Category: Americas

Protect yourself while travel in South America

Latin America is huge and diverse – and seemingly full of health hazards. Take heart though – your biggest risks will be road accidents and (especially in the warmer parts) a short-lived upset stomach. However, it pays to be prepared, so here are some of the hazards that travellers to South America face.

Montezuma’s revenge

The tropical parts of Central and South America have high hit rates for travellers’ diarrhoea. The worst countries in the New World are Mexico and Peru. Along with the ‘simple’ kind of gastroenteritis that burns itself out in 36-48 hours, there are nastier pathogens that spread in the same way – unhygienic food production. These diseases include typhoid and paratyphoid (capsules now protect against both), and bacillary and amoebic dysentery.

In Bolivia, for example, fields may be fertilised with ‘night soil’ (human faeces) that effectively recycles parasites. It’s worth adhering to the ‘peel it, boil it, cook it or forget it’ rule. Raw fish – including ceviche – has been blamed for outbreaks of profuse watery diarrhoea but fish that’s well marinated in lemon is least risky. To avoid tapeworms and worm cysts in the brain, order your steak and pork well-cooked.

Piranhas & candiru

Piranhas and candiru fish are infamous among travellers to South America. Although piranha feeding-frenzies do happen, they are unlikely unless they’ve become trapped in a tiny body of water that is drying out.

Candiru are pencil-lead thin and parasitise other fish; on very rare occasions they try to enter the urethra of male humans taking a swim. Where these fish are common and small boys swim with them, local women are good at winkling them out. Stingrays inhabit the rivers too so watch where you wade.

Chagas disease

This infection may have been the death of Darwin but is more commonly spoken of than experienced. It’s transmitted in the rainforests by assassin bugs, which hurt when they bite. Sleep in a hammock with attached mosquito netting.

Scorpions & spiders

Bark scorpions are particularly dangerous – despite the availability of an antivenom, there are 1,000 fatalities every year

Bark scorpions are particularly dangerous –despite the availability of an antivenom, there are 1,000 fatalities every year

Bark scorpions are particularly dangerous but there is an antivenom so fatalities should be rare and partially depend on getting to a competent clinical facility promptly. There are over 1,000 deaths from scorpion stings in Mexico annually; those who die are mostly local children. Widows, browns and sac spiders should be treated with respect – if they bite, there is usually an area of skin and subcutaneous tissue death.

Ticks

Tick

American ticks come with special health warnings – potentially they can give you one of nine dangerous infections, and American Lyme disease seems to be more malign than the European variant. Keep ticks off. If you find one feeding on you, remove it as soon as possible (pack a tick-removal tool) and flood the wound with pisco or some other strong spirit alcohol.

Leishmania

Tiny biting sandflies can squeeze through mosquito nets and spread an illness that starts as a painless ulcer-like skin lesion. This looks as if it should be itchy or painful but isn’t. It grows and may disappear spontaneously after a month or so. Depending on the form of leishmania, up to half of victims will go on to have a nasty parasitic infection that requires extended hospital treatment.

Prompt diagnosis allows a simpler, more effective cure. Odd ‘sores’ can also turn out to be skin cancers, so show any weird lumps and bumps to a doctor. Keeping covered, wearing repellent and sleeping under an insecticide impregnated net will protect you.

Malaria

Sleeping in a mosquito net to protect yourself

Malaria is a problem in much of the northern part of South and Central America – read up on your destination. Although the most dangerous forms aren’t present, malaria pills are recommended for many rural destinations. Malaria is only one of many insect-borne diseases on offer in South America so take precautions to avoid bites at all times.

Yellow fever

Yellow fever is a disease that simmers in forest animals and breaks out unpredictably. During outbreaks in South America the authorities sometimes react by instigating mass vaccination, including stopping busses and immunising everyone on board – you’ll need to wave a yellow fever certificate to avoid being stabbed along with everyone else.

Consult the web (eg, www.who.int) to check the current status of your destination. There have been some deaths reported in Brazil (in May 2015) due to yellow fever and there have been nine cases in Peru in the first three months of 2015.

