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Saturday, July 31, 2010

Your Credit Score Affects A Whole Lot More Than Just Your Creditworthiness

The average credit score of Americans has gone down significantly in the past couple of years because of the bad economic conditions in the country. Usually, a good credit score is defined as one above 700 while a bad credit score is one that is below 620.

The number of Americans with dismal FICO scores is going up. Previously, about 15 percent of Americans had FICO scores below 600. That number is closer to 25 percent now. Folks with good scores can buy houses, get loans for new cars, get approved for credit cards, and so on. Unfortunately, the recession has lowered millions more Americans into the realm of credit "untouchables."

One common misconception among people is that your credit score matters only if you are in the market for credit (in the form of a new credit card, or a new mortgage or auto loan or something like that). That is actually not true. Credit scores are used by a variety of people for a variety of purposes.

For instance, most employers check credit scores of prospective employees before extending an offer of employment. If you are applying for a job that involves dealing with large amounts of money or if you will have some sort of fiduciary responsibilities in your job, you have to have a spotless credit record. Landlords will also check credit scores before renting an apartment to you. So, even if you are not in the market for a new loan of any sort, it pays to have a good credit score.

Because of the importance of credit scores in so many walks of life, I decided to look into the possibility of improving my credit score by getting rid of stuff in my credit report that may be affecting my score. So, I started doing some research into companies that might help me do this. One company that offers such a service is thecreditpeople.com. Another possibility is the credit repair services offered by repairyourbadcredit.com.

With the latter, I pay a fixed fee for them to take care of my credit reports and all of its problems. It is a guaranteed service. If I am not satisfied with what they have done, I can get a full refund of the money I have paid them. DSI Solutions also prides themselves on being more aggressive than most other credit repair services out there. They dispute all the negative items on a credit report, and if any dispute is not responded to within the given timeframe, it is removed from the credit report.

After this process, DSI will then provide the customer with their credit report so that they can verify what they have accomplished. However, unlike companies that promise a lot and deliver nothing, DSI makes it clear that information that is accurate and is verified by the creditor will not be removed from the credit report (and really, such information can not be legally removed by anybody. If a credit repair service promises to remove such information, don't walk, run from them!).

So, if you have been hurt by bad information in your credit report, or suspect that you may have been, and if you want to get rid of it so that you can improve and fix your credit score, turn to a reliable company like DSI to help you out. The money you spend on such a service could well be trivial compared to how much you can save with a better credit score!

Technology Comes To The Rescue Of This Old Man!

I have always prided myself on my good eyesight over the years. I have consistently had better than 20/20 vision over the years, but as with most things in life, eyesight starts failing as you age. My eyesight is still pretty good, and I have no problems reading books or working on computers. In fact I do both on pretty much a daily basis and have not had problems doing them until now.

But, I am noticing that my ability to read very fine print is going down nowadays. Most of the time, I can still read such fine print because reading is more than just seeing. As long as I can read some letters here and there, my brain can fill in for the rest, and it works out fine. But yesterday, I was confronted with a problematic task.

I had to fill in some rebate paperwork for some stuff that my wife picked up at a store the other day. The rebate forms were quite small (about 2 inches by 3 inches), and they wanted to fit in a lot of stuff into that tiny area. The rebate form had instructions, a space for filling in my information (so that they can mail me back the rebate check), and an address where I should send in the rebate form.

As you can imagine, given the space constraints, the printing on this rebate form was closer to the microprint used on the signature lines of checks than any normal-sized print. I could make out the instructions because I could fill in reasonably well for the actual letters I could not read. But the address was a totally different issue altogether. It was a combination of random letters and numbers (including PO Box numbers) that I could not guess. I had to get them right, and I had to get them ALL right.

It was pretty close to the end of the day, and that is when my eyes get tired and have extra trouble reading really fine print. I had a few choices. I could give up on the task for the day, wait till the next day and see if I could decipher the stuff with fresh eyes the next morning. Or I could go around the office looking for or asking for a magnifying glass to try and read the microprint.

I thought about it for a few minutes, and decided there was actually another option. A technology option. Our office has a copier that, in addition to simply making copies of stuff, can scan stuff and send them to an email address as PDF documents. I decided to take advantage of this capability in solving my predicament of the day with respect to this unnecessarily tiny rebate form.

I scanned the rebate form in the copier and sent it to myself. As soon as I got the email, I opened the PDF document and started magnifying it until I could read the information on the rebate form comfortably. I could easily make out the instructions (I had read all of it correctly, but I could now verify that I had), as well as the address to send the rebate form to.

Problem solved! I didn't have to put off taking care of the rebate till the next day. And I didn't have to run around asking people for magnifying glasses, etc. I guess I could have just made a much bigger copy of the rebate form by using the scaling option of the copier, but I have noticed that when I increase the magnification by more than a few percent, the quality of the resulting print goes down markedly. Scanning it into a PDF document and then viewing it at high magnification on a computer screen did not result in any loss of quality at all. And it did not involve any printing or waste of paper either.

