Ghost Hunting

There's a little town in Arizona best known for its hauntings and art. It's been on Ghost Hunters and Ghost Adventures, both. It's populated almost entirely by artists. The city itself is practically one giant canvas. Never been to Bisbee before, but it's just past something you'll likely be more familiar with: Tombstone.

 

A night in a haunted hotel, The Copper Queen Hotel, was what I got us for Valentine's Day. A little unconventional, but lots of fun. Sadly, Adri was sick that weekend, but with the help of lots of drugs, she had an enjoyable time.

We stopped on the way there to grab a bite. Passing through Benson we picked a random restaurant that was likely to serve bacon and eggs. That happened to be the Horseshoe Café. The décor was nostalgic, to say the least.

We got there before 11:30 but weren't seated until 11:35. Why do I mention that? Guess what time they stopped serving breakfast. Yeah. So, to go with the coffee we just ordered for breakfast, we had picked a hamburger and Philly cheese steak for lunch when we found out. Luckily, when I pleaded our case (that we had gotten there during breakfast service) to the server, she said she'd put our breakfast orders in anyway. 

The food was pretty good. Biscuits and gravy was very much like Good Egg's. The bacon, on the other hand, was amazing. Aside from the stuff we got in that little café in Bolivia, probably the best I've had in some time. I highly suggest it.

Back on the road, in 50 minutes we were in Bisbee, the giant mural that also serves as a city.

We dropped off our things at the hotel and began wandering around the town. One of the first places we dropped in was called Bisbee Antiques & Collectables. At first glance, it was a tiny hole-in-the-wall thrift store like so many others along the Bisbee main drag. We weren't expecting much.

Oh, how wrong we were. I got a scorpion in a keychain and Adri got a toolbox and a pair of earrings. I could've spent entirely too much money in there but I somehow refrained. But just take a look at the kind of stuff they had!

It was three floors and miles of crap. Glorious, strange crap. I also love the fact that Dick Cheney's book was in the glass case of discarded knickknacks. Guess the trashcan was full.

After we dropped our stuff off at the car we walked through Bisbee a bit more before our scheduled events. Everything from art galleries to Bisbee Hot 'n Spicy where I got a jar of "hot salt" (which is actually pretty spicy) and a bottle of Cajun Habanero (which is delicious but totally mislabeled as a 10 out of 10 on the spicy scale... it's not all that hot). We then found our way into another little shop of curios.

I also found one of those optical illusion pictures of Jesus. Amazing. And I thought velvet portraits of Elvis were tacky.

And then we passed through Metallum Creations, a shop full of really interesting metal sculptures, including a giant skull and a real iron throne. (Get it?)

And then, we went into... can you guess? Yup! Another shop full of all kinds of wacky (and slightly creepy) stuff. The dolls are by a local artist. Imagine that.

Finally, it was time for dinner at Café Roka. It was absolutely delicious. We were seated upstairs at a little table at a window, overlooking Main Street. Adri had the filet mignon and I had lamb chops, and we both had a glass of wine. A perfect pre-ghost hunt meal!

Enter the Old Bisbee Ghost Tour. It's hokey and silly and chaotic and super fun. It's basically a two-ish hour walking tour where you're invited to take pictures (in the dark, which is hard for some) as the tour guide, Renee, tells you stories both historical and contemporary. Aside from two people who came to the wrong tour (they wanted to go on the haunted pub crawl, which does sound like a lot to fun, to be honest) who spent the evening whining, it was great. Enjoy some photos.

We rounded out the evening with some drinks in the Saloon of the Copper Queen. Lots of fun.

The next day was coffee and giant muffins for breakfast, another walk up and down Main Street to hit some of the stores we missed before. Among other things, Adri got a plant that lives in a glass bowl and I got a magical coffee mug.

We walked around town some more, took some more pictures, and headed back to Tucson. Beautiful town, fun people, great food, and a trip that can be done very easily over a weekend. Can't wait to go back.

Slack as a Learning Platform? Yes, Please.

