Making The Padres Proud ...

Another stellar quarter for the Perlman girlies.  Both girls made the school Honor Roll, with Riley also making the Principal's Honor Roll for the third quarter in a row. 

If that wasn't enough for today's awards assembly, Riley received her certificate and medal for winning the best project for the 6th grade Science Fair.

And if that STILL wasn't good enough, Riley found out during the assembly that her group was awarded 1st place for best project during the World Culture Fair. 


El Seder

Matt hadn't even been at our new post of El Salvador more than a week before he was approached by our DCM (Deputy Chief of Mission) about planning the Passover Seder.  Nine.  Months.  Away. 

The Jewish Community here is small and secular, with until recently, nobody like our friends from our previous post in Chennai, India who could help plan Jewish Holiday events. 

Over the course of the past several months, the topic of Passover would come up in passing, and I would always acknowledge that if when the time came it was still something the community would want to attend, I would host it.  However, up until four weeks ago, I didn't realize that hosting it really meant, doing all of it myself. 

So, with no time to spare, and a week long vacation out of the country, the Embassy Community Passover Seder of 2015 was on.

With the first and second night Passover falling during Semana Santa (the Holy Week preceding Easter) and all the kids off for Spring Break, we knew most of the families who would attend the Seder were going to be out of town.  Thus, we decided to hold our Seder on the final evening of Passover, this past Friday evening.  

Despite the mad dash of ordering the Matzah and all of the things needed to host the Seder with less than four weeks to plan, the evening turned out even better than I could have anticipated.

With the right combination of Jewish humor and religious piety, our DCM led a beautiful Seder, with over 90 people attending, including the Ambassador.  

Of course, no Seder is complete without Matzah Ball Soup and Manishevitz ... though with the shipping restrictions, I wasn't able to have Gefilte Fish sent in ... much to many's dismay.  As this was more of a cultural affair (Seder 101), we did have our fair share of Chametz and non-Kosher fare.  Which made our potluck dinner all the more tasty.  

We were blessed to have so many friends attend the festivities.  With several helping to set up, and even more staying to clean, dare I admit that I'm already anticipating what a blowout event Passover 2016 will be? 

L'Shana HaBa'ah B'El Salvador.


A "Wonder"-Ful Adventure

The taxi to Ollantaytambo picked us up from our hotel in Urubamba around 12:30 pm and dropped us off in plenty of time to catch our train to Machu Picchu.  It was a quick 1.5 hour ride to Aguas Caliente, where we were met with our first REAL bout of rain.  But weather be damned, we weren’t going to miss this opportunity of a lifetime, so once we checked into our overpriced and underwhelming hotel, we were off to purchase our tickets for the next day. 

Aguas Caliente is a small town at the bottom of the valley next to Machu Picchu, and the principal access point to the site.  Despite its magnificent setting, it’s not the most pleasant town, and after walking around for 20 minutes, we saw pretty much everything it had to offer.

The bus stopped in front our hotel at 10:10 am the next morning to transport us up to Machu Picchu.  The twenty minute ride zig-zagged up the middle of the cloud forest on a dirt road with no guard rails.  It. Was. Scary.  When we exited the bus we were immediately bombarded with tour guides, who spoke a myriad of languages, at the ready to take us around.  We hired the first one who spoke English.

Nothing quite prepares you for the jaw dropping views when you first walk through the Historic Sanctuary of Machu Picchu.  The serenity of the site situated at an altitude of 8000 feet is humbling as the only sounds you hear are those of the tourists around you and the rushing waters of the rivers below.

While the history of the Incas and Machu Picchu is long, the short version of how it was discovered is that while searching for another Inca refuge in 1911, Hiram Bingham, an American historican and lecturer at Yale University, was led up to Machu Picchu by a local 11 year-old Quechuas boy.  Since the Inca capital was never found or plundered by the Spanish, over the centuries the surrounding jungle grew over much of the site, and few knew of its existence. 

We spent 2 hours with the guide and another hour touring on our own, even climbing to the highest point at this site.  However, both time and agility prevented us from trekking up the two additional trails to Huchuy Picchu or to Huayna Picchu (aptly pronounced whine-a-picchu or wine-a-picchu for those who know me well). 
Every good thing must come to an end, and after almost 4 hours, it was time to descend the mountain (with our eyes closed, of course). We grabbed a quick lunch in Aguas Caliente before boarding our train back to Cusco, where we then enjoyed the bi-modal service of a 1.5 hour train ride followed up with a 1 hr 45 minute BUS ride. 

Our flight from Cusco left early the next day, and after a taxi ride to the airport, 3 planes, a 4-hour layover in Panama and an hour ride back to our house once we arrived at midnight in El Salvador,   We.  Were.  Done.  

Peru was an amazing adventure, but frankly, there's no place like home.


Piscos, Pals and Pictures in PERU!

Part of the excitement of moving back overseas is the opportunity to visit friends who you've served with at previous posts and experience the culture with the "locals."

