I am a proud

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Del Agua Volcano cache hunt, near Antigua, Guatemala

Antigua, Guatemala captivates me. It is the Christmas season and the place is decked out with decorations, Mayan souvenir stands and loaded with tourist from around the world. I quickly learned to distinguish between the exploding bomb sounds that were fireworks and the sounds of El Fuego volcano exploding. El Fuego is a good distance from the city so one is safe but there is a constant and distant exploding sound every ten minutes or so. Let’s pick up with the story of cache #2. I left off with Oficial Francisco Castillo transporting me from the Earth Lodge cache DNF over to the second cache. We were going after Agua Box (GC10DKC) on the top of 12,250 ft Del Agua volcano. This is a beautiful cone-shaped volcano that imposes itself on the landscape south of Antigua. The climb up to the parking area above the town of Santa Maria de Jesus was bumpy and difficult. I appreciated the kindness of Oficial Francisco in bringing me here. Hanging on the back of the motorcycle going up the hill would have been difficult. Along the way we picked up Guatemaltecos that were climbing the mountain and gave them a ride in the back of the truck. In the course of the day I observed that the Tourism Police are regarded differently from the average police force in some of Latin countries. There are great suspicions cast on the police forces of Latin America for their corruption. They typically look for the slightest thing wrong with a vehicle so that they can write a ticket and then pressure the driver into giving a bribe so that they won’t write the ticket. The National Tourism Police were regarded as community servants. I was impressed. Agents Freddy and Saul, my personal bodyguards, were there waiting for me. After a brief picture taking session with them and after posing with some Guatemaltecos who somehow thought they need a picture with the foreigner who spoke their language, we set off on the climb. The parking area is part way up the mountain. Unlike many climbs this one had very few places where you would descent before climbing again. It was basically a steady uphill climb through many, many switchbacks. It was a Saturday and many people were climbing. Later in the evening as we descended we saw a steady stream of folks climbing. Most had come from Guatemala City to climb the mountain, camp and see the special fireworks over Guatemala City. This climb was hard due to the terrain. We alternated between loose dirt and rock-strewn trails up the mountain. Even though I’ve climbed higher mountains than this I found myself tired and having to stop and rest along the way more frequently than usual. I supposed it was that I was still weak from surgery. The rule is to stop and breathe every now and then and then go on. Many young people were climbing and a number of them would speak to me in their limited English and then say “animo”, Spanish for “you can do it”. We got a late start on the climb, leaving the parking area at 12:45 p.m. We reached the crater around 5 p.m. I’m convinced that without me Freddy and Saul could have done it in much less time. They climb one of the volcanoes with tourist on the average of two or three times a month. These guys are in good shape. Both are under 30 years old. Within ¼ mile of the crater I started having cramps in my thighs. I don’t usually get these but because I was sharing my water with the Freddy and Saul I was short on liquid. That was certainly contributing to the problem. I had to stop several times and get through the cramps. I realized I wouldn’t make it to the GC, particularly as it appeared that we would be making our descent part way in the dark. I had trained both men in how to use the GPS so I sent Saul on the mission to get to the cache. The GPS was showing 520 ft to the cache but that was with an elevation of 500 ft or more. Saul took off running up the trail. Amazing! Freddy stuck with me. After the cramps passed we continued the climb and reached the crater. The crater was relatively small. This volcano is dormant. The whole crater was a bustling city of tents. There were a few foreign tourist there but I estimate that 95% of the several hundred people camping out there were Guatemaltecos. At the top of the volcano the wind was strong and the temperature was around 35 degrees F. That was a big change from 80 degrees at the parking lot. On the last part of the climb to the crater one of the many Guatemalteco climbers told us that they saw a policeman detour off the trail several switchbacks below. We figured that Saul had started tracking the needle at that point. To do this he probably was about 300 feet from the GC. Later he told us he was climbing on a steep grade in tall grass. Freddy and I started down the hill to position ourselves where we could see Saul when he came down. Freddy used his police whistle to get Saul’s attention. I’d sent Saul with the spoiler picture that showed the exact location of the cache in some very easily distinguishable rocks. He looked all over the place but found no cache. We think that this one is missing. That’s two DNFs for the day. Am I disappointed? Only a little. Again, the adage that geocaching takes you to remarkable places proves truth. Arriving at the summit of Del Agua Volcano is really what this was about. Soon Saul joined us and we continued our descent. Going down was easy until it got dark. Freddy pulled out his flashlight and we worked together to negotiate the rocks. It was slow going the last 2 hours of the descent as we had to move with care. I didn’t want to take a tumble and injury my shoulder. With the Lord’s help we made it to the parking area without any of us falling. I was amazed at the number of people climbing with flashlight. There would be 500 people on the top of the volcano by 10 p.m. On our way down we only stopped for several photo opportunities. Just before nightfall we got a view of Lake Amatitlán, just south of the capital city. As it got dark the lights of Guatemala City were beautiful. The fireworks had begun in a part of the city and they were clearly visible, as was a full moon behind them. We finally got down out of the cold and reached the parking area. With stiff legs I arranged my swag bag and hiking stick in order to ride on the back of the motorcycle with Freddy. Down the hill at a slow pace we went in the dark. At one point we actually took a tumble but everyone was fine but we had a busted siren. Sitting on the back of the motorcycle I had the pleasure of answering lots of questions about my faith in Jesus. We continued our journey down the mountain to Santa Maria de Jesus and the pavement. Part of the arrangement was that I would provide lunch to these men. Because they knew the climb would take a long time they didn’t even stop to eat so I wanted to take them to eat. They wanted to take the food back to the barracks so we pulled into a place they’d never been: McDonalds. With me balancing the takeout we sped through Antigua to the police barracks. While we were eating Oficial Francisco joined us to talk about geocaching. He insisted on taking me on a tour of the barracks. He told me all about their close relationship with the Del Camino Baptist Church in town. It was a pleasant surprise to find out that one of the Southern Baptist Churches has started a church in the police barracks, is teaching the Tourism Police to speak some English and has helped them by building much need bathrooms. We finished out the evening getting on-line in the office. Oficial Francisco is now registered on and has invited me back to hide a cache with him on Tuesday. He took me back to my lodging and a great day of geocaching, “cachevangelism”, real evangelism and social networking came to an end!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Earth Lodge cache hunt with the National Tourism Police – Antigua, Guatemala

