Monday 24 August 2015

2015 LAOTN - Machu Picchu - OMG I Nearly killed Tim

Like I said, I love travel and to appreciate it, you have to make the most of the opportunities.

When I was considering the LAOTN tours, Tim Hall asked me if I was up for a trip to Machu Picchu. A few years back others had made the trip and I was envious, Ronald and Cindy Bradford had been and Tim's Dad, Graham Wood after another tour, so we had help with ideas.

I like to be organised so I did the research, planning and booking. That is fine if it works out, but I do tend to worry. This year I think it was so regimented I almost killed Tim.

As I said in the earlier post the tours are very tiring, and with the flights I chose to make the most of each destination, we were by the time we reached the last city Lima, pretty exhausted. We had a quiet day and I would like to think recharged the batteries.

The plan was:

  • 8 am Flight to Cusco
  • drop off big bags at hotel
  • taxi through the Sacred Valley to Ollantaytambo
  • train to base of Machu Picchu (Aguas Caliente) 
  • find bus ticket for trip up mountain
  • find something to eat in
  • early night
  • very early start to be first up the mountain
  • enjoy Machu Picchu
  • train to Peroy (almost Cusco)
  • few hours enjoying Cusco and dinner
  • early night
  • equally obscene early start
  • first flight to Lima
  • start our separate but equally stressed and long journeys home
Sounds simple enough, and we were up for it, but right from the outset Tim struggled. At first he was just very tired which was understandable. Then he felt nausious. But then we started to worry it was something more sinister.

Cusco,(11,000 feet) is the 9th highest commercial airport in the world so the main problem here is Altitude Sickness and the mantra is, if you feel unwell it is Altitude Sickness until proven otherwise. Everywhere there was medicine advertised and we did try to find some without success.

At the airport when we landed it was a normal chaos. The official taxi company wanted $140 to take us to our Cusco hotel, drop bags and then the hour and half to Ollantaytambo. The websites had suggested $50 for the long drive so even with having to go into and back out of Cusco it was high, but I was tired, tired of arguing with irate and practiced rip off taxi drivers and just gave in. Tim looked bad and wandering around a crowed airport trying to negotiate a better deal was simply not worth the aggro, exactly what these con artists rely on.

The hotel in Cusco was a recommendation, problem was it was down a warren of streets and the taxi couldn't get to it. I hate road journeys and this one although slow ranked high on the stress levels and it didn't help the poor wee soul, dying in the back seat. Eventually we found the hotel, had to drag the heavy suitcases up many stairs both outside and inside the building, and were on our way.

The driver stopped a few times at chemists along the way but still no luck with drugs. The drive from Cusco takes you to a lower altitude so I hoped Tim would get better. I remember the years I had visited Breckenridge (9,600 feet) in Colorado with RMOUG. Tim Gorman the local always worried about people being taken ill, and we had the advantage of a few days in the high but lower altitude of Denver (5,690 feet) to sort of acclimatise. Cusco is much higher than Breckenridge and it is where we start with no acclimation.

Ollantaytambo(9,160 feet) is a beautiful village and I did fancy a ride in a Tuk Tuk as they seemed quite sedately compared to the ones in India, however Tim just needed food and drink and I am too much of a coward to do that sort of thing on my own.

Whilst waiting for the train at the station, the announcements screen was frozen, then it came to life showing a TOAD screen and someone running SQL. We went and found the lady and yes they do use Oracle at Peru Rail but she would let us see it, and our mutual language skills did not overlap enough to discus it.However The ACE program should be proud of us meeting users wherever we go.

The train was beautiful and we had the front two seats, with the best view however it did drizzle a bit so the view was sometimes obscured. We follow the river to Machu Picchu and this ride was about 2 hours and very picturesque.

On arrival we found the bus ticket queue, or rather hut that was empty but were joined with two other tourists who had done their first climb so were able to help us, it also turned out they were in the same hotel, so they were able to solve our next problem. Once we were checked in it was still very early so we had a quick pizza in a nearby cafe and then really early nights. 

