This blog represents the views of the author. One should not assume or conjecture that the United States Department of State (DoS) holds the same views expressed below. If one feels the need, one can navigate to https://www.state.gov/ to find the views of DoS.
Leslie and I served at Embassy Islamabad from January through November 2015. It was a tough post, but for me at least, it was the best job I held during my entire career with DoS. As a facility manager (FM), this was the only posting at which I felt I was truly impacting the mission at the post. Normally, a facility manager turns on the lights and AC upon arrival, sits in the FM office, peruses Facebook and Home Depot web sites, turns off the lights and AC, and goes home (actually there is a bit more to it than that…maybe I will blog about that in the future).
A portion of my job satisfaction in Islamabad may stem from the fact that while I was there, a massive project was literally changing the face of the embassy. When Leslie and I arrived, the project was about three months away from moving into a new chancery, as well as several other buildings on the “new” side of the embassy compound. It was my privilege to help the coordination of the final project phase and the move to the new spaces.
I knew that once the move-in finished, the “old” side of the embassy compound was ready for multiple machines of destruction to raze the remaining structures. The destruction was necessary to make way for the remainder of the new structures on the compound. With the fully completed embassy compound, Embassy Islamabad will provide diplomatic and consular services well into the 21st century. For those interested, the First Phase Dedication Fact Sheet provides additional information on the project, https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Islamabad.pdf.
With time literally ticking away, I received permission to photograph what I felt to be some of the more iconic parts of the “old” side of the embassy compound. Things that would soon be bulldozed and leveled patches of ground, ready for new buildings to arise.
Built as a brand-new embassy in 1960 when the capital of Pakistan moved to Islamabad, virtually everything I saw on the “old” side was new after the tragic attack of November 21, 1979, on the embassy compound. On that day, numerous protesters overran the compound, setting fire to the buildings. At the end of the afternoon, the human toll was great with the death of four people; U.S. Marine Corporal, Steven Crowley (he was shot); U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer, Bryan Ellis; and two Pakistani staff members, Nazeer Hussain and Sharafat Ahmed.
Several of the men that worked for me while I was at Embassy Islamabad started working with the embassy to rebuild after the attack. Many began as contractors and ultimately hired on fulltime with the embassy. Some of those described to me the reason for some of the discolored bricks on several buildings, the fires of 1979. I found it humbling to have trod some of the same places that were the epicenter of the tragedy.
One of the more somber areas of the “old” compound was the memorial to those who gave their life in Pakistan. Included amongst the 21-plaques are the names of the four noted above as well as David Foy, an FM killed in Karachi, and Ambassador Raphel. The construction crew relocated the memorial to a serene spot on the “new” side of the compound before demolition began.
The “old” side of the compound had a collegial feel due to the aged buildings and the very mature shade trees. It was beautiful, even on those oppressively hot Pakistani summer days. The “new” side of the compound lacked that feel. Surely once the landscaping matures, the “new” side will become softer in appearance.
I hope the reader will enjoy the following photographs of things long past.
I can only assume mongooses and jackals can read. I never saw any on the compound. Now cats, that was a different story. There were many feral cats at the compound.
To deal with the feral cats on the compound, several employees banded together to form a group known as the Cattaches. The group provided medical care for the cats, birth control, and feeding/sleeping stations such as the one below.
Our first grandchild, Michael, was born at virtually the same time as when I landed in La Paz, Bolivia for the first time. He was born while his father was at sea. On Veterans Day; father, mother, and baby were finally reunited.
Shortly before Tyler returned from deployment, he said he and his family planned a trip to Colorado around the Thanksgiving holiday. With that knowledge, I was able to make arrangements to leave work for a little over a week and head to Colorado.
The anticipation was enormous! I had not seen my wife for nearly four months because she had been in Colorado. I had not seen Tyler, Hillary, or the rest of my family for close to 15 months. I had never met Tyler’s wife, Victoria, and, of course, I had only seen Michael in photographs.
My countdown for my Colorado homecoming finally made it to mere hours as I sat at home on the evening of November 19. My taxi was due to pick me up at about 00:15 on the morning of the 20th.
