The Pain of Love

•August 25, 2017 • 2 Comments

I have frequently extolled the grand luck I have had in living a blessed life, and I do still feel this way.

  • A soul mate hand-picked for me by the universe
  • Loving family and friends
  • A home in paradise
  • A job with a good company and great team to work with
  • And for me personally, pretty good health overall.

I have been exposed to grief, but it was in the vein of supporting people I cared for and although I thought I understood what they were going through, I couldn’t, not until I experienced it first hand.

We had a scare last summer, when my dad, after battling lung cancer, had a stroke. There were moments when sitting by my dad’s side that I thought I had lost him. Even if he survived multiple seizures in his hospital stay, even if he kept the lung cancer at bay, even if he progressed well in his physical therapy to be able to walk on his own, I had started to make peace with the fact, that the dad I used to know, was no longer to be known. Thankfully my dad had other plans and is back to his old shenanigans of his former self. Whew, that was scary, but again, that horseshoe up my arse was still paying dividends.

The first salvo fired against my grief shields, was losing a dear friend of mine, Mike Davis. Mike was one of the Brother Uglies, a group of Ultimate frisbee players that formed a friendship and bond that, despite the distance that life put between us, only grew stronger as we grew older. Mike was the ‘baby’ of that group, the youngest of us all, but after a brave battle, holding off death with herculean strength and resolve, he finally succumbed. Mike’s passing was a double shot to the gut, a loss of a friend, but an even bigger loss to my best friend, Troy. Mike was Troy’s childhood best friend and it was because of Troy, that Mike joined our ultimate family. I needed to grieve for Mike, but more importantly I needed to be there for Troy. I spoke at Mike’s services and shared the following poem from Emerson.

A ruddy drop of manly blood
The surging sea outweighs;
The world uncertain comes and goes,
The lover rooted stays.
I fancied he was fled,
And, after many a year,
Glowed unexhausted kindliness
Like daily sunrise there.
My careful heart was free again-
O friend, my bosom said,
Through thee alone the sky is arched,
Through thee the rose is red,
All things through thee take nobler form
And look beyond the earth,
The mill-round of our fate appears
A sun-path in thy worth.
Me too thy nobleness has taught
To master my despair;
The fountains of my hidden life
Are through thy friendship fair.

I read this for Mike, but now realize this was really for Troy.

Mike’s memorial service changed me. It was the beginning of my understanding of the symbiotic relationship of love and pain. As I grieved for Mike and consoled my best friend, the pain of losing Mike strengthened the love I have for Troy. Troy and I were always close, but as I watched from both afar and near as he payed tribute to his life-long friend, Troy and I forged a deeper bond, that goes beyond our shared fondness for tossing plastic around. We are indeed brothers.

If Mike’s passing was the beginning of my awakening to the nature of love and pain, my mom’s passing is the part where the lesson is tattooed on my soul forever. I don’t have to explain to anyone what a mom means to a child. We have all lived it. What makes my mom’s journey different is the strength she showed throughout it. As much as my life has been blessed, my mom was dealt challenges from a very early age.

Her mom passed before she reached puberty. She was raised by a loving, but ill-equipped father. In her mid 20s, her lifelong health issues manifested with the onset of Crohn’s disease. A distinct childhood memory of mine, was bearing witness as my mom took care of her visible, physical wounds from the toxins in her system. I say physical wounds, because my mom remained a very strong and positive influence on mine and my sister’s lives.

Mom’s next challenge came as my dad and her divorced in the late 70s. Although it was difficult to go through, I can say that it was one of those cases that the divorce was probably the best thing for my parents in the long run. Near the end of my parents’ marriage, mom had started to feel weary from her constant physical battles and her life forces was slowly fading with the afternoon winds. With the reality of a new world facing her after her marriage, my mom took on life with a new gusto, going back to school and striking out on her own.

My mom made a very good life for herself and most importantly continued to shower her children, and eventually grand children and great grandchildren with Motherly love!

