Amerindians

Dangerous and Tragic Trek

Since my last blog, I have been away trekking primarily in the South American rain forest seeking herbal and natural remedies that grow there.  However, this post is not about a remedy that cures some ailment, it is about the tragic experience of a young trekker.  I am compelled to share this with you, because it is a serious threat to be taken into consideration when trekking in strange places.

Guyana is a country located in the South American continent, and is considered an eco paradise, with virgin rain forests, waterfalls, rivers, and indigenous people living in the hinterland.     Link to Rainforest tourskaiguy

The coastal plain is small and borders the Atlantic Ocean.  The city of Georgetown (named after King George) lies on the coastal plain, and attracts many tourists who visit to admire its historic wooden structures (St. Georges Cathedral is reportedly the largest wooden cathedral in the world). st georges

One such visitor was an eighteen year old British citizen, who arrived in Georgetown in October 2015.

This was Dominic Bernard’s first trip to Guyana, and being an aspiring film maker, he brought his filming equipment and a considerable amount of cash with him.  He planned to make a film of his travels and return to England after a couple of weeks, but never showed up for his return flight.   His parents became alarmed and alerted a friend of mine to spread the word around, and to be on the lookout for him.  I assumed he was stuck in some indigenous village in the rainforest without transportation, due to floods or bad weather.

Traveling to the rainforest from the city is done by small aircraft and small boats or canoes, and transportation is unreliable in bad weather.   However, no one had seen him, nor could locate him, and he seemed to have disappeared without any trace.   Local law enforcement was contacted by his parents, and a nationwide search began.  Despite weeks of searching, nothing turned up, until a few days ago, when the police received an anonymous tip that he had been seen in a certain area of the coastal city.

A frantic search in that area by a team of law enforcement officers revealed horrible and tragic results.   Dominic’s partly decomposed body was found in a shallow grave.  He had been robbed of all his possessions and murdered on the very day he arrived in the city.   Everyone was devastated by this heinous crime, and terrible tragedy, and the police launched a massive investigation.  They found and arrested two people who had picked up Domenic from the airport, drove him to the city, and then lured him to his death in a wooded area on a filming pretext.airport

This sad and unfortunate incident is not usual in this small historic city, but the fact that it did happen has, not surprisingly, cast shock and fear into many tourists.

Could this tragic situation have been avoided?   From my experience as a trekker in these parts, I think it could have been avoided, but bear in mind, this was a young impressionable film maker, inexperienced, and on his first trip to this region.

My advice to young trekkers:  research area thoroughly, contact local embassies for safety information, plan your visit so your itinerary is supervised, never travel alone preferably, and have hotel transportation or authorized contact pick you up, preferably in a group from the airport.

Also, it is important not to reveal your money, keep expensive cameras in suitcases, and be wary of all strangers, especially those with unauthorized taxis who try to grab your suitcase and take it to their cars.  It is better to be careful than sorry.  And I hope this sad story will not keep you from your trekking.

Some other things to look out for:

A few weeks ago, an acquaintance was searched at the airport before boarding.  The airport official took his wallet, counted his money and gave it back to him.   On the plane, he checked and found $100 USD bill missing.  He alerted the plane security, and they searched the airport official….they found the $100 bill folded up and hidden in the official’s blue latex glove.   So please be careful trekking!

prepared-not-scared

 

 

 

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Categories: adventure travel, amazon, Amerindians, author, foreign travel, garden of eden, global, health, lifestyle, medicine, natural healng, natural herbs, Photographs, photography, rainforest, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Getting Sick on a Trek and Local Remedies

Traveling overseas can involve a few risks as many seasoned travelers will tell you, and one of the more serious risks is falling ill on a trek.

There is always the concern of inadequate medical care compounded by language barriers. In my college years, my science professor and her husband were on a trip to a small town in Spain, when her husband fell ill, and needed surgery.  Since neither of them spoke Spanish, she related to the class the difficult task of communicating with the doctors on her husband’s symptoms and medical treatment.  As a medical scientist, she was allowed to participate in the surgery, and all ended well.  However, in some cases things may turn tragic.  A few years ago one of my close friends, while vacationing in Mexico, experienced chest pains and died of a heart attack in a local hospital.

