09 January 2017

Camel Therapy

You thought cuddly puppies and fluffy kittens were effective pet therapy. In many situations such as for for the senile, the grieving, the terminally ill ... animals can be comforting. Therapy aside, it is thought that young children growing up with and caring for animals encourages kindness and responsibility.

Then there's the whole separate category of therapeutic riding that provides children and adults of different disabilities with the physical and mental benefits of outdoor recreational activity. Personal support often accompanies it to enhance social and communications skills.

My active, awesome, ageless sister-in-law operates such a Therapeutic Riding School.

But wait. You've heard of camel hair that makes beautiful, warm wool. We're becoming accustomed to live camels playing their part in nativity scenes around the world. What's new in health-conscious circles is the growing consumption of *** camel milk. As if that weren't enough exposure, this just into my inbox:


A new venture in suburban New York State, Green Chimneys Farm is using camels to assist "children challenged by anxiety, attention deficits, and difficulties with emotional regulation to develop and make connections between the camels’ behavior and their own."[1]

Green Chimneys Farm

Why camels??

Well, the farm will tell you three ways their Bactrian camels accomplish this (if I understand it correctly):
* Camels are exotic; their appearance and size captures attention;
* Camels are trained differently from other animals; their innate curiosity seeks social engagement and requires consistent interaction;
* Camels have emotional flexibility like humans, the occasional unpredictable mood; it's a two-way street between student and animal.

Therapists work with the children as well as the camel handlers in a safe environment. The farm itself, boasting an incredible variety of animals, is quite the going concern with a variety of speciality educational programs and professional staff in place.

No, I'm not a client or a shill. Nor do I have any idea of their satisfaction rate or how they measure it. It's not difficult to see how social skills and self-confidence of the children (the "students") would increase by bonding with the big animals. But what exactly is it they do with them? I'm still puzzled as to whether the camel sessions include riding the animals. Or is it a kind of camel whispering process? My questions keep coming. Why Bactrians? Do they or don't they have less stable temperaments than dromedaries?

Regardless. Along with camel-lovers world-wide, I have to agree with Guy Seeklus, owner of the new Camel Safari near Mesquite, Nevada: Compared to horses, camels are more affectionate, more intelligent and easier to train.”[2]

Can I convince my sister-in-law?

[1] 12 November 2016, Brewster's Hamlet Hub (http://news.hamlethub.com/brewster/places/3325-3-ways-camels-make-for-unusual-and-awesome-therapy-partners : accessed 3 December 2016).
[2] Denise Roch, 22 November 2016, "The Camel Whisperer," 3News (Las Vegas) (http://news3lv.com/news/local/tuesday-at-6-the-camel-whisperer : accessed 3 December 2016).

© 2016 Brenda Dougall Merriman

31 December 2016

Copenhagen, Denmark 2016

Tucked into an alley off a main city street and up one storey, our Carlton Guldsmeden Hotel was perfect, couldn't have been more pleasing! Perfect because we enjoy offbeat or historical or even quirky places to stay. Quaintly boutique-ish, there's nothing ordinary about the Carlton in its eco-friendly, Green Globe-certified operation or its casual, completely organic cafe. Love plopping into those comfy balcony lounges after a hard day of touring. My Dutch kinfolk know how to pick 'em! Trip Advisor, here I come :)

You wouldn't be in Copenhagen if you didn't tour by bicycle ... at least partly. You wouldn't be me if you didn't apply the brakes too fast on a rented bike and end up ass-over-teakettle on the cobblestones. Mercifully, no broken body parts and no photo. There's a lot to be said for the restorative powers of coffee. The city is said, arguably, to rival Amsterdam for two-wheeled traffic.


Not too much later, on the hind end of a tandem bike, I could nurse my sprained and bruised ego hand while pedalling and sightseeing at the same time. Good thing experienced arms were steering the vehicle. That was the day we went over the bridge and wound our way to Freetown (Christiania), the somewhat controversial "alternative society." Definitely colourful! It's a bastion of hippyness where a few thousand people live in a car-free, self-governing area, a mix of alternate lifestyles, odd houses, artisan workshops, music and art events, and a huge amount of overt cannabis. Photography is prohibited on Pusher Street but deeply breathing the pungent air is not ...

