Other Road stories of mine

Peru, Machu Pichu 2016 

Hi  everybody, 

Sorry I have been so lax in adding more road stories to the blog, here is a very recent one for you, hope you enjoy.

Well as some of you know, (from FB) I just completed  a vacation in Peru where we walked the Inca trail for 4 days to get to Machu Picchu. I have to tell you it was the trip of a lifetime and one that I would highly recommend to anyone thinking of doing it. I would only do it if I could do the walk (My personal preference being the Inca Trail). We met so many (like-minded) people, who were nothing short of amazing and we had such tough but rewarding experiences that we shared,  that I found myself pitying the train people after we made it to Machu Picchu (tired, dirty and with 4 days growth of beard ... but happy). 

We had 2 wonderful Incan guide who were very proud of their culture and also very educated in the history of the land, the people and their culture. They took us to many places before the trek to show how they were trying to preserve the culture by doing things in the old ways, such as making and dying alpaca wool by hand and all sorts of skills that use nothing commercial to make everyday items (Tree roots that make laundry detergent, Combinations of leaves and rocks to make dye for the wool etc). It was fascinating. 

One thing they mentioned repeatedly was the way in which the spanish priests came in and forced the incas to give up their culture and the manner in which they worshiped their Gods, forcing them to convert to Catholocism by murdering and torturing anyone who refused. They destroyed centuries old structures and forced the people into slave labor to build huge catholic churches. This was not news to me because I had a seen it previously in a visit to the pueblos in New Mexico where exactly the same thing happened. In New mexico in fact, the Indians defended themselves well and a lot of the Spaniards lost their lives, so as a punishment, when the Spaniards finally conquered the town, as a punishment, they took all the kids away from whatever parents were still alive and shipped them to Mexico, never to see their parents again. 

Anyway back on topic, (sorry for the digression) the incas  accomplished amazing feats of engineering with very little tools. They built amazing structures out of stone and the stone cutting was so precise they did not even use mortar in the joint. Everything was built with water supply, sunshine, and astrology in mind. In some historic sites we saw evidence that through their excellent stone work, with little effort they could use the top of the walls to channel water around the towns they built.  

In Machu Picchu there is the temple of the sun where a rock is situated inside a room, when the rock is illuminated through one of the windows in the room it indicates the summer solstice and the start of summer; when it is coming through the sun gate through another window it indicates the winter solstice. They did this in a time when we generally assume people were savages who "needed us" and walked around with clubs, dragging their knuckles on the ground. It certainly showed their knowledge of astrology and some incredible feats of engineering that was way beyond their time. 

Having very little flat land they "terraced" the hills to create land for farming. You can see this everywhere. They also used their hydrologist skills to ensure nutrients were passed from one terrace to the next by intricate planning. If you think this was a small feat try digging out a mountain near you, with no modern equipment, to create "Steps" all the way up that you can grow crops on and let me know how it goes... ha ha. 

I don't have the writing skills to adequately describe this profound experience for me, physically, mentally or spiritually (not to be confused with religiously) and I would highly recommend you do it if you ever have the opportunity.  

I can give you info on how to if you email me at gary.w.smith@hotmail.com. 
Take care...  Gary

2013 Erbil Airport security "musical" 

2013, Erbil, Iraq Airport

So here I am coming through Iraqi security and I get stopped because I have a case of harmonicas (that I guess look like knives). I pull out the case and open it and then this "Furry tooth" guard who looks like he hasn't heard of a toothbrush takes one out and JUST HAS TO run his lips all the way from the bottom to the top. The thing that struck me as funny was that he smiled like a small child waiting for mommy and daddy to clap their hands and say YAY!! at his musical talent, and hands it back. Does javex screw up the reeds in a harmonica?? If you travel often enough,  EVERYTHING is possible.  ha  :)

2008, Russia Road trip 

Written from Russia in 2008.
Just wanted to
touch base and maybe give you a picture of what it is like to experience
just a small part of Russia. I am sure not all of Russia is like this
because I am on a small island on the very East coast of Russia, called
Sakhalin Island. The people here remind me of the Newfoundlanders in that the
Oil industry started up in an area where the economy could be better.
The people got jobs and over the years have worked their way into the
upper positions. They are very conscientious and competent for the most
part and the expats who work here have great faith in them.

