I spent most of 2011 with an Apple iPhone 3GS [wikipedia.org] which I got in 2009 [confusion.cc] and used for all of 2010 [confusion.cc].
Most of my interesting snapshots for 2011 are from in and around Suntec City [sunteccity.com.sg]. I started working at an office in Suntec in 2010 and have been there ever since… though I mostly work from home since the COVID-19 lock-down and at this point I don’t have any plans to go back to the office day-in and day-out. Once in a while to meet people is enough.
My oldest daughter started day care in Suntec in 2011. I would pick her up at 6 each day and we would wait for my wife to pick us both up. next to large koi pond at Suntec. The first photos I chose for 2011 is from one afternoon while we waited. Next to the koi pond there was a restaurant with a red neon sign and on this particular day it was quite dark at 6, cloudy but not yet storming. At 6PM the outdoor lights in Singapore are not on (most are on automatic timers from about 7PM to 7AM, being very close to the equator the day is almost exactly 12 hours long, shifting less than 15 minutes (see here [weatherspark.com]). The dark clouds and lack of streetlights allowed the neon red to turn the pond into pool of glowing red blood:
I always wanted to get that shot with my DSLR but the few times I went back there was too much sunlight or white lights from the streetlights. I never got lucky and the koi pond is long gone now, a victim of renovation.
A few months after my daughter started daycare we had to change centers as the one in Suntec close. They arranged an offer to transfer all the students who wanted to another center in Millenia Walk [milleniawalk.com] just next door. So for the next few years I walked over the Millenia most days. Millenia has a bunch of sculptures around it and one in particular I had to pass by every day. It’s a tall spiral of stacked square marble by Philip Johnson [wikipedia.org] and it’s positioned in such a way that it catches the late sun during the golden hour. I took many photos of it over the years that my daughters were in day care in Millenia Walk. This is one of the best:
Given the time of day, 6PM and it being a weekday (Wednesday the internet tells me) the next photo was probably also taken when I was walking over to Millenia:
Then, in October, the iPhone 4S [wikipedia.org] was released. And a serious jump in camera quality, from 3 megapixel to 8 megapixel. 8 megapixels is a respectable digital camera, you can actually print photos at this resolution out as standard size photos and they look good. All assuming you had good light, but at this point the iPhone entered an era where it was as good as a mass market point-and-shoot. And since other phones had even better cameras by now this was really the end of the dedicated point-and-shoot as a viable product. You can still get them ten years on but now there are only a few models to choose from. Back in 2010, 2011 there were dozens and they were quite popular. Yet another gadget the smartphone subsumed.
I only have one photo from 2011 taken with the 4S to share. Taken at work during a conference call. A long time hobby of mine, during long conference calls, was to play with Buckyballs! (Note that the original (?) Buckyballs no longer exist due to a long running issue around safety in the US and a lawsuit back in 2012, but I’ll always call them Buckyballs. There are a number of companies still selling Neodymium Magnetic Toys [wikipedia.org], check out Zen Magnets [zenmagnets.com], you can see some of the amazing things people build in their gallery). Here’s a shot looking down a tube of Buckyballs:
Before we end 2011, I’ve got one more. I don’t do a lot of overt manipulation of most of my photos. I adjust the white balance, play with the exposure and curves, add a vignette, etc. but I don’t “photoshop” them for the most part. However, I do play around with more drastic editing some times, and on my phone I have an app called Camera+ [camera.plus] (they are on Camera+2 now, but this photo was edited with the original). Here is one photo that I messed with in Camera+ as it was not a good photo, but I was able to get something cool out if it after adding a bunch of filters and such:
This was taken at the old Suntec Convention Center, the enterance off of Beach Road, before the MRT station was built and before the Suntec renovations in 2012-2014. There was some sort of power outage that day creating dramatic shadows as people came into the Convention Center on a sunny day.
A new decade. But, ehm, same iPhone 3GS I ended 2009 [confusion.cc] with. The 3GS actually took some decent photos in 2010. Decent enough that I have actually uploaded some of them to my Flickr [flickr.com]. So here we go, my best mobile photos of 2010.