And you don't need an industrial strength copier that is used in a work environment to do this either. Most home printers nowadays come with a scanner built in. You can scan documents at pretty high resolution on these scanners and get either an image or a PDF document out of your printed document in about 2 minutes. You can then load the resulting computer file into your PDF reader or an image editor on your computer to view details of the document that you may have missed by just examining the document with your eyes, even if you have eagle eyes! I have managed to decipher the entry and exit date stamps on my passport from scans of my passport pages even though the stamps were of pretty poor quality and mostly unreadable on the passport pages themselves.

Technology is wonderful! Growing old sucks, but it is a good thing technology improves with time. If you know what you want, and are not afraid of thinking outside the box when it comes to technology, you can solve many everyday problems using a combination of technologies available to you. Want to verify that the check you got in the mail actually does have microprint on the signature line or all along the border? Now you know how to do it without straining your eyes to do it!

A Professional Tarp Protects Your Stuff From The Weather

As part of our next yardwork project, we got a big shipment of paving stones, sand, sealer and other materials delivered to our driveway from the home improvement store. The material came in the form of several pallets loaded with the material, packed with clear plastic wrap to keep it from falling off the pallet.

However, the clear plastic wrap is not the best protection for the material against the sun and rain. When it rained a couple of days after the delivery, water seeped inside the package through gaps in the clear plastic wrap and started accumulating in the material on the pallet. And then when the sun came out, the water encouraged the growth of various kinds of moss and other greenery among the materials on the pallets.

My contractor is going to be using the material only after a couple of weeks. In the meantime, it is important to keep all the supplies from being damaged by the weather, including rain, sun, etc. It is time for me to invest in a tarp to cover the supplies in so that I can leave them in the yard without having to worry about them getting damaged.

MyTarp.com is one of the biggest suppliers of professional tarps. They have a huge selection of tarps to choose from. The selection can be quite confusing because most people are not clear about what kinds of tarps can be used for what purpose, and what their advantages and disadvantages are. Some are more durable, some are less so, similarly some are more expensive, some are less so. Which one should I buy for the task at hand?

MyTarp.com has a handy comparison chart to compare different kinds of tarps, and what their advantages and disadvantages are. I consulted this chart right away once I decided I needed a tarp to protect my investment in building materials. Given that I need the material protected from the rain for a short period of time, and the tarp is unlikely to be subjected to much movement or wear and tear, I have decided it may be best for me to invest in a poly tarp for the time being. Now, it is just a matter of measuring the total area to be covered, and making sure I get a tarp that is big enough to do the job.

But, the more important thing for me is knowing that this resource exists on the internet for my use at any time. Earlier in the summer, we had a hail storm that dropped marble-sized hail for about 15 minutes in our neighborhood. One of my cars was parked in the driveway during this episode. The car was hit by hailstones, but luckily, it was not damaged this time. I might want to invest in a long-lasting, heavy tarp to protect my car from future hail-storms.

It may also come in handy in the winter if I can simply get rid of the snow on my car by pulling the tarp off and leaving it on the driveway for later cleanup instead of spending time in the morning trying to clean it off my car while I am in a hurry to get to work. As you can tell, tarps are very useful for a variety of purposes, and having a couple of them around the house may be quite handy. In addition to my poly tarp, maybe I should take this chance to order up a couple of neoprene covers too. It is time to do some research on sizes and thicknesses, I guess!

Train Yourself To Teach Other Doctors - The Right Way

Being a good doctor is one thing, but being a good teacher for other doctors is a totally different thing. Teaching requires special skills that are not normally taught as part of making someone a good doctor. It is the same in almost all fields, whether it is medicine, engineering, science or art.

A medical teaching course like that offered by Oxford Medical is one solution to the problem of being trained specifically to teach other doctors. This teach the teacher course includes education on the theory of adult education, how to deal with difficult students, presentation skills, etc., as part of the curriculum.

In addition to classes on teach the teacher, Oxford Medical also has other courses aimed at doctors. They also publish test preparation and study guides to prepare doctors for interviews with the National Health Service (NHS). All of Oxford Medical's courses, including their medical teaching course for doctors, have been validated by external assessors, and come with recognized certifications.

If you are interested in career development, and want to branch off into fields related to medicine, such as teaching medicine, time management, presentation skills, consultancy, etc., you owe it to yourself to take a look at the course catalog of Oxford Medical, and see how their offerings fit in with your career aspirations.

Stop Flushing Money Down Your Toilet!

When we recently redid the master bathroom at home, we decided to replace the existing sink and toilet bowl because they were quite old. We went shopping for replacements, and one of the things that we saw in the stores was new water-saving toilets that provide dual-flush capability.

