Turning to the School Yard to Solve a Peruvian Driving Conundrum

The Problem:
Peru seemed to be dominated by roadways that were developed before vehicles.  And, it turns out they were. From the old section of Cusco, to the rural countryside, we frequently observed two-way roads that were only barely wide enough for one-way traffic.
2 cars approach one-another from opposite directions on a narrow streetWe walked along a sidewalk wedged between the storefronts and the street. The sidewalk was so minimal that not only were two pedestrians unable to pass without one stepping into the road, even a single pedestrian needed to carry parcels in her street-side hand, or more commonly on her back, to keep them from rubbing against shop windows. Seemingly as an afterthought, squeezed between the facing sidewalks was a cobblestone street nearly too narrow for one small car to negotiate. Yet the streets were all considered two-way. Consequently, when two cars met traveling in opposite directions, one needed to reverse to the preceding intersection to get out of the way. But not always. We watched as two cars crept past one another, each with two tires on the sidewalk, side mirrors nearly scraping as they passed.

The Solution:
While some municipalities might solve this problem by widening roads or designating some streets as one-way, Cusco leadership seems to have thought out of the box for a resolution: driving classes during elementary school recess. Yup, as we wandered up the narrow streets, we spotted a large school yard with several dozen kids at play. A few were enjoying a game of soccer while the vast majority were eagerly pedaling Fred Flintstone-style cars around roadways painted on the playground asphalt. This wasn’t simply an oval track. This road system included traffic lights, stop signs, crossing guards, pedestrian crossings, left turn lanes and lots of pint-size cars all driven by 8-year olds.

on a sunny day, tiny cars are pedaled around a playground by small children
This novel approach to too-narrow streets seems to be working. As we wandered the old section of Cusco, which was snarled with traffic, we didn’t see one fender bender or even a driver who appeared agitated at backing up two blocks up a cobblestone street. Quite to the contrary, road rage was nowhere in evidence; schoolyard exercises seemed to be paying off in the streets of Cusco.

You Got This Mom!


While offered with a cheery inflection, “vamos!” none-the-less conveyed a command to resume planting one foot in front another as we climbed to the 15,200-foot pass. My footfalls were slow and consistent. With each step I repeated to myself one word of a four-word phrase: Step, “you”, step, “got”, step, “this”, step, “mom.” However, as I continued up the incline inching closer to our goal, my pace slowed dramatically. I adjusted my mantra to: right foot, “you… you,” left foot, “got.. got”, right foot, “this… this,” left foot, “mom… mom.”

I looked ahead hoping to spy horses coming down the trail. Turns out that the best course of action when meeting a horse train while trekking near Salkantay in Peru is to stop, move to the side of the trail and let the horses pass, which offered easily a minute’s rest. Unfortunately, no horses were in sight.

An alternative hope: perhaps our guide Dalmiro would spot a flower or snake or point out a butterfly to us. Any educational stop offered more than sufficient time to regain steady breathing and simultaneously gain insight into the flora and fauna of Peru. For instance, one morning Dalmiro actively poked a snake with his hiking poles as he informed us it was indeed poisonous.

“Why are you poking it then?” I questioned.

“To catch it so everyone can see it!” Dalmiro responded enthusiastically.

Fortunately, the snake escaped into the undergrowth neither poisoning someone in the group, nor having its head chopped off.

During our downhill walks, our group’s conversation would be filled with laughter and plenty of games of broken telephone.

Just yesterday as we returned to our lodge, I found myself defining prophylactic for our Peruvian guide, who offered an animated analysis of why sexual drive is much stronger among jungle inhabitants than up in the mountains. His analysis—it all comes down to the amount of skin showing.

However, as we slowly progressed uphill, no voices broke the still air. The only sound was heavy breathing and, wait? What was that? An avalanche?

I looked toward Salkantay Peak and pointed with my hiking pole. My husband stopped and looked in the direction I was pointing.

