Posts Tagged With: adventure

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

 

 

 

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

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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 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!

foot

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The prehistoric Hymenaea tree family has existed on earth for millions of years, and the fossilized resin from these trees  forms amber.   As seen in Jurassic Park, some amber have been found with insects trapped inside for millions of years.  

amber-1

Google Images of Insects trapped in Amber
Categories: adventure travel, amazon, Amerindians, author, food, foreign travel, garden of eden, global, lifestyle, novel, photography, rainforest, river, stinking toe, travel, trekking, Uncategorized, united nations, world, writer, writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 21 Comments

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

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

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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