SOLAR ECLIPSE TRIP TO ARGENTINA
2019 July 2, Tuesday evening

     This is the story of my twelfth total solar eclipse, a travel-adventure to South America, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and Peru. I expected to come home with lots of pictures and lots of adventure stories. This is my first vacation where I posted regularly on Facebook and I enjoyed the flow of comments from distant friends. This is my sixth trip with Brian McGee's companies, Explorers and then Astro Trails, and the sixth time I have been deliriously happy with the results. Lynn and Dave were our guides for Tour 8 and I was deliriously happy with their efforts as well.

My twelve total solar eclipses
  1998 February 26, Aruba, Carribean
  1999 August 11, Szeged, Hungary
  2001 June 21, Lusaka, Zambia, Africa
  2002 December 4, Woomera, Australia   *  
  2006 March 29, Libya, Africa   *
  2008 August 1, Jiuguan, China   *
  2009 July 22, Agra, China
  2012 November 14, Cains, Australia   +
  2013 November 3, Uganda, Africa   +
  2016 March 9, Indonesia
  2017 August 21, Wyoming, USA
  2019 July 2, Argentina   +
* Explorers         + Astro Trails
 
image      I have stories of previous eclipse trips to (1) Aruba, (2) Hungary, (3) Zambia, (4) Australia, (5) Libya, (6) China, (8) back to Australia, (9) Uganda, and (11) back to Australia. The third was on my own with a side trip to Victoria Falls, the fifth combined Africa with the middle east with plenty of stories to tell, the seventh was a second trip to China without its own web page (but with pictures), and the tenth was a trip to south Asia also without its own web page (but also with pictures). Except for an afternoon in 1998 February this is my first trip to South America. It is not going to be like another chapter of Holidays in Hell by P. J. O'Rourke.

2019 June 23
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     I got to Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport (PHX) in plenty of time, my flight on Delta Air Lines to Atlanta (ATL) was on time, and my overnight flight to Rio de Janeiro (RIO) was going to get me there at 10:00 (ten o'clock) for a leisurely lunch and afternoon. Then a cute little note appeared on my cell phone matched by a notice on the airport screens. My flight to Rio was delayed 7.5 hours. After a wait in a fairly short line (in the airport lounge) Delta cheerfully gave me a hotel voucher and told me where to meet the shuttle bus to the hotel. The hotel took the voucher without any issue, didn't even ask for other identification or credit card, and I awakened in time for my now-early-morning departure.

     As annoying as a delay can be, and even as the unintended victim of such, I understand their situation. Somebody drove a fire truck into the airliner destined for Munich (MUC), oh shit!, the Munich flight was scheduled to turn (an airline term) back to the United States in a few hours, and the flight to Rio had nearly a day of sitting on the ground in the schedule. So the planners realized somebody wasn't getting where they wanted to go without a serious delay and delaying my flight didn't keep a planeload of people on the subsequent flight from getting home. Our airplane went to Munich and we got a night in a hotel.

2019 June 24
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     The hotel was comfortable and the 4:30 (four thirty) shuttle left on time with several other people on board. Airport hotels aren't very personal places, there's a coldness about them. Nobody's overtly nasty or anything like that, we all cooperate to get to the airport to make our flights, but there's a gotta-get-there mindset, so airport hotels aren't the place to make new travel friendships.

     At least some of us got to sleep in a hotel room. I got to the gate at oh-dark-hundred and found a lot of people sleeping on chairs with blankets over them. Announcements were made, the airplane was boarded, and we were off to Rio for our 9.5-hour air journey. There was some confusion as plans were made for dinner and then breakfast and now we had breakfast and then dinner, but I presume things were pretty usual up front in the cockpit.

Brazil - Rio de Janeiro

     Two fellow travelers across the aisle from me were also coming to Rio de Janeiro for the total solar eclipse and, even better, were part of the same Tour 8 with Astro Trails that I was on. "Let's share a taxi to the hotel." We piled into the car and enjoyed a rather wild ride to Hotel Windsor Leme in Copacabana near Ipanema.

2019 June 25
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image      I went for a run along the beach path for bicycles and runners before breakfast. After breakfast Tour 8 was scheduled for a tour of Corcovado Mountain with Jesus Christ the Redeemer statue standing 38 meters (105 feet) tall and Sugarloaf Mountain with its cable cars to the top. Brian McGee was there to greet us, still doing this tour planning after all these years and, as I expected, still doing it well.