Right on time, my taxi arrived. I was tired because I had only dozed while waiting. Regardless, I wheeled my luggage, laden with Bolivian gifts, to the curbside, and placed it in the rear of the car. The woman who was my driver spoke virtually no English. But even with me being 90 percent illiterate in Spanish, we were able to communicate. One of her first questions to me, in Spanish, was whether I wanted her to go via the Llojetta route or take the Autopista. I said I did not care, and it was up to her as the driver. She selected the Llojetta route.
When we turned off of Avenida Costanera onto Avenida Mario Mercado, we began our climb to El Alto. We went up and up. In fact, there seemed to be no end to up. The only difference in our climb was when we encountered a speed bump or a sharp hairpin turn. Other than that, it was all up! Because of the steep road, much of that part of the journey was in second gear.
Our house in La Paz is at 11,180 feet (3,408 meters). The El Alto International Airport is at 13,300 feet (4,054 meters); quite an altitude gain.
We finally crested onto the top of the El Alto mesa. There were still several more kilometers to go to get to the El Alto International Airport, but at least it was all reasonably level.
It was around 01:00 when we arrived at the airport. I paid my 200 Bolivianos (US$29), took my baggage, and went inside the terminal. By 01:40, my check-in was complete. Ten minutes later, I was at my gate, waiting patiently for my 04:30 flight to Lima, Peru. That flight was right on time.
About an hour and one-half later, the plane landed at the Jorge Chavez International Airport in Lima, Peru. Since I was merely transiting Lima, I did not have to go through passport control. However, I did have to go back through security screening. I left the screening area after a very brief wait and made my way to Friday’s for breakfast. I must have been hungry because it tasted so delicious.
Departing the restaurant, I made my way to the gate for my flight to Orlando, Florida. I arrived early. I watched as the security and airline personnel set up another security screening area at the gate. This is standard practice for a flight departing an international location, heading to a United States airport. Once again, I had no issues and a very short wait for the screening.
Soon after the screening, the airline employees began to scan the passengers’ boarding passes and allow us onto the waiting bus. When the bus was full, we rode to the waiting Latam aircraft. Onboard the plane, I settled into my seat and waited for the five and one-half hour flight to begin. It ended up being a comfortable and uneventful flight.
Once I was off the plane in Orlando, Florida, I went to passport control. As usual, that was a breeze. I waited in the Customs area for my one bag to come off the plane. My customs form dutifully filled out in detail, rested in my pocket. I lifted my bag from the carousel and went to the exit. I did not see anyone collecting the Customs forms. I asked a passing Customs officer to whom I should give my paper. She said they no longer use those forms…
To get to my next gate, I had to exit the terminal. That meant I had to go back through a security screening. I usually have TSA Pre-Check status on my boarding pass. The boarding pass issued by Latam in Bolivia did not have that notation as the lady at the TSA Pre-Check line pointed out to me. She said I could go to a nearby kiosk and try printing another boarding pass. I declined. That ended up to be an error in judgment.
I entered the line for security screening. Today was the Tuesday before Thanksgiving in Orlando, Florida. By the way, Orlando is home to Disney World. The screening area was absolutely packed with holiday travelers and many, many families sporting Disney World attire. The line snaked back and forth for a distance at least equal to the steep road to El Alto.
I found myself sandwiched in the line between two of the Disney World families. The family behind me had a child in a stroller. I lost count of the number of times the stroller bumped into the back of my legs. The family in front of me was a husband, wife, and two children in the eight-year-old range. I am not sure just how much of their home they brought with them or how much of Florida they were trying to take back to their home, but I did not know TSA had that many plastic x-ray bins. I pictured myself finally approaching the x-ray conveyor, looking wistfully at an automaton TSA employee, and merely shrugging my shoulders because there were no more bins in the entire zip code. Somehow, additional containers did show up. When I could finally approach the conveyor, I placed my items in the bin (note that word is not plural) and stepped through security. At this point, I request the reader to stop, take a deep breath, sigh, and revel in my successful trip through the Orlando security checkpoint. I celebrated the fact that there was no bruising on the back of my legs from the stroller.