I've been using Slack in my classes for a year, now, and the response from students has been overwhelmingly positive. So much so that when my students then take classes with other faculty who don't use Slack, they're confused as to why not.

In this EdSurge article, Amy Ahearn, senior innovation associate at Acumen, discusses how to use Slack for workshop and training purposes. By using channels as breakout rooms with returns to a main channel every 15-or-so minutes, it seemed to work wonderfully:

The result? People from a range of backgrounds joined the real-time conversation, including a high school student in Seattle, a UX designer from Sydney, a front-end developer from Indonesia, an activist from Virginia and a professor working on MOOCs at Cornell. We had four active Slack rooms and 22 people dynamically contributing—an admittedly small sample size in the world of online learning, but instructive for a prototype.

The conversations were able to get deep and complex quickly and the platform enabled the +Acumen team to dip in and out of conversations in a way we can’t do in our traditional MOOCs. “Very fast moving. Amazing to see such wisdom and deep discussions shared,” one participant observed. “In a very small amount of time, we touched on a lot of key and very insightful points,” another added.

It's encouraging to see innovative uses of technologies like Slack that are ostensibly aimed at team communication.

Read the rest here: https://www.edsurge.com/news/2016-03-04-could-slack-be-the-next-online-learning-platform

Copacabana, Day 3

Our final day in Copacabana and very close to our final day in Bolivia was spent mostly taking pictures around town and driving back to La Paz. The photos were split mostly into two distinct sections: the church and the markets.

 

The church, apparently Bolivia's most popular pilgrimage destination, is rather dramatically called Virgen de la Candelaria or The Dark Virgin of the Lake. Sounds like a Dexter episode, doesn't it?

They didn't allow photos inside the church, which was a shame. It's gorgeous inside. Opulent, really. Didn't even allow hats. I didn't even try to sneak my phone out and get a shot, either. Kinda proud of that.

You wouldn't know it by looking but the area was teeming with people. It took ages to get these shots without a crowd. 

Adri told me that on the day we were there they were blessing all the new cars. I was confused. "Blessing the new cars?" I asked. She explained that once a month or so all the people in the area bring their new and recently purchased autos to the church. They cover them in flowers, christen them with (a sad, sad waste of) beer, and parade them through town. They did it with everything from tiny little coupes to giant commercial trucks.

A girl was also selling cotton candy outside the church.

Other than that, the most interesting thing about this part of the town was the shops and wares.

The parts of the streets that weren't lined with little hole-in-the-wall shops was lined with little stalls like these. They sold everything from religious trinkets nearer to the church to blankets and shoes in other areas. That's really all there is, so I'm just going to put the photos below. I really like patterns and whatnot. 

I know: the creepy mannequin is a great way to end the trip, huh?

The next day, we spent most of the time with the family, both immediate and extended, and ate. A lot. At least the flight out wasn't nearly as problematic as the flight we were supposed to take to Rurre!

Copacabana, Day 2

This is a very photo-heavy post. Also, we're on a boat.

And so we begin day 2 in Copacabana. No, not that Copacabana. Not that Copacabana, either. The one in Bolivia. Though, to be fair, there are bars and a beach, so it's really the best of both worlds.

We woke up early in order to get down to the beach and catch a boat that was heading out into the lake. Our captain (is that the right word for someone who steers a little boat?) must've been in a hurry. We left the other boats in our wake.

Click to enlarge.

It was a two-ish hour ride to the Isla del Sol with lots of opportunities along the way to photograph the surroundings. Like this tiny little island off in the distance.

It was cold.

The Isla del Sol looked remarkably like Copacabana from the boat. Definitely welcoming, though. It was moments like this, sitting on that boat and slowly floating up to the dock, that it would hit me again just where I was and what I was seeing. It was almost surreal. I love the hills and changing leaves of the midwest and I have grown to enjoy the almost antiseptic cleanliness of the desert out west, but the beauty here is something else entirely.

When we finally arrived, we all hit the bathroom (almost literally "spending a penny" -- they charge for use), paid a 1000% markup for some sunblock, found our tour guide, and began the trek. It wasn't long before we met a little friend.