     There are all kinds of quaint and quirky aphorisms extolling the virtues of good preparation, all true, but the second half is the continuous refinement and revision as circumstances change. Brian is an expert in both. I believe there were eleven different tours interweaving and interacting with a common event in the total solar eclipse 2019 July 2 on an alpaca farm in Argentina. Those tours varied in duration and direction. Mine started in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on the beach of the Atlantic Ocean and ended in Lima, Peru, a few hundred meters from the beach of the Pacific Ocean Iguazu Falls and Machu Picchu were on the schedule along with four capitals of four countries in South America.

     A successful leader, I was once told by a wise and delightfully sarcastic manager, convinces his people that he cares. The same wise man fell from his pedestal of acerbic wit and added that the best way to do that is actually to care. Brian McGee is all of that. He's passionate about getting his customers the best tour possible and doing whatever it takes to make that tour actually happen. He comes along on his tours, "eats his own dog food" as one cliché says, and makes sure things end up right for his customers. He surrounds himself with similar-minded and similarly-passionate people like Lynn and David on my own tour. I was close enough to realize that while I slept soundly in my various hotel rooms, they were up at oh-dark-hundred planning the ins and outs of the next day's adventures.

     So the popular song may go "me and you and a dog named Blue" while my song of the day went "you and me and Brian McGee."

image      Dave and Deborah are two English eclipse friends going back a few years. When they were stateside for the total solar eclipse of 2017 August 21 we passed on meeting during the eclipse weekend. Rather we met a week later and I took them in my airplane from Flagstaff over the Barringer Meteor Crater in central Arizona near Winslow. They were in Tour 9 as opposed to my Tour 8 so we saw each other a lot in the early days of our trips. There were shorter trips and longer trips with various permutations, some going east to west like mine and some going west to east with all 400+ Astro Trails participants converging on the total solar eclipse site in Argentina on 2019 July 2.

     First stop of the day was Corcovado Mountain with Jesus Christ the Redeemer statue. It looks bigger in the movies where it appears to dominate the landscape of Rio de Janeiro. It is visible just about everywhere in the metropolitan area but it doesn't dominate the cityscape the way I thought it did. On the other hand, it's a magnificent piece of sculpture, supposedly coming from the same folks in France who gave us in the United States our much-larger Statue of Liberty. (They say the French gave Lady Liberty to the United States while Brazil had to pay for Christ the Redeemer, so don't say the French never gave us anything.) It was crowded enough to make it hard to get pictures without other people in them and there were lots of selfie sticks and arms-spread, me-and-Jesus pictures being taken.

     Second stop of the day was Sugarloaf Mountain with its cable-car ascent that goes of up 400 meters (1300 feet) to the top where there is quite a view and quite a collection of shops and restaurants. Then we went back to Hotel Windsor Leme in Copacabana near Ipanema.

2019 June 26
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     I went for another run before breakfast and then we went on a morning "boat safari" on Gaunabara Bay. We avoided the busy waters of one of the world's biggest ports and still saw quite a bit of Rio. I met Lorraine, a women who was programming computers before I did, punched cards and all.

     Afternoon Stop One was a carnival area where, for about ten real, we could rent costumes. (Brazil's currency is the "real," about four to the U.S. dollar.) I stepped up to the challenge and looked cute enough in my carnival outfit that a few others ponied up R$10 and we had fun dancing in our kooky costumes. Afternoon Stop Two was a beautiful, reasonably modern cathedral. It was a sort-of rounded pyramid-cone from the outside with beautiful stained-glass windows visible from inside. Afternoon Stop Three was the Lapa Steps, Selaró's Staircase, where some enterprising traveler got tiles from all over the world and made a staircase from them. Like subsequent South-American cities on our tour, Rio de Janeiro had a rich collection of street-art murals on road fences and buildings.

image      David, Deborah, and I shared a few meals together outside the hotel. The menus were delightful, but the restaurants weren't terribly interested in reducing confusion. They would assign us a Portuguese-only waiter who didn't speak Englist when there was an English-speaking person there. The bills weren't off by lot, but they weren't right either. Things ran on "Island Time" as one fellow traveler calls it, not deliberately slow, but not deliberately fast either.

