trekking

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.

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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?

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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.  

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!

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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.

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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.

800px-Lake_Minnewaska_Minnewaska_State_Park_Preserve

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.

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

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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.  

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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.

PikiWiki_Israel_15495_Mount_Sodom-amos beer

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.

lots-wife-shmuel browns

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/

wikimedia - wilson

800px-Sdom04_ST_06-ester inbar

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.

sara reed

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

The Amazing new World of Blogging and Cyberspace Trekking!

I started my first blog just a month ago, and have been overwhelmed by the great community of bloggers out there in cyberspace.  I have read so many interesting blogs with such great writing, poetry, photographs, life stories, feelings, and experiences, that I feel I am trekking in a different world.

www.wyedu.co.uk

I have ventured into strange places, slept in strange beds (once I slept in a monastery), and witnessed strange sights (I once flew over an erupting volcano, and witnessed whirlpools and water spouts in the Bermuda triangle).

I have met interesting people on my journeys, but meeting strangers merely creates an exterior bond; you never really get to know their inner side.  Here, in the blogging community, the writings, poems, and photographs reveal bloggers’ true identities.  Personal feelings, hopes, aspirations, inner struggles, pain, joy, soul searching, are all portrayed through their posts.

In school and college, I was an avid reader, often reading a book from end to end in one sitting.  Today, I rarely finish a book, partly from boredom and partly from predictability.  Most writers write about other people’s lives and emotions.  Bloggers write about their personal lives and thoughts.  The versatility and emotive quality of some posts are simply astounding, and they are honest and genuine reflections of people’s lives.

I must say that my trek into the blogging world is off the beaten path of literary exploration, and this novel experience is all due to the community and great friends I have made here!  Thank you all!…and…

Keep on blogging!

horse..nicolecamusso pic© Wojciech Gajda - Fotolia.com

nicolecamusso pic© Wojciech Gajda – Fotolia.com

Categories: adventure travel, author, lifestyle, novel, photography, travel, trekking, Uncategorized, united nations, writer, writing | 46 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

Trekking for Gold in the Rainforest

My first trek was at age two.  It was a trek for gold and I was rewarded with a little piece of gold veined quartz for my effort.  My first gold strike!

Of course I have no recollection of my trek, but the story was told and retold to me several times by my mother who took me on my first journey.  Our trip would take us to the heart of the tropical rain forest where my father worked in a gold mine.

Peters Mine is located in Guyana, a country that is bordered by Venezuela, Brazil, and Suriname.  Established in 1904, Peters Mine was the first significant producer of gold in Guyana.  It lies in the Cuyuni/Mazaruni region of the country, adjacent to the Puruni river.  The region is known for gold deposits and the river for alluvial gold, prompting pioneering gold seekers to venture into the area, on foot and in small boats struggling upstream against dangerous currents and rapids.rapids in cuyuni Brian sidlaukas-pre

Fortunately my trek was not on foot.  Accompanied by my mother, we were flown part of the way by a small single engine sea plane from the capital city of Georgetown.  It was my first flight, and thankfully I have no recollection of our precarious landing in the middle of a river, and being transferred to a boat that would take us up the river.  I was told the trip took all day, and was remarkable in itself.  One boatman positioned himself in the bow looking for hidden rocks, while oarsmen steered the boat clear of obstacles.

Sailing upriver was not a job for the faint of heart.  Apart from navigating over rapids, there were dangerous patches of water with protruding rocks or little waterfalls.  The boatmen would pull to the side of the river, unload the boat, and lift it out of the water.  Carrying the boat on their shoulders, they would trek up the side of the river until they found calmer water, and launch the boat again.  On the way back, the skilled and hardy boatmen would at times ride the dangerous rapids giving rise to local legends and songs about their bravery or foolhardiness.mazaruni rapids-guyana man

During the trip, my mother lost one of her shoes.  At one stop, wading over rocks with shoes in her hands, one fell and was quickly swept downstream.  When we finally arrived, her with one shoe, we were greeted at the boat landing by barking dogs and a scary warning.  One of the dogs had just been lost. A large snake (camoudi) had wrapped itself around the dog and pulled him over the landing.  The rain forest region is the habitat of many animals and reptiles, and dogs are kept in the mining compound to alert the residents of impending danger.

Our arrival also prompted a little celebration since guests were rare, and a two year old child visitor was a novelty.  Most of the guests were native Amerindian people of the region, and I was given a small piece of quartz with a vein of gold as a welcome gift.  We ended up staying a month under their hospitality…I will continue my story in another post.

native-indians-jonathan -wilkins

Pic by Jonathan Wilkins
http://www.wilkins.fot.br/roraima

Categories: adventure travel, lifestyle, travel, trekking, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Trekking the Road to the Holy Land

Crusaders and Fortresses

I read that Richard with the heart of a lion made the trek to the Holy Land to do battle with Saladin the Great, spent two years in daily combat, and received a delicious fruit bowl and fine Arabian steed with compliments from the great Sal for valor and bravery.  Two years of living in the rough can be tough on your stomach and feet, and no doubt the reason for the complimentary fruit and steed.
The Crusaders were in the Holy Land for a long time, and medieval battles prompted the building of fortresses for protection, where combatants can safely grow their own fruit and care for their steeds.  I have always been amazed by the colossal size of a fortress and the immense labor that goes into building it, especially on top of a hill or mountain.

I found out that there is a remnant of a fortress in the Golan Heights, built during the time of the Crusades, and locating this fortress became my quest.

Getting There

The Golan Heights has seen its share of battles, and the area is considered disputed territory with neighboring Syria.  In the present situation, it may not be an easy task to trek on your own in the Golan region.

When I set off on my quest, I was fortunate to have a local guide who was familiar with several routes leading to the fortress.  We took a long, mostly deserted route from Tel Aviv to the northern Golan region.  During the trip, we stopped at a few points of interest.  The problem with drinking lots of water is that you have to make a few pit stops along the way!

Minefield

On one stop, I was about to climb a fence and head for a convenient tree, when a shout from the guide alerted me to a sign written in Hebrew/Arabic/English that stopped me in my tracks – we were close to a minefield!

This is a cardinal rule for travelers, especially strangers to the area:  Always read the signs!

The Fortress

The fortress is located on top of a cliff, 2,600 feet above sea level.  It was founded in the Middle Ages, probably by the Crusaders, and later rebuilt by the Muslim rulers of Damascus to defend their border against the Crusaders in the 12th century.  The Arabic name is “Castle of the Large Cliff”, but during the 18th century, Druze refugees moved into the area and called it “Nimrod”, after the biblical figure.  It is now known as Nimrod’s Fortress.  According to legend, Nimrod, grandson of Noah, hunted in this region.

crusader-t

Imagine dragging huge blocks of stone and building materials up this path

It is a steep climb on foot to get to the top of the cliff where the fortress is located.  This makes you wonder about the strength and endurance of the medieval warriors and the laborers involved in the building of Nimrod Fortress.  It is built of massive stone blocks with arches, tunnels, ramparts and towers.  stone blocks

spiral staircase

A spiral staircase takes you up to the tower and there is a secret passageway that leads under the fortress to the outside.   There are great views of the surrounding countryside through the arched windows, and the walls are filled with narrow archers’ slits that allow light in.  If you like castles and fortresses, this might be a good quest for you!

I have provided a link below to a site with a great description of Nimrod Fortress accompanied by a series of amazing photographs.

Link to Nimrod Fortress Site

The photograph of Nimrod Fortress below was provided by MapIsrael showing the sorrounding landscape.

nimrod-fortress_t

Categories: adventure travel, lifestyle, travel, trekking, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

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