November 5, 2012
The presidential candidates look as suave and dapper as ever each time they step to a new podium on the long and winding campaign trail—but each man’s well-groomed countenance belies the rigors of the arduous road each has traveled during the 2012 presidential race. Following is a discussion, with some facts and figures from behind the scenes, about the two men fighting to have America’s most demanding job and each candidate’s long, long journey that ends tomorrow at the polls.
Where the candidates have been:
Between June 1 and November 2, the Obama camp—including the president, the vice president and each man’s spouse—made 483 campaign-related appearances. Barack Obama was present for 214 of them. The same four-tiered Romney party, meanwhile, made 439 appearances, with 277 by Romney. In late September, the Obama campaign’s efforts seemed to max out: on September 22, the Obamas and the Bidens made 11 appearances, and 10 the day prior. The Romney camp has more recently made its most active efforts, with 10 appearances on October 31, and 11 the next day. Barack Obama has not visited Montana, Idaho, or Wyoming, among other states, and neither candidate has bothered appearing in Maine, Kansas, Nebraska, Tennessee, Kentucky and Oklahoma.
On October 24, Obama had what may have been the busiest day of his campaign. He flew 5,300 miles and made appearances in Iowa, Colorado, California (to appear on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno) and Nevada, before, at last, catching some sleep on an overnight trip to the major swing state of Florida (which has seen 112 campaign visits by both presidential husband-wife quartets since June), where the campaigning commenced the following morning. Later that day, the president continued to Virginia, Ohio and Illinois, where he cast an early vote. A week later, Obama made another campaign sprint beginning on October 31; forty-eight hours later he had bounded 6,500 miles around the country. November 1 was a particularly exhausting day. After leaving the White House at 9:20 a.m., he hit Green Bay, Las Vegas, Denver and, finally, Columbus, Ohio. And on November 4, he left the White House at 8 a.m. and made visits to New Hampshire, Florida, Ohio, Colorado and Illinois.
How they get there:
The president gets around in his own private jet, called Air Force One. While “Air Force One” is, in fact, the call sign of any Air Force plane on which a U.S. president is traveling, the term more commonly refers to a particular pair of customized Boeing 747s used exclusively by the White House. Operating the planes is not cheap. ABC News has reported that an hour of flight on Air Force One costs about $180,000–usually of taxpayers’ money, unless a flight is considered strictly part of the campaign. But Obama does occasionally journey overland by bus—specifically in a black, slick and shiny armored coach that, just like its duplicate vehicle, cost $1.1 million when the Secret Service purchased the pair last year. By some guesses, Ground Force One, as it’s been dubbed and which has been active during this campaign, travels just six to nine miles on a gallon of gasoline.
Mitt Romney has also covered some impressive distance during his campaign. According to the Huffington Post, Romney will make a last-minute, four-day, 15,000-mile dash that ends tonight after visits to seven states, and he has traveled tens of thousands of miles throughout the campaign. As of late August, he has been traveling mostly on a private jet—a McDonnell-Douglas 83. Running mate Paul Ryan has his own plane—a similar model called the DC-90.
Where they sleep:
Luxury travel goes hand in hand with luxury lodging, and the president has stayed at the Beverly Hills Beverly Hilton Hotel in a room that costs $4,000 per night, the Ballantyne Hotel in Charlotte, North Caroline, the Hotel Bellevue in Washington, and many other fine establishments. And Romney has stayed at the Charleston Place Hotel in Charleston, the New York Palace Hotel, which can cost $9,000 per night, and the Millennium Bostonian Hotel.
How they stay fit:
In spite of their busy schedules, Obama and Romney both take the time to care for themselves and maintain physical fitness. Romney, it’s been reported, jogs three miles daily, whether on treadmills, around the hotel premises or on trails. Obama, too, keeps an exercise routine and aims for 45 minutes of boosted heart rate per day, achieved through running, basketball and even boxing. Although one of the Air Force One jets contains a treadmill, as Obama recently told Jay Leno, the stationary running machine was installed during a previous presidency and Obama does not jog on it during flights.
In the end, for all the sleepless nights and airport marathons and shaking of hands, we wonder: Did their campaign efforts steer the election? Whether Romney wins or Obama, America will know soon which man will get to spend the next four years flying in Air Force One.
