Our oldest son Jon was always investigating ways to get involved in what was then the emerging tech field. He took the initiative to offers his expertise to the only computer retailer in St. Thomas to help their clients get their computers setup then did a thriving after-market business in installing software and trouble-shooting for the clients he helped. He investigated the nascent bulletin board systems (BBS) in our area and taught himself early forms of computer coding languages. At Conestoga College he landed a cooperative learning position with a local tech company that allowed him to explore connecting various machines through a digital interface and began to think through the digital diagnostics that would make that possible.

After a three year stint with a local IT startup and a two year interregnum as digital manager for a customs broker, Jon and his new wife Nicole moved to the States to pursue his career in a succession of IT positions. All through those years he continued to develop and refine his concept of a digital diagnostic machine interface, pitching successively more advanced iterations of the concept to various companies. However, while generating interest, there were never any takers. Until three years ago. Then the company for whom he had originally designed the concept came head-hunting with an offer to facilitate its development.

After two years with this new company, and after months of heading up a diverse team of software engineers that included a former NASA scientist, the new product, called Shelby, was launched with much fanfare and widespread approval. Recently that approval coalesced in the Engineering Choice Awards. The annual Control Engineering Engineers’ Choice Awards “shines a light on 26 categories of control, instrumentation, and automation products.” A total of 88 finalists from 44 companies were chosen that were the most exceptional based on technological advancement, service to the industry, and market impact. A total of 1 grand winner, 26 winners, and 29 honorable mentions were named for 2018.

I will let Jon himself describe the product for which he received his award: “The new FactoryTalk Analytics for Devices appliance provides health and diagnostic analytics from industrial devices. It crawls your industrial network, discovers your assets and provides analytics by transforming the data generated into preconfigured health and diagnostic dashboards. The system also delivers action cards to your smartphone or tablet if a device requires attention. As the application uncovers information about how the devices are related to each other, such as their network topology or fault causality, it starts to understand the system on which it is deployed to make prescriptive recommendations.”

It goes without saying that we are inordinately proud of our eldest son, who like all our three children is pursuing his dreams in his chosen field. This post recognizes Jon’s achievement, but we are just as proud of our children on the days they don’t get recognized by the world for what they do. All three of them are independent and articulate, caring and committed. Though our own careers place us many miles away from them, they are constantly on our hearts and in our prayers. It has been the greatest joy of our lives to be the parents of such fine human beings.

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Referred to by the Incas as the “The Navel of the World,” Cusco, the Imperial city of the Incas was developed as a complex urban center and served as the capital of the vast Incan Empire. The historic religious and government buildings were surrounded by the exclusive homes for royal families, centers for favoured artisans, numerous and spacious plazas and graceful fountains.

The capital of the Incas astonished the Spanish invaders by the beauty of its buidings and the length and regularity of its streets. The great square, now the Plaza d’Armas, was surrounded by several palaces, since each Incan king built a new palace for himself. However, their admiration did not keep the Spanish from sacking much of the Inca city in 1535. Pizarro’s troops lost no time in plundering the Incan palaces of their contents, as well as destroying the religious artifacts. That turmoil is ancient history now, and Cusco became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983, its remaining historic buildings now designated as having enduring architectural value.

On our return from Machu Picchu, we had a leisurely two days in Cusco just enjoying the sights, sounds and foods of Peru and even did a bit of shopping in the bright, colourful San Pedro market. We stayed at a little hotel on Calle Neuva Alta in the historic district, and were able to walk everywhere we wanted to with little trouble. The streets were lined with little shops with quaint cul-de-sacs leading to market squares lining both sides of the streets.

Declared by the constitution as the historical capital of Peru, Cusco has become a major tourist destination in its own right, hosting nearly 2 million visitors a year. Coffee shops, many with balconies overlooking the squares or plazas were everywhere, and the vibe was pleasant and friendly with none of the frantic aggression that you sometimes encounter in the East. The air was cool and required a jacket, but that just seemed to make the city more cosy. It was the perfect place to finish our first trip to South America. We promised ourselves that this would not be the last.

We have been most fortunate to have lived in Europe and Southeast Asia, which afforded us many opportunities for travel. As a result, there aren’t many things that remain on our “bucket list” of sights to see in the world. However, one of those things has long been Machu Picchu.

Machu Picchu is probably the most amazing site of the Inca Empire at its height, justifiably famous for its beauty and inaccessibility. Its giant walls, terraces and ramps seem as if they have been cut naturally in the continuous rock escarpments. At just under 8,000 feet above sea-level, the site is in the middle of a tropical mountain rainforest, surrounded by even higher peaks in an extraordinarily beautiful and breathtaking setting.