Quite blissful, I made my way to Ruby Tuesday for a well-deserved glass of sauvignon blanc and chicken sandwich.
My last flight of the day was to Dallas, Texas. I quickly boarded the plane and had a relatively quick trip to DFW. The flight arrived in Dallas at about 23:05 Bolivian time. I could not make it to my final destination because there were no more flights to Grand Junction that day.
I waited at the baggage carousel to collect my bag. With my suitcase in tow, I walked to the lower level, called the Marriott for a shuttle, and waited. I made it to the hotel at about 00:00 Bolivian time. That meant I had been traveling for about 24-hours. I was delighted to lie down and sleep.
Early the next morning I got back on a shuttle and went back to the airport. I checked my bag, grabbed some breakfast, and found my gate, D14. While I was sitting at the gate, I saw a plane arrive. The plane stopped short of the jet bridge because the ground crew was not there to guide the aircraft. After 10 or 12 minutes, the ground crew arrived and guided the plane to a proper stop. Just as that happened, I received a text on my phone. With about 45 minutes left before my flight was to begin boarding, the departure gate changed to Terminal C. That was disheartening. However, it turned out to be ok because I did not have to go back through security.
At the new gate, I boarded the plane, sat back for a smooth ride, and was in Grand Junction by 10:30 local time, Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving.
Leslie and Hillary met me at the airport. Soon we were in Fruita, Colorado, Lorraine’s home, the base of operations for this high-level visit. I began eating my way across Colorado with some Gardetto’s Snack Mix, one of my favorite things on this planet. We busied ourselves with last-minute preparations for Tyler, Victoria, and, of course, Michael.
On the morning of Thanksgiving Day, we drove to the airport to pick up the newest members of our family, Victoria and Michael. We quickly caught a glimpse of the proud papa, Tyler, carrying our very first grandchild, Michael. We very happily saw, met, and hugged our new daughter-in-law Victoria too. It was so lovely to have them at the same place on Earth as Leslie and me.
Once we were back in Fruita, poor Michael was passed around like a rugby ball…well, we did not toss him around; but he indeed found his way to many people at the house! Hillary and Shane stopped by so, now the only couple missing was great-grandma and great-grandpa Juvera. That was remedied the next morning when they arrived at the airport. Suddenly Michael had two more fans to whom he could be passed.
Since everyone was finally together, Friday was Bolivian Santa day. I had brought gifts from Bolivia for everyone. There was Bolivian chocolate for each family. The guys received wallets, alpaca socks, t-shirts, key chains, a refrigerator magnet, and a Marine Security Guard Detachment coin. Everything was from Bolivia. The women received hand-woven, baby alpaca shawls. The remainder of Friday was spent visiting with all of our family.
It was also an Ugly Christmas Sweater day. Hillary had purchased ugly Christmas sweaters for all of us. I set up the tripod, and we captured the moments.
Saturday was a day for more visiting with relatives. Early that morning, Tyler, Victoria, and I stopped at the Aspen Street Coffee Company to get some go-juice. Later in the day, Tyler and I went to the barn to sort through some of his stuff. In one of the boxes, he found his baby blanket! That is now 25 years old! It seemed strangely appropriate now that Michael is on the scene.
Just as important was the preparation of our Thanksgiving meal. That evening, I took the opportunity to take a selfie of the group. It may not be the best photograph, but it will forever mean a lot to me. Michael is just off-camera in his bouncy chair.
On an evening trip through the town center of Fruita, I was struck by the beautiful Christmas lights on display. I had never seen that before.
Sunday morning, Leslie and I took great-grandma and great-grandpa Juvera back to the airport for their return to Colorado Springs.
One morning in Fruita, it was cold and foggy. I looked outside and saw there was a beautiful frost on nearly everything. That meant it was a great time to go out with my camera.
Once the fog lifted, one could see that the Colorado National Monument had received some snow. I was very picturesque as seen from Fruita.
Since Victoria had never been to Colorado, we had to take her to the Colorado National Monument. At the entry station, the ranger told us no Desert Bighorn Sheep had been spotted that day; however, we should stay alert. There was a chance we might see some.