     There was one good, nice, positive thing. A lot of us have run into Brazilian nationals in the United States who have a holier-than-thou attitude, commitments are what Mary Poppins called "pie-crust promises," easily made and easily broken, and insisting that words be kept is met by offense. I may have had that back home in the States, but I got none of that anywhere in my travels in South America, not in Brazil and not in any other country I visited. All those messed-up restaurant cheques were rectified cheerfully, just not quickly.

2019 June 27
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     After a third night at Hotel Windsor Leme in Copacabana near Ipanema, it was up bright and early for travel, too early to run first, we gobbled down breakfast and scurried by bus to the airport to take our flights through Sao Paulo to Iguazu Falls. Arriving passengers were met by colorful cat-like dancers in cat-like costumes, a nice way to be greeted at an airport.

Iguazu Falls

     A bus ride later we were at the national-park entrance for the Brazil side of Iguazu Falls. We were met by a collection of cute mammals called coatis (or quatis, singular coati or quati), a mix of anteater, racoon, and cat. At first they come across as cute, but after they jumped into people's bags and after they bit and scratched two of my travel companions in their quest for food, I concluded that coatis are pests rather than pets.

image      The falls were beautiful, bountiful, and breathtaking, and those are just the B words. The thundering waterfalls give off enough moisture to create a plume like a miniature of Victoria Falls in Africa. Victoria Falls is a single, huge, mile-wide rush of water and Niagara is two sides of serious water. Iguazu seems to have a couple of big-flow areas surrounded with a lot of smaller falls that are also wonderful. Large and small views of falling water abounded. There was a site trip off the main walkway that went out into part of the falls that left us wet, not as wet as we would have been not wearing plastic rain gear, but wet none-the-less.

     We stayed at the Recanto Cateratas Hotel near the falls. It was very nice, over the top, Brian felt it "pretentious," but it sure was a comfortable place to spend the night.

2019 June 28
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     Here's the plan. We're going to cross the border into Argentina to see the Devil's-Throat overlook and other stuff over there and then we're going to return to Brazil for the Mucaco Boat Safari and then to spend the night. Apparently Brazil was willing to let us shortcut the paperwork as we were returning, but Argentina was less concerned with not wasting our time, so each and every passport had to be examined at the border. When we got to the border, our guide took all the passports inside and we sat there, not for the expected half hour but nearly two hours. This put on on a later train to Devil's Throat.

     There's a train from the main station to the Devil's-Throat viewpoint of Iguazu Falls. It's a lovely, open-air train going only a few miles per hour. With the delay, we had an hour to explore on our own. There was a walk on the order of twenty minutes with time for gawking at vista views and taking pictures of butterflies bold enough to land near us. After a while we realized there were lots of bold butterflies, but there's something special about getting a butterfly photo that's hard to get past, "oh it's just another butterfly photo opportunity." There was even a turtle photo opportunity looking nearly straight down from the walkway. Of course there were coatis all around.

image      Devil's Throat was "the great moment" of Iguazu Falls, wonderful, wide walls of water, and those are just the W words, vista views of vast volumes. All I needed was a barrel to make my day complete, but I never found myself wanting to go over Victoria or Niagara in a barrel, so perhaps I could leave Iguazu without a trip over the falls in a barrel. We shared our joy with each other amid the myriad other tourists. With all these distracting opportunities to enjoy the sights, I had to scurry back to make it at the nick of noon time.

     Here's the thing. The 12:00 (twelve o'clock) train had some problem so we couldn't use it, maybe it went somewhere else, I don't remember, so we were told to get some lunch and to take the 13:00 (one o'clock) train. I could have taken my time, but decided not to sally forth and find myself fifteen minutes away at ten minutes to one. Lunch was wrapped sandwiches bought over a counter that had to be eaten inside the shop last we face an army of coatis trying to take our food away. Somehow they left us alone inside the food-and-stuff store, but not outside where at least two of my travel companions got bitten or scratched by a coati.