October 17, 2012
Today we continue on the thread we left dangling a week ago—of unexpected places to find locally made wine. We looked at Baja California, China, India and North Carolina—each of which offers wine-tasting trails for unknowing tourists who might have been bracing themselves for a dry vacation. This time, we find a surprise wine industry in America, unlikely vineyards bearing the heat of the tropics, and grapevines planted by experimental winegrowers nearly two miles above sea level.
Kenya. For decades, travelers to Central Africa were content to spend their days watching some of the most spectacular animals on the planet. As of recently, tourists can also go wine tasting, for vineyards are now growing in Kenya, almost smack on the Equator, on the shores of Lake Naivasha. The industry here dates back to 1985, when an experimental winery released 4,400 bottles of the nation’s first grape wines. Since then, local wine culture has not exactly flourished but has continued in a wavering, uncertain path. Several wine labels have appeared, and the industry has been troubled by everything from tropical diseases, muggy air and seasonal rains to the difficulty of correctly spelling complicated grape names. “Cabrenet Sourvignor,” “Chardonney,” “Cheny Blanc” and “Chaney Blanc” are all named in a single 2008 article about Kenya’s wines at allAfrica.com. But the arrival of seasoned wine pro James Farquharson in 2007 at Rift Valley Winery may have marked the beginning of better times. A winemaker trained in South Africa, Farquharson immediately ripped out 70 acres of struggling vines in the Lake Naivasha basin, imported new rootstock from home and started fresh under the label Leleshwa. In 2008, the property’s vines produced 10,000 bottles of wine, and subsequently production exploded: in 2010, Farquharson reeled in a bumper crop amounting to 88,000 bottles (although that’s because the exuberant plants produced two crops that year, something that grapevines may do in the tropics), and Rift Valley Winery has said it has plans to boost its bottle yield into the millions within several years.
Texas. They say that red wine goes well with beef—and in Texas, grapes grow among the cattle herds. In fact, the Lone Star State has been a home to winemaking for centuries. One of the first vineyards in America was planted here by Franciscan priests around 1662. Today, the wine industry of Texas includes eight American Viticultural Areas (AVAs), shared by 190 wineries at last count. Among these is Becker Vineyards, the first winery to grow both Viognier and Roussanne grapes in Texas. Becker’s wine is mostly grown in the Texas Hill Country and the High Plains AVAs, with an emphasis on grape varieties of France’s Burgundy, Bordeaux and Rhone Valley regions. In Fredericksburg, in the Hill Country, Pedernales Cellars focuses on Tempranillo, the superstar grape of Spain, and also makes a Merlot, a port-style sweet wine and a sort of spiced wine called Glögg, popular as a holiday drink in Sweden. And representing the Texas High Plains AVA is, among others, Caprock Winery, known for Roussanne—its flagship white—and its heavyset Tempranillo. And while the industry is thriving by all accounts, Texas’s wine country amounts to just a drop in the bucket of American wine production. While California makes more than three billion bottles of wine each year, Texas produces just 16 million.
Israel. Even Greece, France, Italy and Spain only adopted the wine grape in relatively recent times—but in Israel, the world’s favorite juicy fruit is truly at home. For this is old Bible country, and according to at least one written document, wine was flowing here perhaps 4,000 years before Jesus was born, even if drunkenness was condemned. Today, 300 Israeli wineries collectively make 35 million bottles each year—enough wine to fill 53 Olympic-size swimming pools. The five appellations include Shomron, Samson, Judean Hills, Negev and, the most reputed of all, Galilee. Located in the northeast of Israel, the Galilee appellation includes two of the nation’s best grape-growing regions, the Upper Galilee and the Golan Heights, where vineyards dwell at some 4,000 feet of elevation. Though the nation was once home to a variety of indigenous grapes, the era of Muslim rule, which began in 636 and continued in waves for several hundred years, squashed the local culture of winemaking, which came to a halt in the eight century. As this article tells the story, “Vines grew old and handsome on the plateaus of the Golan Heights and in the desert oases to the south, but they were not propagated; no loving hands cut and cloned the favored cultivars of the country. … [H]eritage grapes melted into the wild. The genetic material remains in the wild grapes of the land, yet it is essentially lost.” Oh well. The superstar French grapes would probably have taken center stage anyway, and today Cab, Pinot, Merlot and Syrah are alive and well in Israel’s wine country. Want to take a tour? Go with a guide—or wend your own way. Tourist-friendly tasting destinations include Golan Heights, Tishbi and Carmel wineries.