First up, two related photos. I have a enduring fascination for taking photos straight up at interesting ceilings. Too often people don’t look up unless they are told to. So maybe it’s the unexpected perspective or the fact that I don’t see many photos of ceilings but I have taken a lot over the years. Here are two from Singapore, old and modern.
The modern, is the glass cone ceiling of Wheelock Place on Orchard Road:
Enough architecture, now for some nature. Colorful, if dying, nature in the form of a fern leaf someone on a sidewalk in Singapore. Mostly leaves come in two colors in Singapore – Green or Brown, for a few week a year, if we have a good dry season, you can see yellow leaves but for most of the year it’s just Green or Brown. The fern leaf is unusually colorful.
Next up, more nature, but not from Singapore, this sunset was taken in Woburn, Massachusetts in the US. On a trip for a job, I was walking back to my hotel from dinner. You don’t get many dramatic sunsets in Singapore, we don’t get the low angle that the more northerly or southerly latitudes do, so I noticed that sunset every day in Woburn.
We started the iPhone era in 2008, camera quality went backwards, as discussed [confusion.cc] last time. I spent most of 2009 with the iPhone 3G so the photos are not great. Also, and most importantly, the vast majority of my mobile phone photos —and a lot of videos— are of my daughter, born in mid-2008. I gave up on the Sony camcorder I purchased to take lots of videos of her because it was too damn much work to edit them into something that I could watch on the TV or phone. The videos on the iPhone were small but they got used a lot more.
So, anyway, what photos do I have that are not of my wife or daughter or other people I know? Not much. Out of the 425 photos in my archive from 2009, fully 80% of of people. Not leaving much to choose my “best photos” from, but here you go.
First up, two shots, for side-by-side comparison of the weather on two days from my desk, ignore the reflection of the office lights:
Next a random shot of tree leaves… looking up against a cloudy sky for a silhouette effect. I like the trees in Singapore that grow up and spread a single layer of leaves over a vast area, like what we called “Rain Trees” in videos of the African Savanna. I’m guessing it’s not the same tree but same shape when you see them from afar. The single layer of leaves means you get to see this intricate pattern against the sky. This is not the best example, not is the photo high quality, even for the iPhone 3G camera as it was taken handheld so thing are a bit blurry. You could get better photos by setting the phone on a stable surface, but c’est la vie.
Here is a better example of what the iPhone 3G’s camera could do. I guess the light was better, as it’s a lot less blurry this time. The subject is… interesting. I assume I took it to show someone and have a laugh. For those not familiar, it is common in Southeast Asia to get take away drinks, hot and cold, in plastic bags with little plastic straps to hold on or hang on things. You see people carry them whenever you are near a food court of local coffee shop, you see them hanging from nobs and levers on trucks and taxis. And, once in a while, you see them left hanging from random fence posts or tree branches. They look like tree has a colostomy bags to me:
OK, one more. This is the only one taken on the better camera of the iPhone 3GS [wikipedia.org] I got when it was released in Singapore in late 2009. A bit Big Brother this cluster of cameras in Raffles place:
Time marches on…And technology gets better. While the iPhone was released in the US in 2007 the rest of us had to wait for the 3G or even 3Gs (unless you got a very overpriced parallel import) so I entered 2008 as I ended 2007 with my Sony Ericsson, the Z610i [wikipedia.org]. But, it did not last long, in the first month of 2008 I got a Nokia N95 [wikipedia.0rg] (actually the N95-2 or N95 8GB version, the black one).
I got the N95 via work, a test phone we no longer needed, one of the perks of working in the mobile content business. It was very cool phone, one of my favorite of the pre-iPhone era. The first Nokia I liked after the iconic 3310 [wikipedia.org] or my original 1997 252N [nokiamuseum.info]. The N95 did suffer from some “Symbian bloat” and the “why do they move every function around on every new phone” issue that Nokia had with Symbian. In short Nokia had a habit of re-arranging everything on the Symbian 60 UI every new phone just to confuse loyal Nokia users and over the years the Symbian 60 got more and more bloated. Coming from the Sony Ericsson world where the same OS had slowly evolved from the T616, through the Z800i to the Z610i it was a shock. The best thing about the N95 though was the camera. And that’s what we are here to rant about.