We drove up to the visitor center, stopping periodically to view sights from the various overlooks. At the visitor center, we stopped to go inside and explore. We also stepped out to the Canyon Rim Trail to look down into the adjoining canyon.
Back in the vehicle, we continued toward the East Entrance to the Colorado National Monument. I was driving and focused on the road. Suddenly Leslie shouted there was a sheep alongside the road! Sure enough, a Desert Bighorn Sheep ewe was lying beside the road, casually chewing her cud. I stopped immediately. Tyler, Victoria, and I piled out to take photographs. Just as we finished, I saw another vehicle approaching. They were slowing to take photos as we had done.
Continuing our eastward journey, I was surprised at how much snow there was on the road. By the time we got to the East Entrance, the road was completely dry.
When we left the Colorado National Monument, we called Hillary and Shane to tell them we were on the way to the Dinosaur Journey Museum in Fruita. They met us there. For the meager entry fee, a visit to the museum is a must if one is in the area. The interpretive and interactive displays help put the prehistoric history of the area into perspective.
Our time in Fruita coincided with a full moon. I was able to get a reasonably good photograph of the moon one night. It reminded me of the pictures I took of the moon while we were stationed in Islamabad, Pakistan.
No trip to Fruita is complete without a visit to the Main Street Café in Grand Junction, Colorado. When we go there, we always try to get the table that is in the display window. The day we went, that table was open, so grabbed it quickly. It had been eons since I had a milkshake. I corrected that oversight with a strawberry milkshake. It was absolutely everything I thought it would be!
After lunch, we walked along Main Street; stopping at the Main Street Minerals and Beads shop and then the Robin’s Nest Antiques and Treasures store. That antique store is one of our favorite stops in downtown Grand Junction.
Wednesday morning after Thanksgiving, I was up early as usual. I could tell the sunrise was going to be good. So once again, even though it was cold, I grabbed my camera and headed outside. I think the results speak for themselves.
Later that morning, we took Tyler, Victoria, and Michael to the airport so they could begin their 11-hour journey home. They made it home about an hour late, but safe and sound.
When we returned from the airport, Leslie and I finished packing our baggage. We were due to the leave Grand Junction the next morning. We had so much stuff we had to ship some items to Bolivia to keep from having overweight baggage.
That next morning, we drove to the airport. We left the vehicle in the parking lot for Lorraine and Hillary to retrieve later that morning. We went inside the airport, checked-in, and went to our gate to await boarding.
We boarded and left on time. It was a very smooth and uneventful flight to Dallas, Texas.
Once we were in Dallas, we had enough time to get breakfast at Chili’s. It was particularly marginal, but it was food.
When we got to our gate, we only had a short wait before we boarded the American Airlines plane bound for Orlando, Florida. Once again, that flight was comfortable and uneventful. We had a row of three seats to ourselves, so we were able to spread out.
The comfort ended at Orlando. A wheelchair attendant was at the door of the plane to collect Leslie. He pushed her to the desk at the gate, said he had to go clear the plane and left us there. We did not quite understand that. In all of our travels, once the wheelchair arrives, we are off to our next destination with no stops.
The young man finally returned and began walking with us down the concourse. I asked to confirm that he knew where we were going. He replied yes, to baggage claim such and such. I said no, we had a connecting flight to Lima, Peru. He stopped, checked his iPad, and said we had to leave the secure area to check in with our carrier, Latam Airlines. That was disheartening since I already knew how challenging the security screening was at Orlando.
Regardless, he got us to the Latam desk. I showed our tickets to the woman at the counter. She said we were all set and we could go to our gate. Since Leslie and I had not originally planned to travel together, we had different itineraries. That meant our seat assignments were not together. I asked the woman if she could seat us together. She flatly said no. That surprised me. She said we might be able to change seats at the gate. I pointed out that Leslie needed assistance. She told us to wait at a designated point, and someone would take us to the gate shortly.
We waited at the designated spot for nearly ten minutes. Finally, I asked another Latam employee how we were supposed to get to the gate. Ultimately, they called someone, and we began our journey to gate 82.