“What do you see?” he asked.

As his question wasn’t of the yes or no variety I was unable to answer, having absolutely no spare breath to form words.

He seemed to catch on and followed up with, “An avalanche?”

To this I was able to actively respond with a nod of my head.

By the time we had paused a minute looking for the telltale puff of snow on the peak, I had regained my ability to speak and even pulled out my water bottle for a few gulps.

Looking ahead, I could actually see our destination—we were nearly at the pass—and with a final bit of focus and a couple dozen repetitions of my mantra, I indeed did have this and soon was happily basking in the sunshine at the top of the pass.

Improving My Photography: Wait For the Moment

Tip #1: Wait For the Moment

I have heard this advice repeatedly yet it's been difficult for me to put into practice. One of my biggest obstacles, beyond my impatience, is that I don't make photography my priority. Rather. I take my camera on my walk, or take my camera on my vacation, or take my camera to record the moment; a moment I don't even wait for!

So out I headed with my iPhone and photography as my priority. The following illustrates my best example of the snapshot versus waiting. 

Two kids sit looking at books. 

The moment when his sister puts a book in a bin outside the door causing the small boy to glance up. 

The first is a nice photo without a compelling story. In the second a story is waiting to be told.  

9 places to factor into your post-blizzard walking route

I have a new request for Google— map a walk for me that optimizes the availability of shoveled sidewalks. With the number of people in the path of winter storms this year, I think there may be many of us who would use this feature.  

Good news, I have conducted a very unscientific survey (while walking, of course) and can provide the inputs for an algorithm to identify the best-shoveled sidewalk route.  

For starters there are sidewalks that should definitely be avoided as they are the least likely to be cleared after a storm.  For instance:

  1. Cross-walk access.  Yes, definitely the most unlikely of snow-blocked routes, yet time after time while the sidewalk was clear and the street was clear, crossing the street would lead the walker straight into a significant snow-encounter. 

  1. Post-offices— clearly the postal service has enough to do to reduce costs without focusing on clearly sidewalks.

  1. Gas stations— pretty obvious one here as their only goal is to get cars in and out so the easiest place to pile up the snow is one the sidewalk.  Honestly, why would anyone want to walk by a gas station?

  1. Strip malls— serious uncleared sidewalk
    offenders with an economic incentive. All of the strip malls I passed had well cleared passage
    into  their mall. Draw the walkers in and maybe they’ll stay to shop.  
Seriously, in the photo at left, the sidewalk goes to the right of the shrubbery along the street. The cleared walkway in the left part of the photo goes along the strip mall and soon turns left, away from the sidewalk.

While those are spots to definitely be avoided, I need Google to find sidewalks that run in front of the following establishments:

  1. Places of worship— possibly due to their charitable nature or possibly to help new followers find the path to follow, literally, their sidewalks are among the first cleared post-storm.

  1. Train platforms— actually train tracks were far and away the most tempting route for my walk other than the high likelihood of meeting a train traveling at far greater speeds and with far greater mass than I, but that’s a physics problem for XKCD. So, Google, no need to include any well-cleared railroad tracks for my route.  However, the platforms along train tracks are definitely fair game— well-cleared and wide enough for walking side-by-side with a friend.

  1. Libraries offer another wide-path alternative— wide enough for a double stroller to easily make it past. Perhaps there’s a high correlation between book borrowers and winter stroller walkers.
  1. Pizza parlors were a surprising find in the clear-sidewalk category.  The sidewalks around the local pizza house were not only well cleared to the door, they were down to pavement all the way around. Shoveling might be a good way to cool off after standing in front of a hot pizza oven.
  1. Finally, considerate home owners.  Identifying who might actually take the time to shovel using only the data available from a Google map is a little tricky.  