     So picture this. Our organizers had to deal with more than two hours delay not part of the original plan for the day. It was now mid afternoon when the train arrived back at the starting station and we still hadn't crossed back into Brazil for the planned Macuco Boat Safari ride. I'm of two minds. As a certified Type A person, I worry, "How are they doing to do this?" or "What on earth are they going to do to make this happen?" Then it occurs to me that this is Brian McGee's Astro Trails and they're going to find a way. Somebody will talk to somebody and they will find a way to make it work.

     By the time we got to the boat tour it was late afternoon. Our guides were determined to give their full patter, in English at least, about the age of the forest and the history of the river, while I was thinking about our ebbing daylight.

image      We got to the docks and changed to our boat clothes. There was the Dry Boat that would ride through some light whitewater and mist getting us all damp and there was the Wet Boat that would ride into the falls and get its passengers utterly drenched. Since being soaking wet seemed more inconvenience than adventure and I wasn't going to see any more on the Wet Boat, I grabbed a seat on the Dry Boat next to a new eclipse friend Cathy.

     We left the dock and bounced up-river for a while with a terrific view of the falls coming down up and ahead. Once bounce was hard enough that Cathy hit the side of the boat and mildly bruised her rib, adding insult to injury as she had already been bitten by a coati. The Dry Boat was a little wet, but nowhere near the drubbing drenching downpour of the Web Boat. I had a great time and, yes, we got our boat ride in spite of all the delays. Our Astro-Trails leaders had to work overtime to make that happen, but they did it and we got to do it and all was good.

     We drove back in darkness to the Recanto Cateratas Hotel near the falls, still on the Brazilian side.

2019 June 29
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     Up early we were off to the airport, not on the Brazilian side, but on the Argentine side. I gathered that makes the flight to Buenos Aires a domestic flight and a non-stop flight, both good things when traveling with foreign passports. (We had mostly British passports with a large minority of American passports plus a few from Hong Kong and India. I figure few people who actually live in Argentina are likely to book a British tour of their own country.)

Argentina - Buenos Aires

     When we got to Buenos Aires I ran to the cash dispenser (ATM) and got some local money before we took our bus to the Melia Buenos Aires Reconquista hotel. (Argentine pesos are about forty to the U.S. dollar.)

     Our bus tour guide regaled us with opportunities to do fun stuff in the Argentine capital for the full thirty-five minute bus ride to the hotel. Most of us were already committed to a tango show in the evening and all of us were committed to an early departure the next morning, so the audience for independent dinner plans was small.

image      The tango show was in an underground restaurant that reminded me of those hole-in-the-wall basement places where it's cramped and crowded with a low ceiling and the food and entertainment are spectacular. As good as the multi-course meal was, the late-night show was Ever-So-Much-More-So. There was live music accompanying tango dancers (of course) and vocalists as well as playing on their own. For the tourists there was a rousing version of "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina" in Spanish with waving flags. I believe that song was also an opportunity for the dancers to catch their breath before another half-hour-plus of seriously-athletic tango dancing.

     It was after midnight when we got back to the Melia Buenos Aires Reconquista hotel, so I went right to bed.

2019 June 30
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     Up and Adam, we got up to go back to the airport for another flight, this one a charter flight to Mendoza. This flight was across the snow-capped Andes Mountains. We arrived in time for a two-hour bus ride to San Juan across beautiful mountain country that made this Arizona boy happy to see. San Juan was near our eclipse-viewing site, all still in Argentina. When I think about it, there was a lot of travel just to experience the tango show, but it really was great and I'm glad we did it.

Argentina - San Juan

     Different groups were checked into different hotels in San Juan. Mine was the Aire Andino Apartment Hotel on an artery with residential housing off the main road. When I went for an afternoon walk to see more of the neighborhood I noticed a lot of packs of roaming dogs, not a friendly sight for a runner, even one who has lost most of his running ability. The Aire Andino is an old place, not in the sense of shabby, but in the sense of elegant and stately. Walls were brick and wood with heavy doors and sturdy furniture. My room key filled my pocket and was the sort that, in Europe, would have been left at the front desk when the occupant is away. In fact, those keys at the front desk are the only way the maids can get in to clean the rooms.

image      My room was palatial with refrigerator and microwave in an entryway kitchen, a big bedroom with a warm bed, a nice bathroom, and good WiFi access to the Internet. (I found out other people weren't so lucky and their rooms didn't have microwave ovens or had lousy WiFi.) Warmth becomes important as this is the second week of winter and the temperature went down to 1 C (34 F) for my run the next morning.