Before buying something, we decided to do some research on water savings, and how the new toilets achieve what they claim to do. We came across this site during our research that allows you to convert your existing toilet into a dual flush toilet. The dual flush conversion kit website has detailed instructions on how to install their kit to convert any normal toilet into a water-saving dual flush toilet.

The dual flush toilets we saw in the home improvement store always seemed to be much more expensive than regular toilets. And the economics make sense. A regular toilet can use 3 to 5 gallons of water per flush, while a low-flow toilet can take as little as 1 gallon per flush. The savings add up, as detailed in the page on the site devoted to an explanation of how to save water. But, I was glad I did the research before we bought something at the store.

Ultimately, we decided to buy a regular toilet, and then use a dual flush retrofit kit to make it a high-efficiency toilet (HET toilet). The total cost works out much cheaper than buying a HET toilet from the store directly. I am quite handy with this kind of task when given detailed instructions. I have done toilet repairs to fix leaky toilets before. So, I am all set for a DIY project that will enable us to save money now, and save money down the road too.

If you have a regular toilet that uses a lot of water per flush, you might want to consider the dual flush retrofit kit too. Not only does it save water (and money) with each regular flush, it also enables you to save even more water by using less water to flush when you don't even need a full flush. You can save as much money as the kit costs in less than a couple of months of use, and the rest of your savings are pure gravy on top of that. It is great way to be environmentally conscious while saving yourself money at the same time.

We will be doing the retrofit for the rest of our bathrooms too even though we will not be replacing the toilets in those bathrooms. The dual flush kit comes with detailed instructions that make the change easy to do. The site also has detailed instructions and pictures of how to do it. Saving resources and money starts with small steps like these. The savings add up, improving your quality of life, and making you feel good about making a difference to the environment too!

Friday, July 30, 2010

A Dozen Weird And Wacky USB Flash Drives

Here are a set of USB keys that are creative in their design, but end up being weird or creepy. Why anyone would design a USB key to look like one of these is a question you are tempted to ask over and over again as you look at these odd USB keys.

We start with a USB key that comes in the form of a plush teddy bear. But to use it, you have to tear off the teddy's head to expose the USB connector. This is obviously not very suitable for use if you have young children around!
Teddy bear USB KeyTeddy bear USB key
Next, we move on to a design that takes the term "thumb drive" too literally. Can you imagine how some unsuspecting person might react when they see you pull out a severed thumb from your pocket, or see one sticking out of your computer?!
Thumb drive
This is the rubber chicken USB flash drive. Not suitable for use at work (at least most offices I know of)! Enough said!!
rubber chicken USB flash drive
This seems like a pretty harmless USB drive shaped like a dog. But once you plug it into your computer, the fun starts (yes, it actually moves). Once again, not suitable for work, unless your workplace is very casual and permissive! It is available in regular dog, dalmatian and siberian husky varieties!!
Humping dog USB flash drive
Maybe this will appeal to you if you are a fan of the Texas chainsaw massacre movie. Otherwise, having a bloody chainsaw sticking out of your computer might just be very weird!
Chainsaw USB flash drive
This one is only mildly weird. Perhaps, you think your USB drive is worth its weight in gold! Or its contents are as valuable as gold. It is still a little weird in my opinion!!
Gold bar USB flash drive
This is a USB key that doubles as a bottle opener! I really don't want to speculate on the need for such a dual-use USB flash drive. But then, it might appeal to people with stressful jobs!
Bottle opener USB flash drive
Here, we have the clothes line clip USB flash drive. Why you would want to hang your clothes out on a line with a USB flash drive is anybody's guess! At least, if you wash your clothes with this USB flash drive in the pockets, you have something ready at hand to use for drying out the clothes as well as the flash drive!!
Clothes clip USB flash drive
This is for fans of nostalgia out there. Or you can use this to fool people into thinking that your computer is capable of reading cassette tapes. I can only hope that the data retention and integrity of this USB drive are not as bad as that of actual cassette tapes!

"This Gigantic Robot Kills" is the sixth CD by nerdcore musician MC Lars (real name Andrew Nielsen). Unless you are fan of this musician or this album, it is difficult to understand why you would invest in such an unwieldy USB flash drive!
This gigantic robot kills USB flash drive
Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door. Build a USB flash drive in the shape of a mousetrap, and the world may or may not beat a path to your door! I have no idea whether this mousetrap even works, except for catching the stray byte trying to escape out of your USB port!!
mouse trap USB flash drive
I guess if your workspace is a little dinghy and could use some extra lighting, this USB flash drive could serve the purpose quite well. Maybe you can use it to document and store all your bright ideas!
lightbulb USB flash drive

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Success Is Here At Last!

