Bubble in the desert

A blog I started whilst on a GE "Bubble" assignment in Nevada. I'm back in Cambridge (UK) now but still miss the desert and my friends out there.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Brazil - some wildlife around Lencois, Bahia

Originally uploaded by CarlMyhill.
Lots of these things around but they seemed so photogenic that I couldn't resist it. They were much smaller than the picture might lead you to believe!

Some of my other photos from the Brazil trip are on a new photo service called flickr which you can get to from here... http://www.flickr.com/photos/carlmyhill/sets/868316/

Friday, August 19, 2005

Exotic Swimming in Lencois

With 8,000km of coastline, Brazilians seem to like to swim. Swimming around Lencois was something altogether different though. The swimming is in rivers and pools with many additional features such as waterfalls and natural rock slides. The water is always very dark but as Roy Funch explained in his guidebook, it is from organic matter not from minerals, he says you could think of it as a bit like tea.

Our first experience of all this was just north of the village of Lencois called The Serrano Swimming Hole. The rocks there are pretty amazing and some of the rock pools spectacular. They are large and deep because they were scraped out by gravel over the ages, and some of that gravel contained diamonds, a particularly tough material for gouging holes in rocks! The rock pools at this location are part of a waterfall and are great to mess about in. The locals know where you can bomb dive here, and which rock channels you can swim underneath as the water diverts underground for a bit (didn't fancy either prospect much myself).

As I mentioned in the previous entry, you can also do some guided snorkeling in some caves to the south, which is a really nice way to experience a cave with crystal clear water.

Pools were to be found all over the place, many with waterfalls to play in. Though we were all a little cautious of the first waterfall we swam through, since it looked like a lot of water.

During the end of our stay we hired Roy Funch as a guide. He choose a nice short hike for us, from Lencois (no driving). After about an hour we arrived at a pool, at which, without much explanation, our guide stripped off and dived in to the murky darkness. Happy to follow the guide, I stripped off and dived in too. He swam to the other side of the water and started walking up the edge of a bloody slippery rock incline. Expecting our geology guide to be about to continue my education on rocks I followed. About 30 feet up he gingerly waded our into the waterfall coming down this rocky incline and gestured me to follow, showing me the best place to stand to try and maintain some semblance of grip. So, we both end up sitting in our trunks on the middle of this slippery slope of rock. Roy then carefully slides down about 10 feet to a special spot. Wondering how the hell he managed to stop himself sliding all the way down the rocky slope, I carefully followed him. At this point, he explained that this is the Rock Slide (the Ribeirao Do Meio). Roy told me I would probably would want to go down on my trunks but he goes down "on the skin because it's faster" (yes, bare arsed). He aimed himself and pushed off down the slippery but ROCKY slope. Thinking better of it but by now far too committed to reconsider, I set off too. Things started well, nice and slow but soon enough I was way out of control and somewhat off piste from where Roy had gone but I plopped onto the slabs just beneath the water (not the ending I expected - I hoped to plop into clear water!). Anyway, this was the rock slide and the locals love it. Roy now limits himself to 3 goes a day out of consideration for his age (50 or so) but I managed to persuade him to his second go of the day and I believe someone may have a photo of that, with my face no doubt expressing panic on the decent. Later he told me that one of his kids goes down this on his feet, like he is surfing - it wouldn't be the best place to fall over trying that! Later still I discovered a brand new hole in the back of my trunks!

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Exploring Around Lencois and the Chapada Diamontina

Originally uploaded by CarlMyhill.
On our first full day there we took a trip out in a Land Rover with a local guide called Roger (pronounced 'Hoger' as 'Reals' are pronounced 'Heals'). Last stop was this fantastic viewpoint

Originally uploaded by CarlMyhill.
Earlier in the day we had been exploring amazing caves, with tremendous stalactites and stalagmites in them.

