Jungle Law

Thank goodness for window screens!  But as demonstrated in my last post on the Amazon, screens don’t always keep the wildlife out.

For instance, we shared The Hammock Room at the Research Center with this tarantula.  He wasn’t as interested in us as we were in him.

We named him Tomacito, or “Little Tommy.”  Tomacito served as a reminder to shake out our shoes each morning before getting dressed. Insects and critters found their way into our little sanctuary, but it was the ones I couldn’t see that bugged me.

That first morning we ventured into the jungle with Orlando, our amazing guide.  In spite of the heat and 90+ percent humidity, we covered as much skin as possible with clothing, and sprayed whatever we couldn’t cover with repellant.  Nighttime mosquitoes carry malaria, daytime ones dengue fever, and I can’t remember which carry yellow fever, but I didn’t want to be breakfast for any of them.

Below are a few of my own unofficial rules of the jungle for the timid traveler.

Rule of the Jungle #1– bring mosquito repellent!

Fallen trees and leaves, mud, and overnight storms in the tropical rainforest made hiking challenging.

We wore rubber boots to keep our feet dry.  Bea stepped in a puddle deeper than anticipated, and water poured into her boot.

Rule of the Jungle # 2–Watch your step!

Orlando uprooted several small trees, and cut the trunks off with his machete to make tea from the bark to relieve his mother’s arthritis.  He replanted the roots in the fertile soil, so the tree would survive.  Maybe the tea really was for his mom, but I believe it was also his tactful way of providing the Gringos with walking sticks to help balance on slippery walkways.

Rule of the Jungle #3–Take the hand extended to you, and be grateful for kindness in any form or guise.

So many trees and leaves were poisonous, covered with harmful insects, or had razor-sharp edges.  Another guest at the Research Center slipped and braced herself on a porcupine tree.  It left dozens of venomous barbs in in her hand, which swelled up painfully.  There was no doctor, but her guide Fernando cut the barbs out of her hand with pins and a knife, and she took a course of anti-biotics.

Rule of the Jungle #4–Don’t touch ANYTHING!

Rule of the Jungle # 5–There are exceptions to any rule.

Orlando saw an Olive Whip Snake, and quickly caught it with his bare hands.

He showed both kids how to handle a snake without getting bitten…

Orlando’s grandfather was a shaman.  He said, “My grandfather said if you can get a snake to wrap around you, it will become gentle and give you its energy.”  As soon as it wrapped around him, the snake calmed down, and then Orlando released it into a tree.

Rule of the Jungle #6–Be as open to new experiences as you can without endangering yourself or others.

Rule of the Jungle #7–Bring your camera!!

We caught many tantalizing glimpses of wildlife, but they were often quicker than I was  when it came to focusing the camera.

However, some critters obligingly held still for me.

 

Occasionally I would be rewarded with a shot like this.

Or this….

Or this…

 

Or this…

 Or this…

Rule of the Jungle #8–Only you can know what it requires for you to glean the most meaning and satisfaction out of your jungle experience or your life.  Do no harm, but make up your own damn rules, and break them whenever necessary.

All images and words copyright 2013 NaomiBaltuck

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Sky Candy

Most of my adventures are the gentle sort.  I won’t be climbing Mt. Everest, or even Mt. Rainier in my lifetime.  I have zero interest in bungy jumping, roller coasters, or even in riding the London Eye.  And I always said they’d have to pay me to get me into a hot air balloon.

So how did I find myself in Turkey, in the wee hours of the morning, on my way to my very first hot air balloon ride?  My son Eli really wanted to go, and as I get older, I find myself experiencing more “What the heck!” moments.   At 5:30AM, I got into a van with sixteen other people.  The vehicle was lit by an eerie red light, as if we were about to be launched into some weird sci-fi adventure.

We arrived at dawn, with the balloons still being filled with hot air generated by propane gas.

It was hard not to imagine them as living creatures, struggling awkwardly to their feet like a camel.

I was privately terrified, but climbed into the basket along with Eli and the others.