I flew from Quito, Ecuador to Guatemala City, Guatemala on a COPA flight. This was my first trip to Guatemala and it was a pleasant surprise. I somehow thought this country would be just like Costa Rica. It is different in many ways, having its own unique landscape, Mayan and Mestizo culture and lots of pine trees. I don’t see many pine trees in Latin America so this was a nice. My taxi was waiting for me at the airport and brought me to the city of Antigua, about an hour from the capital city. He brought me straight to the home where I would be boarding. I’m staying with a widow lady and her 30-year old son. The folks I stayed with were pretty insistent that I not go alone to the two places I wanted to go to in order to find the caches. They told me that the country has a National Tourism Police that are there to protect and accompany tourism. On Saturday morning I went on a jaunt through the small city to find this special police group. After asking around I finally found them. Oficial (kind of like lieutenant) Francisco Velasquez Castillo, a gregarious, friendly man, received us without any waiting and immediately became our friend. He explained the way their service worked and I right away contracted them to accompany me. It was inexpensive. Actually the cost of taking taxis to the sites I wanted to visit would have cost about the same. Never have I had armed bodyguards when I went geocaching. There is a first time for everything I guess. Up pulled Agents Freddy and Saul, each on their own motorcycle. In no time I was on the back of one of the bikes with a loaned helmet, my swag bag and hiking stick under my arm. We took off up the hill to look for the first geocache. We were in search of Taste the Nature....!!! (GC1B1FR) above the nearby town of El Hato. These agents had never seen or hear of a GPS. I turned our trip into an educational adventure. We stopped along the road and asked some Mayan women if the road curved down the hill anywhere. It looked like the GC would require a significant descent and I thought maybe we were on the wrong road. They told us to look for the “gringos” who had a lodge further up the road to see if we could cut through their property to get down into the valley. As we followed the road it turned and did get us close to the GC. We parked the bikes beside the road and I had Saul take the GPS and lead us to the GC. We somehow missed the entrance to the lodge so we were following the needle. We came to a Mayan farmers land and ask permission to cut across. He and his family were very friendly and pointed the way. By this time the dogs were barking at the lodge below. The Earth Lodge is a small and simple affair. We met Drew and Briana and some of their customers. I told them what we were there for and they gave us permission to look for the cache. Drew said that he only knew the general location of the cache. Saul took us to the GC and we started the search. We looked everywhere but to no avail. The cache page said it would be an easy find so I’m convinced that it wasn’t there. Some of the lodgers came down and helped us look. After about 45 minutes I called the search off because we needed to move on to the next cache. By that time Freddy and Saul were into geocaching. We walked back up to the small lodge and Briana, with her “Tree hugger” t-shirt, was serving up cokes to Oficial Francisco and his machine gun toting driver. I was surprised to see them there. I had told Francisco about geocaching and he was very interested. We had talked about the potential benefit of geocaching to the tourism industry in Antigua and he was enthralled. He had called one of the agents to see where we were and had hunted us down. As we shock hands he showed me an old Garmin model GPS that he had purchase some years before. He wanted to know how to use it. We had a short lesson right there. He sent the Freddy and Saul on ahead and told me that because the road going to the next cache was rough he wanted to drive me in the police 4-wheel drive truck. He knew that I had recently had shoulder surgery and was kindly offering to help out. We had a great time visiting as we traveled back through Antigua towards the second cache. I’ll tell more about the second cache, Agua Box (GC10DKC), in the next installment of Andean Trekker.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Futile Puno cache hunt