At first I thought I saw a correlation between homes with porches and shoveled walks, but alas that quickly faded farther from the town center.  Perhaps home-owners with driveways would be more likely to shovel their walk as they were already out clearing a driveway. That too proved a dead-end, perhaps they were too tired from shoveling the driveway.  

Then I saw it— homes with a front door painted in a contrasting color to the rest of the house are far more likely to have a clear sidewalk out front than other houses.  I didn’t come up with a reasonably hypothesis on why this would be, but with Google street view, front door paint color can often be discerned.  If the color contrasts with the siding, trim and shutters then voilĂ !  Add that house to my walking route.

So Google, just maximize walking past homes with contrasting front doors, pizza parlors, libraries, train platforms and houses of worship, while minimizing strip malls, gas stations, post offices and major intersections that need to be crossed.  How hard could that be?

Downy Woodpecker tummy-to-tummy with Red-bellied Woodpecker

While many people easily confuse the Downy and Hairy Woodpecker when not seen side-by-side, I doubt if there’s much confusion over the Downy (on the left) and Red-bellied (on the right, with no red belly). Regardless, their bird feeder stand-off allows an easy tummy-to-tummy, as it were, comparison.

Night Skys

Picnic, check. Beach blanket, check. Forecast for clear skies and northern lights, check, check! Having read about the fickleness of clear skies and northern lights even when they are predicted, we headed to the beach early to enjoy the rippled sand and sunset. Any northern light sighting would be considered a bonus.

 The textures of the dune grass, sand flats and mottled western sky all beckoned to me and my camera saying, “hey, no need to wait for some elusive northern lights, look at our show."

What a show indeed. The deep oranges of the setting sun reflected off every surface and reminded me of one of the pleasures of summer camp— lake sunsets that never grow old.

Every evening campers and counselors drift to the water’s edge in ones or twos or threes to watch the sun’s departing show. While artificial lights creep across our cities and suburbs, camp life celebrates natural darkness where only the occasional flashlight interrupts the moonlight dancing across the lake. Looking up into a star-studded sky and seeing a satellite slowing arcing past or spotting a shooting star or recognizing a constellation by name are gifts campers receive each summer.

These were the memories that flitted through my mind as I sat on the beach gazing north over the dark ocean, waiting expectantly for the northern lights. Was there a green glow above the horizon? Possibly. Was it the aurora borealis? Possibly, or possibly my imagination.

We looked up at the Big Dipper and Cassiopeia, enjoying the darkness and quiet. We may or may not have seen an the northern lights, but like a summer night at camp, we thoroughly enjoyed the delights of the night sky.

Passover in the Digital Age

Many years ago I hosted my first Passover Seder and placed steaming hot dishes of food on the table as we sat down and opened the Haggadah.  First question, “why on this night did mom put dinner on the table and not let us eat?”  The food was far from hot when we finally answered all four questions and completed our retelling of the Passover story.

Although I will never be mistaken for a quintessential Jewish mom, I have learned a lot about hosting a Seder in the intervening years.  Perhaps my most important learning has been “make it relevant.”  To that end, we retell the Passover story as a group with one person starting the narrative and others chiming in with additional details or the occasional correction:

“Miriam hid in the bushes and then a Princess, -" 
“Actually the Pharaoh’s daughter.”  
“Right, the Pharaoh’s daughter, came down to the river and saw the baby in the rushes.”

2014 marked the year that we made technology relevant to the Seder.  Our household observes strict no-technology-at-the-dining-table rules.   However, this year we embraced technology to bring together family across borders and share in our Seder via Google+ Hangouts.  We set up a laptop at one end of the table, right beside Elijah’s cup actually, and those of us physically at the table crowded to the other end so we could all be on camera simultaneously.

The slight audio time-lag made the story retelling somewhat disjointed, but the pleasure of all sharing the Seder together more than compensated.  

My daughter is now mulling over designs to transport food digitally so we can all share in the same food.  However, even though we didn’t all serve ourselves from the same dishes, we certainly all shared a meal together.