There are approximately 200 structures each with religious, ceremonial, astronomical, agricultural and residential purposes built on the side of a steep mountain and reinforced by stone terraces. The city is divided into lower and upper areas, separating the farming from residential areas, with a large open square between the two. The massive architecture of Machu Picchu blends exceptionally well with the stunning natural environment, which is intricately linked by an extensive road and trail system, irrigation canals and agricultural terraces bear witness to longstanding human use. The fact that the rugged topography makes some areas difficult to access has resulted in a unique mix of developed areas and diverse natural habitats.

Adding to its aura and charm are the legends surrounding both its building and its abandonment. Hiram Bingham, who discovered the site in 1911, wasn’t even looking for it, and when he came across it he quickly moved on, thinking it to be of particular significance. Local farmers has known about it for years are we happily working its ancient terraces exercising squatter’s rights and avoiding government notice and taxes. Having failed to find the fabled El Dorado of legend, Bingham returned to the site and began excavations. It was only then that the true genius of the site began to emerge from the overgrown ruins.

The site is now almost completed restored and well preserved by the Peruvian government who recognize its worth not only for its historical significance, but for the powerful draw on tourists. We woke early and were up in time to catch the 7:00 a.m. train for the 90 minute journey to Agua Calientes. There we were met by a guide who ushered on to a bus for the 20 minute, death defying trip on mountain switch-backs to the gates of the fabled site. Our guide explained that he had been required to take a four year certificate course in the geography, history, and agriculture of Peru in order to be certified for Machu Picchu. He knew everything about the site, and was an excellent guide for our tour.

Built without the use of mortar, or even metal tools, Machu Picchu remains one of the world’s engineering marvels. Adding to its mystery is the fact that it was abandoned, most likely around 1570, for no apparent reason. There is no damage to indicate that it was invaded, and indeed it had no strategic value to the invading Spanish. The most likely explanation is that the residents of Machu Picchu left their secluded enclave to assist a neighbouring village to ward off an attack by the Spanish and were all slaughtered in the effort, leaving Machu Picchu undefended except for its inaccessibility until it was rediscovered 100 years ago.

 

After our lovely Sunday in Lima, we were refreshed and excited to get going on the rest of our trip in Peru. Our early morning flight on Monday to Cusco went smoothly over the Andes Mountains, and we were able to book a cab at the airport to take us on our almost two hour road trip to our next landing spot. Cusco is at  about 11,000 feet above sea level, so we were not feeling particularly comfortable, despite the cocao tea. We were happy for the slow descent into the town of Ollantaytambo and the Sacred Valley at a mere 9,000 feet.

Just to put that in perspective, there are 25 mountain peaks in Peru that are over 20,000 feet, and many hundreds over 10,000. Cusco is actually on the jungle side of the Andes and in Peruvian terms, is no more than a foothill. Incredibly, though we were only just over 200 miles from the Pacific, all the rivers flow into the Amazon from here and out into the Atlantic, a journey of more than 4,000 miles. Even this far away, the snow melt from the Andes produced rivers of considerable volume and speed

The road trip down through these foothills was most pleasant and scenic. We stopped for the occasional picture of llamas and alpacas, and the locals in their colourful dress, but we were eager to arrive at our destination in order to confirm our tickets and contact our tour guide for Machu Picchu for the following and didn’t dawdle much.

Ollantaytambo was a delight. An original Inca village, there were still the remains of buildings perched high on the surrounding hills, and the village itself was a marvel of cobblestone streets and stone walls. Water coursed through the streets in stone channels less than a foot wide and deep, and the city plaza was alive with colour and noise.

The Parwa Guest House was down the side of one of the narrow walled streets that intersect this village, and our host, Jorge, was most welcoming and kind. Our room was small, with barely room for the queen sized bed, but there was internet and quite a nice ensuite bathroom, so really everything we needed. Jorge was most persistent and helpful in making contact with our tour guide for the next day, and with that down, we went out for astroll to the train station to secure our tickets for the following morning.

On the way back to town we stopped for a meal beside one the many streams that irrigate this little village. For the second time I was intrigued but refrained from the alpaca on the menu and opted for something more familiar. We stuck with the bottled water as well, not wanting to jeopardize our trip to Machu Picchu with someting too exotic.