Our captain’s name was Mustafa.  Mustafa said he’d had to go to the US to get his training, and he’d been doing this for eight years.  He had shiny gold epaulets on the shoulders of his white uniform, so I listened carefully when he told us there were only two rules.  The first was to remain in the basket at all times.

The second was what we should do upon landing.  We were to grab the rope handles on the inside of the basket, hold tight, and lean away from the ground when the basket went scudding across the landing spot.   I’d always envisioned balloons at the mercy of the wind, floating above a flat landscape, coming down wherever the wind took them, retrieved by trucks that followed behind like tornado chasers.   But we were in Cappodocia, a land of many valleys, and strange rock formations.

Where would we even find a flat place to land?

The beast roared, and I felt its hot breath upon my neck.  The captain loosened the reins…

…and we were airborne.

The sky brightened, and we saw balloons rising everywhere, like at a party or a parade, where scores of  balloons are released at once.

 Slowly, gracefully, we glided on the air currents.

I wasn’t at all afraid.  I sensed only calm and wonder. The landing might be rough, but I was living in the moment, taking in the colors…

… and the scenery.

I watched other balloons glide above us…

…or below.

They were like gentle ghosts…I couldn’t quite believe what I was seeing.

Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better….

…the sun rose in a burst of color and light.

The valley was flooded with a golden warmth…

…and the windows in the village below glistened like diamonds.

 

When it was time to land, I watched as Mustafa used bursts of hot air to lift the balloon over each new ridge.  Once he radioed another pilot for his visual take on our position in relation to a particular outcrop.  The pilot assured him that we could clear it.  At first I was disconcerted, but I do the same when I am parallel parking in a tight spot.  “Eli, stick your head out the window and tell me if I can get past that car’s fender.”

The wind was not cooperating, and our hour in the air stretched out to an hour and a half as Mustafa maneuvered the stubborn creature, but he clearly knew what he was doing.  We came to a plateau, where I recognized our crew of balloon chasers, and prepared for impact.

The captain lowered a long sturdy rope, and used what he called his “three horse power” landing gear, his three crewmen to haul the balloon while Mustafa kept us just high enough off the ground for them to maneuver the basket toward the truck.

It was skillfully and artfully done, a perfect landing, directly onto the trailer. After disembarkingwe found a surprise awaiting us. The breakfast of champions!

This experience was life-changing for me, as if a switch inside me turned on to the world’s possibilities and opportunities.

I probably won’t climb Mt. Everest in my lifetime, but I might yet take a ride on the London Eye.

Unique New York!


Open mouth.  Insert foot.  Things happen.  At least that’s what happens to me.  At 85, my mother’s sister Loena suffers from heart trouble and Quilter’s Thumb, but she never complains.  She uses a cane on good days, a walker or wheelchair the rest of the time.  Aunt Loena lives in Detroit, but was always too busy taking care of everyone else to travel.  A couple years ago, with my Michigan sister Lee, my aunt flew to Seattle to come see us.

She was frail and tired easily.  Once, when we couldn’t hear her snoring, I tiptoed in to see if she was still breathing.  But we laughed often and loudly; I felt my mother’s presence so strongly I wanted to pour Mom a cup of coffee too.  The visit went so well I asked my aunt where she’d like to go next.  I figured Holland, Michigan, perhaps, to see the tulips.  But no.  Aunt Loena said, “Your mother and I were planning a trip to New York, to see the Statue of Liberty and lots of Broadway musicals.  That was before she got sick.”

I’ll take you!” I blurted.  Then I felt sick.  I’ve always suffered from Foot in Mouth disease.  My other chronic illness was Newyorkaphobia.  In my mind NYC was big, bad, dangerous.  AND expensive.  I had the money, but it was tucked away for a trip to England, a place I really did want to see. But a promise is a promise.

I researched airfare, hotels, even how to hail a cab.  We picked up travel companions right and left, like Dorothy on her way to Emerald City.  I ordered show tickets, mailed maps and instructions to them all.  My daughter Bea and I flew into JFK.  My sister Con flew from Alaska to her daughter Jane’s, and they trained in from Boston.  Lee and Aunt Loena flew into Newark from Detroit.  We all arrived within twenty minutes of each other at the Casablanca Hotel, half a block from Times Square!