Japan. Wine grapes were born in Asia Minor. Many varieties went west and assumed star status in France and Italy. A few wound up rooted in Muslim soils and were either relegated to raisin-making duties or destroyed entirely. And a few varieties went east. Of these, one traveled so far that it could travel no more, and it made itself at home in Japan: the Koshu grape. Eventually, this variety became the source of a traditional white sweet wine of the same name. Though the world’s wine cognoscenti reviled Koshu for years as simple, sugary rotgut, wine connoisseurs have more recently decreed that, whoops, we were wrong—Koshu is actually good. It’s an unlikely and abrupt turnaround—but it’s true. Even the New York Times has reported that Japan’s native wine is gaining a place at posh tasting bars and has become the cherished craft of a handful of Japanese wineries, each striving to create an export market for high-quality Koshu. But don’t wait. Go get it at the source. In the Yamanashi Prefecture, south of Tokyo on the main island, you’ll find Katsunuma Winery, Grace Winery and Chateau Lumiere. Each features a selection of table wines as well as some of Japan’s most highly regarded Koshu.
More Wines from Weird Places: The Short List
England. In England, winemaking traditions have waxed and waned with natural climatic cycles, like the Little Ice Age and the Medieval Warm Period (a boom time for local wines). Now, temperatures in England’s southwest have increased by about 3 degrees Fahrenheit since 1961—enough to allow a resurgence of production. Today, more than 400 wineries are in operation, and in this corner of the globe, the weather forecast is bright and sunny.
Morocco. The fermented juice of the grape is a forbidden pleasure for 98 percent of the mostly Muslim Moroccan population. Yet winemaking is legal in Morocco, and the wine is said to be perfectly good—though it takes a tourist with a keen nose to find it.
Thailand. Where Western winds blow, wine seems to grow. And in Thailand, touched in recent times by the strong influence of global tourism, several wineries have appeared in the past 15 years or so. Thai wine is made using both the local Pok Dum grape as well as classic varieties from Europe. This review says the Siam Winery Pok Dum wine carries notes of seaweed.
How High Can You Grow? Grapevines are marvelously adaptable and can grow from sea level to lands far, far above—but how far above? The Wine Institute of California has reported the Shadow Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard in San Diego County to be the state’s highest, at 4,400 feet above sea level—but that’s nothing. As reported above, Kenyan vineyards lie at 6,500 feet. Wine grapes in Colorado are doing their business at up to 7,000 feet. But it’s in the Andes where California-based wine star Donald Hess, of the Hess Collection, has ditched the competition in the valleys below. At Hess’s Bodega Colomé in Argentina, wines are made from grapes grown as high as 10,200 feet above sea level in Argentina’s Calchaqui Valley. These go unchallenged as the highest vineyards in the world.
October 9, 2012
People have traveled for many, many reasons. They have traveled to explore, to discover and to rediscover. They have traveled to eat and to drink, to attend college and to skip college; to protest war, to wage war and to dodge war; to make music and to hear music; to pray and to do yoga; to climb mountains, go fishing, go shopping, find love, find work, go to school, party, gamble and, sometimes, just to get away from it all. Some travel for the thrill of coming home again. Some people have traveled to die.
There is also a strange yet commanding allure in traveling abroad to visit the grim preserved sites of disasters and atrocities. In 2010, for instance, almost one-and-a-half million people visited the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum, where there is often hardly a dry eye in the house. The scene of at least 1.1 million murders is funded and maintained to preserve some of the hardest evidence that remains of the Holocaust, and to offer visitors a vague understanding of what it might have felt like to be a prisoner here in 1944. We may all have read about the Holocaust, Auschwitz and the gas chambers in schoolbooks, but nothing makes it all become so real like approaching Auschwitz’s iron gates, where one may shiver at the sight of an overhead sign reading, “Arbeit macht frei.” So plainly a lie from our illuminated vantage point of the future, the words translate into, “Labor makes you free.” Inside, tour guides lead groups past waist-deep piles of eyeglasses, shoes and artificial limbs and crutches, all worn and dirty as the day they were stripped from their owners. There even remain tangled heaps of human hair, which the Germans had planned to use for making clothing. Farther through the camp, tourists see the ominous train tracks that terminate at Auschwitz, the captives’ living quarters, and the gas chambers and ovens where they met their ends. Just how many died at Auschwitz may be uncertain. Figures cited in online discussions range from just over a million people to more than four million. No, the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum is not a fun place to go. And tourists flock here. As of 2010, 29 million people had visited.