After a quick stop at the guest house to freshen up, we headed out the the main plaza to take in the evening sights. There were lots of tourists and plenty of locals in town. Ollantaymbo is one of only two or three jumping off points for Macchu Picchu, and by all accounts the nicest of the three. Urubamba, furthest away is the starting point for the train, but is mostly an industrial and commercial centre without much local flavour. Agua Calientes, the end point of the train and the beginning of the bus trip on to the site itself, is tourist central, with all the tackiness that such a designation implies.

 

After our trip to Machu Picchu, we took another day at Ollantaytambo to take in the sights. We also needed a day of rest to recover from our climb up Machu Picchu and a nasty little stomach bug that Pam had picked up along the way. More on Machu Picchu tomorrow.

One of the key factors in UNESCOs designation of the center of Lima as a World Heritage Site is the profusion of ornate balconies that brings to the city center a sense of harmony and beauty. These balconies not only bring light and air to the graceful homes of the city, they are also a window into the history of the country.

The noble and wealthy European immigrants who arrived in the capital built their houses with similar styles to the Spanish and Moorish architecture of their roots. In North Africa and the Middle East it was not culturally acceptable for women to walk out in the streets. The balcony provided fresh air and warmth as well as protection from the rain while women of nobility and wealth could discreetly observe the comings and goings of the city without leaving their homes.

The luxury and ostentation of these beautiful balconies are unique, never repeating the same pattern. While some balconies are open and without enclosures, others are closed or built into corners. Many were built with trusses that contributed to the passage of light and air, while offering the necessary privacy to prying eyes from the street.

Many balconies in Lima were built in the Renaissance, Baroque, Neo-Baroque and Neoclassical styles and had Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Moorish, Andalusian and Caribbean influences. The Renaissance idea that the nobility of a building characterized a city’s grandiosity permeates Lima’s architecture. The Baroque architecture of this period, characterized by exuberance and heavy ornamentation, is prevalent as well. In the 18th century, the Rococo style came to Lima as a result of French influence. This style embraced ornamentation and playful themes.

Our own interest and enthusiasm led us to inquire at one lovely building if we might have a closer look. Our impertinence was rewarded with a personal guided tour that ended at a rooftop cupola. We were delighted to find a nesting condor in this space who didn’t seem to mind sharing his view of the entire city!

As the procession wound down, we headed off to do some exploring of the old city center and just around the corner we came across a lovely little Choco Museo. Here the chocolate is artisanal, and prepared right from the cacao bean. They had an impressive array of chocolate bars with fruits and spices, chocolate candies, truffles , cookies and nuts as well as chocolate jams, and chocolate liqueurs.

As all of these products were advertised as “unbelievably healthy and positive for your frame of mind”, and our feet were getting a bit tired; we took the opportunity to enjoy a cup of their famous cacao husk tea. It was to die for.

Cayman is a lovely place and the beaches are beautiful, however the street life is limited and what you do see tends to be artificial; set up for some event or other. In Peru, life happens on the streets and it made us so happy just to wander and enjoy the sights and sounds.

We loved watching the Peruvian people just going about their daily lives, dressed in their bright, colourful clothing and beautifully distinctive head wear.

We were tired but it was a beautiful evening when we got back to Miraflores so we decided to walk down to the beach and have tea at this lovely gazebo at the end of the peer.

 

Like many Latin American nations, Peru’s predominant religion is Roman Catholicism, which remains a powerful influence in both state affairs and daily activities. Church activities and personnel are centered in Lima, with its most important and impressive cathedral in the Plaza de Armas along with the National Palace and Lima’s Municipal Office. The institutional role of the church has slowly declined over the years but the ceremonial aspects of the Catholic religion, its moral convictions and cultural values remain deeply embedded in Peruvian culture.

We were up in good time on Easter morning and grabbed a cab to take us into the center of Lima to do a little sight-seeing and possibly catch a church service. Our timing was perfect and we arrived in the Plaza in time to witness the gathering of the faithful to celebrate the Risen Christ. All of the streets around the Plaza were decorated with incredibly beautiful murals made of flower petals.

We followed the sounds of music to a side street in time to witness the arrival of two  processionals coming from opposite directions, to converge at the 16th century Cathedral in the heart of old Lima Centro. Each group carried four figures of about ten feet in height, balanced on a platform on the shoulders of 14 to 16 men.  They were each accompanied by a marching band, incense burners and columns of worships and came to a halt every few minutes to allow the men to rest.

It was a spectacular sight to see and a joy to watch a community celebrate their faith with such fervency and adoration. We spent a happy morning around the plaza, sipping on cocao and chocolate tea and marveling in the architectural beauty of Lima.