Hidden Gems Archives - Eva Varga

September 2, 20151

After our final delectable meal at the Inkaterra, we boarded the train and began our trek back to Cusco. I’d awoken with a terrible tummy ache. In fact, as I recall, I’d gone to bed not feeling so well. I thereby abstained from eating anything; drinking only one cup of Muña tea. {I wish I could find this tea in the states.} I wasn’t looking forward two the long journey with gastro-intestional issues.

Fortunately, by the time we arrived at Ollantaytambo – an Incan temple that had not been completed – I was feeling myself again. Well enough, in fact, to bound up the steps behind Jeffrey.

OllantaytamboTempleOllantaytambo Temple

The Ollantaytambo Temple is located in the city of the same name, some 60 kilometers northwest of Cusco. During the Inca Empire, the temple was the royal estate of Emperor Pachacuti who conquered the region and built the town. At the time of the Spanish conquest, it served as a stronghold for Manco Inca Yupanqui, leader of the Inca resistance.

As we walked about the site, Harvey pointed out numerous architectural points of interest. When we reached the top, we had a magnificent view of the pueblo below, including the agricultural fields.

ollantaytamboIn town, the roads were amass with people. There was a festival taking place and as a result, the roads were blocked. We weren’t able to get through and thus were advised to stay near the bus just in case a last minute opportunity arose.

We managed to do a little shopping – I bought a watercolor painting and Geneva bought an oil on velvet painting. Both were are a peculiar size, so custom framing will likely be necessary.

After about an hour of delay, Harvey decided to have us walk through the crowds across town to two small vans he had arranged to meet us on the other side. There was so much going on in town – we wish we had done so earlier and to take in some of the festivities. This is one drawback of traveling with a group – you are forced to adhere to another’s schedule and unable to allow for spontaneity.

OllantaytamboPuebloWayra Ranch

We boarded the vans – assured that our luggage would make it’s way to our hotel in Cusco before our arrival – and soon thereafter arrived at Wayra, a ranch-style resort where we were to have lunch. The barbecue lunch at Wayra Ranch took place on the garden-view terrace located across the field from the stable.

Our meal was served family style with several courses: salad, empanadas, breads, potatoes, corn, tamales, beef kabobs, salmon and trout, and an assortment of postres for dessert. There was so much food and everything was delicious!

peruvianpasoThe Peruvian Paso

After our meal, we found a seat on the grass to enjoy a performance of the Peruvian Paso, is a breed of light pleasure saddle horse known for its smooth ride. It is distinguished by a natural, four-beat, lateral gait called the paso llano. They also put more weight on their hind legs and thereby kick up their front legs higher.

As the world’s horsemen moved from naturally gaited horses to trotting horses, the Peruvians continued to esteem and breed their naturally gaited “Caballo Peruano de Paso”. The Peruvian Paso horse descended from the bloodstock which was introduced to Peru from the Spanish, who at the time were the foremost horse breeders in the world.

Much to Jeffrey’s delight, he was able to ride one of the horses around a little. Geneva was content to stroke their neck.

We departed a short time later and continued our journey through the Urubamba or Sacred Valley. Originally, we were to have a few hours in the marketplace but due to the unforeseen delay in Ollantaytambo, we only had twenty minutes. Rather than do much shopping, I enjoyed speaking with the locals – meeting a young boy who spoke English quite well. He was delighted to learn we were from California and shared that he had had a teacher from California in the past. peopleofperuAlong the way, we caught a glimpse of an unusual lodging option. Suspended 400 feet above the valley are three capsules that resemble like airstream trailers. These transparent sleeping pods are crafted from aerospace aluminum and weather resistant polycarbonate, giving each visitor a 300 degree view of the valley below. I’m very pleased that IE didn’t arrange for our lodging here.

