Monday, October 29, 2012

The Ruins of Caral

Caral was the place where it all started, just a few hours north of Lima, Peru.

I don’t refer to an incident, or even a long, dramatic series of events.  By “it all,” I am referring to everything.

The ruins at Caral are the oldest signs of civilization in the western hemisphere.  They were built at the same time as the pyramids of Egypt, and are only 200 years more recent than the oldest of the old in Mesopotamia.

The type of structures they built?  Pyramids…hmmm.

We decided to pile into a bus, and ride the three hours along the coastal highway to visit this pile of stones in the middle of nowhere.  The ride itself was a spectacular visual journey.  As we traveled outside of Lima, every strata of society displayed its living arrangement.

Once clear of the suburbs, the Pan American Highway treated us to alternating views of rugged coastline, and giant valleys filled with small fields of corn, strawberries, or fresh flowers.  The ride itself is a great part of the trip.  The final half hour was a low speed journey through the valley of Caral, and across a dry riverbed that made us question the agility of the tour bus.

We arrived at the ruins at midday (Middle and Youngest called them “big piles of rocks and dirt”).  Fortunately, the sun was still behind clouds as it is in most of the winter.  The old city itself consisted of about a half dozen larger pyramids, maybe four or five stories tall, and a few smaller structures.  Some housed large burn pits, essentially giant stone furnaces, used for cooking and sacrificing stuff to the gods of barbecue.

The reasons mankind sought to live clustered together is still a subject of some argument.  As hunter-gatherers, more people means more mouths to feed.  Until food could be stored, anything beyond immediate family just needs to go find their own food.

Except there is no evidence of pottery at Caral.

Another theory is that people got tired of hunting and gathering, and decided that they could form roaming bands and clunk other people over the head and take their food, so thus people began clustering together to defend themselves against warring factions.

Except there is no evidence of weapons at Caral, either.

As it turns out, the current theory is that someone figured out they could weave fishing nets out of cotton, which grew too far from the ocean to be of any use, but if the nets were carried to the ocean, they could be traded for fish.  Since Caral is a day’s walk from either resource, it looks like it started as a trading post.  It’s built on the very border of the coastal desert, on a patch of ground that looks like it has never seen a blade of grass, which made sense as agriculture developed in the valley.

For those seeking a tourist experience in Peru, the Caral day-trip isn’t at all like the jungles of the Amazon, or the mountains of Machu Picchu. It’s more relaxed and reflective, as you imagine people living and working there, who have been gone for five millennia.  For reasons that were revolutionary at the time, people decided that living together was better than roaming the world alone.

It isn’t nearly as interesting as the theory I had.  I always thought civilization sprang forth due to the discovery of beer.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Stickman Chronicles: Protein Supplements

I hate the idea of protein powders, weight-gain formulas, and any of a number of other corn-syrup laden products that are just as likely to make my pancreas explode.

When I was 20, I had a roommate who was trying to lose weight, so I went to the gym with him a few times, thinking I might finally add some muscle to the body that made single girls wonder if I had hit puberty.  I bought some crap called “Super Gainer 3000” for more money than I could afford.  It didn’t taste bad, but after a few days of it, I stopped eating other things, had headaches and nausea, and eventually suffered from a Mexican vacation that I never got a chance to take.

A few years ago I tried again. I bought some protein bars at Wal-Mart (yeah, yeah, I know) because they were on clearance.  I wasn’t working out with enough regularity to even say that I did, but these brightly wrapped candy-bar doppelgangers promised 30g of protein, so I bought some.  Turns out they tasted like sawdust soaked in olive oil and covered with low grade chocolate.  Bleh.

Recently I have been forced to look at this again, since my body has started crying out for more calories, more protein.  I’ve thus far resisted because I believe in real food.  Not organic – cyanide is organic – but just real old fashioned food – nothing from a box, and nothing containing that toxic high-fructose corn syrup stuff which I’m pretty sure is also used to make bio-diesel.  Most of the garbage we eat nowadays explains why the girls from the senior class of 10 years ago all look like Honey-boo-boo’s mom.