The rear camera on the N95 was 5 megapixels. That’s half the megapixels on the Canon 40D [wikipeida.org] that came out the same year, that I took lots of photos with.
But anyway… on with the photos from the N95. The vast majority of the photos are snapshots of my oldest daughter, born in July 2008. Including a lot taken in the minutes and hours after she was born. But we are not sharing photos of people so…
First up, a night shot! From a trip to Kuala Lumpur for work, the Patronas Towers all lit up. Edited in light room as the raw photo had a lot of noise and tried to up the dark sky so much it was like snow from an old TV.
Next up to shots of flowers on the grounds of Parkview Square [wikipedia.org] in Singapore, where I worked at the time:
There is also this shot of rainwater on the marble outside of Parkview Square:
And then there is this awesome shot of Parkview Square, also known as “the Batman building” or “the Gotham building”:
In August 2008, I got a JesusPhone [confusion.cc] via work again. I had to pay for it, but work was able to get a few iPhones a couple of days after it launched officially in Singapore through their corporate plan. The truth though is the iPhone camera was a step down from the Nokia N95. I would be a few years before the iPhone camera was up-to-date with other mobiles. So, I don’t have any photos from the iPhone in 2008 I would consider as part of my “best” mobile photos of the year given that I spend the first 8 months using the much better N95…
I started 2007 with the same Sony Ericsson Z800i [wikipedia.org], that I got back in June of 2005. But it died in late February or early March of 2007 (my last Z800i photos is dated February 25th, but the first with the next handset is from March 11th). I replaced the Z800i with a another Sony Ericsson, the Z610i [wikipedia.org], a more curvy, more shiny flip phone. The camera got a bit better, taking photos at 1600×1200 pixels versus the Z800i’s 1280×1024.
2007 was a bit of a barren years as far as mobile photos goes. In total I have a couple of dozen photos and most of those are of coworkers or family, so I’m not sharing them. I did pick out three from what little remains after excluding portraits.
First up is this looking up shot taken, I think, at Ministry of Sound during it’s short life in Singapore. It seems I have had a fascination with taking “looking up at lamps” [confusion.cc] shots for a long time.
And another abstract shot, no doubt also from clubbing… Never point a laser at your camera processor. At least that’s what they say. You can get some spiffy photos out of it if you do:
Finally something different, a non-abstract shot taken in Moscow, on a work trip:
I was working on a project with the Russian mobile operator, Beeline and on the way to their office the first morning after I arrived I passed this sign, which I believe is pointing to their office building I was working it, just down the road. Fun fact: I got deported from Russia [confusion.cc] on that trip…
Continuing on my journey reviewing all my mobile phone photos over the years we come to 2006. (you can see 2004 here [confusion.cc], and 2005 here [confusion.cc]).
2006 was a big year for me, I got married at the end of the year, I changed jobs here in Singapore (which was big as it meant no automatic repatriation, any going back to the US would be on my own dime and, um, I’m still here). But for mobile phones it was a dull year, at least for me. I got the Sony Ericsson Z800i [wikipedia.org] in 2005 and kept it all of 2006. And somehow I don’t have a lot of photos from my phone for 2006. But anyway… here are three photos from what I have that I will call “My Best Mobile Photos of 2006”:
First is a shot taken, I think, from a car. Judging by what I think are reflections (about halfway up the left side) and the fact that it’s shot up at a strange angle catching the stoplight and street lamp pole.
Next is a another sky shot. This time a rainbow. Probably also taken from a car.
And lastly, a shot of a good night out with the team from the office.
I started 2005 using the same Sony Ericsson K700i I took my best 2004 mobile phtos [confusion.cc] with. I used it for the first half of the year, and the only photo worth sharing during that time that is not a portrait is another panorama:
The photo stitching is much better in this one, as the camera was sitting on the table when I took all the photos, I just had to rotate it for each shot. So maybe, just maybe, the software was good and the photos in that shot of the Singapore CBD skyline I shared from 2004 were really not level.