Originally uploaded by CarlMyhill.
You could even go for a guided swim, with fins and snorkel and lifejacket to explore some of these caves and try to spot some of the fish that lurk in the black waters beneath you. It's a little disconcerting swimming into a cave with 4 people, only one of whom had a torch. Eduardo, experienced in Scuba diving, explained that for safety it is sometimes a good idea to hold hands - his intention being that me and Kathryn stick together. This worked fine to begin with but as we got more confident we drifted apart a little. Not for long though because we were in deep water, in a cave and in the pitch dark. I turned around at one point and could not see Kathryn. When I finally found her I swam over and gently took her hand, only to realise that I'd found Eduardo and was now holding his hand. I don't know whether I was more shocked from the mistake or from not knowing where Kathryn was but in the event she appeared momentarily.

After not seeing much in the way of fish we headed home. But then, up ahead we could see the bluest water you could imagine, like some kind of jewel. As we got near it we could see if was filled with fish. So we all floated about looking at the spectacle for a while before we realised this was precisely the spot we'd entered the water in the first place but after being in the dark for a while it had suddenly turned quite magical.

So, a great day out (apart from the hand holding incident), ending with great views. Actually, it did not quite end there. Roger had to drive us back in his Land Rover in the dark, which despite his excellent driving was not much fun. In and around Lencois the roads were terrible. One lane in each direction was tarmac but with occasional pot holes too big for a land Rover to want to drive over, and causing oncoming trucks to be on the wrong side of the road very often. Not fun but thankfully Roger was a skilled and safe driver.

In the evening we found a great vegetarian restaurant. We'd just walked through the door when Maya found a friend to play with, the son of the restaurant owner, so we didn't see much of her during the meal. She has a great knack for very quickly making friends with other children and the restaurant owner seemed very happy for her to play too. It's a shame we didn't get to go back to the restaurant, the food and service were very good. But perhaps that says something about the general standard of food in Brazil - there were lots of good choices even in a small place like Lencois.

Lencois, Bahia

Originally uploaded by CarlMyhill.
Tuesday we took a small plane to Lencois, in the middle of a vast forest in land. We met Kathryn's Brazilian friends Eduardo, Luciana and Maya at the airport and they were not hard to find since their cab pulled up right behind ours!

As an interesting side note, Jimmy Page has a house in Lencois, which you can see on this photo. Last time I saw Kathryn was at WOMAD where Robert Plant was playing. There seems to be something spookily Led Zeppelin in our relationship, though sadly we have yet to hear either Page or Plant play Stairway to Heaven.

There was some debate as to whether we would get to Lencois at all due to some poor visibility at Lencois airport and plan B would mean a huge drive from the next stop on the plane's trip, back across very poor roads, which would have taken all day. Fortunately after some delay we got our small plane to Lencois, with Maya regretting that we couldn't take the pink plane (though we were later to have a trip in that!).

On leaving the small airport the wildlife of the area was immediately apparent, in the form of a rhino beetle just on the tarmac of the carpark. It looked like a taxi had driven over it but it was still hobbling around though the taxi was a wreck (just kidding). It was a bit like this photo shows and it was sadly the only one we saw in Lencois.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Salvador, Bahia

We stayed a couple of days in Salvador, which was our first experience of Bahia a large region of Brazil with strong African roots. Salvador is pretty huge, with miles of coastline and a huge bay.

People here were very friendly and we soon realised they understood spanish pretty well, even bad spanish, which was quite helpful at times. Portuguese normally sounds quite unlike spanish with some radical pronunciation differences but enough of the words are similar to spanish to give you a vague idea of what's going on but it works better the other way around, they understand spanish much better than we understood portuguese. Anyhow, this wasn't a huge deal, English is well understood too, just nice to have a fallback position. Kathryn's french was helpful a couple of times too. Brazil is clearly a very diverse country.

For our first night we had a recommendation of a place to eat in the old town, Pelourinho. From this experience we learned a few things. That the taxis are crazy and only some have seatbelts (we later learned that seatbelts could indicate one of 2 things about the driver: safety consiousness (rare) or lunacy) and red traffic lights ignored with gusto. That restaurant names are only approximate - it took about 3 laps of the cobbled maze, and directions from several pleasant but gun totting tourist police before we realised that. Finally, we learned that Brazilian food is excellent. Of course we couldn't make such a judgement on the first night but we ultimately came to this conclusion.