One of my mom’s coping mechanisms was her smoking habit that she started in her teens. That lifelong habit caught up to her this last summer and the woman that had fought health demons her whole life had grown tired. She had chronic COPD and then was diagnosed with Emphysema, the latter diagnosis putting a timeline on her life. She no longer had the will to keep fighting as each life giving breath was a painful struggle.

My mom summoned Lori and I to her and asked for our help as she entered the Death with Dignity process. Obviously this was difficult and sad, but we also knew in our hearts that it was what mom wanted and the best option for her. Unfortunately, the rapid advance of mom’s breathing issues did not allow for mom to continue to meet the criteria of the process. There are built in waiting periods (to ensure no hasty decisions are made) and a certain level of cognizant capability, which mom soon faded out of. So without sounding too morbid, it was up to Lori and I to help mom transition out of her pain ridden body. As Lori said, it was the longest and shortest week of our lives, as we bore witness to my mom’s passing. The single most painful thing I have ever had to endure, yet it was done through love. My learning here is that the measure of how much love you have for something is how much pain you are willing to endure. Suffice it to say, that my sister and I have no boundaries for our love for our mom or each other.

While dealing with my mom’s final days, my soulmate, Irena was diagnosed with breast cancer, as life took another shot at my heart. But hey, fuck you life, Irena and I are going to win this battle. We will quite simply love it out of existence. So far so good.

My last lesson in love and pain was delivered by my loving Boo dog. Boo’s body was withering away, but she never stopped loving. Even as we said our goodbyes at the vet, her loving soul expressed in her eyes and wagging tail, said she never stopped loving us. My friend Wes shared a poignant essay on losing a pet and truer words were never spoken.

So why love at all? Consider Irena, who has suffered so much loss in her life. Why would she choose to let me in and love again, knowing the pain she has already gone through and the inevitability of pain again, either for her or me. I’ll tell you why, because although there is no love without pain, there is pain without love. Pain without love is unbearable, but when you love, you have a path through pain. The meaning of life is not 42, unless 42 is the mathematical representation of love. Our sole purpose of existing is to love.

Love hard, love often, love unconditionally, you know, like your dog taught you!

 

 

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The Old Age Truck

•January 27, 2015 • Leave a Comment

old age truck

I posted a while back on feeling older as I found myself losing connection with current pop music. This was more of a mental state of aging, but recently I have found myself dealing with a more physical manifestation of advancing age.

I have been blessed throughout my life with excellent health. I have had my brushes with disaster, typically of my own doing via car and motorcycle wrecks, but all in all, I have remained in above average shape for my age. I wore as a badge of ‘good health’ honor the fact I played in a Recreational Ultimate league at the age of 50 (20 years older than the next oldest person on my team). Because I have enjoyed relatively good health, that perceived reality of staring out of my body with 25 year old eyes, still prevailed, until recently as Gary Larsen so perfectly depicts above, I walked in front of the Old Age Truck.

See the joy that comes with an active lifestyle has a price. I would never change my life, as I love where I am and no other path could have gotten me here. Soccer, Ultimate, Volleyball, Tennis, Badminton, basically any sport that required speed and agility, I loved and played with passion. Ultimate in particular clearly defined me physically and the lifelong friendships and camaraderie made me the person I am today.

So it is not regret that I carry as I cross another milestone on my life’s journey, but the reality that I have to pay the piper now. I have had a severely swollen and painful knee for a little over three weeks now. Can’t really point to one event and I could write a whole ‘nother’ post on my trials and tribulations going through my healthcare system, but the bottom line is I have arthritic knees and I was suffering from a flare up in my right knee. It is treatable and manageable (fluid drained and cortisone shot) and I am almost as good as new, but coming back to those 25 year old eyes looking out of my body, they are a thing of the past.