On 8 December I traveled from Huancané to a small Aymara town just to the southeast of Puno, Peru. I was traveling with some friends solely for the purpose of sightseeing along Lake Titicaca. We’d seen the geocache Fertile Puno (GC1ACE4) on and wanted to find it. The drive from Huancané took about 2 hours across the flat altiplano (high plains). We arrived at the town of Chucuito and rolled into the plaza in front of the Catholic Church. There across the street was a fenced-in area with the ruins of an old Inca temple. The cache description said to be sure and see this place. But first we had a cache to look for. The needle led us to the location described in the clue. We began the search but, as the description stated, this is a muggle-rich area. In plan view of our activities were about five Aymara women selling souvenirs and about five young people waiting to serve as tour guides of the Inca temple ruins. We decided to line the two families up to get a picture while I stood behind the group looking for the cache. This was supposed to be an easy find but I could not find it. Next each of the other guys tried looking for it but none of us could find it. Apparently the cache, a micro, had been muggled. Since looking for this one without being seen was difficult, I suspect that the last finder in June 2008 was observed. Afterwards some curious muggles probably found the cache. Several kids came over and started poking around while we were there. Unfortunately the only other caches in the area were out on some of the islands on Lake Titicaca and out of our reach at this time. Even though this was disappointing, the owner of this cache had brought us to a location none of us would have visited otherwise. The two families I was traveling with live in Huancané and had never heard of this place. We contracted one of the tour guides, a ten-year old boy and were given the tour of the old Inca temple ruins. As you might have guessed from the name of the cache, this was a fertility temple. It was kind of awkward listening to a ten-year old explain the symbology. I won’t go into the description nor show pictures of the stones as they were somewhat graphic. Suffice it to say that this temple was built by the predecessors to the Inca in this area (probably Aymara ancestors) and then later used by the Inca. At the time the women who were infertile would come and perform the temple ceremonies. If a male child was born later he lived. If a female child was born, she was sacrificed to their gods. This was during the time of the Inca wars with the conquering Spaniards and they wanted all the male children they could get to help in the fight when they grew up. From Chucuito we head back to the northwest to Puno to find a good restaurant for a leisurely meal before returning to Huancané. It’s a bummer to not find a cache but it all goes to show you that caching is more about the places you see. We all got on line to log our DNFs but showing appreciation to the owner of the cache for taking us to the Inca temple ruins. We made it back to Huancane in time to visit Ruben, and Aymara friend. He showed me his loom and some of his handy work. It was great to spend time with these folks. I speak Quichua, the dominant tribal language of the mountains of Ecuador and Peru but not Aymara. I was a little like a fish out of water on the language but enjoyed the opportunity to visit with them.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Huancane, Peru - Climbing Pocopaca Mountain