Jus' chillin'.

Again, have I mentioned that even holding my breath while washing my face in the shower would wind me? Nobody mentioned that this little trip would be a hike. A hike that, back in Tucson, I'd still have a hard time with. (My cardio is really not great.) Just look at this. See the beach on the right and the water just behind the town? That's where we landed.

Click to enlarge.

And that was just the beginning of the hike. It was essentially a 60-minute hike up the island to the ruins, mostly on rocky paths like the one in the picture below.

The tour guides and locals, phew, they had no problem at all. This guy even sang and played his guitar the whole way up. (Not very well, so it was a relief that he wasn't part of our group.)

Though, to be fair, it could've been a lot worse. That is to say, we could've continued the hike around the island, like these crazy travelers.

Luckily for my lungs and legs, we needed to get back to the boat. The walk back was considerably easier being mostly downhill. It was also fairly dangerous, as the rocks became very slippery. Each of us almost fell at least once. Though, the vistas up there were totally worth it.

Eventually, we made it to Chinkana, the Incan ruins at the island summit. The tour guide gave us a great history lesson (which you can get the gist of on Wikipedia; also, it was in Spanish, so I'm guessing it was a great history lesson).

We met more little friends: there were sheep.

We got to hang out at a site where, apparently, many human sacrifices were made. It's supposed to be a location of power and great spiritual energy, so the tour guide invited everyone to touch the wall (which he said the Incas called Titi Kharka, or Rock of the Puma, which eventually became Titicaca). It's so-named because of an apparent visage of a crouching puma in the rock face.

Behind where I was standing to photograph roca del puma, there's a ceremonial table. I wanted to get a photo of that, but there was a blessing happening. Apparently a tourist asked a local to bless her, which took a while, but at least I captured him mid-blessing.

We moved down lower into Chinkana, which is Quechua for labyrinth, and heard even more history. There is a spring that bubbles up right in the middle, which our guide said was a) powerful with healing properties, and b) mighty tasty. He filled up a water bottle and let people bless/anoint themselves with it. I did partake in this little exercise because, well, that sun was hot and the water was cooold. Here he is filling the bottle.

After that, the tour was pretty much over. We were left to find our own way back (which wasn't hard, I just thought it was funny that the tour ended at the farthest point from where we began), so we hung around for a few minutes, took some pictures in el laberinto, and began the trek back to the boat.

Adri and Ale took this opportunity to find a seat and look très royale.

We walked/hiked/crawled/stumbled our way back to the beach and the boats and departed Isla del Sol. The next destination was what was consistently referred to as "the floating islands," which is where we were apparently to have lunch. I had no idea what to expect, but I was certainly not disappointed.

Where we went was literally that: floating, man-made islands of straw, tires, and who-knows what else. They were slightly springy to walk on and bobbed with the water. Not so much that you'd get seasick, but it was certainly noticeable. 

Built into these little islands were ... well, I'm not sure what you call them. Fish holds? Large netted areas connected to the islands that contained all the fish that were sold as lunch. The fish swam around and around in a circle. It was mesmerizing. Be sure to switch to 1080p on the video below.

They let the kids get in on the fun, picking out the fish to be cooked:

At least, the boys above were having fun. The girl below, I think, was just at work. It didn't occur to me just how much child labor exists there until after I looked back through these photos.

It'd been years since I've had fish so fresh that it was breathing just minutes before it got to the table. Adri and I shared one, which was, I have to say, some of the best trout I've ever had. Simple, fresh, just with a light breading and some lime juice. Just... wow.

We ate, got back on the boat, and rode the rest of the way back to Copacabana--inside, this time, to get out of the sun. I don't have any pictures of my sunburn, but it was pretty heinous. 

The day ended with a beautiful sunset and a relaxing drink at the closest thing Copacabana has to an ex-pat bar, NEMOS. The next day we were leaving, but before that I got a chance to take some pictures in the town, proper. But those will have to wait.