Discovering Peru @WellTraveledFamily.netJoin me tomorrow as we return to Cusco – The Imperial City. Be sure not to miss the other posts in this 5 day series:

Arriving in Cusco & the Sacred Valley

Machu Picchu

Lima – The City of the Kings (coming Friday)

travelguidesWhen we travel, I always purchase a DK Eyewitness Travel Guide to familiarize myself with the country and the culture. Updated annually, each book provides a detailed description of popular tourist attractions, restaurants, and lodging options.

Each guide divides the country (or city) into color coded regions enabling quick browsing while on the road. The DK Eyewitness Travel Guides are comprehensive guides that provide everything to see at a location. While comprehensive, the books give just the right amount of information to spark interest in the particular sights you want to see. They are organized intelligently for the traveler, and they always provide a map.

As a special expression of gratitude to you, I am giving away one DK Eyewitness Travel Guide of choice to a lucky reader. The contest closes on the 20th of September at 12 a.m.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

My post is one of many hopscotch link-ups. Hop over and see what others are sharing. You might also be interested in my post, 5 Misconceptions in Science & How to Dispel Them, on my homeschool blog.


May 8, 2015

One of the benefits of homeschooling is the flexibility of our schedule. When Patrick has business meetings out of town, we are often able to accompany him. This works not only to his benefit – he has company on the long drive, we often share in the task of driving so the other can catch up on work, and he can take advantage of the carpool lane – but to ours.

While he is engaged at his conference, we hit the road to explore the city or surrounding area. This is just what brought us to San Francisco earlier this week.

We assumed that we would be staying in downtown or the financial district as we had in the past. Come to discover, this conference took place near the airport in Millbrae. Not exactly convenient for walking. Though the proximity to the BART would have been ideal – our plans for the day provided only a small window of time and we wanted to squeeze in as much as possible.

A las, I made the decision to drive back into SF proper myself and take our chances with parking. Our first destination was Golden Gate Park. In all our previous visits to the city, we had not previously explored this gem. My goal was to locate the Roald Amundsen or Gjoa Monument as well as two historic windmills.

On Wind & Sail: Letterboxing in San Francisco @WellTraveledFamily.netIn October 1906, Roald Amundsen and his crew arrived in San Francisco aboard the 69-foot Gjoa. Previously a herring boat from Tronso, Norway, she had been retrofitted for Amundsen’s quest to discover the famed Northwest Passage. The Gjoa took the small crew up and over Canada, east to west, finally arriving near Herschel Island, in arctic Canada.

To get word back to the outside world of his success, Amundsen left his men behind in the icebound ship and skied some 500 miles into Eagle, Alaska, where he telegraphed the good news home. As he and his crew arrived in San Francisco a few months later, they were hailed as heroes.

This epic quest was not Amundsen’s only feat, however. He led the Antarctic expedition (1910–12) to become the first to reach the South Pole in December 1911, an epic race against Robert Falcon Scott. In 1926, he was the first expedition leader to be recognized without dispute as having reached the North Pole.

We had visited the Gjoa ship at the Maritime Museum in Oslo. It was exciting to experience this full circle. Not far from the Norwegian granite stele is located a short distance from two windmills.
On Wind & Sail: Letterboxing in San Francisco @WellTraveledFamily.netBuilt between 1902 and 1908, the two historic windmills that overlook Ocean Beach at the far west end of Golden Gate Park were originally designed to provide water for the fledgling park at the beginning of the last century.

Fresh water was essential to transform the sand dunes of the Sunset district into the green that it is today.  The ground water inland was insufficient, so the coastal winds were harnessed to pump deep water closer to the ocean shore.  The windmills were in use only until 1913, when they were replaced by more efficient electric pumps.

The North windmill, known as the Dutch Windmill, was the first, built in 1902 to fill the artificial ponds within the boundaries of Golden Gate Park. The South windmill, known as the Murphy Windmill, was the largest of its kind in the world, with gigantic 114 foot sails, each cut from a single log. These sails turned clockwise, unlike traditional Dutch windmills which turn counter-clockwise.