The next day we walked to Pelourinho from the hotel which was great. On the way, as we walked we realised one of the turns had led to an increasingly quiet area so we headed out of it towards Solar Do Unhao which has some modern are and a GREAT restaurant with excellent service.

As we ate some typical food from Bahia sitting out on a little pier thing and avoiding the little rain, we were entertained by a few kids messing around in a boat. Whether they were catching fish or just having fun is hard to say.

This place also still has apparently on display an old Pelourinho (a whipping post for slaves) though we didn't see it because we quickly headed to town to beat the dark and rain.

Later we tried to organise to go to a Candomble ceremony, a religous ceremony with african roots but our timing was not great and there were none going on while we were in town. A later quest for live music was similarly fruitless, as was an attempt to blag our way to the top of a waiting list for a live cultural show (though it was fun to try).

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Flying to Brazil from different directions

An early start to my vacation with an 8am flight from Reno to American Airlines hub in Dallas. Kathryn started a bit later from London but both of us faced a long trip to Sao Paulo. Jetlag was a bit odd with me going back in time 4 hours and Kathryn going forward in time.

When we were chatting to a nice girl in a touristy art/record shop/bar! in Praia Do Forte called Jiji we explained our outward trip and how we'd come to Brazil from different directions. She traced out the loveheart on the map, how nice!

We arrived in Sao Paulo to considerable chaos with 4 flights having landed at the same time. When I finally got through the snaking queue to Passport control I saw Kathryn join the back of the queue, so out greeting was one of waving at each other. We finally met up, got our luggage together and joined the snaking queue to get through customs.

After over an hour we got through it all, crossed the airport and immediately checked in for our flights to Salvador.

A while later we landed in Salvador and caught a bus to our hotel on Praia Ondina. Eduardo had booked this for us and it was one of the few hotels right on the beach, most were on the wrong side of the road.

After negotiating the locked gate to the beach from the hotel, we were on the beach, which is supposed to be a little polluted but after so much flying we didn't care much. The waves were pretty rough. I miscalculated once as I tried to jump a wave and it slammed me down, awesome power. After that we retired to the hotel pool!

Saturday, August 13, 2005

MTB - Pinenuts

Had a lunchbreak mountain biking in the Pinenuts (local hills that extend from here to infinity). Fantastic other part of the playground I'd not seen. Singletrack is everywhere and is pretty fine dust under tyre, which is ok if you are on the compacted track and stops you very quickly if you stray too far onto the edges. There don't seem to be many maps of that area and it looks like a maze but you can pretty much just head North or South back to the road, depending which part of the main road you start on.

Fantastic spot, though I was a little slow for Scott! As Lance Armstrong says, "It's all about the bike"

Friday, August 12, 2005

VACATION - Vamos a Brazil!

Off to Brazil for a couple of weeks, we should be fun. Arrive Sao Paulo then Salvado on Sunday and then Lencois. Meeting Kathryn at Sao Paulo - :-)

Back in a couple of weeks!

Hair Raising Cliff Hanger - Did he or didn't he?

Kathryn seemed to mull over in a curious and positive way, the possibility of total baldness. So, whilst enjoying a can of Old Milwaukee[1] I gave the matter some serious thought. I will leave it as an exercise for the reader to figure out whether I did it or not!

[1] Old Milwaukie is really ok - 4.5% (though no mention of that on the can); $5 for 12 cans; lowest rated beer in all of America. I explained to Scott if one must drink horrible US beer, you may as well drink the cheap stuff; I think he may come around to this way of thinking. I wonder if you can buy a keg of it.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

"There is no 'WE' in TEAM" !

Learned a great new saying today, "there is no WE in TEAM" - quite a nice counter to the horrible manufactured saying, "there is no 'I' in TEAM".

Thanks 'team' for sharing that one!

