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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

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.

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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.  

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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.

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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?

 

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Trek Memorabilia – Quest for the Cup.

During your treks you may acquire artifacts, souvenirs, and memorabilia to remind you of your trips. Some of them have great significance and you may never part with them. One of my memorabilia is a simple ceramic cup of minimal monetary value but with great significance.

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This cup was given to WTC employees who returned to work when the building was reopened after the 1993 bombing. One of those employees gave me this cup as a gift during one of my treks to the top of WTC soon after the reopening.

You may recall that the World Trade Center was initially bombed in 1993. The attack, on February 26, 1993, killed six people in New York City and injured 1,000. A truck bomb exploded in the parking garage of the North Tower. According to CNN, “The blast from the homemade 1,500-pound urea-nitrate bomb blew a hole five stories deep and half-a-football field wide.” It took officials 11 hours to completely evacuate roughly 50,000 people from the massive buildings. The trade center stood in the darkness that night for the first time since it opened in 1973.

Many employees who received these cups on their return to work subsequently perished in the September 11, 2001 attack. I am trying to track other surviving owners of these cups.

Do you have one of these cups? I would be honored to hear from you and your story!

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Categories: adventure travel, author, big apple, foreign travel, global, lifestyle, new york, novel, Photographs, photography, travel, trekking, Uncategorized, united nations, world, writer, writing | 18 Comments

Weekly Photo Challenge – Fleeting – WTC – My Last Glimpse.

Weekly Photo Challenge - Fleeting - WTC - My Last Glimpse.

Twilight and Fleeting Memories

In response to this week’s photo challenge.

Categories: big apple, foreign travel, global, lifestyle, new york, Photographs, photography, travel, trekking, Uncategorized, Wordpress Weekly Photo Challenge, world, writer, writing | Tags: , , , , , | 10 Comments

Bare Foot Trekking in Minnewaska

While trekking in wooded areas, you will see a variety of trees, plants, birds and even some wild animals.  Running into a deer is pretty common in upstate New York, but what happens if you run into a bear?

Fortunately bear attacks are rare, and they tend to keep away from humans when they hear them approaching.  You can help them run away from you by making noise, singing, or ringing “bear bells”.  However, avoid surprising them! I’ve posed a link below on tips how to escape from a bear.

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On one memorable trek in Minnewaska State Park Preserve, I was hiking on a very narrow, bushy, and secluded trail when I spied a bare foot partly visible through the foliage about 15 feet below the trail.  As you know, hikers wear hiking boots, so an immobile bare foot protruding from the brush was a cause for alarm.  Making as much noise as I could, I dashed off the trail and ran down an incline through the undergrowth to get to the area of the protruding foot.  The numerous scratches from the brambles and small tree branches helped me to shout louder (practically screaming), and the impetus of my descent sent me rolling down into a small rocky clearing by a hidden stream.

I came to a rest plumb in the middle of a large group of skinny dippers!

I found myself surrounded by about 20 nude men, women, and children staring at me in awe.  Dumbfounded, I finally managed to stutter, “Sorry, I took the wrong trail”, and scrambled back up the incline.  As I dodged branches and brambles on my way up, I heard someone say, “I think we scared him away!”

I have nothing against skinny dipping or nudity, but I was caught off guard and totally unprepared for the sudden change in scenery.  I was expecting a bear scene, but fortunately it was just a bare scene.

beluga whales

Skinny dipping with the Beluga whales.

When scientists needed assistance in taming wild beluga whales at a captivity center off the shores of the White Sea near the Arctic Circle, they called on a Russian scientist free diver named Natalia Avseenko. Aveensko braved the -1.5 degrees Centigrade waters, diving in nude in order to interact with the beluga whales.

Minnewaska State Park Preserve

This preserve is situated in Upstate New York’s Ulster County on the Shawangunk Mountain ridge that rises more than 2,000 feet above sea level.  The terrain is rugged and rocky, blanketed by dense hardwood forest encircling two lakes.