Moving on. At some point in 2005 I got a new phone, one that I loved, I think it was the best phone on the market at the time and I can’t understand why it was not more popular. The Sony Ericsson Z800i. A flip phone with a rotating 1.3 megapixel camera, a step up from the K700i’s 640×480 (with an “extrapolation mode” which output photos at 1280×960). The Z800i output photos at 1280×1024, which isn’t much bigger than the K700i’s extrapolation mode but they look much better:
There are still a serious lack of actual good photos in my library. Focus was an issue, on both the K700i and the Z800i. Also, action was an issue, even the slightest movement is blurred.
I actually went through two Z800i’s, as shortly after I got it my wife —now wife, then girlfriend— sent my new phone for a ride through the washing machine. One night after drinking I left it in my pocket and she decided do to the laundry early in the morning due to the smell of smoke and alcohol on the cloths. At the time I was living in a shared corporate flat and I didn’t even know the phone when through the wash, I found it on the table in the living room and just assumed I left it there. But when I tried to turn it on it was dead. I spent the afternoon waiting in Wisma Atria to see a Sony Ericsson agent to get it fixed, since it was nearly brand new. After waiting for my number to come up it took the agent all of 2 minutes to tell me the damage was not covered by the warranty as it was water damage. Apparently there is a little white square of material on the battery that turns blue when exposed to water. At first I couldn’t figure out how the phone got “submerged” and argued that it could only have been sweat or a splash from normal usage, I had not dropped it in water. I was only when we got home and my co-worker cum roommate told me he found the phone in the washing machine when he went to do his laundry that we managed to piece the story together.
So I had to buy a new phone… I don’t remember how much it cost but I do remember it being painful and my wife being surprise I did not get angry with her. C’est la vie.
Anyway, here are a couple of more photos for the Z8ooi that I can count as my best mobile phone photos of 2005. First a photo of the US flag from my hotel room in Washington DC on a trip back in July of 2005 to attend a wedding:
And… then there is this:
That’s my killer rabbit that used to look down on my cube in the office in Virginia wearing a hat I got at a St. Paddy’s day pub bash in 2002 in England. I gave the rabbit away to a coworker, and the hat eventually got trashed. C’est la vie.
I have embarked on a mission to cleanup my mobile phone photo library. As long as I’ve been taking photos with my mobile I have been ignoring them after I back them up. These days I back them up to Lightroom and I have even managed to find and imported photos from before I used Lightroom into my Lightroom library. There are a few gaps but I have a long mission ahead.
My library of mobile phone photos goes back as far as 29 September 2004. There are a couple of shots of people I was working with at the time, which I won’t post, and then this gem:
That’s the Alkaff Bridge [wikipedia.org] over the Singapore River, just down the quay from the hotel I was living in (The Gallery Hotel, no longer there) in September 2004. Having arrived from the US on, as I recall, September 4th (thought looking back at my 2004 post here on Confusion I seem to have left the US on August 30th [confusion.cc]… I know you skip a day and I took a crazy long, multi-stopover route, but it does not seem to add up, maybe I left well after midnight, I can’t remember.)
In any case, that photo was taken on a SonyEricsson K700i [wikipedia.org]. I’m sure I should have photos that were taken on even older photos, specifically the T610 [wikipedia.org] but it seems those are lost to time, so the K700i are my oldest. They are mostly crap photos, but there are some fun shots of people I worked with.
For some reason about half of the photos from the K700i are 1280×960 while others are only 640×480.
But the K700i did have a fun panorama function built in. I made a few attempts but it wasn’t always so good at handling my inherent inability to keep the camera level from one shot to the next (a problem I have with my DSLR too). These buildings look like they are drunk or auditioning for Inception or Dr. Strange a few years early:
So I really don’t have any good mobile phone photos from 2004, the title of this post is a bit misleading. I plan to post a few mobile phone ph0tos for each year as I continue my cleanup. We’ll see how much the phones and my ability to use them advanced. Not sure what year I’ll stop at. I started using Lightroom mobile to take photos on my phone sometime in 2017 so that’s a logical place to stop… let’s see if I can get that far.