Dear Sasha

•November 4, 2013 • 1 Comment

Dearest Sasha,

     As painful as this weekend was, it can’t compare to or invalidate the love you gave to me. You were the matriarch of Uber Paradise and it was you whose acceptance I needed to become the luckiest man alive. The first card I gave to your mom stated that, “If your dogs don’t like someone, maybe you shouldn’t either.”  Luckily for me, we hit it off from day one and your mom trusted your judgement. At first I was given permission to share YOUR bed and you tolerated my intrusion. Eventually that grew to you snuggling with me and the last few nights have been difficult as my legs searched you out as I slept. I know too it will be difficult coming home and not having you dancing around on the porch to greet us when we arrive. I also want you to know I regret not entering you in a doggie competitive eating contest, because I am absolutely positive no creature on the planet can inhale food as fast as you could. 😉
     Even though I am sad, there is no way I would ever trade in my time with you. My life is richer for having known you and being graced by your loving presence.
Love Dad
PS I am putting all squirrels on notice in doggie heaven as Sasha will chew through wood to hunt you down!
Sasha and Me

10 lbs of Vacation in a 5 lb Bag!

•April 23, 2013 • 1 Comment

Irena and I just got back from one of our best vacations ever. This post is as much for me to go back and reflect on the trip (now and in the future) as it is to share with family and friends.

The seeds were planted for this trip a year and a half ago. For Thanksgiving of 2011, Irena and I went back to Virginia to share the holiday with Chara, John, Kirestin and Cole. We had a great feast and visit, including a day trip into DC. On Saturday and Sunday we took a train up to New York to do a quick visit. We had a blast, doing some touristy stuff (going to the top of the Empire State Building, etc.) as well as taking in a Broadway play. We had a great time, but knew that we needed a lot more than two days to enjoy the city. The other factor that helped drive our desire to go to New York, was EC himself, Mr. Eric Clapton. By far and away, Irena’s favorite musician she has had at the top of her bucket list a trip to Eric’s blues guitar extravaganza  the Crossroads Guitar Festival. Late last year, when Irena saw that the Crossroads festival was going to be in NYC, we knew we were gonna be there!

Day One: We flew in to Newark, New Jersey and were picked up at the airport by Irena’s (and now my friend) Shirley. Shirley and Irena grew up together in Sunnyvale and have been lifelong friends. Among all the fun reminiscing, Shirley fed us a great pasta dinner. We laughed a lot, including when I “Walking Dead-ed” Shirley. Here you go Shirl, your 15 minutes of fame!

Walking Dead Shirley

Walking Dead Shirley

After our great visit with Shirley, we hopped on an Amtrak train to New York on Saturday morning and surprised Kirestin with a visit from Lola and Papa. Kirestin knew she was headed to NYC to visit us, but didn’t know we would be hopping on the train and saying hi. The four of us, Chara, Kirestin, Irena and I dropped out luggage off at our hotels and headed out into the city to start our adventure. First stop, bagels, cream cheese and lox, a yummy way to start the day. We then headed to Central Park to do a little site-seeing. First stop was the Carousel and then we went and checked out the John Lennon memorial.

Irena, Bill and Spazz

Irena, Bill and Spazz

Imagine

From Central Park we headed to lunch at Carnegie Deli to feast on Pastrami and Cheese Cake. Both were the best I have ever had.

Carnegie Pastrami

After a trip through FAO Schwartz the four of us took a tour boat to get as close to the green lady as we could since Ellis Island is still closed due to Sandy.

Statue of Liberty

After a much-needed afternoon siesta, we made a quick stop for a Sushi dinner (nowhere near as good as Sugi’s sushi at Hakata’s) but still tasty and then headed to Kirestin’s first Broadway show, Wicked.

Wicked

Irena and I had seen wicked when it came to Seattle last year, but I must admit the Broadway production was better. The real highlight for me was the look of wonderment I saw on the three beautiful faces sitting to my right. Sharing this experience with my wife, daughter and granddaughter made this play the best one I have ever seen.

On the way back from the play, Chara snapped this picture of Irena and me in Times Square.

Times Square 2013

Irena and I paused after seeing Chara and Kirestin off to the train station and caught our breath as we were only a day and a half into our 9 day adventure and it felt like we had already done so much. The rest of the day was a bit of a blur as we recovered, but we did cap the night off with an awesome dinner at the Strip House right across the street from our hotel. It was one of many incredible meals we had throughout our visit.