In the last couple of days, my daughter has worked on the jigsaw puzzle with a lot of vigor and has finally completed the entire puzzle. It took a lot longer than she expected. But she learned a bit about solving large puzzles, I think.
Jigsaw puzzle 95% complete
Some tips I gave her regarding the solving of large puzzles, which I hope she has now taken to heart, and can use effectively in solving similar puzzles:
  • Assemble the border first because the pieces that go on the borders are somewhat obvious by having one of two straight edges
  • Separate the pieces into different colored piles so that you know approximately where in the puzzle each piece goes. This is obviously more difficult than it sounds because there will be several pieces with transitional colors, but make a best effort
  • Separate out pieces that have distinctive patterns on them. In the case of this puzzle, for instance, we separated out all the pieces that had streaks of color on them because we knew that those represented pieces that form part of the reflection of light on the water at the bottom of the puzzle.
  • Assemble some parts of the puzzle separately if possible, and then fit these assemblies into the puzzle as the rest of the puzzle is solved. We used this strategy to pre-assemble the gazebo on the right side of the puzzle, for instance. We also used it to pre-assemble parts of the main-house's door, etc.

Jigsaw puzzle fully complete
  • Try to identify spaces on the puzzle that require pieces with distinctive shapes. Such puzzle pieces are easier to find than generic pieces of the puzzle
  • Most importantly, just keep going. Don't give up. Take a break, but don't put it off because it is too difficult. My daughter did not work on the puzzle for quite a few days in the middle because she couldn't add any pieces to it, and got frustrated and discouraged. I then stepped in got the momentum going again by finding some pieces to fit in the puzzle that opened the door to a lot more pieces getting assembled. Now, I think and hope that my daughter is capable of keeping the momentum going by herself without help from me.
Here are some pictures of the puzzle at about 95% complete, and then fully assembled. Time for a celebration by disassembling the puzzle and packing it back in its box now. Maybe, it will be fun to get it out and try reassembling it after a few months to see if we can do it much faster, given our experience from the first time.

Peru Vacation Day 3: Half-Day Tour Of Cusco Part 2

I talked about the first part of our half-day tour of Cusco that covered the Coricancha, and the Cusco Cathedral here. The rest of the half-day tour took us outside the city of Cusco. We used a luxurious bus with nice reclining seats. The tour guide stood at the front of the bus and talked about various things through a microphone hooked up to the bus's public address system. She explained things in both Spanish and English.

tour busOur tour bus. Notice the large picture windows for tourists to enjoy the scenery out of. The bus ride was quite smooth, and the road quality was quite good too.

Our first stop was Saqsayhuaman (variously spelled Sacsaywaman, Saqsaywaman, Sacsayhuaman, etc.). It is about 3 km from Cusco along the road to Pisac. It took us about 10 minutes to drive there. The road climbs out of the bowl that Cusco sits in, resulting in quite a winding, sometimes steep climb to Saqsayhuaman (which is at an altitude of 3700 meters above sea level).

The purpose of Saqsayhuaman is mysterious even now. It is a walled complex built originally by pre-incan people around 11oo AD, and then expanded by the Incas starting in the 1200's. Our guide explained that it was supposed to be a temple to the Incas' lightning God. It is an impressive structure with several mammoth stones fitted together tightly to form massive walls. The weights of the heaviest stones used in the construction are estimated at over 100 tons!

Saqsayhuaman zigzag wallNotice the zigzag shape of the wall at Saqsayhuaman. Our guide explained that this represented the Incan lightning God, which is plausible, I guess!

Panaromic view of SaqsayhuamanA panaromic view of Saqsayhuaman. Most of the rocks from the upper parts of the walls were taken to Cusco to be used in the construction of the Cusco Cathedral.

The site is also famous for the annual Inti Raymi festival, which celebrates the winter solstice and the Incan New Year, around June 24th of each year. Entrance to Saqsayhuaman also uses the Tourist Ticket of Cusco. We were allowed to wander around the site for some time after the guide finished her explanations. We bought some stone carvings from vendors in Saqsayhuaman.

Woman with Alpaca at SaqsayhuamanA woman in traditional dress posing with her Alpaca for tourists. There are several such people at major tourist attractions who earn money in the form of tips from tourists for allowing themselves to be photographed with their alpacas, llamas, etc.

From there, we proceeded to Q'enqo (also spelled as Qenqo, Qenko, Q'enko, etc.). It is another 2 km farther along the same road. Q'enko is part of the Sacsayhuamán Archaeological Park, and is at an altitude of 3,730 meters. Our guide explained that Q'enqo served as a temple to the Incan Puma God. There is also a cave in Q'enqo which has a rock shaped like a flat bed. This rock was used for ritual human sacrifices to appease the Incan mother earth Goddess, Pachamama.

Puma God carving at Q'enqoPartially destroyed carving of the Incan Puma God at Q'enqo.

Cave entrance at Q'enqoThe entrance to the underground cave that served as a temple to the Incan mother earth Goddess, Pachamama.

Our guide explained to us that people volunteered to be sacrificed at Incan rituals, and they were later mummified and worshipped as Gods by the Incas. The Spaniards, as part of their subjugation of the Incas, destroyed these mummies (which were supposed to have been better preserved than Egyptian ones) along with the temples.