These events should not deter anyone from traveling since they occur rather infrequently.  During my treks, I have been ill very few times.  I suffered from food poisoning in Morocco and caught the flu in the Mideast, but these were relatively minor illnesses.  On a flight from Paris to New York, I experienced stomach pains and a trip to my doctor the next day revealed it was appendicitis.  My most troubling illness occurred on my latest watery trek mentioned in the previous blogs.image

There are many creeks, rivers, and lakes that attract visitors, and on a hot day, the urge to splash is irresistible. On one such splashing venture in a creek, I stepped on a thin, sharp bone on the creek bed and it penetrated the sole of my left foot. After a day or two, my foot became swollen, painful, and could not bear my weight.  There were no hospitals or doctors nearby, and I was unable to walk unaided.  To make matters worse, I caught a fever, and lost my appetite.  Transportation to the city was a week away by aircraft, and not guaranteed, so my friends enlisted the aid of a local shaman.

He gave me a bitter tasting concoction to drink made from herbs and plant leaves, and applied the aloe plant to the wound.  The aloe plant was cut at one side, and the soft gel like part applied to the wound and wrapped around my foot, bound tightly by leaves and string.  Within two days, the swelling was gone and I was back on my feet.  The aloe poultice had drawn out the infection or poison from my foot, and the bitter concoction had cured my fever.image

Since that experience, I have become a firm believer in local remedies (or “bush medicine” as they call it in the rainforest), especially in the benefits of the aloe plant.  In New York, we get a variety of the aloe plant that is different from the one the shaman used, but nevertheless, I always purchase some to keep at home.   In my next post, I will expand on local remedies, or “bush medicine”.  I am very interested in your stories on local remedies.  Do you believe in local remedies or natural cures for sicknesses, or have you taken any?  Please share, as it will enlighten me and other readers on this aspect of medical treatments.

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Getting Lost while on a Trek

In my previous blog on my trek to the watery playground, I mentioned that I was reunited with some friends from my youth.  One of them reminded me of the time we got lost on a camping trip.  I wanted to share this story with you, my blogging friends as a reminder that you can easily get lost on a trek if you are not careful.

As young teenagers on a camping trip, my friend and I went for a hike.  We found ourselves in a heavily wooded area, and lost our bearings.  We tried several trails but they took us further away.  We were hopelessly lost.  We got very concerned but did not panic.

snake-Bushmaster-2

The Bushmaster is a thick-bodied nocturnal snake that is poisonous and potentially deadly.

This was the habitat of snakes, and not a good place to be at night.  We had no flashlight, compass, or weapons.  We had just a bowie knife, and as you may imagine, no desire to confront a hungry snake with a knife.

We cut two long branches and made them into makeshift spears as precaution.

We also decided to follow one trail that seemed to be more beaten than others, and left markers on trees (little notches) to mark our trail.  Had we done this initially when we left the camp, we could have easily found our way back by following the markers.

After walking on the trail for about an hour, we heard the sound of an aircraft engine.  We ran through the woods in the direction of the sound until we came to a high fence.  It was almost dark at this time, and we could see lights in the distance.  We were at the furthest end of a runway and since there was only one airport in the vicinity, we finally found our bearings.

 However, there was just one problem.  The road that led to our camp was on the other side of the runway, and there was no way to reach it in the darkness.  The aircraft was also moving on the runway getting ready to lift off.

 We made a split decision.  As soon as the aircraft took off, we crawled under the fence, and ran like the wind across the tarmac to the other side, and finally made our way back to our camp.

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Below is a pic of an anaconda caught by biologists in Guyana

anaconda

 

Are anacondas dangerous to humans?

Biologist and photographer Daniel De Granville filmed this 23-foot-long anaconda underwater and claims that anacondas are shy around humans, and have more to fear from us than we do them.giant-anaconda

Mr. De Granville may be correct, but here is my actual experience while on a trip to Lethem, Guyana, close to the Brazillian border.

I was riding in an army truck with several soldiers when we saw an anaconda coiled up in the middle of the road, unmoving.  We got out to get a better glimpse but quickly ran back inside.  The large snake was tightly wrapped around an adult human and had crushed him to death.  This was not one of my better experiences. 

I suspect the person may have been lost, and fell prey somehow to a hungry anaconda in the dark.  People get lost quite frequently, and although scientists claim that our sense of direction is innate, they don’t know the reason why some people have a better sense of direction than others.  I haven’t gotten lost in a while, and this is what I recommend to fellow hikers and trekkers:

Look back frequently!  The trail looks different from a different direction, and on your way back, you are presented with a different view.  Always stop, look back and make a mental note of visual landmarks.

 Now, my blogging friends, have you ever gotten lost on a hike, or in an unfamiliar area?   What did you do?