Copacabana, Day 1

So, remember our plan to go visit the Amazon? Hang around in the jungle, see some pink dolphins, drink some tropical cocktails in a hammock? 

Yeah, it didn't happen.

It very nearly did, though! We got up early and made our way to the airport in La Paz. We got as far as being on the plane, even. The place we were originally heading is called Rurrenabaque. It's a tad touristy but it wasn't cold and rainy, which was the main draw. Plus... pink dolphins. I mean, c'mon. Anyway, turns out the pilots didn't like the sound of one of the engines. I didn't like the look, myself.

So we sat there in the plane for a little bit while the ground crew came in and out. Eventually, we were told we'd have to get back off the plane, go back into the terminal (we had to walk across the tarmac; little planes like that don't have skyways). They said they'd have to fix something and we'd be on our way. Mind you, this same little plane goes back and forth from Rurrenabaque six or seven times a day. That's literally all it does. And the plane had just arrived. We were the lucky ones to be getting on when they found the problem, I suppose.

This was at 8am when we sat back down inside at the gate. The little screen above the doors showed our flight was delayed until 9am. At 9am, it showed it was delayed until 10am. The flight that was supposed to leave at 10am was now leaving at 1pm. Then our flight got delayed again. And then again. And then, a flight that was supposed to leave well after ours was scheduled to leave before us. It was lunchtime by then and the rest of the family was supposed to be at the airport as they were scheduled to come on a later flight (while Adri and I would go earlier; not enough seats together on a single flight for all of us to go at once). It became painfully clear at that point that we were not going to make it to Rurrenabaque at all that day, and if we waited until the next day it would leave our little vacation rather short and uneventful. So we scrapped that idea and decided to drive to Copacabana, instead.

Talk about a great decision. Wow.

We had to take a little boat across--with the car--and then drive another 30 minutes to Copacabana. I thought this was Copacabana when we got here. Silly gringo.

We had to take a little boat across--with the car--and then drive another 30 minutes to Copacabana. I thought this was Copacabana when we got here. Silly gringo.

I'm splitting up this portion of story about our trip to Copacabana into two, maybe three different posts for a couple reasons: 1) I took something like 1000 photos over the couple days, 2) the places we went and things we did are so drastically different that they deserve different posts, and 3) the posts would be waaaay too long.

 

When we finally got to Copacabana we were exhausted. It had been a terribly long day, between getting up early to get to the airport, the frustration of the flights being delayed and cancelled, and then the roadtrip to get there, that all we wanted to do was find a place to stay (and no, we didn't have a reservation before we got there; we just drove, parked, and walked until we found a hotel) and grab a bite to eat. So, needless to say, this day of the trip has very little in the way of visuals. The following two days make up for it, I promise.

Apparently, there's a bit of a tradition in the family that whenever they arrive in Copacabana they always go to the same little restaurant. So, guess what we did! Yup, we went immediately to La Puerta del Sol (aka The Gate of the Sun). They serve almost exclusively the trout the catch in Lake Titicaca (pictures and video of that to come shortly) in a variety of ways.

Now, if you know me at all, you'll know that I like my food a bit on the spicy side. You'll also know that my Spanish is not great. However, when I saw trucha à la diabla, I was sold. 

That's one giant plate of trout smothered in chili sauce and spices, hence the name The Devil's Trout.

That's one giant plate of trout smothered in chili sauce and spices, hence the name The Devil's Trout.

It was delicious, but it wasn't nearly as spicy as its name would imply. Still, very tasty. At this point I was still kind of suffering from Traveler's Tummy and I'm sure that something this spicy was definitely ill-advised, but... c'mon. Look at it. How can you pass that up?

The rest of the day involved wandering around the markets, heading down to the beach for a look-see, and figuring out what to do for the rest of our time there. The verdict: take a boat to the Isla del Sol and hike through some Incan ruins. 

Needless to say, I was very excited for that. I fancied myself an Indiana Jones type. The reality was a tad different, but, the view...

Well, that will have to wait until the next post.