On Monday we headed to the Museum of Modern Art, MOMA. The highlight of the show was seeing ‘The Scream’ by Edvard Munch and ‘Starry Night’ by Vincent Van Gogh. I also really liked the third picture I have included here by de Chirico.

Munch

Van Gogh

de Chirico

After hours of exploring and only hitting two of the six floors of MOMA, we called it a day and headed back to the hotel to rest up for our evening. That night we met our good friend, who just happened to be our wedding photographer, Diane Wallace for dinner. We met her at the Stanton Social which is owned by Chris Santos, one of our favorite celebrity chef judges on the Food Network’s show, Chopped. The food was excellent, but the company was even better as the three of us caught up on each other’s lives. It was the proverbial, great food, great company which made for an incredible evening.

Tuesday was all about the Daily Show. Even though we had confirmed reservations, that was only a confirmation to wait in line and get your tickets. Then even when you got your tickets, you needed to wait in line again to get good seats. So Tuesday was a lot of waiting, but it was well worth it to see our favorite TV celebrity do his thing live. The added bonus is that we got to also share the studio with a president as Jimmy Carter was there to talk about his involvement in efforts to eradicate the Guinea Worm! Sodomy, Zygotes, Welfare!

Daily Show

Wednesday was highlighted by another awesome meal as this time we hit Alex Guarnaschelli’s Butter restaurant. What a classy place, excellent service and food. Alex definitely would not have been chopped by us!

On Thursday we continued our culinary adventures and hit our 3rd Chopped Chefs restaurant, Tacombi by Aaron Sanchez. You know the Pace commercial where they exclaim how salsa can’t be good if it is from “New York City!” well Aaron’s Tacombi is proof, excellent, authentic Mexican fare can be had in the Big Apple.

Tacombi Tacos

Tacombi

After lunch we went on our 2nd museum marathon, this time the Metropolitan Museum of Art and again covered maybe one tenth of it, but saw some incredible art, including these two works by Tanguy and Van Laer.

Tanguy

van Laer

As we headed through Times Square on our way back to the hotel, we decided to see if there were any play deals we were interested in at the Half Price ticket booth. Score, we landed some Kinky Boots tickets. Irena and I loved the movie about a young man who inherits his father’s faltering shoe business and hits on the business model of making boots for cross-dressers. It is a heart warming story and the Broadway production featured a Cyndi Lauper musical score. The play was great and a lot of fun.

Crossroads Guitar Festival

Friday and Saturday were the main events of our trip as Eric and his cast of awesome guitarists put on a heck of a show. I can’t do the show justice other than to say I am pretty sure I will never, EVER see a better collection of guitarists the rest of my life. Here is a link with some footage from the show.

On Sunday we went to Brooklyn to have some Pizza and take some pictures of the Manhattan skyline.

Manhattan Skyline

Finally the trip was coming to an end and Irena and I enjoyed a relaxing, beautiful warm spring day watching Petanque in Bryant Park.

Petanque

This was an incredible trip and I know we will be back. This city is so vibrant and energetic that you just can not get caught up in it. All of the people we interacted with were polite and nice. We even had people sense we didn’t quite know where we were and offer up help. I have been to many big cities, but I can’t think of one that can compare.

Don’t Talk to Me About Guns …… Unless

•February 19, 2013 • Leave a Comment

I am constantly frustrated when trying to enter into intelligent discourse around guns and gun control. It is a very emotionally charged topic with two views and people who support them dug deeply into their positions. The typical pattern of discussions that I have engaged in this space, frustrate me as people revert to their talking points and refuse to enter into a clear discussion, asking and answering questions, exchanging ideas, etc. So holding the power of the ‘Jacket’, I will lay out my main talking points on the subject and if anyone would like to enter into a respectful, factual and intelligent dialogue on this topic, I will welcome you with open arms, ears and mind. If all you want to do is rant and chant, then take your story elsewhere please. If I need a dose of that, I can turn on Fox News, Ted Nugent or the NRA.