 The strange park Nemoland with its beer garden atmosphere serves over-priced hamburgers and souvlaki from concessions that have seen better days. At least coffee!

In the centre of the city, Tivoli Gardens was a wonderful place to explore as dusk approached. And the gardens are lovely. Tea houses, pavilions, and restaurants dot the grounds. Families usually head for the myriad of iconic rides; plenty of attractions and walking room for all ages. Stopping here and there for coffee and/or beer is a must.

When the lights start blooming, it's a festive atmosphere. We chose gourmet dining that night.

One day we lunched at a popular beer haus; with two cider drinkers along, the beer fan had to do all the tasting. But oh the tasty spreads and sandwiches!

It was enough to sustain us for walking the pedestrian Strøget over three kilometres past historical buildings in the city's oldest section, plus ubiquitous cafés and shopping to Kongens Nytorv (King's Square). Poking into narrow side streets along the way reveals silent old cloisters, occasional mediaeval structures, the Church of the Holy Ghost, antique shops.

Posters and graffiti are irresistible to me:

At King's Square we were adjacent to the canal quays of colourful Nyhavn, the now-gentrified seventeenth century port for the old inner city. Coffee latté to nourish the return trip!

At the end of which, naturally, we needed even more at the Planetarium café ...

So much to see in Copenhagen, alas, much more than we had time for. We missed out on castles and museums and even The Little Mermaid (gasp!) this time. But one out-of-the-way site intrigued and still puzzles me. No, it's actually it's driving me crazy trying to identify it. It's a brick facade propped in a seemingly unlikely place by a children's playground or nursery school in Vesterbro. It resembles the entrance of a fort or castle; if there was a sign we did not see it. Was it part of the old fortified city wall? Was it moved here from elsewhere? Is it a restoration? A reproduction?
Can you help??

© 2016 Brenda Dougall Merriman. All rights reserved.

15 December 2016

Jahnsi and Jaipur, India 2009

Gratuitous photo, Khajuraho temple carvings
One day it was a long drive from Khajuraho to Jahnsi through rural countryside. The roads were terrible, often being one lane. ONE lane. Our bus driver deserved a medal when it came to passing. Which he chose to do at random, terrifying moments. At Jahnsi we were catching the train to Agra. The Jahnsi train platform looked like this:
Photo M.A. Waring 2009
Jahnsi and Jaipur really have nothing to do with each other but you had to see this photo.
Because cow.
Or rather, a steer. (Possibly waiting for the Darjeeling Limited?)

So my flimsy theme is merely to show that India has animals other than camels. Go ahead, snicker.

Jaipur has elephants. Jaipur has the Amber Fort. They go together.
The eleventh century Amber Fort has miles of wall protecting it. The walls are so high it's a long steep way to the entrance.
Luckily our carriages await us.

Vendors pestered us to buy a Rajput prince's hat to suit the occasion.
The fort itself was magnificent (and huge) ... let it be said that India wonderfully preserves and maintains such historic complexes. My favourite part was the mirror room:

About this time photography began to disinterest me as a war developed between the good bacteria and the stomach invaders. Delhi belly. And here we'd been careful to drink beer (Kingfisher, yes) with meals, doing our best to avoid this nuisance. Dinner the night before in our small family-run hotel seemed fine but maybe I'd had one spinach paneer too much, or maybe it was the bottle cap slowly revealed at the bottom of my beer glass. YUCK!

Hotel greeter

Something to do with puppets
Hotel greeters had been eager to put on a puppet show for us but most of us hit the sack. Some of us thought forever. Did I say nuisance? Prescription Cipro and over-the-counter remedies were useless. Hours of semi-comatose state rendered the ceiling in our room and parts of the bathroom way too familiar.

Palace of the Winds, Jaipur
Next day we saw the intricately carved sandstone Wind Palace in the middle of Jaipur. Or so they tell me. That was after an emergency pharmacy stop where half of us loaded up on even more treatments. You'll have to look up this extraordinary "screened porch" yourself.