Dinner with Vas - home made indian food and yoghurt

Vas swung by my cube on the way home (we were both working quite late) to say hi. I'd been meaning to ask him about an Indian restaurant he'd recommended before. Instead he asked me to dinner at his house the next week, when I said I'd be on vacation he said, "how about now?"

So, I had some great indian food at Vas' house, including Okra, chickpeas, pickles, chaptis (I think) and home made yoghurt. I was fascinated to learn about how he'd made the yoghurt. He starts with some regular stuff from the store and uses just a teaspoon full of it to start the next batch. Boil some milk, add the teaspoon of yoghurt (culture), allow to cool enough so you can touch the pot, and then put it in the fridge to cool. The next week, use a teaspoon of that yoghurt to start off the next one. After a couple of cycles you lose the gloopy consistency of commercial yoghurt and end up with some more natural and runny stuff.

A Lassi is just this kind of yoghurt 50/50 with water. And a mango one has some liquidised mango in it.

Someone once called me a 'knit your own yoghurt' sort of person and I have to admit that making my own yoghurt has some serios appeal. Making my own mango lassie is something I really will need to practice!

Had a really nice evening of fresh indian food and good conversation. Very nice indeed. I just wish we had a better repetoire of typical british foods to cook in return - sadly chicken tikka masala seems to be one of the big things in the uk now. What else is there? Roast beef and yorkshire puds? Fish and Chips (proper chips!); Lava Bread in Wales; Cream Teas and Scones and stuff; Haggis perhaps; jellied eels??? Ideas welcomed!

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Nice View on the Way Home

Hiking after work at the Luther something trail

The company's adventure club often have hikes going out on Tuesday nights and I finally managed to tag along to one to break in my new boots.

Fahrenheit 9/11

Blockbuster only seems to have the first X-files series so I had to watch something else instead. Decided to educate myself about Fahrenheit 9/11.

I don't much care for Michael Moore. He seems to get some excellent information but he seems at times quite dishonest and manipulative about how he uses it. I'm sure you can snip out clips of Bush doing just about anything and juxtapose it with something which just looks bad, whether or not it actually is bad. I felt pretty much the same about his book, 'Stupid White Men'. He seems to have enough nuggets but he presents them in such a way to make himself seem desperate and lacking in credibility. I wish Andrew Marr or Jeremy Paxman had made the film.

Picking through what appear to be the facts presented seemed pretty disturbing enough without the camera games and cutaways to Bush playing golf.

I've watched the film twice now and it seems eerily like Huxley's 'A Brave New World' in places.

The war on Iraq as portrayed, seems a very dark undertaking indeed. Very depressing. I feel like I've been particularly stupid to not really fully accept that the whole thing is about oil and very rich people protecting their own interests.

Paxman/Marr - please remake this so I know which bits to really believe. Sadly Moore lacks some credibility, which is a great shame.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Moving 1,000lb Hot Tub

Helped Dave move his hot tub today to his new house. My expectations were that this would be handled with some proper engineering and I wasn't at all disappointed. I was a bit concerned that we didn't have enough people to shift it given that someone estimated it to be 1,000lbs but in the event, 6 people plus the additional help from Holly the dog and one of Dave's sons was enough.

Dave had it all figured out. He had brought some hefty straps from Home Depot, huge bright orange things with loops in each end. The hot tub was tilted, straps placed underneath and one large iron pole threaded through the loops on one side of the hot tub, and then the same on the other. The end result was like a large stretcher suitable for 1,000lbs! The hot tub moved very easily, we were all quite surprised I think. Then came a pinch point. Following previous advice from some expert movers Dave thought we could use the same approach with the hot tub vertical, as long as a couple of people steadied it. So, we realigned the straps and picked it up vertical which worked well. Got it on the nearby trailer, far forward enough to ensure the tongue weight(?) looked ok, and off we set.

Unloading was easier as Dave expertly backed the trailer right next to where the tub needed to go. So we just lifted it off and put it down. This bit worried me a little as I seemed to have a lot of weight on my side and I was quite worried it would soon exceed my maximum weight limit as we hefted it off the trailer but after a little shuffling of people, all was well.