Machu Picchu is busy, they limit the number of visitors to 2,500 a day and these arrive in three ways but at just two times. Most are either trekking through the Scared Valley (3 days) or like us, coming unto the entrance from the village by bus. We all want to see the sun rise and that meant queuing from 4am. Every seen a bus queue of several hundred possibly a thousand people? We have. The rest arrive on the first train from Cusco and are day trippers about 10:30.

We did make it, and it was beautiful
So we queued for the bus, then the bus queued to get out the village, to get in the park, and we then queued for the only bathrooms, and then the entrance queue, actually stepping onto the 'official' Machu picchu about 7am. We had managed to find some Altitude drugs whilst queuing for the bus, but they didn't seem to be helping. Tim was wrecked already. We walked, slowly, the altitude really starting to kick in as each step up seemed such hard work (7,972 feet). I had been carrying tekking poles with me around Latin America but had left them in my suitcase in Cusco so had to buy a second pair, but they were worth every penny. Tim was starting to struggle but we made it to the first and most famous viewing point and I took with my Oracle bluetooth selfie stick the obligatory pictures. Some people have said they looked photoshopped but the sun was just coming up and that was how it was. There are no others of Tim so this is it.

We then slowly made it to the next vantage point and I did notice hidden in a guard's house a casivac stretcher, noted for reference if I needed help with Tim. However not long after he said he had to go look for help, or just somewhere to sleep. I did offer (half heartedly) to go with him, but he said he would be ok. I went to the main area, took more photos, enjoyed the rest of the sunrise and then guilt took over and I made my way to the entrance and the medical centre. Tim looked awful but once the medic explained it wasn't altitude sickness and that he had had anti nausea drugs and sleep would help him, I went back up the mountain for a little longer, he was in safe hands.

I had started the day, muttering prayers, 'I hope I'm OK', "I hope I'm OK', I am not fit and Tim practices yoga so I thought if either of us struggled it would be me. Then when he felt unwell I was muttering 'Thank God it isn't me', followed by "I hope this doesn't mean we have to abort the trek', then 'I hope it isn't serious' to "Let him be OK'. I am not a very good nurse, and although it wasn't Altitude Sickness, we were lucky that, enough people suffer from it for there to be a fully equipped medical centre at the entrance to the national park. 

We returned to the village once Tim felt a little better and then had a small lunch and rested till our train back was due. I had chosen a mid afternoon train to avoid the day trippers later but had made one logistical error. We were taking the longer train back to Peroy almost Cusco and that takes 3 1/2 hours, which would have been OK if it hadn't of got dark after only 2. Not much point being on a picturesque train if you can't see anything and then our carriage was full of children who didn't seem to have been affected by altitude at all.

The taxi to our hotel took a long time and did give us a tour of Cusco by night. It is a lively place and we did know they have dancing and marches in the evenings but didn't realise it would affect us in the hotel, where Tim especially just wanted sleep. My room was at the back and higher and I slept fine once the fireworks stopped about 9:30. Poor Tim had a room nearer the front and didn't sleep well at all. 

Next morning we were out again before 4am to catch our flights to Lima, and then my 4 flights home were long but evenly spaced through the next day and a half, whereas poor Tim had a nightmare flight plan. His blog is just one tale of the need for sleep.

It was expensive, each component seemed ok but added up to a lot, but I am so pleased I have visited. And thank you to the tour to give us the opportunity. I am glad Tim asked me along I wouldn't have done it on my own, I just wish he had not been taken ill, and hope my punishing travel schedule during the main OTN tour was not the only factor. He does say that overall he was pleased he did it.

I loved Machu Picchu, it was surprisingly calming despite the crowds, and really well looked after. They are looking at reducing the numbers allowed to visit to preserve it and that means it will be harder to visit in the future. I did find it peaceful and magical when I lifted my camera above the people and looked into the surrounding mountains or down into the valley we had travelled by train. If you get the opportunity, take it, you won't regret it.