2019 July 1
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     I went for a run in the early morning before breakfast, as I do, and then we had a relaxing day. Not knowing what seating arrangements there would be, I figured there would be a few people who didn't have their own chairs, so I bought a few extras. I figured there might be an acute shorting and I could get a little more than I paid or I could at least break even. As it eventually turned out, there were provided bales of hay for eclipse viewers to sit on, so my chairs weren't vitally needed and I ended up taking a financial loss of eight thousand Argentine pesos, ARS $8000, about USD $200. It's a loss I can afford and my friends were happy to use the chairs.

     There was an Argentina version of The Home Depot right across the street from the hotel. I was warned that I would need my passport to use my credit card to buy anything, so I had it with me. There was a food court nearby for some boring fast food.

     We were taken by bus to an eclipse briefing telling the usual story about how the moon is going to be between the sun and the earth, which I knew, and what planets and stars might be visible, which I didn't know. After the briefing were some light hors d'oeuvres and a bus ride to a "star party" where the sky was still too bright and people talked over the explanations, but it still was cool and fun to stare at the southern sky that I don't see very often and to get some explanation about what I'm seeing. I ran into another old eclipse buddy Bill whom I stayed with in Uganda and Indonesia for previous eclipses. He has seen 28 total solar eclipses and lost four to clouds or rain.

2019 July 2
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     Eclipse day! My run was pleasant enough, dogs followed me but didn't chase me.

image      Late morning we boarded buses for an alpaca farm in the countryside. Alpaca are llama-like animals that they use for wool and meat in Argentina. When we got there I saw hundreds of small hay bales to sit on. I set up my stuff and found friends who wanted to use my chairs. It really was "Home on the Range" as seldom was heard a discouraging word and the skies were not cloudy all day. The weather was perfect the whole time as we awaited the eclipse moment.

     The moon took its first chunk out of the sun's disk, first contact. Slowly the sun's disk got smaller until it was a small crescent. I saw no shadow bands, nobody else saw them either that I know. Both the moment before total totality and the moment after, second and third contacts, had a single, brilliant point of sun-disk brilliance with the entire corona still visible, the "diamond ring" effect. The corona was elongated as predicted by experts. For the first half of the total-eclipse period I saw no prominences on the perimeter of the moon's dark circle, but later on three appeared, a huge-but-faint one at 6:30 on the clock face of the sun and two more-normal ones at 8:00 and 9:00. (If any millennials are reading this, then they can Google "clock face" to learn more about the twelve o'clock positions.) The sun set before the moon cover went away so no fourth contact was visible.

     So, yes, the eclipse was great and there was a sense of "mission accomplished" all around. Whee!

     When I first arrived at the site, I had some concerns that it wasn't just Astro Trails. Maybe other groups aren't going to respect the sanctity of people trying to see a major astronomical event. That never happened, I never saw anybody step in front of anybody, except, perhaps, just to scurry in front to get somewhere during the partial phase. On the other hand, having more people there meant more infrastructure in the form of more porta-potties and several food and souvenir vendors. I was bummed nobody was selling t-shirts at the site, but that seems a more global shortfall as I still haven't seen an eclipse t-shirt for sale (except Amazon on line which doesn't count) anywhere in my South-America journey. When the eclipse ended and we were leaving, I gave the chairs to a food vendor as I wasn't taking them home and she gave me some snacks that she wasn't interested in taking home.

     The third night at the Aire Andino was the only time after the first stay in Rio de Janeiro that we spent three nights in the same hotel. That meant my socks had a serious chance of getting dry after I washed them.

2019 July 3
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     An early departure meant no third morning run in San Juan, but the two hours of mountain driving in the bus were just as beautiful the other direction back to Mendoza. We took another charter flight to Santiago, Chile. This flight took us over the majestic, snow-capped Andes Mountains which made for some beautiful views and photograph opportunities. I got some Chilean pesos from a cash machine (ATM) at the airport. (Chilean pesos are about 680 to the U.S. dollar. That made it easy to tell bills apart as Brazil was tens, Argentina was hundreds, and Chile was thousands.)