Categories: adventure travel, amazon, Amerindians, author, food, foreign travel, garden of eden, health, lifestyle, monkey, Photographs, photography, rainforest, river, swim, swimming, travel, trekking, Uncategorized, world, writer | 9 Comments

Trek to Land of Many Waters and Swimmers

As I mentioned in my last blog, my watery playground trek got off to a bad start, but improved rapidly.  I was reunited with some old friends and we spent hours reminiscing on our youthful days.  I was reminded of our camping days in the hinterland, and some adventures we shared.  On one occasion, we camped by the water’s edge of a creek, and next morning we saw jaguar tracks all around our tent, and leading down to the creek.  We hastily removed out tent and moved inland.

jaguar

Pic of jaguar from my friend Dmitri Allicock

Jaguars are dangerous animals, and I once met a person whose right cheek bore several deep scars.  When he was a child, a jaguar had attacked him and clawed his face, but the jaguar had been scared off by his parents before it had done further harm.

Today, jaguars are rare, and The Guyana Times claims that Guyana is dubbed one of the last places on Earth where the jaguar thrives.  They are also good swimmers, and unlike many other cats, jaguars do not avoid water.  Fortunately we never encountered a jaguar face to face in our camping trips.

It is no wonder Guyana is called the land of many waters with so many rivers and streams, and in many instances swimming becomes a necessity.  Even herding cattle involves some swimming.  In the picture below (from my friend Dmitri Allicock), you can see cattle being herded and swimming across a river.  

cattle

As I had mentioned in a previous blog, most kids learn to swim at an early age.  Unfortunately not all people become swimmers, but some still venture into the water, in shallow areas.  However, as most swimmers (and lifeguards) know, water can be treacherous.   Even shallow water can be misleading since there may be deeper parts not visible to the eye, and many rivers carry strong undercurrents.     

On two separate occasions I have been lucky in saving persons from drowning.  One person was splashing in shallow water in a creek and slipped into the deep end, while the other was soaking her feet at the river’s edge, and slipped in.  I advised them to take swimming classes as soon as possible, or keep away from unknown waters.  I hope they took my advice.

water

Water, water everywhere!  In the pictures above, you can see a man on his way home from work cycling in the water, while children are having fun playing in the water (pics from Dmitri Allicock). 

In my next post, I will continue writing about my watery trek.  But in the meantime I would like to know if any of you blogging friends were ever saved from drowning, or know someone who was.  I bet it was a traumatic event!

Categories: adventure travel, amazon, Amerindians, author, food, foreign travel, global, health, holistic, lake, lifestyle, macaw, medicine, monkey, natural healng, natural herbs, parrot, Photographs, photography, rainforest, river, swim, swimming, travel, trekking, Uncategorized, world, writer, writing | 19 Comments

Trek to the Water

I have been away from blogging for a long period of time and I have not kept in touch with all my blog friends, mainly due to internet unavailability and also a brief illness on my last trek.  However, I am back here among a great group of friends who write, read, make comments, and give valuable feedback and much needed support!

Once in a while, nostalgic memories assail us all, and images of childhood life and adventures flash across our minds.  Mine started at the beach and resulted in my latest trek.

Each summer I spend a week at a beach house with my very young grandkids.  We make daily treks to the beach where they happily play in the sand, but staunchly refuse to go into the water.  Last summer, we occupied a house with a swimming pool, and of course they refused to set foot in the pool.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

My young grandkids made me realize, as many of you do, the importance of teaching children to swim.  Each time I see kids close to water, my mind flashes back to my childhood, and I relive a vague, yet poignant memory of my two-year old brother gasping for breath and sinking in a stream.

Although I cannot recall everything that transpired, apparently my frantic screams alerted a neighbor, who jumped in the stream and rescued him from drowning.  Many children are not so lucky.   According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 10 people drown every day in the U.S., and more than one in five are children under fourteen years of age.

My blogging friends, if any of you have young children, can they swim?  If not, I urge you to seriously consider swimming lessons.

After that incident, many of the neighborhood kids learned to swim in that same stream. I actually learned by holding on to a banana sucker (the trunk of a banana tree), and kicking my way around. Some kids used a bucket, grabbing on to the sides and kicking, while trying to avoid getting water in the bucket.  Our young lives revolved around that stream, and we shared many adventures, including fishing, rafting, and water sports.

It is hardly any wonder that on my trek to the beach with my grandkids, I had the nostalgic urge to make a trek to my childhood watery playground. In case if you are wondering if my grandkids ventured into the pool…I was successful in coaxing them into the water, and commenced their swimming lessons!

safia-swim mia swim

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I would like to hear your stories on your children and grandchildren and how they learnt to swim.  Were they afraid of the water?