As we got to the security screening area, we entered the wheelchair assistance line. I thought that meant we would be expedited through the queue. Boy was that an incorrect thought. I could have sworn that some of the families in line wearing Disney World attire were the same families I had seen a week earlier. Even though we were in a short and “fast” lane, it took an excessive amount of time to get through security.
Departing security, our attendant got us to the gate reasonably quickly. Just as we arrived, they started boarding. By our way of reckoning, we just barely made it to our plane.
We boarded the plane, and Leslie took her seat at 18J, an aisle seat. I continued to 26C, another aisle seat. The boarding was somewhat chaotic. I kept an eye on Leslie. I saw the middle seat next to her remained open. As it so happened, the middle seat next to me also remained open. When it appeared boarding was complete, I asked one of the flight attendants if I could sit next to my wife. She agreed, so we were able to sit together.
The flight from Orlando to Lima, Peru was uneventful but lengthy. At only about five and one-half hours, it was certainly not the longest flight we have taken, but it is still a long time to be cooped up in an aluminum cigar. We eagerly awaited the in-flight service and a glass of wine…wait a minute…Latam airlines do not serve alcohol…what?!?! We may never fly them again…
I was ever hopeful that when we arrived in Lima, we would have enough time to go to Fridays and get something to eat and drink…wrong. The airport was bustling. We made it to our next gate with about 20-minutes to spare. The only good thing is I asked the gate attendant if Leslie and I could sit together. She moved us to the front of the plan, row 2, and seated us side by side.
The flight from Lima to La Paz, Bolivia was one of our shorter trips. We arrived in La Paz at about 03:15 Bolivian time. One of the Embassy employees was there to meet us and help us through customs. When we had retrieved our luggage and got in the vehicle, it was nearing 04:00.
Our driver selected the Autopista, a not-quite-finished highway. WOW! After taking that, if another driver ever asks if I want to take the Autopista or the Llojetta route, it will definitely be the Autopista! It was much quicker, and fewer hairpin turns, no speed bumps, and travel was at a reasonable speed.
We made it home at about 04:30, after nearly 24-hours of travel. We had that long-awaited glass of wine and crashed into bed. We were together and at home!!
Going back through my older photographs, I noticed I had not shared a drive along one of our favorite places in Wellington; the Miramar Peninsula. On this particular trip, I decided to stop and capture a photograph of the “Windy Wellington” sign. The sign is on a hillside shortly before one can turn onto the seaside road that encircles the peninsula.
“Windy Welly” is a moniker that many may have heard, but just how windy is Welly? Is it windier than the “Windy City”; Chicago? From all sources I have checked, it appears that Wellington is, in fact, the windiest city. The table below makes a comparison, including several of the cities in which we have lived. These statistics are from Wind Finder. Try the site to check on other towns of personal interest.
Average Annual Wind Speed
Wellington, New Zealand
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Grand Junction, Colorado
La Paz, Bolivia
The average annual wind speed seems so insignificant. So, what is the record wind speed in the same locations? Now, these are some numbers! Bear in mind a category 1 hurricane begins at 74 mph or 119 km/h. Based on that, the record wind speed in Wellington equates to a category 2 hurricane! The records are from the almanac section found on My Forecast.
Record Wind Speed
Wellington, New Zealand
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Grand Junction, Colorado
La Paz, Bolivia
Luckily our day was not blustery in the least. It began as a bit overcast but cleared to a beautiful day.
The first community one passes through is Shelly Bay, a collection of World War II-era buildings. Some are in disrepair while others have found new life as a café or an art gallery. Other than taking photos, we did not stop on this trip. It has a lovely charm.
Our next stop on this trip was Point Halswell and the lighthouse. Lighthouse seems a rather grandiose term. It is a small, automatic beacon. At the point there were several seagulls around, periodically diving into the water. As I got closer, I could see there was a fish carcass just under the surface near the shore. The seagulls plunged in grasped the body, and with the whip of their head, they tore off bits of flesh. It was fascinating to watch.