Chile - Santiago

     I took the bus tour of Santiago seeing many sights and enjoying a lunch stop at a noisy, crowded restaurant that felt like New York City except that the people were speaking Spanish instead of English (and maybe Yiddish). After lunch we saw a beautiful cathedral. I spent some time with my old eclipse buddy Bill and my new eclipse buddy Donald pointed out the post office was selling first-day-postmarked eclipse stamps, but only for Chilean pesos, not dollars, not credit cards. I had plenty of cash from my airport cash withdrawal and that made me very popular as I bought eleven of these, one for me and one for anybody on the bus who thought it was worth five U.S. dollars to get one from me. We drove to the top of a big hill in Santiago that gave us a vista view of the city and the surrounding mountains.

image      Our hotel was the NH Cuidad - Santiago, located across the street from a lovely riverside park.

2019 July 4
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     I took advantage of the lovely park for my morning run. There was a bridge across the river to the neighboring area of Constanera (according to Google Maps as I forget what our tour guide said) where I did not go on my pedestrian morning adventure. We piled aboard another bus to the airport for a flight to Lima, Peru.

     Rupa was a member of our tour who lives in London with an Indian passport. Appropriately nervous about immigration and border issues, she specifically visited the Peruvian embassy to make clear exactly what she needed. As a resident of Great Britain she did not require a separate visa to enter Peru. That's what they told her, directly to her face in the Peruvian embassy in London. Unfortunately the folks at Peru immigration at this flight didn't quite see it that way. They tried to send her back to Chile, where her entry papers were narrow enough to get her in trouble there. Her only recourse was to go directly back to London and to miss the rest of the trip she paid for.

Peru - Lima

     Lima is a big city, ten of Peru's thirty-two million people live there, and it seems all of them are driving at the same time at rush hour. The final stretch to the hotel had views of the Pacific Ocean. We stayed at the Hotel Jose Antonio Deluxe in Lima.

2019 July 5
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     Near the hotel is Kennedy Park known for its population of stray cats. I stopped counting them at twenty on my morning run there. They made me think of my kitties back home, Max, Devin,and Jane.

image      Maybe three days ago, "never was heard a discouraging word," but this morning, in the lobby, I heard a discouraging word, "overbooked." It was in conversation between our accompanying tour guides Lynn and David and it was clear they were going to have to do something. They did, they did it quickly, and they soon had a pile of boarding passes for us to fly to Cusco on LATAM Airlines. It was a quick recovery to prevent a real tour mess-up. (My aviation/military friends refer to a "Charlie-Foxtrot" (CF) as mixed-company shorthand for "Cluster-Fuck.")

     We had a 9:00 (nine o'clock) bus tour of Lima where we saw two magnificent church interiors and drove by a lot of interesting places. Those not opting for the optional tour had a later 12:30 (half past twelve) bus to the airport so we could all meet and take the same flight.

     See, here's the thing. Those boarding passes weren't for the originally planned 16:05 (five past four) flight to Cusco. They were for an earlier flight at 14:18 (twenty past two) that had enough seats for us. Fine, no problem, our tour was made a little shorter and we got to the airport with enough time to make it. We were told to bring our passports, so no problem.

image      A young fellow named Niko didn't have his passport with him. His mother had it and she would be arriving on the other bus. You know, the other bus, the one that left the hotel at 12:30, the one that had no chance of getting through nearly an hour of Lima traffic, airport check-in, and security lines in time to board a flight leaving at 14:18? Somebody forgot to reschedule the non-tour bus for earlier departure. But for the boy's missing passport, our tour leaders would not have known there was a problem until it was too late. Astro Trails has been heroic at dealing with problems from other sources, they were similarly heroic at dealing with their own mix-up, we all eventually ended up at the hotel, but the second group only got to the hotel in late evening.

     The flight from Lima to Cusco went over the magnificent Andes Mountains from sea level to the high country at 3440 meters (11300 feet). We drove even higher enroute to the Aranwa Sacred Valley Hotel at 2900 meters (9500 feet). This hotel was a sprawling place with a fairly long walk from the lobby to my room, a route I needed to walk a few times in my attempt to get my computer wireless (WiFi) working right. Other than that minor foible, the place was incredibly beautiful and the room was palatial, especially the electrically-warmed drying rack for my socks.

