Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Here Comes Dottie Poo Poo!

Tonight I got the sweetest e-mail from Wendy the volunteer extraordinaire at the Merced SPCA congratulating me on the one month anniversary of adopting one Dottie Braun.  I am pleased to report that Dottie is doing wonderfully well in her new home.  And thank you to everyone who sent e-mails asking about the little girl.  She and Ling, the fourteen-year old Chow/Fox mix that runs the Braun household have become fast friends.  The cats seem to think Dottie is simply another one of them since she is just about their size...and all the two legged folks are pretty fond of her too.

One of the consequences of adopting Dottie at this moment in pop culture history is that it has become almost impossible in the wake of the cultural juggernaut that is Here Comes Honey Boo Boo on TLC not to say, "Here comes Dottie Poo Poo..." every time the little dog walks into the room. 

So for your viewing pleasure I have uploaded some more photos of Dottie Poo Poo in all of her velvety, chocolaty, elfish, adorable glory.  Please note that Dottie Poo Poo is unquestionably better behaved than Honey Boo Boo (a.k.a. Alana Thompson) and to our knowledge has never eaten "sketti" nor has she belched or burped while competing in a beauty pageant.  Of course she's still young and I suppose there is still time.  But she is house trained...which is possibly more than can be said of Honey Boo Boo.  

A Harry Potter House Elf and a Tootsie Roll had a baby.

She has learned to chew on toys and not furniture.

And she observes an appropriate bed time...except on Saturdays
 when she's allowed to let her down and stay up and watch
The Dog Whisperer with Ceasar Milan. 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

How Not to Drown in the Essequibo River

Last week I started a new segment here on the blog where I share travel tips and regrettable life decisions in the hopes that you, dear readers, will not repeat my mistakes.  Today's lesson is how not to drown in the Essequibo River in Guyana.

Now there are two ways to accomplish this task...the first and perhaps the easiest way is to simply not go to Guyana.  But if you choose to take this route then you'd be missing out on all of the amazing sights that the third-smallest independent state in South America and the second-poorest country in the Western hemisphere has to offer...but more on that later.  Of course, the second option for avoiding drowning in the Essequibo is simply to NOT BE A MORON.

I strongly encourage you to choose the latter...

Now how do you find your way to Guyana in the first place?  I landed there in the summer of 2006 as part of a group from the School of Public Health at Loma Linda University.  We were there to study among other things the impact of a 325 million gallon cyanide spill from a gold mine in 1995 that had devastated the waters of the Essequibo River and also to learn about Guyana's national healthcare system.  During part of our time there we were housed at the Iwokrama Field Station.

The Iwokrama International Centre for Rainforest Conservation and Development is essentially a series of thatched roofed bungalows that are sort of like the Swiss Family Robinson treehouse on steroids set in the middle of 371,000 hectares (that's just under 1 million acres) of pristine rain forest.   Now this compound sits along the banks of the river and when you are a grad student sweating your way to a slow death there is really only one thing to a parody of a horror movie featuring a river monster in the Essequibo.

Now we had spent many leisurely hours enjoying the waters of the river.  It is known for its "black water" which is a bit of a misnomer because the water is actually a reddish brown shade that looks almost identical to iodine.  As the leaves fall off of the trees and into the river the tannins leech out staining the water.  So if you stay in for a while it gives your hair a gorgeous red henna tint but unfortunately turns you a less than pleasant shade of orange.

Stay in the "black water" a little too long and you get a
little Oompa Loompa-esque tint to your skin tone.
It's also a little but disconcerting that you can't see the bottom.

Besides the cosmetic risks of bathing in the Essequibo there are some animal hazards to be aware of.  Guyana boasts the largest fresh water fish in the world, the arapaima, which is a living fossil in that it has managed to survive all major extinction events, and it can grow up to fifteen feet long.  The Essequibo is also home to the black caiman, the largest member of the alligator family, known to grow as large as sixteen feet long and get over 850 lbs in weight.  Oh yeah and there are piranha and candiru as know that fish that swims up your urethra.

The thing has managed to survive the last 65 million years
worth of extinction events...clearly it has earned its place as
a river monster.
I mean need I say more than the word "creepy".
This fellow's snack of choice is the world's largest rodent
the Capybara.

The Candiru...a small parasitic catfish that swims up urethras

Anyway, one hot afternoon we were all sitting along the river bank trying to decide what to do with the hour or so of free time that we had and since my one friend Sarah had a video camera and I was willing to go in the water it just seemed like the logical decision to make a parody of a horror film...a sort of homage to the brilliant filmmaking that gave us such masterpieces as Anaconda (1997) and Lake Placid (1999).  So into the water I went.  I did the backstroke and lolled around.  We would theoretically insert  Edvard Grieg's Peer Gynt Suite No. 1 "Morning Mood" and John Williams' theme music from Jaws (1975) later to set the scene for an impending attack.  Then with dramatic flair I began splashing around and faking a giant unseen river monster assault.