Tim's blog

My photo album (hosted by Tim)

Thursday 20 August 2015

2015 LAOTN - Summary - Was it Worth it?

I am often asked if the ACE tours are worthwhile? Are the numbers high enough? Is it good value for money?

Don’t judge them as individual events, think about what they are trying to achieve and look back at them.

I have done 4 Latin America tours and I can only say, yes they are worthwhile.
The numbers have increased over the years and the level of local participation is what I really like, more locals taking part in the running of the groups and speaking. The ACE Directors are the minority of the speakers at the events and that is great to see.

I am not sure if it is in the job description but I believe part of our role is to recognise, nurture and encourage the local talent, and when you see those who are now in the ACE program themselves; it makes me feel great.

Most user groups are technology based, and speaking about Apps is almost like being ‘second cousin’ but I don’t mind. I would rather have a small audience who are interested, but throughout Latin America I got bigger audiences than I expected, there is real interest in both my presentations that I gave in all locations. ‘Do Fusion (Cloud) Applications Really stack up?’ and ‘PaaS4SaaS’ – Brazil has just opened its own datacentre to cater for the need in Latin America.

There is a real interest in using Cloud, although for a lot of attendees it is about understanding the offering and the reality. Tim Hall talked about some of the other Cloud offerings and his findings show Oracle still has some way to go to achieve what they want in all areas of the Cloud.

Personally, I get to share knowledge, learn from the audience and fellow speakers, make new friends and catch up with old ones. I do make the effort to see where I visit and can't thank the ACE Program enough for the opportunity.

I also want to thank the user groups that select my sessions and to my employers Certus, who have always recognised the value to them in supporting me.

2015 LAOTN - Making the Most of the Travel

I have learnt the hard way that it is worth putting a little effort into the travel plans to try and fit in experiencing the places we visit. As I mentioned in the travel post this year I was the 'baddie' and I am not sure Ronald Bradford will ever forgive me, and I have to agree that at 2am looking for a taxi in Lima I hated me too.

However I don't mind early or late starts if it means we can see things, but I may have put Tim Hall off for life. 

LAOTN 2015 South Tour

We started in Uruguay, Montevideo

Then we caught a 3 hour ferry straight after the UYOUG event across the river to Buenos Aires in Argentina.

We flew from Argentina after the AROUG event arriving in Sau Paulo, Brasil in the early hours of the morning.

After the GOUG event we actually stayed a night to enjoy the hospitality and then flew out really early in the morning the next day to Santiago, Chile.

The stay in Chile was our shortest and we left the same evening as the event with CROUG flying to Lima in Peru.

Then Tim and I did a quite visit to Machu Picchu before the long trek home.

Perhaps next time I'll plan a little easier itinerary. 

2015 LAOTN - Why Do I do This? Travel

I love travel, I love to visit new places, meet new people and experience new things. I love geology and love to experience it first hand. This all means I have to travel, and most of the time I don't mind it.

Interestingly when it goes wrong (which is often), it isn't normally the air travel itself and my posting on my 10 worst journeys are mainly on land.

All that said, my journey to the start of 2015 LAOTN was a nightmare and the return wasn't much better!

For the OTN tour itself I spent 42 hours in the air covering just under 21,000 miles, additionally we crossed from Uruguay to Argentina by a 3 hour ferry. Additionally Tim and I did a very quick trip to Machu Picchu, 2 more flights, several taxis and 2 luxury trains and a lot of walking at altitude!

Last year it was 45 hours but only 14,000 miles. This was the south tour and we started in Uruguay which is actually further (just) from Miami than London!

After each tour there are learnings and what I learnt last year from Gurcan Orhan was that if you want to experience the places you visit you have to maximise the little time we have in each venue. Other learnings were someone has to go first, book flights and share with the other travellers so we all try and take the same internal flights, this makes it easier for the user groups we are visiting and if we then use the same hotels makes it all more fun. 