Chikungunya & dengue

Chikungunya now seems to be a big problem in South and Central America and the Caribbean. It’s spread by mosquitoes and causes a disease akin to ‘breakbone’ fever or dengue, which is also a problem locally. Wear repellent at all times.

Snakes

Snakebite is a significant problem in South America but the scale of the problem is hard to gauge. People most at risk are agricultural workers clearing vegetation. Antivenom may be available at some clinics.

Vampires

The Americas are home to real vampires: bats that bite mammals, instil anticoagulant and lap the blood; a significant proportion carry rabies. Anyone sleeping out should consider this risk; arranging pre-trip rabies immunisation would be wise. Evidence is growing that a full course of rabies vaccine with a booster gives lifelong immunity. Dogs are less of a rabies risk than in the Old World, but even so there was a rabies death in Chile in 2013 following dog bites.

NEW YORK: I Could Never Get Enough of You

New York City will always be one of my favorite travel destinations. The diverse culture, and fast-paced lifestyle never fail to amaze me. I have been to NYC a lot of times, and I could never get enough of it. The colors, the lights, the places to visit, and the food choices are just so vast, I have always felt that I do not have enough time to explore this big city.
My visit this year was again too short for my enjoyment. Again I stayed over at my cousin’s house – he had always been very generous and had always made me feel at home. My first day is usually spent with him and his family. As usual, they welcome me with a gastronomic feast that would leave me wondering if I was really in New York. This is because I get to eat a great home-cooked meal that transports me back to our home town.
After a lot of catching up I doze off and prepared for my itinerary for my second day in NYC. Although I want to keep things free flowing, I figured it would be nice to have an informal plan about the places I would want to visit, so that I could make sure I would get to go visit them during my trip.
I started off visiting old friends living in the Queens area. They brought me over at this restaurant they have been raving about which is Don Peppe’s. Well, food was really outstanding there, with lots of choices and huge portions, perfect for sharing! The restaurant has a great ambience and pleasant wait staff. I couldn’t have enough of their linguine with white clam sauce, mozzarella with tomato and roasted peppers, and of course their Tiramisu. Truly one happy tummy for me there.
The next day, I decided to go for a run in Central Park. Running there was just so relaxing for me. I just love the view, the trees, the smell, the sights. I am so enamored. Everything about Central Park actually will always be fun for me, including the Whole Foods Market right across. And yes you guessed it right, I stopped by to fill up. In all my trips to New York I never fail to stop by this Whole Foods branch in Columbus Circle. It is just a happy place for me, and why not – every inch of the store is filled with delicious and wholesome food.

NEW YORK I Could Never Get Enough of You

I could never get enough of the Big Apple. (Photo Credits: Aurelien Guichard, cc: Some Rights Reserved)

That night, I got invited by an old classmate to watch a Broadway show. Honestly, I would rather go on another food trip, but I figured this is a great cultural experience I should not miss. And I did not regret it.
The next day was one of my most-anticipated days in NYC. I carried on with my quest to find the a welding helmet, and it led me to another New York location, this time in Syracuse. I was lucky enough to be accompanied by one of my good friends in heading over to Haun Welding Supply’s Retail Store. I was like a kid in a candy shop, when I entered the retail store in their office headquarters. I just had to continue my search for the best welding helmet over at their outlet.
The welding supplies found at their store are just so vast, I was so excited to peruse everything there. It is a welder’s paradise!