Fortunately, I am currently residing in South America near the coast, so fresh seafood is available daily, and I can still buy a whole chicken.  Things are sweetened with real cane sugar, and starches aren’t any more hostile than just potatoes or rice.  Cooking things in real fat is possible, there’s no reason to substitute anything that is chemically similar to tub-and-tile caulk.  Real food is incredibly cheap, and fortunately, so are maids who know how to cook.

So enter quinoa, this grainy tasting stuff that has the same amount of protein per ounce as eggs, yet none of the cholesterol.  It’s supposed to be like tofu in that you can flavor it with just about anything, to suit your personal tastes.

I still haven’t discovered a way to make it taste like anything other than paste.  This incredibly perfect food is supposed to bring balance to the Force, since it has 14g of protein per ounce, low carbs, and desperately needed fiber, and I can buy a 10 pound bag of it here for a couple of bucks.

I tried it with fresh strawberries, and it tasted like strawberry paste.  I am using the paste references because it is something I know - I ate a lot of paste as a child.

I even tried mixing it with egg and bacon and frying it, and it still tasted bad.  If I can deep fry something with bacon and it still doesn’t taste good, then humans weren’t meant to eat it.

The only thing left is trying to ferment it and turn it into beer.  If I could invent a high-protein beer, I would be richer than Zuckerburg.  They could sell it at Wal-Mart.

The Stickman Chronicles continue.

The Stickman Chronicles, Day 120

Four months in – a third of a year, and I suppose there are a few new things to report.  I’ve gained 12 pounds since July 1st, and that is first and foremost.

My biggest problem when I started this effort was my own ignorance.  While I know a lot about human physiology due to my time spent in the medical field, I am quite foolish when it comes to the subject of fitness.

I’ve shied away from most fitness forums, since they are mostly filled with spammers trying to sell the latest powdered soybean-sawdust crap that promises to add pounds of pure ripped muscle without the slightest effort.  The pounds lost come straight from your wallet.

Through a friend, though, I got lucky, and I have found a Facebook workout group, of the virtual variety, called “Devil Dog Fitness.”  (I am proud to gratuitously insert the team leader’s link here.) At first I was skeptical, since none of these ladies share my fitness goals – they all want to lose weight, but they are trying with the same desperation that I feel.  There haven’t been all the “Oh I wish I had that problem” comments - they get what it feels like to not like what you see in the mirror, and they also know the only way to get there is through sweat and effort.  The members are courageous enough to post photos online they would rather burn, and numbers they would rather hide under the bed.  There are words of encouragement because these girls get it.  I am incredibly inspired by them.

I went a step farther, and started working with a personal trainer.  One can see his resume from a distance – I’m not sure that he could be cut with a diamond.  I think this has helped tremendously, because not only has he guided me in developing my own workout routine, but I have to make an appointment to meet him at the gym, and I have agreed to pay him.

This means that I actually have to meet him at the gym.  And since I will be there anyway, I might as well work out. So, the Stickman works out. And the Stickman slowly gets bigger.

I’ve yet to receive my first product endorsement deal, but I am watching the mail for it every day.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Google Ad Fail

I begin the day with a healthy dose of tragic irony.  Google, Facebook, and so many other search engines look up your virtual kilt, searching for details about what ads are most likely to be effective, based on what you are reading.  An article about running might produce an ad for Nike’s latest running shoes, for example.

I guess the presence of the words, "oven, "cooked," and "seafood" were enough to trigger the software.  As I read of the tragic death of 62-year old Jose Malena in a giant steamer, please take note of the blackened steak pictured in the ad halfway down the page.

Google ad epic fail.

While I didn’t know Jose, I hope he had a sense of humor.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Why You Shouldn't Sing Along to La Bamba

I’m beginning to think I’m not meant to fly.

