Posts Tagged With: solo 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

 

 

 

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

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

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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