So when we got the go ahead to book, I took the initiative and booked first, however I may not have been successful....

Back to the travel - Having got to London, I flew to Miami, and was a bit despondent about a 6 hour layover after a nine hour flight, but the worry was misplaced, Miami decided to have a storm in the run up to my arrival and it caused chaos:

  • Chaos in that there was a stack of flights to land
  • Chaos in that once we landed there was no stand free so we spent over an hour waiting on the ground, during which time I think every bored child and several bored adults let us know how they felt.
  • Chaos that in the queue for immigration was also over an hour - please tell me why if I am in international transit I need to do immigration and customs, I didn't even have my luggage that was checked direct through?
  • Chaos in the customs queue as people started to realise they were missing connections and there was no help from staff.
  • Chaos in the final security screening when really fed up passengers simply couldn't take any more delays.
When I arrived at the gate, I had just over an hour till take off, almost 5 hours to land and be processed!!!! On the way home I only had 3 1/2 hours and hoped it would be long enough.

American Airlines gave me an upgrade to Premium Economy so I managed to sleep most of the journey to Montevideo so when I arrived mid morning I felt fine. 

I have learnt to do something when I travel and knitting does it for me, on the way over I knitted a matinee jacket and hat for Ronald Bradford and his wife Cindy's expected baby. On the little journeys I crocheted squares which on the way home I joined together to make a little fringed vest for my best friend's grand daughter. It wastes the time and keeps the stress levels down.

The journeys between countries were without troubles and despite the tribulations of the Machu Picchu trip, my travel was quite straight forward.

The flight from Cusco was at 6am and on arrival in Lima I had 3 hours to catch my flight to Miami. What a weird airport Lima is, we arrived a little late and the only way to go from domestic to international, which was separated by a locked gate was to leave the terminal, walk along the pavement 100m and then re-enter. It was freezing but very little difference between inside and out.

I didn't have too long to wait for my flight and as we had travelled north all week, the flight to Miami was half the time to Montevideo. We landed in Miami 10 minutes early so I thought things were looking up. On board the flight the Avianca crew told me I didn't need an immigration form for international transit, which was of course..... wrong! So back to the end of the line and start again Debra.

That done, I had lounge access with British Airways and the staff were wonderful. Even better they too gave me an upgrade home and I had plenty of room to sleep most of the flight.

The layover at Heathrow is always hard, you just want to be home, but have to wait for the final hop to Belfast. I was all ready to have a shower in the lounge and freshen up, but for some reason British Airways thought one of the busiest weekends of the year was a good time to have over half the showers out of action for maintenance. So no shower for me.

On arrival in Belfast I felt fine and as it was early afternoon just 30 hours after leaving the hotel in Cusco, I was ready to get home and start on the laundry. However it wasn't to happen, my main suitcase decided to extend its stay in Miami.

24 hours later we were reunited, and all the suitcase had for its trouble was a bright pink sticker stating it had been cleared by TSA MIA (Miami airport). When I opened it one of the two Inca Alpaca blankets I bought at Machu Picchu was missing. It cost $30, not worth claiming for but made me so angry, I had bought it as a present.

At first I thought it must be an accident, it had been on top of the case and I suspected it had been put to one side and then forgotten, once someone realised they wouldn't know whose case it was. I didn't consider theft, after all I had an iPad mini in the case and it was fine.

Then I took to Facebook to vent my frustration only to be shared an ABC News article where they had made a documentary on TSA theft. Hundreds of TSA employees have been sacked for theft and top of the league is....... Miami. They also held an experiment using iPads and there was a high profile example of a TSA officer being jailed for the theft of it.

I rang my local airport to complain and they were brilliant, they managed to make me laugh, it was priceless.