I visited Orlan offshore platform and could not get a chopper off it. I
Could see the land rig in Chayvo that I was going to, just 10 miles away
but that was not the way I would travel. The radio operator gave me 10
minutes notice that the boat to Nogliki would be there. He told me
nothing of what would happen when I got to the dock (who would pick me
up, whether was staying Nogliki or going on to Chayvo) and said the
manager in Nogliki would tell me. I was placed on a boat for a 3 hour
ride to a dock and arrived there to find no one who spoke english, only a vehicle that was
going to an unknown camp so I jumped in, thinking it was better than staying on the dock with no shelter. When I got to the camp the phone
rang saying they were at the dock to pick me up. Long story short they
came to the camp and picked me up. It is interesting to be in a foreign
country where no one speaks your language, where you have no idea where you are
going; and you try and call the one number you have as a contact and the
phone doesn't work. This truly is an interesting job, ha.

The road from Nogliki to Chayvo is a dirt road. I would compare it’s
condition to many of the cabin roads throughout Newfoundland in the
spring of the year before any work gets done on them. It is all sand so
they wash out easily, The only pavement is on the bridges that
have been built. I rode in a truck called a Kamaz, It is basically like
the army trucks with dual axle on the back but not dual wheels on each
axle. On the back they basically built a school bus style house where
you sit in. All in all it was an interesting ride and in spite of
repetitive “Bone-jarring” potholes, I am back at the camp at the land
rig, no worse off for the experience and perhaps a little richer for
having one more story to tell.

Some other facts:

Russia is very big. If you took a flight to fly across Russia it would
be a 14 hour flight.

One of the guys who was working just a middle level job on the rig
surprised me one day by telling me he was a doctor. He quit because he
could make more money entering the workforce on the rigs. He informed me
that just 7 years ago when he stopped practicing he was making $150 a
MONTH as a doctor in Russia. He said it is better now (@$250 a month)
but he can still make more on the rigs. 

2012, Security and local life stories from Kurdistan. 

Written from Houston in 2012 after my first visit to Kurdistan.

I had some opportunity to travel more in Kurdistan before I left. The second trip I did was down toward the disputed area of kurdistan where territorial boundaries are in question, for that reason we were accompanied by several troops of the OPF (Oilfield Police force). The main body of the troops were very young, perhaps 18 years old riding around in the back of government pick up trucks, each armed with AK47s. It was very funny because here we are keeping a low profile by not wearing any clothes that would identify us as Oil field personnel and as we drove through the city and out in the villages, the OPF would race ahead and block off any traffic so we could race through intersections without slowing down.  So much for low profile, lines of traffic stopped and staring at us in the back of armoured Toyota Land Cruisers... I sort of felt like royalty though... I don't even want to be a rock star any more, even they have to stop at traffic lights...ha  ha.
(The rest of this email might be upsetting to some so you can stop here if you want).
The road trip that day was a lot longer so I got the chance to talk to some of the guards in my SUV. I guess because I took an interest in their lives, they had some things they wanted me to know, even without me asking any question about it.
These people have been through a lot. He was telling me that in one day in 1988, chemical bombs were dropped on them killing 5000 people and injuring up to 10000 more in one town . You could see the hurt and the anger in his eyes and could see the muscles in his face involuntarily tense up. To be able to imagine that, just think that everyone you know from a small city near you dies including all the animals, how many funerals would you have to attend, how many friends would you lose.
Even innocent small talk could turn into something unexpected. I asked the same guy how many kids he had and he said 6. I said that was a big family and he told me his father and brothers all died and that he was the last one left in his family so he had plenty of kids to try to keep his bloodline going. I didn't ask how his family were killed, figuring if he wanted me to know he would volunteer that too.
To close out I am struck by the fact that, like all of us, these people just want to live peacefully but are forced to fight for EVERYTHING. If that doesn't make you appreciate the lives you live at home, nothing will. We are truly insulated..   Just one, of many reasons why I appreciate the young folks in the military who go away and see a lot of this stuff first hand, so we don't have to.
Food for thought

2009 Indonesian fishing techniques, just like the Newfoundland dory fishery 

Hi everyone,
There are two techniques used to catch fish off Indonesia. Rumpons and a
dory type fishery.
The first is through the use of Rumpons. here is a local description:
Rumpons are primarily devices to attract fish and are situated in the
deeper marine environments, 60 – 2500 m. The palm fronds which are
suspended under  bamboo floats develop barnacles, algae colonies and
form a mini-ecosystem and provide shade which attracts smaller fish. The
larger fish then come to prey on the smaller fish. Fishermen come out from
shore, surround these and hand fish using nylon line and baited hooks.
Sometimes throw nets are used to catch fish around the perimeter of the