Kau Bay was our primary destination that morning. After finding a place to park, we walked down to the beach with our folding chairs. We had never been to that beach before, but we were up for some beachcombing. We found a surprising amount of sea-glass on the pebbly beach. When we had our fill, we sat in the folding chairs and observed the world. We are so fortunate to be able to live in such a beautiful country.
Our next stop was the beach at Scorching Bay. It is a lovely public beach. At the beach is a small café, the Scorch-O-Rama. Other than stopping once for some bottled water, we have never sampled the offerings. Before we depart, we need to try breakfast there just once. Some friends go frequently. They say it is terrific.
We were not the only people out that day. We saw joggers, bicyclists, people fishing, scuba divers, and surfers. The peninsula seems to have something for everyone.
When we stopped at Moa Point, we were very near the south end of the runway at the Wellington International Airport. I heard a jet taxiing. When I looked up, I saw a jumbo jet from the Islamic Republic of Iran. The plane was a huge Airbus A340, no wonder it looked so big.
Other than the occasional aircraft distraction, we busied ourselves with beachcombing. At Moa Point, we are always assured of finding paua shells. The shells we found range in size from about one-inch to nearly eight inches. Neither of us knows what we are going to do with these when we leave. Regardless, it sure is fun to collect them!
Punaauia, Tahiti, French Polynesia – August 9, 2017
The International Dateline makes for a very odd travel companion. I departed Wellington on the afternoon of August 9, a Wednesday. I arrived in Tahiti on the afternoon of August 8, a Tuesday. That meant when I went to work the following morning; it was August 9, a Wednesday; a day I had already lived! I could only think of the movie Groundhog Day. Luckily, I was stuck in paradise, not winter.
I stayed at the Le Meridien Hotel, the same place Leslie and I visited the year before. It was every bit as lovely. The weather helped make it beautiful. August in Tahiti is the seasonal equivalent of February in Colorado. However, even though the temperatures are much more moderate in Tahiti than during their summer, it is lightyears nicer than Colorado in February.
From the beach at the hotel, one can easily see the island of Moorea. It makes for some scenic photos. I know I am pushing my luck since I have been fortunate enough to go to Tahiti twice; but, if I ever return, I will make time to explore Moorea.
I completed my work on Friday, but my return flight was not until Sunday morning. That meant I was able to take an island tour on Saturday.
The van picked us up at the hotel around 10:00. The group consisted of me, a woman, and two couples. Our first stop was the Fern Grotto of Maraa. There was a small parking area from which a trail meandered into the jungle. After a relatively short walk, maybe 100 meters, we arrived at the cave. Our guide explained it was an ancient lava tube. It is now about half-full of water and surrounded by ferns.
The next site was a twin waterfall. It was in the jungle, just across from the ocean. It is hard to describe just how dense is the forest. There was a splash of color provided by planters made of stacks of painted tires.
We spent quite a bit of time at the Jardins d’eau de Vaipahi, a botanical garden. There was a gentle, winding trail on which one navigated through the jungle. The wild jungle plants and flowers are numerous. It is difficult to do justice to the sights with the few photographs I took.
After walking through the Jardins d’eau de Vaipahi, I stood near the van to wait for my tour companions. I noticed across the road a small business. It seemed to offer just about any kind of water conveyance one could want. If I had had more time, I would have gone over and talked to the shop keeper. After all, the ouvert (open) sign was out.
We climbed back into the van for a reasonably long drive to the Arahoho Blowhole. This feature is directly on the northern coast of the island. It is an old lava tube, the diameter of which is about two feet. I saw some tourists stand in front of the blowhole. When a wave hit the ocean-side of the blowhole, one could hear a roar in the tube followed by a significant blast of wind. The guide mentioned there are times when tourists get soaked because the wave can make it to the end of the blowhole. I surmise that may be during high tide.
Our final stop was the observation deck at Col du Tahara’a. From the observation deck, one has a great view of the town of Papeete. As with so many sights, the island of Moorea looms in the distance.
In total, the tour covered about 100 kilometers (62 miles) around the edge of Tahiti. The journey took about four hours. When I got back to the hotel, it was time for a refreshing, Tahitian beer!