There are also running streams that emerge in waterfalls. The picture below captures the waterfall in winter.

dsc_2357bwsmall-waterfall winter - serabi-meghan KW

Hiking, biking, horseback riding and cross-country skiing are very popular activities, with 35 miles of old carriage roads, and 25 miles of footpaths.  Swimming is permitted in the lakes at certain sections and posted times.  There are many beautiful scenic spots, and some require long hikes, so always bring maps and basic hiking equipment.  Remember to pack emergency supplies in case you get lost.

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This is Lake Minnewaska surrounded by cliffs.  Cliff diving is not permitted, and there are designated swimming areas at lake level.  If you have visited this area, I would like to know your experiences, and if you have ever seen a bear around.

Link to: How to Escape from a Bear.

Categories: adventure travel, author, big apple, global, humor, lake, lifestyle, new york, novel, Photographs, photography, river, travel, trekking, Uncategorized, united nations, world, writer, writing | Tags: , , , , , , , | 28 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.

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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.

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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.  

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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

A Funny Thing happened on the Trek to the Forum – Coins, Pickpockets and Candy!

Since all roads lead to Rome, no trek is complete without a visit to this historic city.
Having just seen a rerun of the film, “Three Coins in the Fountain” featuring the Trevi Fountain in Rome, I decided to venture on a coin throwing quest to this famous fountain.

trevi
Each day, approximately 3,000 Euros are thrown in the fountain by countless visitors.  I managed to get there early before the crowds, threw my coins in, and wished for good luck.  As you will see later, it worked!
WIFE AT FOUNTAIN
On my way back, I wanted to savor the local flavor of the city.  After all, when in Rome do as the Romans do, so I made my way to Termini station to ride the train with the crowds.  I noticed signs posted throughout the station reading, “Beware of Pickpockets”, and I was careful to keep my hands in my pocket on my wallet.  I should point out that I am a seasoned New York subway rider, and thereby an expert at spotting pickpockets.  On entering the Termini metro train, I noticed a few suspicious characters, so I moved to the other side, keeping a watchful eye on them and my hand in my pocket.

I stood next to a young mother and her baby in a stroller.  The baby was smiling sweetly at me with cherub cheeks and clutching a lollipop in her chubby fingers.  In a magnanimous Roman gesture, the little angel stretched out her hand offering me her lollipop.  Instinctively I reached out, but then put my hand back in my pocket only to feel a hand already in there!  I grabbed on to the hand… and was shocked to see it was the young mother trying to pick my pocket using her baby as an accomplice!

When I told my wife the story, she said, “You should know never to take candy from a baby”.

Bob Arno (ex-pick pocket artist) says that approximately 300 people get their pockets picked daily in Rome.  I am lucky bambi vincentnot to have been one of the victims.  I guess the fountain granted my wishes for good luck!

On your treks, you need to be careful to avoid getting robbed.  Unfortunately, in some places thieves and pickpockets are exceptionally skilled, so you have to be very vigilant.  I guess their training commences at an an early age.

The mother and child team of pickpockets were Roma gypsies, and travelers are always warned about gypsy thieves.  ( The pic on the left shows a mother and child on the prowl.  The newspaper is used as cover when the hand slips in your pocket or purse).

This gives the Roma people a bad reputation because many of them are hard working, decent people, who have faced discrimination for centuries.

Gypsies in a shanty town in Madrid, SpainRoma gypsies originated from India, and left their homeland about 1,500 years ago.  According to researchers at the Institute of Evolutionary Biology in Spain, the Roma first came to the Balkans and then spread to the surrounding areas in Europe about nine centuries ago.  Today, there are about 11 million gypsies in Europe.

Gypsy performersNowadays, apart from pick pocketing gypsy babies, travelers need to fear electronic pick pocketing.  Have you ever heard of RFID?

Most Credit, Debit, ATM cards contain embedded RFID (radio frequency identification technology) chips. Such chips encode basic information (e.g., account numbers, expiration dates) that can be picked up by point-of-sale RFID readers, eliminating the need for cards to be physically handled or swiped.  This opens the possibility for unauthorized persons using RFID readers of their own to access your information.