First, my stance. I have never owned and never will own a gun. I will not live in a house where there is a gun present. I realize I am at risk if I should fall victim to a home invasion, but I believe that guns in the home or more likely to be used on family or friends than to stop a home invasion, so I am willing to assume the risk of not being able to fend off a home invasion. In my circle of friends and family, I know of close to 10 suicides (some with guns some without), but I know of no home invasions. I was just recently told a story by a friend that she was put in harm’s way because a bar fight which included guns turned deadly. For me, guns in the hands of the average citizen add to the problem, they don’t help it.

Having said that, I believe in American Citizen’s rights to defend themselves with firearms or to have guns for sport (hunting or range shooting). Please reread this and internalize it. I believe in a citizen’s right to protect themselves with firearms. I won’t exercise that right and arm myself, but I do believe in this right.

What will follow will be my take on what seems to be the main talking points or arguments in this space.

If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns. First of all I am not advocating outlawing all guns, so lawful citizens would still be able to keep their guns. I do however think ‘assault weapons’ (see below for discussion around what makes a weapon an assault weapon) should not be allowed in the hands of citizens. I do believe that there should be laws about what types of guns people can legally have. Now to the argument that if you outlaw certain guns, only outlaws would have them, although that is factually true, that same argument can be made for any law. Why do we have speed limits, rape laws, assault laws or laws against terrorism? Can’t the same argument be made that if you have these laws only outlaws will break them. But the idea of a law is to say, society has set some norms on what is right or wrong and if you break a law there is a punishment for doing that. Laws don’t stop crime, but they do establish societal norms and consequences for those that don’t conform and get caught. Without laws you have anarchy and then you do need to arm up, but we are a society built on the principles of law and order, with a democracy that decides what is right or wrong. So yea, if we outlaw Assault Weapons only outlaws would have them, but then as a society you have said, it is illegal to possess them and if you do and you get caught you will be punished, instead of current approach of, hey it’s OK to have assault weapons.

What is an Assault Weapon? One argument from the gun lobby is how do you define an assault weapon and it is a slippery slope from there because any gun can essentially be an assault weapon in the right hands. My first point here, drew such ire in my last debate, even though I was using it to only make a point. I don’t buy the slippery slope argument, because we already draw the line. For me the discussion is around where to draw the line. I used the example of a Nuclear Weapon to illustrate that we already have a line on what we allow people to arm themselves with. Private citizens are not allowed to possess a nuclear bomb. Let’s ratchet that back a bit, what about a RPG (Rocket Propelled Grenade) launcher. Most would agree that is probably a bit much to have running around in the private sector, so we already have lines drawn, the question is where to draw the lines between reasonable firepower and unnecessary assault firepower. I don’t have that answer, but I have an easy place to go to get some good guidelines. Let’s ask the people who put their life on the line, day in and day out to protect us, our police force. Why don’t we get a group of experts from the police force that have probably the best view into gun violence and ask them, where would they draw the line?

Guns don’t kill people, people kill people. Again factually true, but misses the point. I agree no amount of legislation can prevent all massacres by deranged lunatics. I do believe by limiting the firepower legally available to said deranged lunatics, might help. I don’t see how it can hurt. I have had people share with me instances where an armed good guy has taken out the armed bad guy, but I am pretty sure most of the good guys in the examples shared with me were off duty policemen or security guards, who I think it is fine for them to have guns to protect us. They are trained for that. It is what they do. For me this is about how much firepower and how easy do we make it legally for the deranged people to go human hunting.

I don’t have all the answers. I know what I believe in. I am interested in what you believe in, but if we are going to exchange ideas I don’t want you to just cite the party lines. I want you to be willing to enter a true, back and forth exchange of ideas, questions and answers with the intent of understanding.