Sacrificial altar at Q'enqoThe sacrificial altar in the underground cave at Q'enqo. The surface of the altar was extremely cold to the touch even though the air around was quite comfortably warm.

View of Cusco from Q'enqoA view of Cusco, including its soccer stadium, from Q'enqo.

We then continued on another 3 km to another Incan ruin called Puca Pucara (sometimes spelled Puka Pukara). Literally, it means red fortress. It was a defensive fortification on one of the routes to and from Cusco. We stopped only for about 5 minutes here, just to allow the tourists a couple of photographs.

Puca PucaraRuins of Puca Pucara.

We then proceeded onto Tambomachay, about 1 kilometer from Puca Pucara. Tambomachay (which, quite surprisingly, does not seem to have any alternate spellings at all!) was the highest point on this tour, with an altitude of 3,765 meters. Our guide explained that this was a temple to the Incan God of Water. The site is also known as the bath of the Incas as it consists of several aqueducts, fountains and waterfalls, leading water out from several springs deep inside the mountains that have not yet been identified.

TambomachayOne of the water fountains in Tambomachay. It was too dark to get good photographs of most of the rest of this site.

Unfortunately, by the time we reached Tambomachay, the sun had already set, and it was getting quite dark. The visit to the actual fountains involves a 200 meter walk from the parking lot up a gentle slope. The ground is not paved, and is quite uneven at places, and it can be tricky navigating it in the dark. The tour could have had better time management so that we could complete this in the light.

After we completed this, we were driven back to an Alpaca garment factory and shop called Inca Gold, located in Sacsayhuaman. There an employee explained how we could tell Alpaca garments apart from garments made of synthetic fibers, and sold as Alpaca garments. Alpaca is supposed to be slightly heavier than most synthetic fibers and cooler to the touch. I doubt I would be able to use that information to tell fakes apart from the genuine article, but it was good to know!

The shop was quite large, and we bought some Alpaca garments here. It was more expensive than in the outdoor markets where we were approached by vendors with jackets, sweaters, shawls, scarves, etc., but at least we were reasonably confident that we were getting genuine alpaca garments here. Our guide was quite confident that most of the cheap stuff sold by vendors was acrylic.

We were then driven back to Cusco, and dropped off near our hotel (the bus could not drive down the alley the hotel was in to drop us in front of the entrance). We got lost a little because it was dark, and everything looked unfamiliar, but most locals knew our hotel by name, so they guided us back to it without much of a problem.

After resting for a little while, and putting away our purchases, we decided to venture out of the hotel for dinner. The hotel had a restaurant, but we wanted to try out the fare outside. We walked past the Coricancha, along El Sol to Ayacucho. At the corner of El Sol and Ayacucho, right opposite a Radio Shack store, we found a small pizzeria called Pizza Verona. It is a tiny restaurant that you get to by climbing up a steep set of narrow stairs.

Pizza Verona entranceExterior of Pizza Verona. We initially thought the name of the restaurant was "Pizzas A La Lena". Later, when we asked a local to guide us to it, he said that A La Lena just means "made on firewood", and was a description of the pizzas, not the name of the restaurant! Oh well, lesson learned. I guess it was a little like trying to order "Closed on Sundays" off the menu!

The decor consisted of many old black and white photographs of people like Charlie Chaplin, Albert Einstein, the Beatles, Laurel and Hardy and so on. The proprietor was very understanding about our need for vegetarian pizza, and helped us understand the menu so that we could make the right choice. Her English was not very good, but we were able to understand each other quite well. The food was very cheap (only 6 soles per personal pan pizza), but it was quite tasty. The pizza is thin crust, and delivered on wooden platters. We liked the restaurant a lot.

Pizza Verona interiorInterior decor of Pizza Verona.

Even better, they served us free garlic bread and glasses of Inka Cola without us asking or requesting for it, and they did not include these in our final check. So, in contrast with our dining experience at Al Fresco, our 6 soles/person pizza dinner really did turn out to be 6 soles/person before tips. We added a very healthy tip to show our appreciation for the free stuff the restaurant had given us (and also for giving us permission to take some pictures inside the restaurant).

It was a nice ending to a pretty tiring day. We wanted to make sure we did not over-exert ourselves on our first day at the high altitude of Cusco (it was going to be the first of several days at that altitude, so we wanted to be extra careful). So, after dinner, we headed back to our hotel for an early night in.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Planning a Wedding Day Online

Content by Mitch Osborne

So I finally started planning my wedding, only one more year to go until I walk down the aisle. I can hardly believe that it's really happening. Every time I think about our special day I get butterflies in my stomach. Lately I've found it much easier to do my wedding planning online and satellite internet prices aren't bad. Whenever I have free time I simply turn on my hughes internet satellite and begin the process of selecting all of those things that will make my day much more special.