As a final aside, the photo of Alkaff bridge was taken on the night of September 29th. According to Confusion [confusion.cc] I visited the Chinese Gardens to view the lanterns setup for the Mid-autumn festival with some colleagues. But I don’t have any photo, or DSLR photos of that night…
Back before COVID19 locked us all in our home countries we went to Amsterdam for a holiday. We also took a two day side trip to Billund, Denmark just to visit the Lego House [wikipedia.org], but more on that in another post. Amsterdam was the right combination of close to Billund and decent flights. Copenhagen was another option but Amsterdam won out.
We arrived quite early in the morning, before 6AM in Schiphol, a day after my mother and sister. After dropping our bags at the hotel room our first stop was the bakery on the corner for fresh stroopwafel [wikipedia.org]. Thus began a recurring theme for our period in Amsterdam: breakfast confections… maybe that’s not the right work but we had stroopwafel, proffertjes [wikipedia.org], icing sugar coated waffles, and even vegan pancakes at Mr. Stacks [mrstacks.nl].
But it was not all eating. We did some sight seeing. Actually we did a lot of walking to see things. Based on my iPhone we did 118km walking over the week and a half we were in Amsterdam.
Some of our sightseeing agenda was based on what I already knew about Amsterdam generally and from my time there in 2001/2002, but a lot of it was based on watching various travel videos, mostly on YouTube. We all sat around in the months leading up to our trip and watch different “best of” videos. It’s how we discovered Mr. Stacks, among other things.
One of our favorite sightseeing activities is museums and Amsterdam has some great ones. On this trip we visited:
The most important museum we visited was, without a doubt, The Anne Frank House [annefrank.org]. I remember reading the book as a teenager, I truly believe the world needs to remember the atrocities of the Nazi’s and the bigotry of ordinary people which allowed the Holocaust to happen. I’m not Jewish, I’m not religious at all, but the story of Anne Frank, her family and the 17 million other Jews, Poles, Russians, Romani, Freemasons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Serbs, Slovenians, Homosexuals, Disabled, Spanish Republicans and who knows who else [wikipedia.org], must be told, over and over again. It is more important today than at anytime since the end of World War II, as xenophobia and racism seem to be on the rise again. Bigotry seems to be the default mode for most of humanity, us and them, the in group and the out group. Without constant reminders, humanity has no humanity. It’s important to remember and to teach our children so they can be mindful and hopefully live up to “never again” as we keep failing to.
The Rijksmuseum [wikipedia.org], where you can see The Night Watch [wikipedia.org] by Rembrandt and many other Dutch Golden Age paintings. THe Night Watch was under renovation at the time of our visit, you could see the painting but it was inside a giant glass box and there were people working on part of it. It was kind of interesting to see it under renovation and I’m glad they didn’t take it off display fort he renovation. Though the things my kids seems to like the best was sitting in the Research Library where you have to sit quietly. Interesting…
The Van Gogh Museum [wikipedia.org], filled with Van Gogh paintings… duh. Lots of self-portraits and sunflowers; also people eating potatoes [wikipedia.org]. A very good museum, love the way you ascend year-by-year up the building. The audio guides were included in our ticket price and were very good. I forgot that The Starry Night [wikipedia.org] is actually at MOMA.
NEMO [wikipedia.org], a hands on science museum for kids. Good for a full day of play. Bubbles, Rube-Goldberg machines, earthquake simulation room (very cool), water works to play in. We could have gone two days I’m sure.
MOCA, a small museum located in the Museamplein, near the Van Gogh Museum and Rijksmuseum. Like MOMA but Contemporary. Exhibitions on Banksy, Daniel Arsham and Yayoi Kusama as well as a general collection of contemporary art pieces. I got tickets to this one without consulting anyone else as I wanted to see the Banksy.
Body Worlds. Not, strictly speaking a museum, but an exhibition on the human body using actual human (and animal) bodies and body parts that have undergone plastination [wikipedia.org]. The smaller Amsterdam exhibition was not as good as the one I saw two in London two decades ago. Partly it was just smaller, but also the layout in a small, multi-story building and all the rooms being painted black made it feel less open and like it was trying to creep you out. In London it was a huge open space and all white and bright. My kids thought it was too creepy.