Compassion

•December 9, 2012 • Leave a Comment

What kind of society have we become? What it feels like is very few people are appreciative of just how well they have it, they assume that everyone else is out to get theirs and that all of the less fortunate must be lazy. What has happened to compassion? We have become a people that sit in our warm homes, with our full bellies from three square meals, many of us live a life that most people don’t and not for lack of effort, but for lack of opportunity.

My view of the world changed dramatically after having seen the world. For the people that want to talk about just how ‘tough’ they have it, they should travel to India, Philippines or Peru and then come home and tell me just how tough their life is here.

Too many people base their opinions of what we should do for the less fortunate based on a Facebook post about a Walmart customer or en email about a welfare mom that ‘supposedly’ makes $6,000 a month because she keeps popping out babies. The things believed are so ludicrous it is mind boggling.

Here is my new rule (to steal from Bill Maher) for people to gain the right to be able to disparage the welfare recipients of society. Do not base your opinion on anything you haven’t experienced first hand. Read the book, Breakfast at Sally’s or go down to the Salvation Army or a soup kitchen and talk to these people. Find out their story. Treat them as humans. If after doing that you come away with an opinion that all of them are moochers, then I think you might have a leg to stand on. Go down to the government office and find out just how much money these people get and then you live on that for a month (and I don’t mean from the comfort of your home, but go on the streets and live on that money). Me thinks your opinion might change.

Remember my wife is a warrior on the front lines of helping out the less fortunate. She shows them love and compassion. She believes in them and helps them. They don’t all respond, but when they do it is incredible. Want to know what that world is like, ask her. Take the time to find out what is really going on. Most of these people have had a terrible and frightening childhood, filled with neglect and abuse. Do not confuse laziness with lost hope.

Please be careful with your words. They are powerful. If you spread the Walmart story whether it is true or not, you are fostering a culture of hatred and disdain for ALL people that need our help. If you are going to post about a Welfare Abuser (and there certainly are some), also tell the story of the kid that was abused by his family, has mental issues and lives on the street and could use our help. Often in our disdain for the less fortunate, we make comments about how they look. Tattoos are often mentioned. Get over that folks. My daughter has a tattoo, if she were to lose her job, is she disqualified from seeking help because you don’t approve? The fact is tattoos are the norm now and not only do people that need help have them, but the majority of this generation has them. It will be the people that don’t have them that will be the weird grand parents.

This is the time of year where families come together and count their blessings. One of those blessings should be that you have family and friends that love you and support you. Take that to the next level and love the less fortunate. No disdain, don’t just tolerate, but actually love them.

Show them the compassion they deserve!

Coca Leaves, Cuy and Cold Showers

•September 10, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Tradition is something that Irena and I don’t do very well. We went on our honeymoon before our wedding, at our wedding Kazoos played the Wedding March and for our Paper anniversary, our first as husband and wife, we printed out airline tickets (you know, on Paper) and took the trip of a lifetime to one of our bucket list destinations, the home of the Incas, Peru! The running joke throughout the whole trip was did we set the bar too high for anniversary celebration expectations? To offset this, we agreed that for year two, we would be having dinner at Denny’s. So when you see Irena and I eyeballing a cool travel destination and one of us asks if there is a Denny’s there, you now know why.

We started our journey in Lima spending a couple of days there and using it as a hub for a couple of day trips. The first journey was to some ruins right outside of town called Pachacamac. What I found most enlightening here is I had previously thought the Incas were the original natives here, but I learned they were a conquering tribe that routed out the locals, taking over this city and then erecting their own Sun Temple at this site. Our second trip was a gruelling 13 hours by van out and back trip to Nazca to see the Nazca Lines. We left before Sunrise and got back close to midnight, but in the middle was 35 minutes of adventure! We went up in this little plane and flew over the Nazca Lines.

Nazca Tour Plane

This was my first time in a small Cessna style plan and I really enjoyed it. The tour was quick 35 minute trip and some of the figures were easy to spot, but some required quite a bit of coaching to be able to pick out the object amongst all of the clutter around it. Here was my favorite one, the Monkey.