I started small by looking at wedding blogs and getting ideas from other Brides to be. I also had my own wedding website that helps me stay ahead of the game with my appointments, as well as my favorite websites to visit. I've even come across a site where I think I will be purchasing my cake from. Of course that I will have to go over with my fiance. He loves cake and told me that will be the one decision he will absolutely have to be in on.

Right now I'm researching photographers in my area and which one can offer me the best package for the money I am willing to spend. Hopefully I can secure one soon and then be able to move on to the next item on my list which will possibly be the wedding flowers.

Peru Vacation Day 3: Half-Day Tour Of Cusco Part 1

We were picked up in our hotel at about 2 PM for our half-day tour of Cusco. Our hotel was right around the corner from the first attraction on the tour, The Coricancha (variously spelled as Qorikancha, Corikancha, etc.). So, we just walked over there with a guide to join our tour group rather than being taken there in a vehicle.

Cusco orientation mapOrientation map of Cusco with the Taypikala hotel marked in blue. Note its location right next to the Coricancha, and a few blocks from the main square (the Plaza De Armas).

The Coricancha (also called Intiwasa, or Sun Temple) was built by the Incas, in what was then their capital city. Cusco, at the time of the Spanish conquest of South America, was the most important city in the Inca Empire, and its capital. As with most Inca monuments in Peru, the Spaniards destroyed most of what they could as part of their effort to subjugate the Incas, and convert the natives to Christianity. Thus, most Inca monuments in and around Cusco were partially or fully destroyed by the Spaniards.

In fact, Machu Picchu is famous only because it was never discovered and destroyed by the Spaniards. It is not famous because it was large (the population of Machu Picchu at its peak is estimated at under 1000 persons whereas Cusco had a population several dozen times that in the early 16th century before the conquistadors arrived).

So, most of the Inca structures you see in Peru today, including the Coricancha are but shells of their former self. The Spaniards destroyed most of the Coricancha and erected the Church of Santo Domingo on the site. Inca religion considered celestial bodies like the sun and moon as sacred. The Coricancha was built as a temple to one of their most important deities, the Sun God. In addition, the site also had temples to the moon God, and various other stars and planets.

The temple to the sun God was completely destroyed with the church being built on top of it. Remnants of the other temples exist in the courtyards of the church. The Coricancha is believed to have been extraordinary in its wealth, with the walls and floors covered in sheets of solid gold, and the courtyard being filled with golden statues.

the courtyard of the CoricanchaThe courtyard of the Coricancha. Arch construction was unknown to the Incas, so the arches were all built by the Spaniards as part of the construction of the church on the site of old sun temple.

Murals on walls of the CoricanchaMurals and paintings in the hallways of the Coricancha.

Santo Domingo church from the CoricanchaThe church of Santo Domingo as seen from the Coricancha.

The Coricancha is also a fine example of Incan earthquake-proof construction. The Incas used several techniques to protect their buildings against earthquakes. Their foundations were solid with several layers of rock. The buildings themselves were built with interlocking blocks of rock that were carved to fit against each other perfectly. No mortar was used in the construction of Inca buildings. The interlocking of the rocks was sufficient to hold up the buildings. Moreover, they also used trapezoidal openings for doors and windows instead of rectangular ones because such openings provided more protection to the buildings against earthquakes.

Trapezoidal openings in the CoricanchaNotice the trapezoidal openings for the doorways as well as the niches in the walls of the Coricancha. Incas did not use any grout in their construction. The interlocking of the perfectly cut stone blocks was the only way to keep the stones from moving!

Three windows in the CoricanchaThe three windows in the Coricancha. See how windows across three rooms in the Coricancha are lined up perfectly so that you can see all the way through all of them. Notice their trapezoidal shape also.

In fact, while the Santo Domingo church has been damaged and rebuilt several times because of the earthquakes that have hit Cusco from time to time, the underlying Incan walls and foundation have never required repair since the time they were built, according to our guide.

Santo Domingo church groundsThe grounds of the Santo Domingo church and convent. Most of the stone walls seen here were part of the original structure of the sun temple.

Our guided tour of the Coricancha was a little hurried, and the place was quite crowded. The cost of admission to The Coricancha was included in our tour. We were provided with a Tourist Ticket of Cusco that includes admission to many sites including the Coricancha. The cost of the ticket is 130 soles for adults, 70 soles for Peruvians or students, and 40 soles for Peruvian students. We were told to hold onto the ticket carefully since we would need it during our visits to other attractions both on this day and on the next day. The ticket is punched at each attraction so that you can visit each attraction only once with the ticket. We had to write our names on the tickets, ostensibly so that the tickets would be non-transferable, but we were never asked to produce ID's to match the names we wrote on them.

After that, we moved on to the Plaza de Armas or main square of Cusco, and the Cusco Cathedral. This cathedral was built on the site of the Inca Palace of Viracocha, the king of Cusco about a hundred years before the Spanish entered Cusco. Many of the stones used to construct the cathedral came from Saqsayhuaman, which is an ancient Inca fortification outside Cusco.