                                                                                                                                                                         7 December was a great day! This morning low_rider73, FreeCuba, his kids, Jessica and I went up Pocopaca mountain overlooking the Peruvian town of Huancané. Because my surgery has left me a little weak we took the 4X4 to the top. We topped out at 13,880 feet above sea level. low_rider73 broke off from our group to hide his second cache ever. He has one in Lima where I introduced him to geocaching. Now he is putting one in a rather out-of-the-way place just above Huancané. While he was off on his mission the rest of us went to the top of the mountain. From there we could see Lake Titicaca with its dark blue waters to the east. It is beautiful. We explored the small chapel and the wondered around looking at the tiny rock piles that have been built up into tiny apartments or houses. In May of each year the people of the town make a pilgrimage up this hill to offer libations and burn candles in hope that a combination of the Pacchamama (traditional Aymara/Quechua earth mother diety) and God will bless them with the house of their dreams. The pile of rocks represents what they are asking for. The confusion represented by petitioning the Pacchamama at the same time as they petition God demonstrates the level of syncretism in their religion. We also found the "tunnel of desires". Someone has fashioned a short tunel into which you go and make a wish. Truly this is an interesting place of superstition and beauty. What a view of the city of Huancané from above and the extensive altiplano (high plains) we had. After a good while low_rider73 returned. FreeCuba was on his first caching adventure. He and his seven-year old son took control of the GPSr and with the coordinates entered and the clue took off with the rest of us following close behind. I know that normally a geocache is placed and published before any hunt takes place. Not this time and we didn't mind. Huancané is far off the beaten trail and I actually wonder if anyone else will ever go looking for this cache. It is in the reviewer's hands now. Plus, this was a teachable moment, one that might be critical in converting a muggle to a cacher. Kind of important. So we went looking. FreeCuba and Elijah learned how to do the drunken bumblebee dance, but with caution as they were on a steep hill. Even though my arm was in a sling at the time I wanted to go along when the trail took us down a steep hill. With FreeCuba's help I scrambled down the hill to discover that we needed to go back up. That's right, low_rider73 wasn't giving us many extra clues. Finally with some searching FreeCuba found the small cache. It was fun and FreeCuba and son Elijah are eager to do more geocaching. We had a great time on Pocopaca. We spent the rest of the day together in other activities. Tomorrow we head for Puno, further south along the lake to look for a cache that is along the beaten path of tourist. It is called Fertile Puno (GC1ACE4)

Friday, December 5, 2008

Cache hide on the coast in Lima, Peru

I arrived in Lima this afternoon on the COPA flight, took a taxi to my lodging in the Miraflores section of town, dropped my gear, grabbed my camera and GPSr and headed out the door. I took a taxi over to the costenera (the coastal park high on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean). My mission was to find a place to hide another cache as well as to check on one of my caches that has had a string of DNFs. Yes, I live in Quito over 500 miles away. How is it that I can have caches in Lima? I asked for special permission from the reviewer and got it because I travel to Lima an average of six times a year; enough to maintain these caches. Most geocachers in Lima are tourist who stay in one of the nearby hotels. The costenera is a popular place to go walking or biking. It is a large sidewalk winding along the cliffs of the coast through park after park. I figured that my Surfview cache (GC1H1CP) had been muggled. The area where this one is hidden is along a paved trail that breaks away from the main sidewalk at street level and descends through a small valley that leads down to the ocean. From most places along the trail you can watch the surfers in the cold Pacific Ocean. It makes me think of the Beach Boys "Surfing USA" song. It mentions Peru by the way. When I arrived at the GC I had to wait until some surfer muggles came up the trail with their surfboards. Once they were clear I began to look and right away found the cache. I'm not sure what threw the last three cachers off. There were several who had signed the cache since the string of DNFs but none had gone on line to log their finds. I was happy to find the cache was still there. Back up the trail to the top of the cliff and south through the parks. Soon I came to the coastal lighthouse. Now this would be a great place to hide a cache and there is adequate distance between this location and the other caches. I had a small container ready to go but there were so many muggles there. Add to it that Lima does a great job maintaining the parks. To hide one in this location would take some very good camo and the cooperation of geocachers. Supreme stealth will be required if a cache at the lighthouse is to survive. I had a prescription medicine bottle with a log sheet inside a small ziplock bag. To my right were a young couple. They seemed pretty interested in each other so I don't think that they were watching me too closely. I found some dried vines along the bank. I wrapped the container with the vines to provide the orange colored bottle some camo. I could take up basket weaving. I was proud of my work. I waited and waited. In the end I decided that this location close to the lighthouse just had too many muggles. I moved a little further south, maybe a 100 ft, and the muggle factor dropped significantly. This was the place. A look to the left and the right, no one looking, I stashed the cache in its place. Now to mark it. They thought this was a telephone so they suspect nothing. Mission complete! Wow, I was a little light-headed. This was the most walking I'd done since my shoulder surgery nine days ago. Back to my hotel in a taxi instead of walking. I logged the visit to Surfview and the new hide Lighthouse (GC1JNZO). Many of the tourist geocachers when they log their finds lament that their aren't more caches in Lima. Now there is one more. Enjoy!