Monkey

I think there were 10 or so figures in all and it was very cool. It also left us wondering how did the folks that built these giant figures that can not be comprehended from the ground, understand what the perspective would be from the air, since they were created well before the Wright Brothers and their little contribution to mankind. Insert Twilight Zone music here.

From Lima we boarded a flight to our highest elevation destination, Cusco at a mere 11,800 feet above sea level. Getting off the plane it felt like you were hit with a bat. We suddenly were light-headed and nauseous as our brains and bodies starved for oxygen! Luckily the locals know the powers of the Coca Leaves and have abundant supplies in every booth, store and taxi cab to feed the gringos, helping us cope. It really did help, not to mention I could now run a sub-three hour marathon just like Paul Ryan! In Cusco we had quite possibly the best hospitality we had ever experienced at the Hotel Torre Dorada. Small, but comfortable rooms, excellent food, free rides to and from town and a staff that did everything from making home-made soup for an altitude sick Irena to demanding and getting a refund from a travel operator who ripped us off. On a scale of 1-5 stars I give them a 7! I mentioned Irena’s altitude sickness and it pretty much kept her bed-ridden in our first pass through Cusco. I felt a little better and enjoyed walking around town and seeing the sights. Before we left, Irena did get to enjoy a unique gift from her friend Linda. Linda and Irena are frequent travel buddies having gone to Nepal, Philippines, Scotland, etc… together. One thing Linda does, that Irena enjoys is find the ‘off the beaten path’ destinations. In Thailand they went to restaurant called Cabbage and Condoms for example. So even though she wasn’t joining us, Linda took the time to investigate Cusco, where Irena was going to be on her birthday and recommended yet another cool place. This one was called Aldea Yanapay and it was decorated up like a children’s bedroom. All of the proceeds from the restaurant support a local children’s charity. Here is a pic of the entryway.

Linda’s Gift to Irena

From Cusco we went into the Sacred Valley to stay at the spiritual retreat Willka Tika. What a beautiful and peaceful place. It was surreal and the owner Carol, made sure we had a great stay. We benefitted from a group’s cancellation and we had the place to ourselves, not figuratively, but literally. Between all of the units there I’d say they could handle 75-100 guests and other than a local book club that was there when we checked in, we only saw the staff and Carol. Wonderful vegetarian fare, great worldly discussion over coffee, relaxing massages and meditation. It truly is a magical place. Here is the entrance to one of my favorite gardens on the site.

Garden Archway

After nourishing our bodies and souls we set off on a train to Aguas Caliente, the city at the foot of Machu Picchu. The train ride was fun and featured a Peruvian teenager who was so enamored with herself, her ratio of scenery photos to photos of herself enjoying the scenery were about 10 to 1 in favor of her vanity! Aguas Caliente is an awesome little town that feels like a traveler’s youth hostel haven. Everyone was on a high because we were all here to share the same life altering experience and I don’t mean the ayahuasca either. Our accommodation was quite literally a tree house which had a window that opened up and provided a view of the base of Machu Picchu. After dropping off our luggage we boarded a bus and took off on the harrowing half hour drive up the hill on the one bus wide road which had many times two buses passing each other on it. For me this bus ride, especially when I was on the side that looked down the thousands of feet drop off as we drove inches from the guard-rail-less edge was the scariest moment of the whole trip. Forget the piranha or the small airplane ride. I finally just kept my eyes closed and hoped for the best. And then we got there. A place both Irena and I have wanted to see since our teens, Machu Picchu, the ‘Lost City of the Incas’. The first view was reminiscent of seeing Yosemite Valley or the Grand Canyon for the first time only there was this really cool ancient city on top of the mountain as well!