This is the fifth attempt I have made to the two hundred-foot seaside cliffs, in search of a fool willing to strap me to the harness of a giant kite and jump off with me.  It’s a service provided to the tourists for about $50 USD.  My wife has been talking about it for months, and finally she went yesterday, but I missed it, due to my late arrival at the designated rendezvous point.

We returned today, only to find that the wind was too strong for anyone as small as our children to fly, so we put it off yet again.  That’s not interesting at all, so you must now be hoping that the story is going to pick up, otherwise you are clicking off.  I get it.

We were riding the combi-bus, a small Peruvian community transport in the form of a Toyota bus, which will hold about a dozen of your close friends.  Including the driver and the conductor, there were 19 people on it today.  The driver had a thing for old rock and roll (in English), and several Beatles songs had played.  To the chagrin of Middle-child, I was singing along to every one of them.

Then something very strange occurred.  The song, “Twist and Shout” began to play, and the gentleman behind me started to sing along, too.

Except it was painfully obvious that he didn’t know English.

As he sang “Twee an Shau,” along with equally butchered lyrics, I stifled a chuckle, not wanting to be rude.  In his seat behind us, he couldn’t see my smirk.

“I’m totally amused right now,” I told Middle.

“I’m only partially amused,” she replied, but was smirking the same as me.

“Shake your shake your baby now, come on shake her…”

I almost lost it.  If I had been drinking Inca cola, it would have been coming out my nose.  I couldn’t lose the visual about the clueless guy behind me singing happily about shaking a baby.

So, gringos…the next time you think about singing along to “La Bamba,” or “99 Luftbalons,” as catchy as the tunes are, if you don’t know Spanish or German, respectively, then don’t…just don’t.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

The Stickman Chronicles: P90X

One of the fitness nuts at work offered to loan me her P90X workout DVDs.  I am gratuitously inserting my virtual fitness group leader’s link here.  They have catchy names like “plyometrics,”  which mean nothing to me.  It’s sort of like “retsyn” in Certs.  Seriously, what the hell is “retsyn, and why do I care that it’s in there?”  It probably causes cancer or maybe warts.  To make P90X more interesting, these videos all come with a full screen of warning:

You will experience pain not felt since the inquisition.  You could die while working out to these videos.  In fact, everyone who has ever tried to do more than two of these videos in one day is now dead.  

Not having a clue, I put in the one called “Ab-ripper.”  Who doesn’t want ripped abs? Being the Taylor Lautner wannabe that I am, I attack this 20-minute workout video with a passion.

It didn’t take me long to discover that the name of this episode had been poorly chosen.  It should have been “Flesh-render,”  “Meatgrinder,” or perhaps “Soul-destroyer.”  I doubt that these names sell workout videos, though.

The next third of an hour was spent performing unnatural contortion rituals while listening to this guy Tony yap like a stupid magpie.  I wanted to jump up and put some old school karate throat-punch on this guy, but that would have broken the television and more importantly, involved one extra crunch that wasn’t in the video.  I finally hit the mute button so my family wouldn’t hear me screaming at him to shut up.  With expletives.

When I finally decided to make the effort to peel myself off the floor, I can only describe what followed as a religious experience, as illustrated by the profession I uttered on the way up, “Oh, Jesus, god, holy-crap!”

I didn’t hurt the next morning, but every muscle from my armpits to my knees was simply on vacay.  I was forced to sit down while putting on my pants, lifting a leg up with one hand while I put it in my pants with the other.

Shoes.  I have described shoes as the root of everything that is wrong with society, and I felt the same way on this particular morning, because I couldn’t get them on.

It was there, my plain black leather Docker dress shoe, right by my foot, but it might as well have been a mile away, taken there by that guy who always wants to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.

As I sat in my armchair, I was able to lift my foot, and of course I could bend down to grasp my shoe, but I could not do both.  It wasn’t a matter of enduring the pain. I simply could not do it.  I had to lift my foot into my lap and put the shoe on it from there.

Three days later, I could dress myself without assistance.  There was nothing about that in the warning.  Approach this series with caution.