Now this should have been the end of this little endeavor except that at the exact moment that I started thrashing around I a) managed to get my ankle tangled up in an underwater vine and then b) the afternoon rains came and the current in the river went from calm and placid to a three knot flow that started carrying me away from the shore fast enough that the vine around my ankle got pulled taught.  Thankfully though, the vine getting pulled taught was the only thing that kept me from being swept away.

At this point, needless to say, I regretted our decision to make a student film.  Fortunately Sarah (the director) told Ramsey our other friend to jump in the water and help me.  So Ramsey dove in.  Sarah kept filming.  But the current was too strong and we couldn't get back to shore.  Thankfully, our other friends John Dangers (yes that's his real name) who had studied at the United States Air Force Academy and Manny Kiesser who had graduated from Annapolis jumped into a canoe and came to the rescue.  John said to me, "Whitny jump up in the canoe, come on you can do it!" I couldn't.  I have literally no upper body strength.  Then Manny contemplated jumping out of the canoe and into the water to help me out.  John said, "Hmm...yeah I think it's better we all stay in the canoe."   It was  quickly agreed that with two of us in the water just struggling to get back to shore another body in the water probably wasn't the wisest choice.  Eventually the current relented a bit and the vine loosened on my ankle allowing me to float down a ways and grab onto a branch.  Then Ramsey was able to help me grab another branch and then another and get to a point where we could touch the sandy river bottom with our feet.

It all felt really dramatic and dangerous in the moment but when Sarah played back the video for us I realized that it just looked like a bunch of fools floundering in shallow waters of a river.  But as ridiculous as it looks please heed my words...learn from my mistakes dear readers and DO NOT BE A MORON.  If you are in Guyana just stay out of the river.

Now for your viewing pleasure here is the link to YouTube where the lovely Sarah Marie Simmons uploaded our foolishness.  

Now remember, Guyana is definitely worth seeing.  Don't let my idiocy deter you from seeing this beautiful and amazing land.  Here are just a few of the highlights of this "Land of Many Waters":

Guyana has beautiful giant water lilies...

...beautiful people...

...beautiful sunsets...

...awesome spiny trees...

...enormous ants...

...enormous skies...

...enormous hearts...

...rare golden frogs...
...and the breathtaking 741 ft Kaieteur Falls...

...and finally, where else in the world do you get to stand at
the edge of a pristine untouched 741 ft waterfall and look
at the next view?

This view is worth almost drowning.

My Dog Looks Like a Baby Hippo

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Remembering a Poor Life Decision: The McDonut

A lot of people look back and their twenties and shake their head in shame at poor life decisions that they made.  For me personally, when I look back on this period in my life, I regret a decision I made in the fall of 2008 while in the Croatian city of Rijeka for the World Congress of Bioethics.  My colleague Magnolia and her husband and I snuck out of a session on mental health disorders in the Balkans to go in search of food.  What we found haunts me until this day.

The McDonut

Rijeka, Croatia is a fascinating place regardless of the McDonut (which we will learn more about later).  Continuously inhabited since the neolithic period  by various peoples of the Adriatic region, Rijeka is now Croatia's principle seaport and third largest city.  It was once considered among the premiere seaside vacation destinations of the aristocracy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the city is still filled with gorgeous examples of baroque and art nouveau architecture...although their facades are peppered by the occasional bullet hole or sign of artillery shelling or bronze placard to the fallen from the civil wars of the 1990s that ravaged the Balkans.  

Rijeka's famed clock tower

From Rijeka tourists can take a ferry to the nearby Isle of Krk where apparently the people who once lived there in the town of Vrbnik must have been really short and are now just really opposed to the wearing of Speedos???  Apparently they aren't fond of vowels either.

There are so many ways to interpret this sign.

Rijeka and it's environs have many fine features for tourists to take in but perhaps the heartbeat of the city is its McDonald's.  Located right in the center of the city across from the famous clock tower it is a warm welcoming beacon to weary travelers.  The familiar smells of fries and whatever other mystery ingredients go into making up the classic and ubiquitous McDonald's aroma drift through the streets.  My friends Magnolia and Angel and I were helpless to resist. 

I love a McDonald's in a 19th century building.

Inside the McDonald's there was a sign that pretty much summed up our mindset at that point in time.  The slogan, "All Roads to Lead to McDonald's" was emblazoned across the top.  

Svi putevi vode u McDonald's
All Roads Lead to McDonald's

Upon looking at the menu up on the wall I saw something that I had never ever seen before and was immediately intrigued by:  The McDonut.  Now I have been to McDonald's in India where they have the vegetarian Maharaja Mac and then to McDonald's in the Middle East where you can order the shwarma-style McArabia.  But never before had mine eyes beheld the sight nor my mine ears heard of this mythical item known as the McDonut.  I had to try it.