We just returned from an amazing week in Peru, where we did just that.  We hung out with our friends in Lima.   We flew to Cusco and saw the ancient Incan Ruins.  And we took the kids to their FOURTH Wonder of the World ... Machu Picchu.  (Read here about our previous trips to Petra, The Pyramids, and the Taj Mahal).

Our arrival into Lima was wicked late that Saturday evening, March 28th, but our dearest friends from Chennai had a taxi waiting for us at the airport, and food and drinks at their house ... despite it being midnight when we got there.  All 9 of us stayed up until almost 3 am catching up on the latest, but surprisingly awoke early the next day to begin playing tourists!  

It was an action packed day filled with a delicious brunch on the coast, an hour bus-tour, shopping at the local artisan street fair, and even seeing a high school girlfriend who lives in Lima for dinner.

 Okay - so we may have had a *wee* bit of trouble finding the taxi driver who was waiting for us with a laminated sign at the airport ...

 But our 36 hours came to a very quick end, and we said our goodbyes as we jetted off to Cusco. 

Cusco is one of the most important archaeological sites in South America, one of the most visited tourist attractions in all of Latin America and is the most visited tourist attraction in Peru, receiving almost a million visitors a year.  The Imperial City was laid out in the pattern of a puma -- one of the 3 levels of Inca spiritual life: the condor - above the earth; puma - on the earth; the snake - below the earth, and was declared a World Heritage Site in 1983 by UNESCO.
 L: Our Hotel in Cusco.  R: Matt & Riley eating alpaca from a street vendor.

 After a late night stroll, grabbing a bite at 10pm in the hotel ... where Grady finally realized he was zonked and passed out on the couch while we ate.

The Plaza in Cusco
We packed a lot of sight seeing into our two days in Cusco, and after a quick trip to Starbucks, we were on the road with our guide.  Our first stop was to Tambomachay, known as the Baths of the Inca.  The structure has 3 levels, as was common among Inca buildings, and had been built with perfectly fitting-together unequal-shaped bricks without the usage of mortar.  It consists of a series of aqueducts, canals, and waterfalls that run through the terraced rocks. 

 I spy with my little eye ...

Next, we went to the Inca fortress of Saqsayhuamán, (which when pronounced, sounds almost exactly like Sexy Woman).  Sitting at an altitude of about 12,000 ft., it is difficult to grasp the enormity of the complex, as well as the overall structure and shape. 

This monumental complex was planned and built by Andean Man and was one of the most important religious complexes of its time.  The Incas called it the House of the Sun and the Spaniards called it a fortress because of its location high above Cusco, its zig-zag shape, and immense terrace walls.  Climbing to a higher level gave us a better view of the complex but also yielded a very good view of the sprawling city of Cusco. 

Our last stop of the day was to Koricancha or Temple of the Sun.  It was dedicated primarily to Inti, the Sun God and was the foremost temple in the Inca Empire.

The inter-sanctum of Koricancha once displayed the great wealth and strength of the Inca empire in the form of hundreds of solid gold panels covering the walls, as well as golden statues, altars and an enormous golden disc which represented the sun itself.  All the gold and many of the priceless artifacts were plundered by the Spanish when the Inca were conquered and Cusco fell under their rule.  At least two major earthquakes did significant damage to the church, but the 1950 earthquake collapse of the Spanish architecture revealed the still-standing Inca walls and several previously hidden chambers.

Grady is standing next to one of the limestone blocks, showing the intricate Lego-like system used to build the stone structures.

While testing out a selfie-stick, the lady holding the little lamb jumped into our picture at the last minute.  Best. Photobomb. Ever.

The next morning we checked out of our hotel and began our drive through the scenic landscape to the Urubamba Valley, the "Sacred Valley of the Incas”.  In route, we stopped at Awana Kancha, where we saw animals native to the Andes.  It’s a camelid farm dedicated to the animals and intricate textiles produced from their wool. 

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Perlman family vacation without a little regurgitation … though this time it wasn’t from the kids.  It was from the llama who decided to spit the largest mouthful of goo all over Sheridan’s face, mouth, and jacket.  It. Was. AwesomeDisgusting.  Awesome.

We continued the drive to the town of Pisac and visited the colorful Pisac Market, where the local Indians meet to sell their merchandise as they have done it for centuries. 
 Overlooking the Sacred Valley
Grady HAD to have this fedora.

After stopping for a late lunch, we finished our tour in the town of Ollantaytambo, a massive citadel located 50 kilometers from Machu Picchu, from where we climbed up to its imposing Inca fortress at the top of the mountain.  Nowadays this is an important tourist attraction on account of its Inca buildings and as one of the most common starting points for the three-day, four-night hike known as the Inca Trail. 

After a long day of driving, touring and hiking, we bid adieu to our guide, and checked in to our luxury hotel in the Sacred Valley.  Where we stayed until we took the train the next day to .........

......... Stay Tuned!

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