride (a lazy river with rapids) that was pretty fun.  It was still a bit chilly, so Debi and Toren went to the hot tub while I checked out some of the waterslides.  They did find a warm hot tub and the water slides were pretty cool.  We then took the advice of the cab driver to leave the resort and get some Bahamian food.  We changed into warmer clothes and headed across the bridge to Nassau. At the base of the bridge are a bunch of small shacks serving conch fritters and conch salad.  We didn’t get to try either of those when we were in the Bahamas in December on a cruise, so we picked one of the little restaurants and ordered some grub.

Conch fritters and conch salad are kind of the thing try in the Bahamas, so that’s what I ordered.  Here are the conch fritters:

conch fritters
conch fritters with fry sauce?

Debi and Toren tried them, but I ended up eating most of them.

And here is the chef making my conch salad right on the water:

Of course, the obligatory photo of me eating the conch salad:

eating my conch salad
eating my conch salad

It was okay.  Conch basically is flavorless, and the salad pretty much tasted like salsa.  Debi and Toren both tried the salad too, which is pretty amazing consider how picky they are.

Here’s a shot of Debi and Toren at our table right on the water:

our table at the restaurant was literally on the water
our table at the restaurant was literally on the water

After lunch, we walked about 1/2 a mile from the base of the bridge to a grocery store to buy some water for Debi.  The same water bottles they were selling for $7.00 in our hotel room were $1.59 in the grocery store.  So, we picked up some water, some fresh fruit, and some snacks for Toren, then headed back to the hotel.

Here’s a shot of Toren and I on the way back over the bridge to Paradise Island:

hiking back over to Paradise Island
hiking back over to Paradise Island

When we got back, we had a little more time before I had to get ready for my meetings.  So, we played dominoes on our balcony with this view:

the view from our balcony
the view from our balcony

Then I had to go to my meeting.

The next day I spent in meetings, but Debi and Toren went back to the beach, the water park, and did a variety of other things.  We left early on Sunday to catch our flights back home.

Overall, it was a great trip, even though we were a bit disappointed in the quality of our room, the cost, and the upkeep of the resort.  We got to see new things, try new things, and have fun together, which was the best part!

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California Trip – day 9 – Travel Town Museum and Griffith Observatory

This was our last day in California.  Debi was in her conference most of the day, so Toren and I went on another adventure.  I found out that the Travel Town Train Museum was giving free tours in the morning.  Toren likes trains but doesn’t love them.  I thought it would be fun and it was okay.  He liked the fact that he got to climb into a couple of engines and play with the levers:

After the train museum, we drove to Ferndell Park so we could hike up to the Griffith Observatory.  Toren fell asleep in the car on the way, so I let him sleep for about an hour, then we hiked up to the Observatory (about 2 miles round trip).

on the way up to the Observatory
on the way up to the Observatory

Toren liked the Observatory for the most part. We didn’t get to watch a show as they only allow kids 5 and older to see them. But we looked over most of the exhibits and did get to look through the telescope.

Just before looking through the telescope
Just before looking through the telescope, which is right behind him

After we hiked back down we headed back to the hotel. Just as we arrived, one of my friends from graduate school called. He saw a couple of the photos I had posted on Facebook from our trip to Griffith Observatory and realized that we weren’t far from him. He had just moved to Irvine to work for Oculus (I didn’t know he had moved as he only moved a couple weeks earlier). He was able to arrange us a tour of Oculus where we got to check out the tech (it’s really amazing) and catch up with him, which was even more fun since I hadn’t seen him in ages and he’s a really great guy.

We then got dinner and headed back to our hotel.

That pretty much did it. We flew back to Florida on the morning of the 13th.

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California Trip – day 6 – down day

Debi’s first conference ended on the evening of the 8th and her second began in the afternoon of the 9th, so she and Toren spent the morning of the 9th swimming.  By the time Toren woke up from his nap, it was too late to go anywhere in LA traffic, so we went swimming again then went to dinner at IHOP.  It was Toren’s first time at IHOP and his first time having pancakes for dinner; he loved it.  After dinner we watched a movie together.

I got a little work done, but otherwise we didn’t do much at all.

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