Posts Tagged With: adventure travel

Dangerous and Tragic Trek

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some other things to look out for:

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

prepared-not-scared

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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.

old.door

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

Categories: adventure travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

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