Machu Picchu

Our plans for Machu Picchu were to explore the entire site on day 1 and then come back for day 2, which was our anniversary and watch the sunrise. We took the long route to get to the awesome view you see above, so after pictures were taken, we sat down to catch our breath and just soak it all in. I was so moved by this experience, I decided to give Irena her anniversary gifts then. It was a very heartfelt and touching moment and as it turns out a fortuitous one at that. We then set out and spent a couple of hours exploring the site. It really is an amazing place and the advanced engineering skills of the Incas was very impressive. With no water source other than the falling rain, everything was geared to capturing and optimizing the life-giving element. From smartly designed terraces to water management channels that guided water to fountains and storage it makes Arizona’s attempt at the same look silly. After a few hours of exploring the site, we made our way back down the hill via the death bus and back to Aguas Caliente. I was on such a high from our visit that all I wanted to do was celebrate. I took a nice hot shower to get ready for dinner and in the middle of Irena’s shower, with her hair all lathered up, the shower went stone cold (which for some reason she blamed on me). In her haste to get out of the what felt like an antarctic fed shower, Irena fell and twisted her knee pretty bad. We made our way to dinner with Irena limping badly, but we were still in a pretty festive mood. In my hunger to celebrate, I had two Pisco Sours (note they have blended ice in them), had a salad with dinner, ate Cuy (Guinea Pig) which is a local favorite and ate most of two incredibly rich desserts. Upon waking the next morning the food poisoning alarm was going off in my gut. While I was running up and down the stairs to deal with that, Irena made her way down the stairs, falling again. About that time the heavens opened up and it started to pour. So instead of going up to see Machu Picchu at sunrise, we laid in bed and convalesced. Which since we had our anniversary moment they day before was ok with us. Later that day, we made our way by train back to Ollantaytambo where our pre-arranged taxi ride back to Cusco was to meet us, but they turned out to be a no-show. As with most trips it is the unplanned for excursions that can sometimes turn out the best and we got a great taxi ride from a local that insisted on taking all kinds of side detours to show us the sites. We finally got back to Cusco and enjoyed another comfortable night in Hotel Torre Dorado and this time the chicken soup was for my stomach.

From Cusco we flew to Puerto Maldonado to begin our Amazon jungle adventure. There are no roads into the jungle and to the resort we stayed at, Corto Maltes Amazonia. So we hopped on what would be a daily ritual for us throughout our stay, a river boat. After about a 45 minute ride up the river, we arrived at what would be home over the next five days, this awesome bungalow.

Home Sweet Home

That afternoon our guide took us on, what would become a reoccurring theme, a long ass hike in the jungle. It was very informative as he pointed out all kinds of native plants and animals, but the humidity and hike was wearing us out. After catching our breath back in the hammocks at our bungalow, we went out in the evening on the boat to go look for Caiman. After not seeing on for about the first 20 minutes, Irena and I were wondering if we were snipe hunting, but soon after the tell-tale red eyes lit up in the spotlight and we saw the cousin of the alligator up close. The next morning we got up before dawn and headed to a Parrot clay lick back in the jungle. It was a great example of natures ingenuity as the Parrots would lick these clay deposits first thing in the morning, which would prep their stomach for the normal diet of berries, that without the coating would make them sick. How they figure that stuff out always blows my mind. We passed on Monkey Island due to the long distance hike involved to give both of us, but especially Irena’s knee some rest. Relaxing all day, playing a little King’s corner and going for a swim was the perfect way to spend the day. One of the other adventures we went on was a hike to a canopy tour. Irena had to wait at the base of the canopy tour because of her knee she wasn’t able to navigate the ladders to get to the canopy trail. I almost wish my knee hurt too, since that was a very scary and steep hike to get to the top. Here is a picture at the top of the Amazon Jungle.

Top of the Jungle

As our trip started to wind down, we would gather at sunset and watch the show the Amazon would put on for us. The wildlife, especially the birds were so colorful and entertaining and relaxing on the river bank and watching the day come to an end was so peaceful.

Amazon Sunset

Peru was an incredibly diverse country to visit. From the dry desert regions of Lima and Cusco, to the ancient civilizations of Machu Picchu to dense and lush jungle of the Amazon. The people were incredibly friendly the whole time. I’d say as far as anniversary celebrations go, this one was pretty good. Stay tuned for pictures from Denny’s next year!

Peace Out

Bill