Where else do people go to pay tribute to tragedies?
Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Perhaps never have so many people died in one place, in one instant, as in Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. That day, at 8:15 in the morning, 70,000 human lives ended. By 1950, 200,000 people may have died as a result of the bombing and its radioactive legacy. Today, the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum preserves a vivid image of that day’s horror. The numbers above do not account for the city of Nagasaki, where the bombing on August 9 caused the deaths of between 60,000 and 80,000 people. The bomb dropped on this city (it was nicknamed “Fat Man”) was said to be stronger than the Hiroshima bomb (nicknamed “Little Boy”), but the hilly terrain of Nagasaki prevented the complete destruction of the city and surely saved many lives. For those lost, a memorial museum in Nagasaki preserves the tragedy–and neither of the two terrible bombings of Japan is an event that posterity is willing to forget.
Gettysburg. One of the very bloodiest battles of the Civil War, the three days of combat at Gettysburg cost about 7,000 American soldiers their lives. Total casualties–including soldiers taken prisoner and those reported missing–amounted to 51,000. After General Lee retreated, his victorious momentum of months prior fizzled, and historians consider the Battle of Gettysburg the event that drove the outcome of the Civil War, and shaped the future of America. The battlefield has been preserved much as the soldiers in blue and gray saw it on July 1, 2 and 3 of 1863, though today it goes by the institutional moniker Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitors Center. Cannons remain poised for battle, their barrels still aimed over the fields where swarms of men once moved. Statues depict soldiers in action. And row after row of headstones represent the lives lost. Other preserved Civil War battlefields include Fort Sanders, Fort Davidson, Helena, Manassas, Fredericksburg and Antietam, where more than 3,600 soldiers died on a single day.
Ground Zero at the former New York World Trade Center. For many people living who are old enough to remember 9/11, the chronology of our world can be divided into two eras–the time before the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center, and the years that have followed. Exactly a decade after the attack, the National September 11 Memorial & Museum opened to commemorate the time and place that more than 3,000 people abruptly died in the downtown heart of one of America’s greatest cities. The site commemorating the tragedy features two depressions in the city floor where each of the Twin Towers previously stood, and visitors who have seen the buildings fall on TV scores of times may nonetheless marvel that it’s true: The two skyscrapers really are gone. Each memorial is walled with polished stone and rimmed by an unbroken waterfall that sprinkles into a pool below. The names of every victim who died in the attack are engraved in bronze plating along each pool’s perimeter. Visiting the memorial is free but requires reservations.
Wounded Knee Creek. On December 29, 1890, American soldiers marched onto the Lakota Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, in South Dakota, and strategically surrounded a camp of 350 Lakota Sioux people–most of whom were women and children. After setting up four wheel-mounted Hotchkiss guns to provide cover, a group of the soldiers advanced. Suspecting the presence of armed warriors under the leadership of Big Foot, whom the Army had been pursuing in the weeks prior, the soldiers intended to strip the Lakota of their weapons. A scuffle ensued between one soldier and a Lakota man. A shot was reportedly fired, and then panic ensued. Lakota Sioux and Americans alike began firing from all directions indiscriminately. Warriors, women and children fell dead–including the leaders Spotted Elk and Big Foot–along with 25 American soldiers (many possibly hit by “friendly” fire). Among the Lakota Sioux, 150 were dead, and the massacre–two weeks to the day after Sitting Bull was attacked and killed–marked the last major conflict between white Americans and the Sioux. An entire continent of indigenous cultures had been mostly eradicated. Today, the site of the Wounded Knee massacre is a national historic landmark.