Monday, December 1, 2008

West Hartford Reservoir, CT - TUC series of geocaches

After leaving Georgia I flew to Hartford, CT. Continental kept to schedule and got all my luggage there just fine. I grabbed my rental car and had a couple of hours of daylight left. What to do? Since I'd prepared beforehand I had already downloaded a number of geocaches around the Bradley International Airport so it was straight from Thrifty out to the north of the airport. The first one was one of my favorites.  It is a virtual memorializing the firefighters who've given their lives in the call of duty. Just north of the airport there's a really impressive monument. See the picture.  One note: Connecticut is cold! I made it out to the west of the airport and found another interesting cache. This one is called Oink! (GCRTK7) and is located along a greenway trail. Just as the sun was setting and the wind was picking up I found this one. I had to run back to the trailhead parking area it was so cold. From there I headed south to the town of Farmington to find my hotel. Thank goodness for my GPSr because I got all turned around on the roads and was able to track to one of the caches that was located close to the hotel. I got checked in and took off to buy some more clothes.  Most of all I needed the cold weather rain jacket I bought. Thanks to sales at JC Penney's I'm set for the morning and supporting the economy.

I left the hotel as the sun came up and arrived at the West Hartford Reservoir parking on the south side just off of Farmington Ave. It turned out to be a sunny but blustery day outside. I worked my way around the hiking/biking trails in a clockwise manner. The west side of the reservoir is hilly. I found a mix of micros, smalls and regular sized tupperware and ammo boxes along the way. Many of these were placed by Tuckerman. I particularly liked one called TUC-90 WHR On the Ridge (GC1FT7A). First, it was a challenge to climb up to. Second, there was a good view of the valley from up on the rocks. Third there was a Travel Bug memorializing the life of First Lieutenant  Jonathan Brostrom who died in Afghanistan. I moved it on. As the day wore on I found myself traveling through woods and beside of frozen over ponds. The temperature didn't rise much and the wind was strong. Finally just before noon I made it to the northern extreme of the reservoir, route 44. After a quick and cold lunch I was off running. Since I didn't know what time the park would close I decided to jog between some of the caches. The return trip was along rolling hills.  During the morning I only saw one person on the trail. During the afternoon I probably saw eight people biking or hiking. The return hike along the east side of the reservoir proved fruitful too. I found several nice caches of all sizes. On this leg of the trip I came on the main lakes of the reservoir. Although one of the caches was named for the turtles that bask in the sun there it was no surprise that they weren't out. What a day! I finished the loop in just under eight hours and found 21 caches! I believe that I hiked about 10 miles on this one.  It was great! Over the next two days I had conferences to attend so I only got out for a short period of geocaching. I picked up a number of TBs and geocoins that I brought back to Ecuador. It was a real blessing to be able to visit Connecticut. If you are ever there, I suggest the TUC series in the WHR!