The cathedral contains three churches, and several chapels. The main altar in the cathedral is made of solid silver, and there are several intricate carvings out of cedar wood. One of the pulpits was carved out of one single cedar tree. The right tower of the cathedral contains South America's largest bell, the Maria Angola. No photographs or videography are allowed inside the cathedral. The Triumph Church, which is one of the three churches included in the cathedral, is the oldest Catholic church in South America, and dates back to 1536.

Cusco CathedralCusco CathedralA couple of views of the Cusco Cathedral from the main square (Plaza de Armas) of Cusco. The Cusco Cathedral is also called the Cathedral of Santo Domingo, but is different from the Santo Domingo Church and Convent (I know, it is somewhat confusing!).

Church of the Society of JesusIglesia de la Compania de JesusThese are views of the Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus (Church of the Society of Jesus), which is a Jesuit Church that also stands on the Plaza de Armas. We did not go inside this church as part of the tour. This church was also built on the site of the Inca palace of Huayna Cápac, said to be one of the most beautiful in Inca history.

Cusco Cathedral with fountainView of the Cusco Cathedral along with the fountain in the middle of the Plaza de Armas.

Cusco from Plaza de ArmasA view of some parts of Cusco from the Plaza de Armas.

After that, we were loaded onto a bus to be taken to the rest of the tour's sights, which are outside the city of Cusco proper. I will write about those sights in the next post.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Peru Vacation Day 3: Flying From Lima To Cusco

This day started off pretty early for us. We were going to be picked up at our hotel at 07:30 to be taken to the airport for our flight (scheduled for 10:10 AM). So, we had breakfast quite early (the breakfast buffet at the hotel is open from 6 AM. The front desk clerk confirmed with us that that would work for us, because they have the ability to open the buffet at 5:30 if a guest needs to get out of the hotel extra early).

We were the first guests at the buffet. And some things were not yet fully ready when we got there. The toaster for the bread was not plugged in yet. The scrambled eggs were not in their pan yet, and so on. But once the hotel staff saw us at the buffet, they scrambled around and got everything done so that we could finish a full breakfast by 7 AM.

The driver who had picked us up from the airport on day 1 picked us up for the return journey today. Traffic was quite bad as the rush hour was well underway by the time we left the hotel at just past 7:30 AM. But our driver took some backstreets to keep us off the main roads which were much more congested, and he managed to get us to the airport in about 35 minutes again.

We were booked on flight TA 009. The distance from Lima to Cusco by air is 363 miles, and the flight's scheduled time was 10:10 - 11:30.

The airport has a long line of check-in counters, many of them specific to one airline and one flight or destination. The line for check-in was not very long, and we were done with check-in in about 15 minutes. The agent hand-wrote the gate number on the boarding passes when he handed them to us.

Lima airport check-in linesLima airport check-in linesCouple of views of the check-in lines at Lima Airport.

Once we reached the departure level, we had to pay an airport tax of $6.82 per passenger that was not included in our ticket price. I have no idea why airport taxes don't seem to be included in the ticket prices for all our departures out of Peruvian airports. For each of them, we had to pay a separate airport tax before we could get on the flight.

There was a long and chaotic line of passengers waiting to pay this fee, but the line moved quickly because the transaction was very quick and there were 12 counters processing passengers. The receipt is bar-coded, and is stuck to the back of the boarding pass. When we entered the line for security, this bar-code was scanned by an agent for reconciliation of some sort. We paid in soles for our taxes, and it came to 20 soles per passenger.

The line for security also snaked all over the place, but moved quite fast because there were lots of lanes open. I did not have to remove my shoes or take my laptop out of its bag. It was quite a hassle-free experience compared with security in US airports. We reached our gate by 09:10.

Lima airport gate areaView of the gate area on the domestic side of Lima airport. The airport has free wi-fi access with wi-fi zones marked clearly.

Soon after we reached the gate area, our flight was delayed to 10:30. The earlier TACA flight to Cusco scheduled for 5:45 AM showed delayed to 10:25, so I was not too surprised that ours was delayed too. Our aircraft arrived at the gate only at 10:00. There were no announcements from the podium, but finally boarding began at 10:25. We boarded at about 10:30. This aircraft also had cloth seats, and had no in-seat entertainment.

Boarding was completed by 10:45, and we pushed back at 10:50. The safety announcements as well as other announcements were in both Spanish and English. The overhead video system was not used for the safety demonstration, with the flight attendants preferring to do it live for some reason.

As we flew southeast, we climbed out of the overcast and started flying over the mountains after about 10 to 15 minutes. Right about then, we were also given a small snack and beverage. The snack was a cupcake. And there were no exotic choices for beverage, just the normal sodas, orange juice, apple juice, etc. I had orange juice on this flight.