Not a trip to NYC without strolling at Central Park. (Photo Credits: Nancy Smith, cc: Some Rights Reserved)

Not a trip to NYC without strolling at Central Park. (Photo Credits: Nancy Smith, cc: Some Rights Reserved)

Anyway, I was glad to know that they also offer free one-day training seminars in there, and that they likewise offer training courses in their Syracuse branch. That is one thing that I may try in my next visit to the Big Apple.
Of course while in Syracuse, I did not pass up the chance to eat over at Dinosaur Bar-B-Que. As a fan of the show Man Vs Food, I made a mental note of visiting this restaurant the next time in New York. And boy was I not disappointed! The ribs were just oh-so-succulent, finger-licking, and to-die-for. The Beer Menu was also very diverse that I had a hard time choosing! For those with allergies, it will be also great to note that they have a gluten-free menu to boot.
The next item on my to-do-list at New York is to, of course go shopping. I figured it would just be weird to go home with only a new welding mask so I headed over at Woodbury Commons and ticked off my shopping list. Again, shopping at this outlet is not for the faint of hearts and those who do not have self-control. I purposely left my credit card at my cousin’s house to make sure I would not go over my shopping budget and my airline’s luggage weight limit restrictions. I do not want to get something there that I could not pay for, so in this particular shopping trip, cash is my mode of payment.
I could say it is one of the best decisions that I ever made because at least, I was limited to just buying what I really needed – new pairs of denims, a nice laptop bag to replace my old one, a wallet, and the dark glasses I have always been wishing for.
Well, as I have always felt every time I am in New York, my stint in the Big Apple was again too short for me to totally enjoy the city. Like I could never get enough of it – its lights, its energy, its people. Before I headed over to Washington to visit another friend, I made another mental note of the places I would want to visit and restaurants I would like to check out the next time I am there. I am certain, that i will be back again.

Infinite potential the source of creative energy

Infinite potential: the source of creative energy

When I first read the book Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah by Richard Bach, I was enthralled. A close friend had given it to me as a gift as I was leaving the UK for a one-year sabbatical to Australia. I read it on the plane, and again on my fi rst night in Sydney. I was 21 years old and unaware that I was reading a book that would change my life forever.

On a Monday morning 11 years later, a quote from Illusions floated in front of me, causing me to quit my job and follow my passion for wildlife photography (Part 1, OP190). Little did I know then that another quote from the same book would cause a similar revolution in my life several years later.

Imagine it’s already there

It was the winter of 2014 and I had been in Yellowstone National Park for two weeks. I had seen the usual wildlife suspects – ice-encrusted bison, lolloping elk, coyotes, eagles and swans – but I was desperate to see Yellowstone’s most famous inhabitant, the wolf.
Despite being one of the best locations in the world for spotting wolves, this apex predator is still a rare sighting. I had seen wolves only twice before in Yellowstone and things weren’t looking too positive on this trip. None of the guides had seen any signs of wolf – no tracks, no scat, no kills – and the spotting boards (notice boards on which visitors write down wildlife sightings) were blank. Even so, my mind was open to the potential.

The wolf-majestic animal of the nature

One morning during my trip I climbed into the front cab of the snow-coach as usual. As we began the journey into the park – a long, quiet road swathed in the cloak of twilight – I closed my eyes. And there, in the darkness in front of me, I saw the words, ‘To bring anything into your life, imagine that it’s already there.’I recognised them from the book Illusions, although, like many of the teachings described by Richard Bach, I didn’t fully comprehend them or, more accurately, I didn’t fully understand how to make them real.
Despite that, with my eyes still closed, in my mind I visualised an image of a wolf standing amid the tall lodgepole pines that define the Yellowstone landscape. The snow-coach trundled on.

Manifestations

About half an hour later, I was making some final checks of my cameras, when there was a commotion on the road ahead. Large numbers of vehicles – vans, snow-coaches and snowmobiles – were lined up and people were wandering about excitedly. We pulled over and I climbed down, grabbing my camera bag. In the distance, I heard someone shout, ‘wolf’ in explanation of the ruckus. I scanned the ridgeline, seeing nothing. I walked ahead without knowing why, other than it felt like the right thing to do – instinct overpowering hesitation. My eyes were glued to the ridgeline when, out of the corner of one eye, I saw a flicker of contrast. I turned my gaze and there, among the trees, regal in its confi dence, was a lone white wolf.
He was walking intently, slightly above me, and I followed, parallel to his path. He was always a step ahead. Then he stopped and turned his head towards me. I lifted the camera and he gazed straight down the barrel of my lens. A silent acknowledgement passed between us and then, as quickly as he’d arrived he was gone.