2019 July 6
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Peru - Umubamba Valley

     Today was Machu-Picchu day. The trip was not so much arduous as complex with a bus from hotel, a train to base of the hill, and another bus up the hill to the monument itself. After the tour we were to reverse the sequence. It made for a busy day, but quite a satisfying one. The elevation was daunting enough that many of us drank coca-leaf tea as an attempt to fend off altitude sickness. Even though I didn't think I was susceptible with all my flying at 11500 feet, I drank the coca-leaf tea that was offered at the hotel breakfast.

image      The bus from hotel to train station was lovely. There was a stop at a high-up hotel with rooms at the top of a tough-looking rock climb and no other way up or down. It didn't look quite as scary as climbers who sleep in peg-supported hammocks halfway up a sheer face of rock, but it didn't look all that relaxing either. The aptly-named Vistadome train ran for 90 minutes along a river with gorgeous views on the sides and above seen through windows in the ceiling. We sat at comfortable tables of four. Finally, the bus went up a steep hill and climbed 390 meters (1280 feet). Two young members of our group, Niko and Sydney, decided to do the tough stair climb for an hour and a half. I was suitably impressed and might have done a similar feat at a similar age, but this way I got to spend more time in the park with the ruins.

     We spent a little over an hour touring the park. The tour started climbing a significant stairway to the top and then worked its way down through chambers and hallways from our fifteenth century (1450 through 1500). The spaces are intriguing and it's cool trying to imagine what is was like to live there and to protect this place from invaders. It's surrounded by valleys and then by mountains. There were a lot of people, enough that it was hard to find photo opportunities that didn't have people in them.

     I got a front-row seat on the bus ride down the hill. The driver was quite proficient, good enough that the ride wasn't scary, just impressive. It's a narrow road with steep cliffs and dropoffs. I could see the stairs that Niko and Sydney climbed earlier. The Vistadome train ride was magnificent, but most of us were gorgeous-view burned out, so they offered a dancer dressed as a dancing creature and workers dressed in high-end clothing for sale. The bus back to the hotel was mostly a night ride, so many of us caught up on our sleep.

image      We got to spend a second night in the Aranwa Sacred Valley Hotel and Wellness.

2019 July 7
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     After a morning run on hotel dirt roads and breakfast, we went by bus to the Pisac Market were I bought a Machu Picchu t-shirt and an alpaca-wool vest. For a small fee, I was allowed to take pictures of a girl and her llama.

     We stopped at the Sacsayhuaman fortress, another collection of magnificent ruins from Inca days. The rocks were huge and stacked magnificently. Smaller and simpler than Machu Picchu, the Sacsayhuaman fortress still represents tremendous effort on the part of people who only had rollers, not wheels, to move the giant stones.

     Our guide frustrated me a little. With fifty minutes to see this wonderful site, he spent twenty minutes with a book in front of us telling us about the history and meanings of what we were seeing leaving us just half an hour to walk among the actual ruins. I would have preferred a five minute summary and forty-five minutes to explore. It was the same at Machu Picchu where he spent ten of our sixty minutes at one point with the same picture book explaining the three windows of an Inca temple. As much as it's cool to learn the Incan history, I'm not likely to be in these places again anytime soon and I wanted to spend as much time as possible exploring them with my own eyes.

Peru - Cusco

     We reached the town of Cusco, elevation about 3440 meters (11300 feet), right before the big soccer game, Peru vs. Brazil. The town square in Cusco was a great big party, people proud of their team and their country, people celebrating and enjoying themselves. Two eclipse tour-mates and I went into a pub for lunch. Cheering fans were dressed in Peru soccer shirts. When their anthem was on TV they stood with hands and hearts and sang loudly and proudly. (The three of us stood out of respect.) They had pride and they had fun and they had energy. We didn't get our lunch, but we got a taste of Peru pride and it was terrific.

image      We toured a lovely church with a series of exhibits and then drove to the Hilton Garden Inn in Cusco. This was a strange hotel. While I didn't notice there were no floors above the lobby floor, I did notice the buttons on the elevators went down to go up, Lobby L at the top and my highest-number floor 4 at the bottom, I noticed the elevator going the "wrong" way, and then I saw the stairs going down from the lobby to rooms on the second, third, and fourth floors. I believe this 3440 meters, 11300 feet, 680 millibars, is the highest elevation and thinnest air where I have ever slept the night.