TACA snack serviceMy cupcake and cup of orange juice.

The mountains looked mostly brown and dry, with no greenery at all. There were some dry river channels every now and then, and some trails and dirt roads cutting across the mountains. Later on we saw some small lakes among the mountains. But we did not see any snow except on some far-away peaks.

Mountains from the airLakes amidst mountains from the airA couple of views of the Andes from the air. As you can tell, the mountains are not very photogenic in this part of the Andes!

No headsets for the video entertainment were passed out on this flight. Instead, the aircraft's PA system was used for the audio of the short program that was shown on the video screens. It was only in Spanish, and quite muted (thankfully), so I could not make out anything at all. If you actually wanted to see the program and hear its audio, you would have been quite disappointed by the lack of headsets. If the audio had been turned up, it would have become quite a head-ache if you were not interested. They could have distributed headsets to passengers on the flight, or they could have just kept the entertainment system off. Doing neither was a little odd.

Cusco airport seems to be surrounded by mountains. The approach and descent were somewhat shaky and we made some tight turns to line up with the runway before landing towards the west. We taxied to a gate quite quickly, but it took a while before we docked and the doors were opened.

Cusco airport is quite small. It is filled with tourist agencies that give the airport a very crass and commercial air. Lots of tour operators approached travelers with various offers, and there were also some porters offering to push luggage in carts. Some of them were pushy (no pun intended) and bothersome. We reached the baggage carousel at around 12:20, and our bags were out quite quickly. After using the facilities at the airport, we left the terminal at about 12:30 and were picked up promptly by our tour operator.

We were put up in the Taypikala hotel in Cusco. The hotel was about a 15 minute drive from the airport. Along the way, we passed some nice fountains and a large statue of king Pachacutec, the famous Inca most responsible for expanding the Inca empire to include most of South America.

Hotel Taypikala, CuscoA view of the front of the Taypikala Hotel, Cusco. This hotel is part of a chain of Taypikala hotels including two in Puno in addition to this one in Cusco.

The hotel was in a narrow cobble-stoned alley that allowed only traffic to go one way. We were very close to the main square of Cusco, in the older parts of town. The older parts of most Peruvian cities seem to have such narrow, cobble-stoned streets that can make auto traffic quite difficult, but they lend their own charm to the place.

Ahuacpinta street, CuscoThis is Ahuacpinta, the street on which our hotel was located. Notice the cobblestoned surface, and the narrowness of what is more likely to be considered an alley in the US!

The lobby of the hotel had oxygen cylinders for guests who get breathing problems because of the 3,300 meter elevation of Cusco. The hotel also has two flasks of hot coca tea for guest to imbibe as part of the acclimation process. Coca tea, and chewing coca leaves have been traditions in the high Andes for generations.

Taypikala Hotel, Cusco, lobbyOxygen cylinders in hotel lobbyCoca tea flasks in hotel lobbyA few views of the lobby of Hotel Taypikala, Cusco. Notice the oxygen cylinders in the lobby for use by guests who have trouble breathing the thin mountain air of Cusco. The flasks of coca tea always seemed to be full, and the contents were always hot. I quite liked the taste of it, and had several cups of it everyday during our stay in this hotel. In addition to the tea, they also had a tray of coca leaves out in the lobby if you were inclined to try chewing them like the locals do!

Our tour operator explained all of the activities that were going to keep us busy in Cusco for the next two and a half days. We were to leave on a half-day tour of Cusco city within an hour or so. The next day was set aside for a tour of the Sacred Valley of the Incas, and the day after that was the big day: our excursion to Machu Picchu. After giving us our vouchers and tickets for all the tours, etc., the tour operator left, so that we could rest for a short while in our hotel room before being picked up for our city tour.

Our hotel room was on the first floor of the hotel, but there were, once again, steps between the lobby and our hotel room. In fact, the hotel has 3 floors of rooms and no elevators! The room, once again, was very clean and neat, though a little small. The bathroom had an actual tub, with the toilet in a separate room inside the main bathroom. But, once again, amenities like shower caps were missing in this hotel also.

Taypikala Hotel corridorThe corridor leading from the lobby to our hotel room. The walls were decorated with modern paintings.

taypikala hotel roomTaypikala hotel roomViews of the hotel room. Notice the wall mounting of the TV, so that the table is actually usable for something other than holding a TV! The decorations on the wall are actually colored fabrics in frames, not paintings.

taypikala hotel bathroomA look at the bathroom in the hotel. Notice that the towels are hung inside the shower/tub enclosure. Finding suitable places to hang stuff like towels and clothes while we took a shower was quite a challenge in this hotel because of the lack of suitable hooks, etc.

Room heater in Taypikala hotelThe hotel room also had a stand-alone plug-in heater, but we never used it. The room stayed reasonably warm, and the blankets and comforters were quite heavy and cozy. The room's closet also had a couple of extra pillows and quilts if guests needed it.

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