While in Golden Gate Park, we also enjoyed one of our most favorite pastimes, Letterboxing – the ultimate scavenger hunt. Hunting letterboxes in San Francisco is always enjoyable – the boxes tend to be well maintained and the stamps are amazing! Often, intricately carved or multiple stamps that “stack” within one another.

We hunted three boxes (Aphrodite, Artemis, and Breathe) and were delighted to find all three with ease. My girl has become quite adept at locating the boxes – often without the complete set of clues .. a real sleuth.

We also picked up a hitch-hiking stamp and hope to be planting it in Ashland next week. 🙂

To learn more about letterboxing, visit AtlasQuest.


April 28, 2015

We get home to Oregon regularly and though I grew up in Bandon, hidden gems and little adventures continue to take me by surprise. This is exactly what happened on New Years Day this year when we happened upon Denny Dyke creating a holiday labyrinth.

Image of people walking a hand-drawn labyrinth on a sandy beach taken from above

We first met my dad at the house and visited for a short time. He shared with us his latest projects and we then proceeded to downtown for our usual Fish & Chips at the Bandon Fish Market. {When it is in season, Salmon Fish & Chips is the best!}

Labyrinth Art

Earlier that morning, I had fortunately caught an advertisement of a labyrinth event shared on Facebook and I was looking forward to seeing the Circles in the Sand near Face Rock Beach.

We were delighted to arrive early and thereby have the chance to take part in the creation of the labyrinth. It’s amazing how simple it is once Denny describes his vision to you. He lends you a few tools and off we go filling in the design.

image of mother and daughter creating a labyrinth on the beach

When the design was finished, we were able to set down the tools and be amongst the first to walk the creative maze. As we walked, we could contemplate the coming year and give thought to the year that past.

In Greek mythology, the original Labyrinth was an elaborate structure designed and built by Daedalus for King Minos of Crete at Knossos. Its function was to hold the Minotaur (half bull, half man) eventually killed by the hero Theseus (son of Aegeaus, King of Athens). According to the mythology, Daedalus had so cunningly made the Labyrinth that he could barely escape it after he built it.

Serendipitously, I was inspired to write this post as the kids and I just read of King Minos, the Minotaur, and Theseus earlier this morning and we recalled fondly our own labyrinth experiences.

image of two children jumping in front of the famous Face Rock in Bandon, OregonThere has been a resurgence of interest in the symbolism of labyrinths which has inspired a revival in labyrinth building in recent years. On low tides, labyrinth artist Denny Dyke regularly creates classical cretans, baltic wheels, and double spirals in the sand. He also draws large versions of the Chartres and Santa Rosa.

May 2nd is World Labyrinth Day. Join Denny at Coquille Point (aka Elephant Rock) to join in the fun in creating a labyrinth with a sandy path.

April 25, 2013

We recently enjoyed a family road trip to some of our nation’s most impressive National Parks. I’ll be sharing with you a number of our highlights and learning opportunities we enjoyed along the way.  Some experiences were enjoyed while confined to our car – love my smart phone!  The majority took place during our exploration of the parks and through participation in Ranger-led programs.  Along the way, I will also share tips that help make traveling with kids less intimidating and how to continue the excitement for learning upon your return home.

day 1 death valley

Making Observations & Asking Questions

We essentially began our road trip in Bakersfield, California and departed shortly after breakfast.  We first drove east along CA58 through Tehachapi and then north along CA14.  What was of most interest to us was the sight of thousands of wind turbines dotted across the hillside.  The kids were full of questions: How many are there? How much electricity do they make?  Are they owned by one company?   To my delight I had 4G coverage and so I began to search for answers – No, I wasn’t driving!

tehachapi wind farmWe came to learn the Tehachapi Wind Farm, with around 5,000 wind turbines, is the second largest collection of wind generators in California (7,000 at Altamont near San Francisco and 3,000 at San Gorgonio Pass near Palm Springs).Operated by a dozen private companies, they collectively produce 800 million kilowatt hours of electricity (enough for 350,000 people annually).  Over 15,000 turbines in the state yet wind power makes up only about 1% of California’s electricity.  As we drove past these turbines, we marveled at the numbers and compared this to what we had learned previously at Shasta Dam. In 2007, California hydroelectric power plants produced 43,625 gigawatt-hours of electricity, or 14.5 percent of the total.