The second method  loosely resembles the dory fisheries Grand Banks of
. In Newfoundland schooners would bring small dories out
and drop the men off in the North Atlantic to JIG fish until they fill
their boats, at which time they would come back to the schooner to unload.
The Indonesians do the same thing but the boats are called PERAHUS. The
small boats here resemble 15-16 foot canoes. the guys fish with one foot in
the water. I am not sure why they would do this except maybe to tip the
boat a little and prevent the line from rubbing on the side so much. They
work non-stop for as long as they are out there, fishing then paddling with
a single paddle to keep the boat in position then jigging for fish again.
They take no breaks or barely even hesitate in between operations. They
work hard.
When I saw them I was appreciative of the dory fishermen, the seas are a
lot rougher and much colder in the Atlantic and I am sure they worked just
as hard.

2012, My first exposure to Kurdistan, Northern Iraq 

2012, Kurdistan Northern Iraq
I am in the Kurdistan region of Northern Iraq, it is beautiful looking country and I feel quite safe here. For one thing, the Kurds only gained autonomy from Iraq and were free to govern themselves since 1992. They have built an impressive region with construction everywhere you look, and they have really worked hard to distance themselves from anything terrorist related. They have their own military (Peshmerga) which operates under the ministry of defense and another Oilfield Police Force operating under the ministry of Oil which will guard our rig sites. They are all very positive about their future and investors have started to build resorts and fine hotels. This is something I am certain they will not allow to be just taken from them without a major fight. Oil to them represents a prosperous future and they are very welcoming to us. I really like the people here.
The guy in charge of our security here was once in charge of security of the VP of the USA (Al Gore) and the security force is well armed and organized. We travel in armored SUVs (B6s), are in constant communication with each other and are tracked via satellite everywhere we go. My greatest worry over here is getting hurt in a traffic accident because I learned early that the lines on the road are for general reference only (no need to pay too much attention to them). It is not unusual to see 2 cars side by side maneuvering to overtake each other in the same lane. The same is true for passing cars on the highway, blind hills & turns don't matter, if they want to pass then they pull out, if a car is coming the other way and everybody get killed then it is Allah/God's will. Our drivers are quite good and don't do any of the above but I saw it repeatedly on my first drive out into the country.
The kids here started school today and they all wear uniforms to school, each school having their own colors (as they do in most countries I visited around the world). It looks nice and eliminates the expensive situation of kids needing to wear a certain brand of clothes to feel accepted at school..... (food for thought???).
Well I won't keep going and I usually try to have a funny story to relate but as of yet I don't, I am sure once I get to know the people better I will. 

2009 Houston, How rough we all have it. 

Welcome to my new feature on my web site. The title of my CD was actually a product of many years of writing emails titled "my "Road Stories" and sending them to my close friends. I have decided to share them all with my new friends on my web site. I hope you like them. Here is the first.

2009, Houston Texas USA
I am in Houston this hitch and I am staying on the 18th floor of a hotel
that has a small balcony that you can stand out on. So here I was standing
out enjoying the 95 degree temp and sunshine, when I noticed a motorized
wheelchair that was moving really quickly across the parking lot below.
This thing must have had a big block engine in it, it was moving that fast
(ha), so it caught my attention.

As I watched him I saw him pull up behind a van that had a rear door that
opened automatically. Though I couldn't see it You could tell that the guy
was pulling himself into the van then he hooked a cable onto his wheelchair
and winched it into the van. The door closed automatically and the next
thing I knew the van was starting up and moving through the parking lot.

Now this parking lot was one of the types that you pay at, but you have to
pay in the mall before you go back out to your vehicle. When the guy got to
the gate I could tell that he had forgotten to pay because the gate would
not open for him. I watch as he re-parked and thought what a sin that he
had to go back and unload his chair and go back inside only to go through
the whole process again, so I started to make my way down to help him out.

The elevators in this hotel are the slowest thing you've ever seen. By the
time I got down he was already in his chair and though I offered help, he
thanked me but declined "he had it covered"..... Incidentally, in spite
of not only being paralized, he had only a hook for one hand and the most
impressive thing was that although he had a wheelchair parking pass, he
parked in the regular slots, leaving the Wheelchair spots for the "More

Some people would say that seeing something like that would make them feel
fortunate but for me I only feel intense respect and admiration for the
people who do this as part of their daily life and COPE with it. So the
next time your "little" pain gets you complaining about how hard it is to do
something or you complain because someone took the remote and you have to
walk all the way to the TV.... Really........ Suck it up :) :)

Hope everybody has a really great day today, I'm going to !!