 

michael-phelps_883x1200Here is an excerpt of the bio of a famous swimmer. Do you know him?  Michael Phelps’ performances at the 2004 and 2008 Olympics have brought him strong consideration as the greatest ever Olympian. He has surpassed the records of Mark Spitz and Johnny Weissmuller and is considered the greatest swimmer ever.  At the Beijing Olympics, Phelps won eight swimming events and became the first Olympian to win eight gold medals at one Olympic Games.

Are there any future Olympians out there?

 

Categories: adventure travel, amazon, Amerindians, foreign travel, garden of eden, global, humor, lake, lifestyle, macaw, monkey, parrot, Photographs, photography, rainforest, river, sakiwinki, stinking toe, travel, trekking, Uncategorized, united nations, wailing wall, world, writer, writing | 29 Comments

My Trek to Garden of Eden in search of Magic Tree with Stinking Toes.

adamWe know the story of Adam and Eve who ate the forbidden fruit and were cast out from Garden of Eden.  Coincidentally, my trek took me to Garden of Eden to locate a rare fruit and its tree of magical properties.  This rare fruit cures a multitude of ailments while the resin from the tree is used to make love potions and magic rituals.  Unfortunately I am ignorant of the love potion industry, but I am interested in fruits with healing properties.

The name of the fruit also piqued my interest and prompted my quest.  This fruit is very tasty and appetizing, and carries the seductive name of “stinking toe”!

Yes, it is really called “stinking toe” because of its shape and smell.  The fruit is shaped like a toe and encased in a rock hard shell that can only be cracked open by a hammer or large stone.

stinktoe

When the shell is broken, the exposed fruit smells like really stinky feet, hence the appropriate name.  Despite the stinky feet smell however, the fruit is very delicious.

Bizarrefood.com anns blogrefers to the stinking toe fruit as,”tasty and sweet, and downright addicting once you’ve tasted it for the first time”.

Although the tree is generally found deep in the rainforest, my research revealed that the stinking toe tree, although rare, can be found on the coast of Guyana, (formerly British Guiana) in South America.  Since I am familiar with that region, it was an easy trek to get there.  Several local senior residents knew of the stinking toe fruit, but no one seemed to know the location of a stinking toe tree.

I decided to fall back on Sherlock Holmes’ strategy.  If you are a fan of Sherlock Holmes, you would have heard of “the Baker Street Irregulars”, a gang of street children who successfully gathered information for him.  In similar fashion I enlisted my brother’s help in recruiting some local youths, and within two days I had a location.  A tree was spotted in a village called Garden of Eden!

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The stinking toe tree’s official name is Hymenaea courbaril, also called the Jatoba tree.  It is a hardwood tree that usually grows up to 148 feet and may live for hundreds of years.  The rainforest indigenous tribes have been using the jatoba leaves, bark, and fruit for centuries as herbal medicine.  Recent clinical studies of the bark, leaves, and resin of the jatoba tree show that it has anti-microbial, anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, molluscicidal, and anti-yeast properties.  Present day medicinal use is widespread in South America as can be seen below in the chart from Raintree Tropical Plant Database.

raintree

As I mentioned earlier, I was successful in locating the stinking toe or jatoba tree.  However, the tree was relatively young and not bearing any stinking toe fruit.  But all is not lost…the local Baker Street irregulars, or to be specific, the local barefoot, stinking toe searchers are still on my payroll.  As soon as I get a whiff of a stinking toe, I will pull on clean socks and boots, and dash off on a new trek!

foot

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The prehistoric Hymenaea tree family has existed on earth for millions of years, and the fossilized resin from these trees  forms amber.   As seen in Jurassic Park, some amber have been found with insects trapped inside for millions of years.  

amber-1

Google Images of Insects trapped in Amber
Categories: adventure travel, amazon, Amerindians, author, food, foreign travel, garden of eden, global, lifestyle, novel, photography, rainforest, river, stinking toe, travel, trekking, Uncategorized, united nations, world, writer, writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 21 Comments

Missing in the Rainforest !

As I mentioned in my previous post, my parents told me the story of my visit to the South American rainforest when I was two years old.  During the day, I was in the protective care of a native Amerindian nanny, but one day I wandered out of the village compound without her knowledge.

village hut-michal zalewski

When I was discovered missing, my parents quickly organized a search party and frantically searched the area looking for me.  Fortunately, it was a small community where nothing went unnoticed.  Some Amerindians, who were making a dugout close to the river, had seen me in the company of an old man heading upstream in a canoe.

