garden of eden

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!

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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 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.

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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

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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!

guyana-rainforest-guyana times

 Photo Credit: Pete Oxford/Nature Picture Library

In my last blog, I mentioned how nostalgia and images of my childhood life prompted a trek to the watery playground of my youth in South America.  As kids, our playground was a stream that ran through our backyard, and our young lives revolved around that stream.

waterlily

Chris Leadbeater Photo

 I remember the stream was dotted with water lilies, and sometimes little yellow ducklings would swim by in a straight line.  We all learnt to swim in that stream, and spent most of our free time there.  A mango tree overhung the stream and we would climb the tree and pick ripe mangoes, or jump from the branches into the water.  We fished in the stream using bent needles as hooks, and cooked the fish we caught over an open fire under the mango tree.  Some of us made rafts out of banana suckers (tree trunk) and sailed down the stream looking for adventure.

 I was not seeking adventure on my trek, but it started off badly.  My flight originated from New York to the West Indies, a layover in Trinidad and Tobago, and then a connecting flight to Guyana in South America.  The flight was delayed and I made the connecting flight with minutes to spare.  When I finally arrived at the Guyana airport, I found that my luggage had not been transferred to the connecting flight.  It arrived the following day with several items missing, including my camera, video camera, and photographic equipment.   This was devastating to me, because I had planned to make a documentary of my trek.   To add insult to injury, it took countless hours shuffling among several unsympathetic staff, before I could file a claim for a paltry reimbursement.

playing in water

A Harmony and Travis pic of kids playing over a stream

  • Important Advice!

As savvy travelers know, expensive equipment should be stored in your carry on, not in your checked luggage.  If you are a first time traveler, please heed that rule!  Another word of advice when traveling to unfamiliar countries… please be extra careful with your luggage.  Persons pretending to assist you, or claiming to be taxi drivers can make off with them.  Additionally, when leaving that country, be vigilant of your luggage.  Airport workers have been known to slip drugs into your suitcases, and use you as an unsuspecting mule to bring their drugs out of the country.   If you are caught, the authorities are not very sympathetic to your plight, and you face jail time.

 If any of you blogging friends have encountered similar problems, please share them and make this a learning process for all of us.

 As you digest these warnings, I will stop here and continue writing about this trek on my next blog.

Categories: adventure travel, amazon, author, big apple, food, foreign travel, garden of eden, health, holistic, humor, lake, lifestyle, macaw, medicine, monkey, natural healng, natural herbs, novel, parrot, pepperpot, Photographs, photography, rainforest, river, sakiwinki, stinking toe, toucan, travel, trekking, Uncategorized, united nations, world, writer, writing | 16 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 the Quiet Palace on the Mountain Lake

Mention to someone that you are from  New York, USA, and immediately they picture images of tall skyscrapers, Broadway shows, and bustling Times Square.  While it is true that New York City is a crowded, bustling concrete city  ( there were 52 million visitors to New York in 2012) ,  there are some wonderful scenic and uncrowded places located outside the city.

One of my most memorable New York treks occurred over twenty five years ago when I was practically a newcomer to the Big Apple.  I was hiking up a forested mountain trail a mere hour and half outside of the city, when I had the surprise of my life.

On top of the mountain, hidden from the view below, suddenly appeared a sparkling blue lake and a magnificent palace.  For a minute I thought I was delirious from the summer heat, or had been astrally transported to a kingdom in some far off land.  Several pinches later, I realized that I was not dreaming, and this scenic beauty was indeed real.

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The Mohonk Mountain House was built on the cliffs around Lake Mohonk in 1869 by Quaker twin brothers Albert and Alfred Smiley.  This Victorian castle currently boasts 269 rooms and is set on 1200 acres of scenic woodland.

Initially it only accommodated 40 guests who were mostly close friends of the two brothers at the time.  But as its popularity grew, it was expanded during the period 1871 to 1910 to attract the well to do and the educated as a sanctuary and retreat from the noisy world.  The Quaker brothers forbid the drinking of alcohol, card games, and dancing.  Instead, for entertainment, they built a huge library for the guests, and provided lectures, nature walks on 85 trails, and a variety of plants and summer houses for added enjoyment.

www.cntraveler.com

I was allowed to walk on the grounds but was told that silence was required.  The few people I saw were either whispering or not talking.  Awed, I followed suit!  I found a barn and stable with horses and carriages, and the blacksmith whispered to me that cars were not allowed.  There was a parking lot hidden somewhere below, and visitors were transported by horse carriage up the rustic trail to the main house.  The setting was reminiscent of the Victorian era, and guests were required to dress formally for breakfast and dinner in the large dining hall.  No alcohol was served, but tea was served at a specific tea-time each day.  I’m sure there were crumpets too, but did not dare to break my vow of silence and ask.

fred hsu

As I mentioned earlier, my visit was over 25 years ago, and I always planned to revisit but unfortunately, never did.

However, I did some recent research and found that Mohonk Mountain House still exists today, as beautiful as ever, and is now an upscale resort for the wealthy and pampered…spa included.

A stay at this historic palace will cost you around $600 a night, but it is well worth the experience if you can afford the price…and yes, there is now a fully stocked bar!

 

I plan to revisit Mohonk Mountain House this summer, but unfortunately not as a paying guest, although I would love to.  However, if you are interested in a visit, here is a link to this scenic beauty.

 
mohonk1

Categories: adventure travel, author, big apple, food, foreign travel, garden of eden, global, lake, lifestyle, new york, novel, photography, river, travel, trekking, Uncategorized, victorian palace, world, writer, writing | 30 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!

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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

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