But it was not always stuffy museums, we got out of town to see some amazing things too. We went to Haarlem, and spent a day wondering around it’s medieval center. Quaint red-brick buildings and streets surround it’s cathedral. A nice sleepy town to spend an afternoon in, enjoy some food and walking. Unfortunately it was a wet day, light rain off and on all day, when we were there so we didn’t cover much other then the main square around the cathedral.
Out other excursion was more successful. On our first day in Holland, we took the train an hour out from Centraal station to Zaanse Schans, famous for its windmills. From the train station it’s a 15 minute walk to the riverfront where the windmills sit. And you get to walk past a chocolate factory. Smells amazing, looks like it’s straight out of Willy Wonka, of course you can’t see the Umppa Loompas, they stay inside.
We visited a couple of windmills along the Zaan river. Two of them were actually working: De Kat [wikipedia.org], a dyemill crushing chalk to make dies for paint, and De Zoeker [wikipedia.org] an oilmill, roasting and crushing linseed for oil. Their was a presentation inside De Zoeker showing how they use various mechanisms to transfer the wind power from the mill stones to hammers and other tools using various mechanical means. The oil from the linseed’s pressed at De Zoeker can, and is sometimes, used to make paint with the dye from De Kat. The inside of De Zoeker looked and smelled a lot like my grandfather’s shop/barn. The smell of oil and wood and sawdust.
There was also a few shops/exhibits in Zaanse Schans, one making Dutch cheeses, Catharina Hoeve Cheese Farm, and one making and selling traditional Dutch wooden clogs: Kooijman Wooden Shoe Workshop [woodenshoes.nl]. The cheese did not interest the kids so much, but the wooden shoes were a hit, especially the giant ones you could sit in outside.
I also managed to meet up with two friends while in Amsterdam, one planned meeting and one random chance. Both are, funny enough, ex-colleagues from working here in Singapore. The planned meeting was with a recent ex-colleague who is dutch and moved back to Amsterdam a few years ago. We met up for an afternoon drinking in a pub. We didn’t drink that much, but we managed to stretch it out for about 6 hours and he ended up missing a flight for work because we took too long. Oops.
The second meetup was completely random. I posted about it at the time [confusion.cc], but, in brief, an Irish, ex-colleague who worked with me in Singapore, before moving to Russia, happened to be in Amsterdam for a conference and we managed to meet up for a evening of good beer and great food. Absolutely random and the best, if not only, reason to still have social media.
More than a year ago, in late April, and into early May 2019, my mother, my youngest sister and I went on a bucket list trip: to see Machu Picchu [wikipedia.org].
Machu Picchu is one of those places that has been in the “oh my god I have to go” since I was a kid. We watched a lot of National Geographic specials when I was young (back in the pre-cable days when we had four channels: ABC, NBC, CBS and PBS.) I’m sure I first came across Machu Picchu on one of those specials. The many shows on the story of Hiram Bingham‘s [wikipedia.org] expeditions and the mysteries of Machu Picchu as well as the possible connection to the Indiana Jones movies, all of which were favorites in my house growing up, added to the mystic of Machu Picchu putting it near the top of my must-see-in-my-lifetime list. While I’ve checked off a lot of places on that list between my life in the US, my time in Europe and living in Asia, Machu Picchu was my first Central or South American site.
I flew via Amsterdam, 31 hours in total to get to Lima. I met my mom and sister in the airport there and took a short flight to Cuzco. The landing in Cuzco was an experience, because of the mountains all around Cuzco the plane makes a sharp banked turn and drops rapidly down to the runway. It’s a bit of a roller coaster.
We met a representative from our tour company at the airport and they dropped us at our Hotel, right in the center of Cuzco city. We spending the remainder of the first day walking around just to get somewhat acclimatised to life at 3000 meters above sea level. At that altitude climbing the steps up one level to our hotel room had the same effect as jogging a 100 meters or so. We had to work for the coffee we had at a second story café in the main city square, Plaza de Armas del Cuzco.