I chose the hotel for its proximity to theaters and its uniqueness–the breakfast room is called Rick’s, after Humphrey Bogart’s character in Casablanca.  Six women crammed themselves into a suite meant for four, but the staff didn’t seem to mind.  Everyone was helpful; they even provided a wheelchair.  At  Casablanca’s Happy Hour, we had fruit, cookies, wine and cheese.

Jane, Constance, Bea, Lee, and Aunt Loena at a Very Happy Hour.

Then it was time to go to our first Broadway musical, Billy Elliot.  Jane had made other plans, so five of us stood outside the hotel while I hailed a cab.  It pulled over to the curb and we all crowded in.

“Only four, please.”  The driver had an accent, and was clearly from somewhere in Africa.

“The theater is just a few blocks,” I said, “but my auntie can’t walk.”

“I cannot take more than four passengers.”

“We don’t mind Cozy.”

“No, no, no.  I mean I get into big trouble for carrying more than four passengers.”

“Oh, we don’t want to get you in trouble.  It’s not far.  My sisters can walk, and we’ll meet them there.”

Lee and Con got out and started walking. He put his hand to his forehead and sighed.  “Call them back.”

“Really?”  I hollered for my sisters, and soon we were all back in the cab, with Bea ducked down out of sight.

Our driver was Daniel, a doctor from Togo, who was making better money driving a cab in NYC than in the medical profession in Togo.  We asked about his family, and whether he missed his home.  “It’s best for the children,” he said. He was curious about our lives too.  As we talked, my fears dropped away.

Fool’s luck must have sent Mr. Adenje to us on our first evening in New York.  I knew we were in good hands, even before he refused any money for the ride, even the twenty dollar tip I tried to give him.  Where does THAT ever happen?  Certainly not in Seattle!  This couldn’t be the ugly city that so terrified me!  At first I thought Mr Adenje was an angel in disguise; I have come to think of him as the spirit of New York.

The whole time we were there we never met an unkind person.  Everyone had a story to tell, like Fergus, the driver who gave Aunt Loena her first buggy ride.  He told us he gained fifteen pounds in one week when his mother came from Ireland to visit and meet her first grandchild.

Fergus, Bea, and Aunt Loena.

At a hot dog stand in Central Park, the elderly gent ahead of us insisted on treating.  Aunt Loena was convinced he was Scottish, despite his yarmulke and Yiddish accent.  “In any case,” I told her, “you’ve still got what it takes!”   My aunt laughed and pshawed, but still she blushed like a young girl.

Central Park is an oasis in a concrete jungle.

The next night, by the time Aunt Loena could shuffle out of the theater, where we saw Phantom of the Opera, the cabs were all gone.  But a man in a rickshaw pedaled up; another ‘first’ for my aunt.  She and I sat with Bea on my lap, as Rene from El Salvador wove through late-night traffic, cutting off stretch limousines, jumping potholes like a Latin Evil Knievel, and cutting through dark alleys.  He hadn’t been home for six years, and had a daughter he had never seen.  He said he liked working the late night shift, because the days could be so very hot.  While we talked with Rene, Aunt Loena smiled and waved to strangers on the street, and they all smiled and waved back.

Bea and Auntie Lee on our city bus tour.

Ghosts of New York’s past can still be seen.

And then there is the Natural History Museum.  Very Educational.

 Since then I have returned to the Big Apple of my own free will.   I brought my husband, my kids, and an open heart.


I am learning to let go of my fears.  There are so many places I still want to see, too many stories out in that wide world I have yet to hear.  I hope I never get too old to enjoy them, or too afraid to try.  After all, I’ve already seen how high an old lady can kick up her heels while keeping a sturdy grip on her walker.

All images and words copyright 2012 Naomi Baltuck

For more great photos of New York, check out “I Love New York” in writer Kourteny Heintz’s Journal!