Magnolia is skeptical if it is actually even edible.

Instant regret.  The McDonut is kind of like a stale bagel with a puddle of congealed unidentifiable fruit filling in the center and then the whole thing is sprinkled with powdered sugar.  It was sort of like a really bad desert on a strange third world airliner.  Horrific.

At one point I thought it was actually looking back at me.

Someday when I have my own children perhaps I can warn them not to sample mysterious multinational corporation produced baked goods in the Balkans and spare them the experience.  My friend Magnolia was only able to rebound from the experience by ordering a Filet-O-Fish.

Magnolia washing the taste away with some fries.

So boys and girls, the moral of this story is that if you ever find yourself in Rijeka, Croatia a pang of hunger in your belly and some time to kill make your way to the McDonald's in the city center and order yourself up a falafel Big Mac and some I did the next day.  And remind yourself that if it sounds like a bad idea [McDonalds + donut = McDonut] then realize that it probably is and walk away.  

Mmmm good!  Falafel Big Mac!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Mark of the Medusa

In a little less than a month I am leaving for Haiti on a work assignment and in order to prepare for this impending visit to the poorest country in the Western hemisphere I have been soliciting travel tips from anyone and everyone who has ever set foot on or around the fair isle of Hispaniola.  In collecting these nuggets of travel wisdom it occurred to me that this blog is sadly lacking in travel writing and thus tonight I am launching the first post in a series of common sense travel advise that I hope will offer the eighteen people who read this blog with some actually useful information.

I figured the best story to kick this series off with was the one that contained the most graphic photo I have of myself versus the elements and the one that paints a picture of me epically failing at employing common sense.  So without further ado...

In the summer of 2008 I was vacationing in Menorca in the Balearic Islands off the coast of Spain with some friends.  They had rented a house high atop the rocky cliffs of Cala En Brut, which is arguably one of the most beautiful coves in all of the world, and we spent a week enjoying lazy days by the seaside.

See what I mean?  It's pretty friggin' amazing.

How could you resist the temptation to jump in that water?

One afternoon I decided to take a stroll down the footpath that led to the crystal clear turquoise waters of the Mediterranean.  Much to my surprise it was around two o'clock in the afternoon and there wasn't a single soul to be found on the beach.  The weather was perfect.  The water was perfect.  And yet no one seemed to be taking advantage of this little slice of heaven on earth but me.  How could this be?  It seemed too good to be true?  Well, a half-way intelligent person would have realized that if it seems too good to be probably is.

But apparently I am not a half-way intelligent person...because I did a swan dive off the cliff into the perfectly luke warm water below.  I did the backstroke.  I did some summersaults.  I floated on my back for a while.  It was quite possibly the best swim of my life and nothing could interrupt my bliss.

Just then I heard my friend Magnolia's heavily Castillian accented voice calling out to me from the rocky cliffs.  I opened my eyes and waved at her.  She managed to snap this picture.

Blissful Ignorance

I could barely hear Magnolia shouting something that sounded vaguely like "Weenie, Weenie...hay Medusa!"  I waved back at her hollering, "Hi Magnolia, the water is fine!"  She seemed to be jumping up and down on the cliff looking increasingly concerned.  But I couldn't be sure if I was reading her right until a second later when something that felt like what I can only imagine a bolt of lighting to a cartoon character might feel like slapped the insides of my thighs.

Then I knew...yup, she was telling me there were jellyfish in the water.  I was an idiot.

I swam to shore and Magnolia and her husband Angel and some well-meaning and curious bystanders met me at the swim ladder.  I crawled up and this is what we saw...

The Mark of the Medusa

Now common wisdom prescribes that the best way to treat a sting from a jelly fish is to quickly douse it with an ammonia-rich liquid like the readily available compound human urine.  But I remembered reading a "Scientific American" article the previous year that said that urine was absolutely useless and even though it worked for Monica when Joey peed on her in an episode of "Friends" that was just an urban legend.  Whether it would work or not I declined the offer from several friendly folk who were about to spring into action and decided to just "walk it off".

So the moral of this story boys and girls is that if you ever find yourself strolling along a world-famous beach that is the playground of the rich and famous and you find that it is conspicuously Twilight Zone deserted...assume there is a good reason for it and retreat.  

Monday, October 1, 2012

Victory in a Poo!

I realize that this post isn't necessarily going to class up my blog...but anytime you can train your new puppy to poop outside and not inside...well I think that is cause for celebration.  I am just sorry that I had to sacrifice Dottie the Dog's dignity in order to share this victory with the world.

Dottie is thinking:  "Is it really necessary to be photographing this?