The search party set out in pursuit in several boats trying to locate the old man in the canoe.  The problem with a river search is that there are several streams or tributaries that connect to the river.  Each inlet had to be searched, so progress was not as quick as my distraught parents would have liked it to be.  But then their anxiety turned into excitement!  Some fishermen traveling in the opposite direction said they had seen us, and they also knew where the old man lived.  His home was on a hill in a remote area, hidden by the dense foliage.

squirrel monkeys-sakiwinki

My parents told me that when they arrived and rushed into the hut they found me unharmed and playing happily, surrounded by a variety of colorful birds, parrots, macaws, toucans, and sakiwinkis (small monkeys).  They also said I was reluctant to leave the hut because I was fascinated by all the birds and monkeys in the old man’s home.  The old man’s explanation was that he had seen me wandering alone, and he brought me to his home to play with his collection of pets.  He gave us a pet monkey and a macaw to take back with us.

Soon after this incident, my parents left the rainforest and never returned.

The first time my parents told me this story, I asked about the old man and why he was living in the rainforest. They said he was a harmless hermit who lived alone, hidden away in the rainforest for decades.  He spent his time gathering herbs and keeping birds and animals as pets. He was rarely seen due to his reclusive lifestyle, and no one knew why he decided to venture into the area where we were staying.

I always wondered if it was prolonged loneliness that drove him there, or if he was sent by divine intervention to save me from some wild animal or poisonous snake.  I have always wanted to go back to that area in the rainforest, but never did.  Perhaps, I will someday, because it is in my bucket list of treks!

guyana-rainforest-guyana times

Rainforest river

Categories: adventure travel, Amerindians, lifestyle, macaw, monkey, sakiwinki, travel, trekking, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 22 Comments

Living in the Rainforest

I spent a month living in the South American rainforest, all of which I have no recollection, being only two years old.  Based on what my parents told me, living among the indigenous Amerindian people was a unique and very interesting experience.

guyana-amerindians lisaparavisini

We lived in a thatched hut, and at night slept in hammocks.  It was quite usual to see an entire Amerindian family living together in one large thatched hut, with their hammocks slung between poles.  Hammocks suspended above ground protected the family from snakes, ground ants, and other creatures.  Hammocks were also very comfortable to sleep in, and their portability impressed Christopher Columbus who introduced them to Europe.

During the day, the Amerindians hunted and fished for food. Their methods were very creative and effective.  Fish were caught in the rivers and streams in an unorthodox manner.  A plant called “woorari” also known as “curare” was grounded in large pots and made into a paste.  When sprinkled in streams, fish would become temporarily stunned and float to the surface where they were collected in baskets.  Woorari was also used in hunting animals; it was rubbed on the tip of darts and shot from blowguns.  The little prick from the woorari dart caused muscle paralysis in the animals and brought  them down.  Although woorari or curare is considered a poison, it is harmless when taken orally.  Animals and fish caught by using the woorari preparation can be safely eaten.

animaladay.blogspot-post

Some fish were also hunted with spears because of their large size.  My parents’ favorite fish was the  “arapaima”, a large fresh water fish that can grow up to 10 feet long and weigh up to 400 pounds.  On several occasions my father accompanied hunting parties in canoes looking for the arapaima.  When one was caught, it was cooked over open flame, and was an occasion for a communal feast accompanied by the drinking of ‘piwari’, a drink made from fermented cassava.  If offered piwari, be careful because it is an intoxicant!

Cassava is a root that is also used by the Amerindians to make “casareep” a meat preservative. The cassava juice is extracted and boiled to remove the poisonous elements and the result is a thick brown liquid.

cassavaMeat cooked in casareep can be preserved for days or even weeks, ideal for hunters who may be traveling for days.  Hunters also had a creative way of capturing monkeys unharmed.  A small round pot or gourd with a very small opening was filled with molasses or sticky fruit and tied to a tree. When the monkey put his hand in the hole to grab the molasses or fruit, his balled fist was trapped inside the gourd, and he was easily caught.  We were given a monkey by the Amerindians, and he was kept as a pet inside the fenced compound.

I was not allowed to venture outside the fence alone. While my parents were working during the day, I had a native Amerindian nanny who cared for me.  One day, when she was not looking, I apparently wandered off and found my way outside. A search of the compound and surrounding areas proved fruitless, and no one could find me much to the consternation of my parents.

I will continue the story of how I was reunited with my parents in my next post!

NYPL

Amerindian hut from NYPL archives

Categories: adventure travel, Amerindians, food, lifestyle, pepperpot, travel, trekking, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

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