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.


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!


Amerindian hut from NYPL archives

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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

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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!


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.


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.


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Memorable Experiences off the Beaten Path

My travels off the beaten paths or the roads less traveled have made many lasting memories for me.  Some of them were novel experiences although disconcerting at the time.  I am sharing a couple of them with you, but don’t be alarmed by these experiences, because they are not common occurrences.  You should merely use them as a guidebook to keep you alert on your travels.

Stranded in the Desert

Possibly my most alarming experience was being stranded in the Saudi desert.  I was part of a small group that paid a local guide to transport us across the desert to an airport.  At a rest stop in a remote part of the desert, the guide disappeared and “forgot” to pay the driver.  desertsThe driver refused to take us further, drove off leaving us stranded, then returned later with the local law enforcement.  Since the group only spoke English and the driver and police only spoke Arabic, we had a major communication problem.  Eventually we had to pay the driver to continue our journey.  I always carry extra cash in a money belt or in a wallet in my socks for such emergencies.  If you are interested in finding out about, or trekking in the Saudi Arabia desert, here is a link to a good site with detailed information.  Deserts of Saudi Arabia

Trapped in the Walled City

On a trip to Istanbul in the late eighties, I visited a section of the Old City that is enclosed by a huge wall.  Entry was through a narrow gate leading into a small deserted street, and I ventured inside to explore the area.  On my way out I found the gate blocked by an official looking person, who refused to let me out.  He wore a red and yellow sash across his jacket and had a rifle slung over his shoulder.  This made me very nervous but I tried to communicate with him in a friendly manner.  Of course there were language problems also, since I don’t speak either Turkish or Arabic.  After an exchange of signs, gestures, etc., I finally assumed that he was some sort of local gatekeeper and I had to pay him a toll to pass through.  I paid him $5 USD and was greatly relieved when he let me out.


Frankly, I had never ever heard of this before, and always wondered if it was a local custom or a tourist con.  I would be grateful to know if any reader had a similar experience.   I did go through other gates in this wall without any problems.


One of the gates is called the Yedikule Kapisi that leads to the Fortress of Seven Towers.  This is an interesting place to visit, but be careful you don’t fall off the wall or into the deep dungeons.

The walls and towers are high but broken in some parts with no railings.


Here is a link to a site with information about the Fortress of Seven Towers.

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Searching for the Ancient Door!

People travel for various reasons, mostly for pleasure or business. If you travel for business you get paid, so that should be pleasurable too. Yet the level of grumpy returning travelers dispels this premise. Overcrowded tourist sites and cities can erode your pleasure as well as your finances rapidly. If you seek true pleasurable travel you need a quest. Your quest will take you on journeys to strange places, many of them off the beaten paths. Most of my travels started with a quest, usually ignited by a simple experience.

I once read a book that briefly mentioned a door knocker on an old 14th century Catholic Church door in Spain. The interesting part was the door knocker was an Islamic symbol, in the shape of a hand called “Hand of Fatima”, Fatima being the daughter of the Islamic prophet, Muhammad. I found it intriguing to find an Islamic icon on a Christian church, especially in the 15th century at the height of the Spanish Inquisition and Islamic/Christian conflict. I decided to confirm this by seeking out the door in question, and this became my quest!

After traveling around southern Spain, venturing into older communities and speaking to local residents, I finally located a very old building with an aged wooden door that carried an old bronze Hand of Fatima door knocker. It was located in the Andalusia region in a tiny street, much like an alley way.


The building appeared abandoned but the door was sturdy and sealed shut.  I was unable to open it to get inside but I was able to photograph the door; and no, I did not carve my initials on that relic! I learnt from the residents there that the Hand of Fatima door knockers were very prevalent at one time but disappeared over the years. Today, you may be able to obtain replicas from some tourist shops but the originals are exceedingly scarce as far as I know. The Hand of Fatima most likely has its origins from pre-Islamic time, but became an Islamic cultural icon during the 700 year Islamic presence in Spain. It was called khamsa in Arabic, meaning five fingers, and became popular as a talisman to ward off evil and fashioned into amulets and pendants.

It is interesting to note that after the end of the Islamic rule in Spain, the Hand of Fatima was so popular that Emperor Charles V convened an Episcopal committee to decree a ban on the Hand of Fatima in 1526. This is most likely the reason why this tradition disappeared in Spain, but the Hand of Fatima later migrated into Jewish communities and culture still retaining the Arabic name hamsa, but The Jews changed it to mean Hand of Miriam, sister of Moses. The hamsa pendants are very popular in Israel and some are made of gold and silver. Some golden hamsas sell for over a thousand U.S. dollars. hamza

On the left is a Roberto Coin Gold Hamsa Pendant Necklace selling for $1,040 USD at Neiman and Marcus to bring luck to the rich and famous.

However if you are a budget trekker like me, there are much cheaper Hamsas on the market.  I picked up the two souvenirs below  in Tel Aviv, at a fraction of the cost.  The hand crafted silver pendant on the left cost of $25 USD, and the pewter one on the right was a mere $2 USD.

pendantkey ring

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