We started our site seeing on the second day, touring some of the main sites in and around Cuzco. We started just opposite our hotel at the Convent of Santo Domingo [wikipedia.org] which is built on the ruins of the Inca Coricancha or “the golden temple”, possible their most important temple. Much of the colonial architecture of Cuzco is built right on top of Incan and pre-Inca buildings, incorporating the large stones with no mortar in their foundations.
We took a car up into the hills around Cuzco to see some of the more Inca sites: Sacsayhuamán [wikipedia.org], Tambomachay [wikipedia.org] Puka Pukara [wikipedia.org] and Qenko [wikipedia.org]. All cool sites and considering Tambomachay and Puka Pukara are located at 3600 meters above sea level a good warm up for hiking at altitude. We returned to Cuzco in the afternoon and toured the Cusco Cathedral [wikipedia.org] where of course you can’t take photos of the amazing interiors…
The second day we explored the Sacred Valley on our way towards Machu Picchu. We saw the salt ponds at Maras [wikipedia.org], which were very cool. Our guide said there were over five thousand salt ponds but I’m sure he meant five hundred. Still it’s an impressive site, in use for salt production for hundreds of years before the Inca.
Nearby the Maras salt ponds we visited the Inca ruins of Moray [wikipedia.org]. This was one of the coolest ruins we saw, they look like some sort of arena or man made craters in the earth. A series of concentric terraces built into a couple of large natural depressions. As explained by the guide, the best guess is it was made to create a “microclimate” to better grow specific crops at higher altitudes than they would normally grow.
We finished the second day at Ollantaytambo [wikipedia.org] which competes with Puka Pukara for the best name of the ruins we saw (Machu Picchu is too well known). The ruins of Ollantaytambo are a series of massive terraces going up the side of the mountain known as the Terraces of Pumatallis, a large temple complex including the “Wall of the Six Monoliths” which is made up of six Stonehenge sized blocks, and several Inca storehouses.
The next day we left Ollantaytambo and made our way to Machu Picchu. We entered the city in the afternoon with clear skies and bright sunshine, and met our local guide who took us around for a few hours as the sun went down. Our guide was great, explaining a lot and letting us indulge in our photography for as long as we wanted. And the ruins of Machu Picchu were amazing. The lowering sun casting shadows of the still standing walls of store houses and temples and residences across the grassy plazas. Sheer drops down to the Urubamba River which hourshoes around Machu Pichu.
While we explored the city we saw the requisite llamas, including a baby llama and my sister had an up close encounter with one hungry llama that tried to eat her camera lens when she was changing lenses. Llama spit, yummy. We also saw several viscacha, a type of rodent which looks something like a rabbit, but with a longer tail and short ears. They are quite cute running across the ruins.
One of the cooler things we learned from our guide is that while the jungle has been cleared from Machu Picchu, since Hiram Bingham first brought it to the attention of the outside world in 1911, no re-construction is done. There has been some rebuilding due to earthquakes over the years, but only if a stone can be identified as fallen since the Bingham’s expeditions using the photos from the expeditions, is it replaced.
Machu Picchu shuts to visitors at sunset, so after a few hours we made our way down to Machupicchu Pueblo or Aguas Calientes [wikipedia.org] the small town in the valley below the citadel. The town is full of tourist hotels and cafes and restaurants. Basically a clean showers, cold beer and hot food for people who hiked the Inca Trail. Also a steady stream of busses up and down the switchback road up to Machu Picchu.
We woke up very early the next morning to take one of the buses up to Machu Picchu to catch the sunrise. Alas, despite waking at 4AM and being on one of the first few busses we didn’t get to see the sunrise. It was cloudy. Low hanging clouds hugged the tops of all the mountains surrounding Machu Picchu. On the plus side we got to see Machu Picchu with clouds rolling through the city so we got both the sunny and cloudy experiences. We decided to spend our full day taking some of the hikes.
First we hiked several kilometers back along the Inca Trail towards Cuzco, several hundred meters up to the Sun Gate, Inti Punku. We got to trek through the cloud forest with clouds rolling up and down the slopes, we walked in and out of the fog. By the time we got to the Sun Gate there were some breaks in the clouds creating a dappled effect on the city below us.