Gallipoli Peninsula. Between April 25, 1915, and January 9, 1916, more than 100,000 soldiers died along the beaches of the Gallipoli Peninsula, in northwest Turkey. Turkish, French, English, New Zealand, Australian, German and Canadian troops all died here. Many casualties occurred during poorly arranged landings in which Turkish gunmen situated on cliffs dispatched entire boatloads of Allied soldiers before their boots had even touched the sand. Today, cemetery after cemetery line the waters of the Aegean Sea, with almost countless tombstones honoring one young soldier after another who was commanded to his death. Signs remind visitors that these public grounds are not to serve as picnic sites, which may be tempting. Sloped lawns of green-trimmed grass spread among the stones and run down to the water’s edge, where these soldiers came trampling ashore, while a plaque at Anzac Cove bears the words of the former Turkish ruler Mustafa Kemal: “Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives… You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side now here in this country of ours… you, the mothers, who sent their sons from faraway countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land. They have become our sons as well.” The Turks suffered the greatest losses during the siege–perhaps 80,000 or more soldiers killed–while the official New Zealand soldier death rate of nearly 32 percent may be an inflated statistic, according to some historians. Now, ANZAC Day (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps Day) occurs every 25th day of April, an event that draws thousands to participate in services in the nearest cities, like Eceabat, Gelibolu and Çanakkale. The 100th anniversary of the first day of the siege will take place April 25, 2015.
October 3, 2012
Where would we be without snakes? Rodent populations might boom, the native bird assemblage of Guam would probably remain mostly intact today and 100,000 people every year would not die of venomous bites. As we can see, snakes bring both good and bad to the world we share with them. But mostly, these reptiles have been cast in the role of evil.
It’s easy to see why, if we just take a glance at the scariest of the lot—the venomous snakes. Indeed, it might take a very persuasive herpetologist on field sabbatical in Ecuador to convince the locals that the pit viper of his thesis focus is anything but a device of the devil. Throughout the New World tropics, roughly 2,000 people die every year from the bite of the pit viper (Bothrops atrox), known also as the fer-de-lance. Its close cousin, B. asper, goes by the same common names and is comparably devastating and said to be so aggressive it will chase people, bent on sharing some of its powerful venom. And in Africa, the black mamba (Dendroaspis polylepis) seems so wicked it’s absurd: It is the fastest snake in the world and can slither more swiftly than the average city cyclist pedals to work; it is the second-longest venomous snake, growing to 14 feet; it may strike a single victim repeatedly like a psycho with a butcher knife; its venom is so potent it can kill a horse—and a person in just 30 minutes; and, in bite victims who go untreated, the mortality rate is—get this—100 percent. In other words, nobody—that’s nobody—on a trek in the wilderness of tropical Africa, hours from the nearest doctor and without antivenin, survives the bite of the black mamba. As locals say, this snake delivers the “kiss of death.”
Stories of such creatures can leave indelible impressions on the tender minds of men—so indelible that no matter how plain and obvious it is that the harmless gopher snake—or king snake, or rat snake—is a peaceful friend of society that wants little more than to eat a rat (a job that somebody’s got to do, and how grateful we should be that snakes have volunteered), many people still call snake control and removal experts when one appears on their property. Forgive them, Mother Nature, for they know not what they do. Now, whether you love them or hate them, here are a few iconic species to watch for when traveling, from those wickedly venomous to those worth learning more about before you cast your judgment.
Reticulated python (Python reticulatus). Probably the longest snake in the world (if not the heaviest), the reticulated python of Southeast Asia is also an occasional man-eater and a popular pet. (Go figure that one. I’ll stick with my yellow Lab.) Recently, a 25-footer weighing 350 pounds was named the largest snake in captivity—but just how big the largest “retic” ever to have lived might never be known. In 2003, one snake was reported to be 49 feet long and weigh more than 900 pounds. Only when journalist John Aglionby of The Guardian made a trip to see and measure the creature, being kept in a cage in a village in Java, was its real size revealed: 23 feet. Why should we believe an English journalist and not the keeper of the snake, you ask? Come on. Forty-nine feet? Anyway, read Aglionby’s article, which explains the difficulty in measuring large, coiled-up snakes. Worthy to note when discussing the biggest snakes is that between 1997 and 2002, the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society offered a $50,000 reward to anyone who could produce a 30-foot snake. The prize was never collected.