Two fighting bisons in the park

Two fighting bisons in the park

Back at the snow-coach, the chatter between the guides was energetic. It was their first wolf sighting in weeks, but the real reason for their excitement was that it was the first white wolf they’d ever seen. By the end of my time in Yellowstone, 10 days later, he hadn’t been seen again. I kept my own thoughts to myself. I didn’t really manifest a wolf by ‘imagining it was already there’. My morning epiphany and the appearance of the wolf was coincidence – surely?

Anything else was simply too ‘woo-woo’ to consider. I have a scientist’s mind, and there is nothing in any of the classic sciences with which I’m familiar that could explain conjuring a wild animal from thought alone. I am also a bit of a romanticist, however. And although my mind demands the rigors of science when understanding nature and the world around us, the idea of being able to manifest images at will was a fun illusion that was worth playing with.

The power of thought

For the rest of my time in Yellowstone, I set aside my usual approach to image-making (my back-to-front theory of composition, explained in last month’s article) and simply spent time truly connecting with my environment. Rather than chase light and pre-determined ideas I sat in a single spot, letting my senses be caressed by nature and trying to envisage my next image. And the strangest thing happened.

A bison by the lake

A bison by the lake

As I imagined each new image, by some twist of light and magic, immediately it would appear in front of me. I imagined a coyote – a coyote appeared, cool and inquisitive. I imagined an elk surviving in the harshness of winter – an elk appeared, forlorn in its isolation. I imagined bison in a crystal landscape – bison appeared along with rays of sparkling light.
I have had similar experiences in the past. I remember an occasion in India, watching a leopard hidden in some bushes. I imagined the leopard waking out of the bush, crossing an open area of grassland in front of me and settling at a nearby pool of water to drink. Ten minutes after seeing that picture in my mind, the leopard did exactly that. On another occasion, I imagined a grizzly bear snorkelling for salmon in a crystal- clear pool. That thought led to some quite remarkable GoPro footage of a fishing bear. But these were isolated moments that might also be explained in part by knowledge of animal behaviour, and nothing at all like the consistent fl ow of images that occurred in Yellowstone.

A closed up bison

Sadly, after days of thoughtful experimentation, my time in Yellowstone was up and playtime was over. I had to get back to the office and serious work. Still, in the volcano-like centre of my mischievous mind, a thought bubbled away.

Another unexpected journey

A couple of months later, I was in the car with my partner, Monique, travelling back to Switzerland from the south of France. It’s a long journey from the Mediterranean to the Alps, and we were both tired and conversation was slow. To fill the silence, Monique asked if I wanted to listen to something, suggesting some music or an audio book. Normally I would choose music because I have little auditory awareness, which means music is about all I can cope with. On this occasion, however, for reasons I can’t explain, I chose the book option, picking one at random. At some point, I don’t remember exactly when, I started to tune in. Here and there the narration would penetrate my auditory barrier and ping around my head as if my mind was the play zone of a pinball machine. I heard words and sentences such as ‘consciousness’ and ‘quantum domain’ and ‘mindfulness’ and ‘mind is the maker of reality’.

A lonely wolf

A lonely wolf

Something inside my psyche was beginning to put two and two together and coming up with an answer. I asked Monique to grab a pen and write something down so I wouldn’t forget: ‘The science of quantum mechanics asserts that in the beginning was potential. Potential was followed by chaos and chaos was followed by order. Photography mirrors the quantum world: photography starts with the potential for an image (the visualised idea), which is followed by chaos (the visual objects presented by nature), which is followed by order – composition.’

I then asked her to write down the question, ‘What does quantum physics reveal about our individual creativity?’ In answering that question so this journey, this great new adventure, begins. In next month’s chapter of A photographer’s guide to life on Earth: ‘Everything is connected to everything else’.

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