Criminals can use a card reader and a netbook computer to copy account information from RFID-enabled cards that are carried in people’s pockets and purses.  This is known as “card skimming”.  To avoid this, I always carry two or three cards side by side together in one sleeve. If anyone tries to skim, he or she will get a jumble of comingled data from the three cards that wouldn’t make sense.  This is a simple solution that I recommend, unless you want to purchase an RFID blocking sleeve or case seen below.rfid

Read more at: Link – RFID article

Link – Advice from Bob Arno, pickpocket king

I hope that one day you get a chance to visit the Trevi Fountain and throw your coins in for good luck!  You don’t need to rush, after all Rome was not built in a day!  If you have already visited, please share your experiences with me!

Categories: adventure travel, author, food, foreign travel, global, kasbah, lifestyle, novel, photography, pick pockets, RFID skimming, river, Roma gypsies, roman cities, Termini Station, travel, trekking, Trevi Fountain, Uncategorized, united nations, world, writer, writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 71 Comments

Trekking to the salt mines and floating in the Dead Sea

Allergy sufferers like me know that spring allergies can be a major hindrance to trekking.

I heard that halotherapy or speleotheraphy (salt therapy) was used by King Herod to alleviate his respiratory problems.  Halotherapy involves spending time in a salt mine and breathing the cool salt mine air.

A few years ago during severe Spring allergies, my sneezing and runny nose prompted me to follow the footsteps of Herod and embark on a salt therapy trek.  This trek took me to Mount Sodom.

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Mount Sodom is a small mountain made up entirely of halite (rock salt) about six miles long, 742 feet high, and located along the southwestern side of the Dead Sea in Israel.  Sodom is well known biblically as the place where Lot’s wife turned into a pillar of salt; and you can actually see a rock formation on Mount Sodom shaped like a human form that is called Lot’s wife.

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Lot’s Wife – Pic by Shmuel Browns

I arrived at the salt mountain early in the day in bright sunshine when there were only a few visitors, so the view was magnificent without any obstruction.

There were several tunnels or caves in Mount Sodom, and upon entry I observed several vertical chimneys leading into the caves.  These were no doubt created by centuries of rainwater that dissolved the salt, and flowed down through the mountain.  Some of the chimneys were high and steep and if you are brave or foolhardy enough, you can rappel down the walls.  I was content to explore the many caves instead, and inhale the therapeutic salt air.

The tunnels and caverns were cool inside, fanned by the wind blowing through them.  After an hour of exposure to the cool salt cave air, I have to admit I was breathing like a normal person again and my sneezing disappeared.  I guess both Herod and Lot’s wife had healthy lungs.   If you ever visit this region, I suggest that you plan a trip to the caves in this mountain of salt, and remember to take a look at Lot’s wife rock formation. Just be careful you don’t look back! Credit for Lot’s wife pic http://israel-tourguide.info/2009/12/30/mount-sodom/

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Floating in the Dead Sea

Close to Mount Sodom, lies the Dead Sea which is the lowest point on dry land, about 1,371 feet below sea level.  The therapeutic benefits of the mineral rich Dead Sea has been acclaimed by many, including King Herod who was fond of his frequent soaks.  You can also float around in the Dead Sea without sinking, which can be a great experience for non swimmers. Dead_sea_from_Mount_Sdom-wikipedia

Flush with excitement from my cleared lungs, I jumped into the Dead Sea which was a grave mistake.  The water is salty, bitter, and smells of sulphur.  My splashing got water into my eyes and mouth and I had to beat a hasty retreat into nearby showers.  After this harsh lesson, I learnt to float calmly on my back making sure to keep my head out of the water.

DEAD SEA SALT HILLS

DEAD SEA

 The water is soothing, but when you get out, you have to take a long soapy shower to get the mineral rich and sulphur smell off your body.  The mineral content of the water is reputed to be beneficial to persons suffering from psoriasis, and various skin problems.  The Dead Sea mud is also used as pain relieving compresses for those suffering from osteoarthritis.  If you suffer from these conditions, it is worth a visit to try out these remedies.

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From all reports, King Herod had flawless skin.  The Dead Sea was his personal spa, and he even built a huge palace and fortress on the western side of the sea.  The ruins of his magnificent palace are accessible the public and you can take a trek there after your therapeutic soak!

herod-daily mail-httpwww.dailymail.co.uk

Categories: adventure travel, author, foreign travel, global, kasbah, lifestyle, photography, roman cities, travel, trekking, Uncategorized, united nations, world, writer, writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 66 Comments

My quest for the Lost City of Aelia Capitolina.