Never mind. We all know the misery passes. Jaipur, on the whole you were lovely.
To be fair, Indian elephants are not confined to the Amber Fort in Jaipur. Nor are cattle only seen waiting for trains in Jahnsi. You knew that.
Photo Jonathan Hodgson 2009

All other photos BDM 2009

© 2016 Brenda Dougall Merriman


27 November 2016

Wadi Rum, Jordan 2016

Photo of my camel ride in spectacular Wadi Rum, possibly the most beautiful desert in the world:

That's right. No photo. Didn't happen. No visit. No camel!
My wildly anticipated third visit to Wadi Rum was a bust.

In fact, our entire promised schedule was destroyed by Mother Nature in a fit of November pique. Brings you face to face with climate change, this rainfall that "normally" would have occurred two months earlier. For us, the storm began in Sharm el-Sheik (Sinai, Egypt). Witnessing the dramatic thunder, lightning, downpour, wind, and hail was rather overwhelming in such an arid area. Sharm received its "average" annual rainfall in that one day, its streets turning into rivers of mud.

The same deluge had hit south Jordan by the time we reached Aqaba, at the south end of the King's Highway (and the north end of the Red Sea) leading to the high desert. In good faith we set off on the one-hour trip to our destination but at the Wadi Rum Protected Area boundary we were turned back. Although only a few mild rain showers were occurring by then, flash floods from the surrounding mountains had wrecked the tents and preparations of our Bedouin hosts impossible to receive us. Not only that, the road was eroding and officials clearly wanted to avoid facing stranded, woebegone tourists.

At a standstill while our driver contemplated a tricky about-face manoeuvre, we had to suck up the huge disappointment. Our local guide hastily (and inadequately) improvised his planned discourse. Distant views across the desert did not compensate. Nor did a makeshift tour around Aqaba. Even the inhabitants were excitedly gathered at the vista of a newly-born turbulent river, rushing to the sea beside the highway.

What a terrible shame in more ways than one. Tourism in Egypt everywhere suffered a mortal blow after last year's explosion of a Russian airliner departing from Sharm. So many Egyptians depend on the industry to support their families. They are warm, friendly, good-natured people, trying to stay optimistic. Atmanna laka al'afdal (I wish you the best) from me and my fellow travellers.

Wadi Rum nostalgia:


Photos: BDM
© 2016 Brenda Dougall Merriman

15 November 2016

Baida, Jordan 2007

A side trip, ten miles from Petra, through more stunning country to a mini-Nabatean site. Baida is often called "Little Petra" because of its similar geology and evidence of human occupation. From here, one descends to Wadi Araba, part of the Rift Valley. Like Petra itself, it's a canyon ― you would not want to be caught here when rain causes flash floods ― lined with tombs and grottoes in the cliffs. The ancient Nabatean cisterns are still in use, collecting winter rain for local needs. Intriguing staircases once led to dwellings.
Photo without benefit of sunlight somewhat enhanced
 This is land of the Bedouin, the Bdool tribe. It has been suggested, due to their being unrelated to other nearby tribes, that they are descendants of the original Nabatean inhabitants. In the village of Um Sayhoun they were given homes and government resources along with perpetual use of the surroundings in exchange for abandoning their seasonal cave dwellings in Petra. But their traditional tents and goats continue to dot the landscape. Children were excited to greet some unexpected visitors.

A woman was weaving while someone quickly thought to display local jewellery to tempt us.

Probably the most awesome site here is the partially excavated Neolithic village. Dated to 7,000-6500 BC, it has been called the oldest known site where human beings were agriculturally active. "Some of the archaeological finds date to the 9th and 10th millennia BC."[1]

The village was rebuilt over hundreds, thousands, of years. In the oldest section, house foundations were partially dug into the ground and would have had some shelter overhead. An ancient winepress speaks to their cultivation ― Nabatean wine has been found in tombs in Egypt. The climate was more salubrious and the land more fertile 9000 years ago!

Contemplating this manifestation of (Jordan's segment of) the Great Rift Valley was breathtaking ― absorbing the visuals, feeling the textures, hearing the kids' chatter, breathing the air. Moments out of time.

With the assistance of "Petra and Nearby Baida," Ruth's Jordan Jubilee (http://www.jordanjubilee.com/visitjor/petra4.htm : accessed 14 November 2016).

[1] Site plaque: seventh photo.

Photos: BDM, 2007

© 2016 Brenda Dougall Merriman