We spent the majority of the day in Death Valley (I’ll write a separate post for each park) and then continued south along Hwy 178.  Along this route, we marveled at a sight off to the distance.  What are those?  Aren’t those strange, Mom? Upon googling, we learned these geological features were the Trona Pinnacles, one of the most unusual geological features in the California Desert National Conservation Area.

trona cali

The unusual landscape consists of more than 500 tufa spires (porous rock formed as a deposit when springs interact with other bodies of water), some as high as 140 feet (43 m), rising from the bed of the Searles Lake (dry) basin. The pinnacles vary in size and shape from short and squat to tall and thin, and are composed primarily of calcium carbonate (tufa). Tufa is a variety of limestone, formed by the precipitation of carbonate minerals from ambient temperature water bodies. The spires now sit isolated and slowly crumbling away near the south end of the valley, surrounded by many square miles of flat, dried mud and with stark mountain ranges at either side.

Another intriguing site along Hwy 178 was the Searles Valley Mineral plant.  The pipes leading to the buildings had a perplexing shape the purpose for which we still haven’t determined; something like this:  ₋₋⊓₋₋⊓₋₋⊓₋₋  .  While investigating this curiosity, I discovered that the company sponsors an annual Gem-O-Rama during the second weekend in October.  For more than seventy years, countless thousands of visitors have come to Trona for the 36 hours of frantic, non-stop activity to collect some of the best and most desirable evaporite mineral specimens in the world.  What fun!

Bringing it Home

Upon our return home, I pulled out some of the minerals I had in my collection and we discussed the differences between evaporative and precipitate minerals.

  • Evaporation can form minerals for example salt crystals appearing when seawater evaporates
  • Precipitation can form minerals for example water can only hold so much dissolved material.  Any extra separates and falls out as a solid.

The kids enjoyed the discussion and I hope they will take the time to do a journal entry of what they learned.  During our discussion, Sweetie was inspired to create rock candy.  When you make rock candy, you can see the shape of sugar crystals on a giant scale. The key is starting with a super-saturated sugar-water solution (heating the water will allow you to dissolve more sugar) and giving them lots of time to grow. As the water evaporates, sugar crystals form on the string or stick, and the shapes that they form reflect the shape of individual sugar crystals.

When traveling, encourage the kids to look out the window.  What new things do they see?  What questions come to mind as you travel from one place to another?  Does the geology change?  Do you see historical evidence of early settlers?  Are there historical markers or dilapidated buildings with stories to share?  Perhaps something will spark an idea for a young writer to create a story of his own.


February 5, 20131

While staying in Rome, we made a day-excursion to Birmingham to meet up with one of my former students (now a nurse at the university hospital). After touring the botanical gardens and doing a little letterboxing, we drove up to see the Vulcan, the largest cast-iron sculpture in the world. Designed by Italian artist Giuseppe Moretti and cast from local iron in 1904, it has overlooked the urban landscape of Alabama’s largest city since the 1930s.

Iron Ore Mining

Here, we also explored the museum where we were able to touch several ores mined locally: iron ore, charcoal or coke (a fuel and reducing agent), and limestone. Below the museum entrance was an entrance to a mining shaft where raw iron ore was extracted. The ore was then transported to nearby furnaces where it was refined and iron ingots were formed for further processing.

Doing a little letterboxing near the Vulcan

Iron Ore Furnaces

Driving through Birmingham, it is impossible to miss the Sloss Furnaces, where iron was produced for nearly 90 years (between 1882 and 1971 under various owners), giving rise to the city of Birmingham.  Though the National Landmark was closed on the day we were there, the web of pipes and tall smokestacks were still impressive and provided us with a glimpse into the great industrial past.