Twenty years ago, a fellow college student showed me a Roman coin stamped with the head of the emperor Hadrian.    The coin was dated around 130 AD, during the time when the Romans occupied Jerusalem.  hadrian coinIt is common knowledge that the Romans sacked Jerusalem in 10 AD, leveling the city to rubble.  However, many people including myself were unaware that Hadrian later built a beautiful Roman city over the ruins during the period 130 – 140 AD.  He named the city Aelia Capitolina, and it was laid out with beautiful marble roads, pillars, shops, large villas, roman baths, swimming pools, cisterns fed by an aqueduct, massive engraved gates, and a temple dedicated to the worship of Jupiter.

This beautiful city aroused my interest, and finding the city of Aelia Capitolina became my quest!

A few months later, I arrived in the old city of Jerusalem and was greeted by a labyrinth of winding alleyways, narrow streets, aged buildings, churches, and market bazaars surrounded by an atmosphere of frenetic energy.

goats

Goats and a donkey creating traffic nightmare

The city was surrounded by very high ramparts, but I found a winding staircase that took me to the top of the massive walls where I walked around for about an hour, enjoying a bird’s eye view of the city.  I saw courtyards, housetops, steeples, minarets, domes, but virtually no evidence of any ancient Roman city.

Subsequent Muslim, Christian, and Jewish rule over the years had obliterated the Roman presence and instilled a kasbah flavor to the city.

Aelia Capitolina had vanished or so it seemed.  My inquiries led me to the Institute of Archaeology in Tel Aviv where I met an interesting and intriguing contact.  He showed up at 5 A.M. on a cold, misty morning at my hotel door, hurriedly bundled me into a waiting car, and drove to the Jewish Quarter without any explanation.  We entered an archway close to the western wall (wailing wall) into a dark tunnel lit by a single, naked, dangling light bulb.  On one side of the tunnel wall there was a small door guarded by two heavily armed soldiers. The guards opened the door and hustled us into a small room, locking us inside. I remember glancing up at the dim light bulb and frantically wondering if I was being brought into an interrogation room.

wall n dome

My nervousness dissipated when I saw a few smiling faces, and I was given a yarmulke to wear.  I was told we were going into sacred ground, and my excitement mounted when I saw a small elevator shaft, and a lift supported by chains and pulleys. I realized I was being taken down into my first archaeological dig!

The lift took us slowly down the deep, narrow shaft and came to rest into a large room with an ornate marbled floor.  I was elated!  We were in the living room of some wealthy Roman in the lost city of Aelia Capitolina!  The room was in remarkable shape, with perfectly formed pillars, decorated walls, mosaic tiles and a fireplace.  We stepped outside the room into a corridor that led to a marbled street, flanked on both sides by well preserved stone columns.   The large paving stones on the street were in perfect condition, and led to an arched bridge with the remnants of shops on both sides.  I toured the excavated portions of the underground city excitedly, amazed by the longevity of the solid stone structures.  The public baths and drinking water reservoir were in very good condition, filled with water from some hidden aqueduct or seeping rainfall.  Excavation of Aelia Capitolina was still in progress, but viewing the underground city was a novel experience for me.  My quest had been fulfilled!world photo shots

Today, excavation is still continuing, and a portion has been exposed and made visible to the public. Visitors to Jerusalem can now stroll down part of a Roman street in Aelia Capitolina.

Interestingly, I came across an article in the Israeli Haaretz newspaper written a year ago on Aelia Capitolina. This is an excerpt from the article: “Following the latest wave of excavations, which began in the mid-1990s, more and more archaeologists have become convinced that Aelia Capitolina was a much larger and more important city than was once thought, and its influence on the later development of modern Jerusalem was dramatic”.

I am happy to think that I was convinced of that when I decided on my trek 🙂

oldcitymap1

Categories: adventure travel, aelia capitolina, author, foreign travel, global, jerusalem, kasbah, lifestyle, novel, photography, roman cities, travel, trekking, Uncategorized, united nations, wailing wall, world, writer, writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 37 Comments

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