"Mrs Lilley, I ringing to return your call where you left your voicemail" 
"You say you think TSA have taken your blanket, can you tell me more?"
I explained
"I'm really sorry, you seem to think we know this 'TSA' but we are only a small regional airport and you will have to report him to your local police"
"Sorry TSA is not an individual, it is American Homeland Security"
"Well I still don't know who they are so I can't help you"
I then explained that on British Airways own baggage website they have a link for TSA claims but apparently, BA staff in regional airports don't need to know corporate processes as the final sentence was
"You obviously know more than me, I suggest you do what it says"

That was me told!

So I don't mind too much the time in the air, it's the time on the ground between flights that is the problem.

2015 LAOTN - Lazing About in Lima

By the time we arrived in Lima at 2am we were exhausted, not simply tired. It had been a long 12 days and we were running on empty. As we collected our luggage the crowd of 'official' taxi vendors stared on us and we eventually agreed to take a shuttle as Ronald was at a different hotel to Tim and I. 

As we left the mayhem to get in the shuttle we saw Enrique from the Peru User Group waiting for us. We had totally forgotten that it had been arranged weeks before. Luckily and quite amazingly the shuttle people gave us our money back and off we headed for our hotels. 

We had the Tuesday off but everyone just wanted to sleep. Ronald was staying at the event hotel but I had chosen the Hilton as I have status with them and wanted to relax, Tim just tagged along as normal. I have to say the Lima Hilton is excellent and the lounge has just one hour in the day when they aren't offering food. It also has an infinity pool and Jacuzzis just outside. 

The intention was to just sleep and hang out all day but from the roof we could see the sea, so we did venture out for a little bit walk down to the sea, which actually although it was spectacular with amazing big waves the American type Mall ruined it a bit.

During the event I wandered out to see a Church nearby unfortunately it was part of a working school so I wasn't able to go inside.

I felt quite rested and well up for our trip to Machu Picchu the next day when the tour finished, not so sure Tim was............

Next Stop Machu Picchu


Lima was the last stop, and what although Tim and I who had been at every event on the tour were tired, we were spurred on my the knowledge we had two days to explore Machu Picchu and we had had a lovely lazy day to re-energise ourselves before the conference.

The event was in a Hotel with a great setup, and the events company were excellent and really well organised. The rooms were actually the plenary room separated into three with good sound proofing. This is quite important because if the plenary room is used as a breakout room it normally makes the audience look lost. This was a great venue, well done PEOUG.

Again I got a two really good audiences with lots of questions. Dana Singleterry and Edelweiss Kammermann could not stay on the tour this far but gave sessions by webcast and the IT made it work. They also had people in the audience who could facilitate Q&A.

Photo courtesy of Ronald Bradford

Thankyou to Eduardo and Miguel from PEOUG who put on a wonderful event.

2015 LAOTN - Wet & Cold Santiago

Tim and I arrived in Santiago early in morning along with Francisco and his son. Unfortunately one of Francisco's suitcases did not arrive and that caused a delay. He had hired a vehicle so gave us a lift to the hotel and once we settled in Tim and I went out to do the bus tour. I had done it before but it was great to revisit everything, problem was it was an open top bus and it was raining. There was a cover on top which kept out light rain but it didn't help with the cold. 

As before the thing that struck me most about Santiago was the electricity wires in the suburbs, low and spaghetti like, although Francisco later told me that part of it was that being prone to earthquakes they don't like to bury the wires.

As we enjoyed the tour it got colder and it got wetter and by the time we returned to our drop off point we were still laughing but cold, tired and damp.

There was a large modern shopping centre next to the hotel but because of the rain everywhere was full so we went to Starbucks and simply had Coffee and Croissants. Tiredness was winning the battle.

The arrangement was to meet for breakfast and then go with Francisco to the event. I was awake early for a UKOUG board call (3am) and doing some work when Tim rang and said was I not doing breakfast. 

Chile have this year changed their rules not to use summer time so it was actually the same timezone as Brasil despite Apple telling me it was an hour earlier. I was furious and then rushed. I checked out and the hotel staff told me that many of their guests had been caught out. So why don't they tell them when they check in!!!!!!!!!!!