Next problem was how to drink all the beer Dave had bought to support the effort. People weren't hanging around to drink beer so Scott ended up with a few bottles to take home and I ended up with around 10, which seemed a bit imbalanced given the relative muscle contributions of the volunteers (mine being at the lower, well, lowest end of the scale!).

Anyhow, good fun and executed with good engineering thought as expected!

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Kayaking and Swimming in Lake Tahoe

The company's adventure club is always pretty active and today they had organised a kayak trip on Lake Tahoe. Kayaks were pretty impressive sea kayaks made by Tsunami (140s i think). Seats and other fittings were very adjustable and the boats seemed quite stable, though the lake was mostly pretty flat.

This excursion was really for beginners so no spray decks were used and we didn't even use the rudder (which i missed a bit).

Had my usual problem of legs going dead after 30 minutes which was alleviated a bit by adjusting the seat (which was very easy even on the water). I think my problem stems from bad posture and very inflexible hips, which I notice a lot during yoga too. In a kayak you really need to sit bending forward a little, which really strains my lower back and hips and causes my dead legs I think. But anyway, something which would go away with a lot more kayaking I think!

So, we kayaked from Sand Harbour to Thunderbird Bay? I think this is named because it looks like something out of the Thunderbirds. You could imagine a roof sliding off the buildings there and Thunderbird 4 being launched. Apparently this is some kind of provate house or hotel or something, where apparently the president stays sometimes.

We kayaked for a couple of hours and then, having realised the lake water was quite warm, decided to go for a swim. So I swam the length of the beach, which was quite a bit farther than I thought. The water was odd, at once quite warm, and then as waves came in you would get washed in cold water, which as an inexperienced open water swimmer took my breath away.

Great fun on the lake and great adventure club at work!!!

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Signs of Bears

On the way to kayaking I couldn't help seeing signs of bears in the area, though I didn't need to hone any tracking skills to spot these signs!

Wildlife corridor?

Richard and Megan and Basque food

Apparently several Basque families settled Minden. We ate in 100 year old restaurant tonight. Kinda strange. As we sat at our table, they brought out a big pan and said, 'here's your soup'. Which was minestrone or something nice and veggie looking. Red wine was provided too (also unasked).

Following soup they asked what we wanted for main course. It was mostly very meaty but I went for Basque scampi.

Whilst waiting, we were served a lovely salad course, and a rather large stack of tongue. This looked very meaty and Richard was quick to dive in and have a go but notably didn't eat too much of it. Megan grudgingly wouldn't be outdone so reluctantly tried a bit. Her face quickly showed she may as well have been eating cockroaches on one of those Endurance TV shows. I tried a bit too, an unusual thing for a veggie to do but had a similar reaction to Megan. The meat tasted ok but looked so much like a tongue it was hard to get it out of your head whilst eating it.

Main course was pretty good. Ice cream was the standard desert served.

All a little odd but nice really. Lots of food served, $20 a head for the whole meal but not many options for a strict veggie for sure.

Richard and Megan get the prize for being my first visitors. Excellent!

Friday, August 05, 2005

Running at lunchtime

Went for a 4 mile run at lunch with Scott. This is the first run I've done in the midday heat. Even at 9 minute mile pace it was quite tough. But good to get out and see a bit of wildlife too, some jack rabbits and ground squirrels.

On the way back the last half mile was really tough to keep running and was glad to get back into the shade and the aircon. The heat, altitude and lack of running habit probably all contributed to feeling a little rough but at least i didnt collapse!

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Spot the 3.5 litre Chevy

To me, a 3.5l Chevy seems like a big car but I am amazed how often I am sitting at the traffic lights looking at the bottom of the door of another 'car'. You would think a 3.5l Chevy would be easy to spot in the airport car park too. Not so. I had to use the little button on my remote keyfob which makes the car horn sound so you can find it (I wonder if these are only on small cars like my 'little' chevy?!