On the drive home, we noticed a brown road sign indicating an historical site.  Choosing to take this little detour, the signs led us to Cornwall Furnace, a quaint little park tucked away alongside Weiss Lake. Though all that remains is the furnace (the wooden mill exterior had deteriorated long ago), it was still impressive, and enabled us to visualize the past.

iron ore furnace at Cornwall

Samuel Noble is thought to have over seen operations here and production started in late 1862.  Iron ore, charcoal, and limestone would have been fed into the top of the furnace to produce the iron. There would have been a charging bridge coming from the top of the ridge to the top of the furnace stack to facilitate the loading of the raw materials.  Iron was then extracted from the bottom of the furnace and ran into sand molds to produce pig iron ingots.  The ingots were marked CORNWALL.

The pig iron ingots were then transported to the foundry in Rome, Georgia.  Once the bars were in Rome, they were transformed into various products that supported the war effort.  We later learned that many of these furnaces (found throughout the south) had been destroyed during the Civil War to prevent the Confederate army from producing more arms.

Buddy was particularly interested in these historical sites as mining has always been a fascination to him.  He even painted a mine shaft during the painting class later in the week.  When we returned home, he continued to inquire about the specifics of mining iron ore and as we researched, he made numerous references to Minecraft.  While making connections to his favorite game, it was clear that he was truly understanding the complexities of the process.

Upon our return home, we explored ore samples in more depth. You can read about our approach in my post,  A Peak at Ore Samples.

January 12, 20132

After trying our hand at harvesting our own olives recently, What to Do With Fresh Olives, I wanted to give the kiddos a taste of the agricultural sciences. When I was browsing the recent edition of Edible Shasta-Butte magazine, an ad for Lucero Olive Oil caught my attention. The fact that the company is third-generation family owned and operated business resonated with me and I thereby made arrangements to visit their mill and store front in Corning, California, known as the Olive City, is home to the Bell Carter Olive Company, which is the world’s largest ripe olive cannery. Corning also has a significant agriculture industry centered around olives, olive oil, dried plums (prunes) including the “Sunsweet” label, walnuts, and almonds.

As we toured the facilities and tasted the multitudes of award winning oils and balsamic vinegars, it was evident their knowledge and experience have elevated the science to an art.  The Lucero Olive Oil companhas won more acclaim for it’s Extra Virgin Olive Oils than any other producer in North America with over 100 awards.

The Lucero family owns about 500 acres of olive trees and purchases additional olives from other growers to meet their production demands. The mill is certified organic though the growers have no need to spray their crops for pesticides as there is no need (few pests feed on the evergreen tree) and the arid soils and climate in the northern Sacramento valley are perfect for the tree native to the Mediterranean and thus they require no fertilizers.

Two types of trees are used in the production of the the olive oils produced here … Seviano trees, which require hand picking to harvest the fruit, or alternatively, laying a tarp below the tree and shaking the fruit loose and Arbequina trees which can be harvested mechanically as the limbs are more flexible.  The harvesting machine essentially drives over the top of the trees and with rubber fingers extracts the fruit from the branches and drops it to a conveyor belt. Extra Virgin Olive Oil by definition is pressed only once, heated no higher than 78 degrees, and with an acidity less than 0.5.  Proudly, Lucero’s oil has never been higher than 0.2, surpassing even imported olive oils.

After our tour of the facilities, we sat down to enjoy a tasting of the many varieties and blends of olive oils and balsamic vinegars.  We learned to first warm the oil by cupping it in our hands.  We then brought it to our nose to smell the various fruity and nutty aromas. We then sampled by sipping and slurping – the kids got a kick out of that!

Upon the conclusion of our tour, we enjoyed sampling additional blends and foods available only at the store or by mail-order including mustards, olive tapenades, and to our delight vanilla ice cream served with chocolate infused extra virgin olive oil and strawberry white balsamic vinegar.  I can not wait to share our local discovery with my friends and family and to try out some of their delicious recipes.