2019 July 8
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     There was no time for a morning run, and probably not enough air for one either. Overwhelmed by the altitude's thin air, tour member Cindy spent the night in a hospital hyperbaric chamber and got a breathing gizmo as a medical "souvenir."

     An airline flight took us to Lima where we spent the afternoon. I found a delicious Peruvian restaurant and walked down to the beach at the Pacific Ocean where I met fellow tour members Suzanne and Andrew. The three of us made our way slowly, with a few deliberate detours, back to our hotel, the same Hotel Jose Antonio Deluxe where we stayed a few nights ago.

Peru - Lima

     It's funny about coming back to the same hotel. We spent all of one night at this hotel a few days ago, but it felt like coming home in a way as I recognized the neighborhood and the park with the cats as we were driving there, I knew my way around the hotel lobby and dining areas, and my laptop computer already knew the WiFi.

    

2019 July 9
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The last verse of Tom Lehrer's "Irish Ballad"
My tragic tale, I won't prolong
Rickety-tickety-tin
My tragic tale I won't prolong
And if you do not enjoy the song
You've yourselves to blame if it's too long
You should never have let me begin, begin
You should never have let me begin
 
     My morning run was familiar, same streets, same park, same cats. I found a sculpture called "Umbra," an appropriate theme for a total-solar-eclipse trip.

     I remember the scene in the various NASA/Apollo movies where the moon-flight commander ends the flight. Tom Hanks had the line in "Apollo 13" where he says, "This is Apollo 13 signing off." This breakfast was Astro Trails 2019-July-2 eclipse Tour 8 signing off, the end of our road. From this point on we were on our own.

     I got one more helpful boost from Astro Trails as our travel company Condor let me buy a seat from the hotel to the airport for my flight home. That meant being at the airport at 16:30 (half past four) for a flight at 25:00 (one o'clock the next morning). Alas, Delta didn't open their window until 21:30 (half past nine), so I ended up sitting at a table in the hotel bar across the street. I ordered and consumed Coke Zero bottles, soup, and pizza to keep them happy, no problem, and starting writing this chronicle of my trip.

2019 July 10
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Upcoming total solar eclipses
  2020 December 14, South America
  2021 December 4, Antarctica
  2023 April 20, between Asia and Australia
  2024 April 8, Mexico, USA, Canada
  2026 August 12, northwest Africa
  2027 August 2, Mediterranean Sea (Egypt)
  2028 July 22, Australia

image image
     My flights home were themselves uneventful. The folks at customs in Atlanta picked me for a random search, a little concern for me as my two-hour connection didn't have a lot of extra time, and they went through everything in my bags. I like my country's borders safe and it is absolutely within the scope of our Constitution that the federal government is supposed to do this, they were nice about it, and they even helped me pack my stuff back into my bags. As I had spent considerable time squeezing my extra t-shirts and a couple of souvenirs into into every nook and cranny of my rollerboard baggage, this was no easy feat and I appreciated their help.

     This has been a long and winding tale of some long and winding roads driven, flown, and otherwise experienced. (There were seven airline itineraries on Astro Trails Tour 8.) Now I'm back to work where I worry about subtle issues in complex mathematical algorithms rather than where the sun will shine at a llama-alpaca farm in Argentina on a particular Tuesday afternoon.

     Here's the good, cool, wonderful reality. I was around a lot of smart people with big egos and around a lot of people with diverse political agendas. Some of them were the kind of geeky space-head people who learned to count backwards before counting forward and the number that came after "THREE, TWO, ONE" was "BLAST OFF!" Yet I saw no out-and-out arguments or fights over any of it. We went along and got along with our tour plans and their changes and with each other.

United States of America - Arizona - Scottsdale

     So I'm home. Suddenly I don't have Astro Trails in my life. When the insurance company hassles me about my claim and the doctor's office bills me two different amounts and my new bank card won't activate when I call the phone number and my car won't start and the highway off-ramp I want to use is closed, I find myself wishing I could have my whole life run by the same people who run my tours with Astro Trails, formerly Explorers, family and friends of Brian McGee. Lynn and Dave represented Astro Trails were wonderful and comprehensive in their coverage of my life for two and a half weeks.

_

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