After hiking back to the city we went around the other side of the summit of Machu Picchu to hike the shorter trail to the Inca Bridge [wikipedia.org]. This part of the Inca road system was more dramatic, with sheer drops down two or three hundred meters to the Urubamba River below —with no railing. The Inca were crazy, the Inca Bridge itself is a few planks of wood spanning a few meter gap in a section of the path which is just half a meter wide and running along a vertical rock face.
That night we took the train back to Ollantaytambo and then a car back to Cuzco arriving quite late. The next day was May day so we just chilled in the city and explored some of the sites. Unfortunately the market we wanted to see was not so busy. We did walk around the San Blas neighborhood but many shops were closed for the holiday. So we just had a lazy day, which was just a well as we had booked an adventure for the next day with a 2 AM pick up.
Our last adventure started pre-sunrise as we caught a bus to drive 4 hours southeast of Cuzco to hike Vinicunca [wikipedia.org], the Rainbow Mountain or Mountain of Seven Colours. A couple of hours on the bus and we stopped for breakfast at a small lodge off the highway. After breakfast we got back on the bus and started to climb up one lane gravel roads. We started about 3,700 m.a.s.l. meters above sea level and over the next hour we climbed a thousand meters up these gravel roads hugging the rising mountains. When we stopped at the parking lot we were 4,700 m.a.s.l. at which point some people are already experiencing altitude sickness to the point of vomiting. Luckily no one in our group was vomiting.
From the parking lot it’s a 5 kilometer hike up to the summit of Vinicunca —which is actually a pass, the lowest point around to cross over the Andes in this region. The foot of the pass is 5,000 m.a.s.l. and then it’s another 36 meters to the very top of Vinicunca. The first part of the hike is a relatively gentle rise, it takes most of the first 4 kilometers to go up, maybe 230 of the 336 meter elevation change. Even though the lack of oxygen means that even this shallow rise makes you out of breath if you go too fast. Everyone goes at different speeds depending on their fitness and age and our guide, who does this every day, went back and forth making sure everyone was ok. I’m not sure if he needed to use it but he carried an oxygen bottle just in case.
My mother, sister and I went at a slow pace and didn’t have much issues with the first 4 kilometers. The last kilometer was much steeper and we were stopping to catch our breath and let our muscles re-oxygenate regularly. At first we were stopping every 100 meters, then every 50 and soon every 10. By the time we got to the last 100 meters we were playing the “10 more steps to that rock and then we will rest” game. And the last 40 meters is a dirt stairway. By the time we got to the top we were going one. step. at. a. time. But we made it to the 5,000 m.a.s.l.. And I did make it all the way to 5,036. An Amazing view, with the colours of Vinicunca on one side, the red valley spread out before you and snowcapped Ausangate wrapped around behind you. (I wrote about this in brief before.) [confusion.cc]
And that’s about it. We had one more morning in Cuzco for some shopping and then started our return. Flying to Lima and waiting hours for our next flight, where we had to stand in the ticketing lobby for a few hours as they only open the desk three hours before the flight and we had about 6 hours between the flights from Cuzco and our international flights. I came back the way I went, 22 hours via Amsterdam to Singapore, not including the 4 hour stopover in Amsterdam or the 6 hours in Lima. But it was worth it to knock Machu Picchu off the bucket list.
As a last note: it’s always hard to title these travel posts… I started using the city or region and then country and then the month and year long ago. For the most part that has served me well, but there are a few holes in the logic. For example, a trip to multiple major cities or countries — say a trip to Amsterdam with a short side trip to somewhere in Denmark. Do I make two posts? Or keep it as one under “Amsterdam, Denmark…”? I’ve split this type of trip up most times, but that means sometime ending up with a set of photos and a post that are quite small. On this trip I chose Cuzco which is both the city we started in, though we spend nights in two others places, and also the name of the administrative region of Peru that almost everything we went to see was in. So should it be “Cuzco, Cuzco, Peru…” or “Cuzco Administrative Region, Peru…”. Anyway, it’s a minor thing. It’s also a good problem to have, a first world and privilege problem given the cost of this type of travel. So, I’m lucky to have to try and figure it out.