In fact when we left Santiago that evening the national airline LAN still had the old time on their in seat displays!

The University where the event was held is at the foot of their main park Cerro San Cristobal, which has a funicular railway to get to the top of the hill. I had not done this before and as I wasn't speaking till the afternoon decided i would go up when it opened at 10. So I was very disappointed it was closed for maintenance that morning but not as disappointed as the to coaches of tourists who arrived just after me.

I was able to do a quick trip between my two sessions and the views defiantly made it worth while. I even bought a hat for poor Tim who constantly moaned about the cold. The views were spectacular and well worth the visit. It was a little misty but one of my trip highlights.

Chile was our quickest stop with Francisco dropping us plus Ronald and Kerry off at the airport straight after the event, another journey in traffic toying with an entry in my top 10 to be forgotten.

Chile and Argentina were experiencing unseasonal rain but it didn't really affect us much. My boss has a daughter who was coincidentally travelling around S America at the same time and she had to change her plans as the crossing between the two countries in Patagonia was closed and a state of emergency declared.

Luckily Kerry and i had lounge access so the four of us where able to enjoy a few drinks and food till our respective flights.

Next Lima


Chile was our penultimate stop and the only conference that didn't have translators, which I think is a pity because it does affect attendance in some of the sessions, although the delegates were possibly more animated. 

I had been to Chile before and it was the same university hosting the event. I had my biggest crowds and as an applications speaker having a full room is fantastic. 

The sponsors of the event were the same as the last time I went and they took us to lunch which was very nice. 

We were also joined by Plinio Arbizu, a peruvian ACE Director who we nominated after the original tour. He now lives in Mexico and is a prolific speaker in Latin America.

The day over ran a little but the numbers didn't seem to drop off so there is defiantly a desire to learn and I am proud to be one of the educators. 

We rushed off straight after the event so we didn't have as much time with the local group but Francisco runs this remotely which is an amazing achievement.

2015 LAOTN - A Tourist in Sao Paulo

I had been to Brazil before when I worked for Fujitsu and spent most of the time in the Japanese Quarter which is the 2nd biggest Japanese community outside of Tokyo.

When I told people I was looking for something to do in Sao Paulo everyone laughed at me. Go to Rio for the day was the best offer of help I got.

There was only Tim and I and we chose to go 10 - 2 to avoid the traffic, good plan because later in the day Francisco and Alex Gorbachev spent almost 3 hours in traffic to go just a few miles.

Our first stop was at the main market Mercado which I loved, full of colours and wonderful food. Apparently it is not normally open on a friday but as Sunday was Fathers' Day it was open, although i like to think it was opened just for us.

The market is famous for its enormous sandwiches which you buy by the inch, not for us but great to see. 

I also learnt a lot about food I didn't know. Did you know that cashew nuts have flowers like a pepper? or that the brazil nuts we get at christmas in a shell that looks like an orange segment is exactly that, a segment in a round fruit as hard as the segment shell. Amazing.

 We weren't the only visitors to the market that day, this man seemed to have lots of fans ( a bit like Tim at conferences) and he was being filmed as well. Turns out he is star of their version of Crime Watch (I can't remember his name). Although the next day another presenter was shot dead live on his radio show and a previous presenter of a similar show was found to be murdering people to keep the ratings up.

What I loved about Sao Paulo was the graffiti, normally I hate graffiti but here it was beautiful.

 Then we visited the Our Lady of Brazil Church which is very popular for high class weddings. I loved the paintings on the ceiling and the very portuguese tiling.

Also in the shopping centre opposite our hotel where we had lunch the first day there was an exhibition of the top 50 National Geographic Photographs so I took the opportunity to go see them when I wasn't presenting.

So the people who told us there was nothing to see in Brazil were wrong.

After the event the AROUG took us to a very traditional restaurant for another wonderful meal.

Next Stop Santiago