Ashe’s spitting cobra (Naja ashei). And you thought camels were nasty for spitting in strangers’ faces (they’re actually belching up their cud). Well, the spitting cobra doesn’t just spit; it spits venom. And since the venom is harmless to intact skin, the mean evolutionary tactic behind this nasty habit seems to be, precisely, to hit the victim in the eye, which can cause permanent blindness. Ashe’s spitting cobra is the largest of the dozen or so spitting cobra species, which live in Africa and Asia. N. ashei, first named only in 2007, reaches nine feet in length, has been seen eating five-foot-long puff adders (another deadly venomous snake) and, like all the spitting cobras, can also inject venom by biting. And while we’re discussing cobras, the king cobra (Ophiophagus hannah) can grow to twice the length of the Ashe’s spitting cobra and may administer, in one bite, two-tenths of an ounce of venom to its unfortunate victim—enough to kill an elephant. The species acts aggressively when cornered or when guarding a nest, in which the females lay their eggs, but does not commonly attack humans.
Green anaconda (Eunectes murinus). It is the biggest of the boas and perhaps the bulkiest of all snakes, but the South American green anaconda’s pop culture reputation as a killer may be entirely undeserved. The snake, which gives live birth to 20-inch babies and can reportedly grow to 28 feet and 280 pounds (according to the San Diego Zoo), is relatively sluggish and does not, with any regularity, attack humans.Yet people hate the creatures. Just check out the comments following this blog post about a pregnant anaconda killed by South American villagers. The author of the post questions why the animal was killed. Scores of readers responded like raving idiots at a public hanging. One argued that with 70 baby snakes inside her, the big snake was a population bomb about to go off and would have left the village crawling with hungry anacondas. And another reader said, “[W]e don t need snakes on this world.they are dangerous. i hate the snakes it s the animal of the devil…” Well spoken. Thank you. Next! “[T]hat thing could kill a horse.” No, it probably couldn’t. Next! “How could it possibly have been pregnant? It’s a SNAKE, snakes are REPTILES, and reptiles LAY EGGS!!!” Obviously not a herpetologist. Next! “[S]nake’s aren’t nice animals…there more like monsters who just wanna eat.” Brilliant. Next! “Either you eat the Anaconda, or the Anaconda eats YOU !” All right, all right! Order! In fact, there is no documented case of an anaconda killing a human.
Beaked sea snake (Enhydrina schistosa). Though the Australian inland taipan tops the list of the world’s most venomous snakes, the beaked sea snake isn’t far behind. Rated as the world’s sixth most venomous snake, it is considered the most dangerous sea snake. Its fangs may measure just four millimeters, and surfers and divers wearing wetsuits may be protected, though just barely, from this animal’s bite. Yet nine of every ten people killed by sea snakes are killed by the beaked sea snake, which is said to be easily provoked and very aggressive. It inhabits shallow, murky waters in Australia and much of the Indian Ocean, often among mangrove roots. Wading fishermen are frequent victims.
Santa Catalina Island rattlesnake (Crotalus catalinesis). If the flared hood of a cobra is the icon of danger in the heat of Africa and Asia, then the sound of a rattlesnake giving its warning might be that of the American desert. Which makes the rattlesnake without a rattle a riddle of evolution—though scientists have supposed that its rattleless tail may be a result of evolving on an island mostly absent of other creatures to communicate with. Otherwise, the Santa Catalina Island rattlesnake is a rattlesnake in every way—from head almost to tail. It is a dwarf among rattlesnakes, however, reaching a maximum size of just 28 inches long. It is also endemic to (that is, entirely limited to) the single Sea of Cortez island on which it lives, and—with just 100 square kilometers to call its own—the species is critically endangered. Predation by feral cats is a considerable threat.
Sobering facts about snakebites: In 2011, the BBC reported that snakes bite as many as 5.5 million people every year, killing at least 100,000. In India alone, the article stated, a million people may suffer snakebites every year. The Indian cobra, Russell’s viper, saw-scaled viper and common krait are the main perpetrators in India, while the king cobra tends often to be wrongly blamed. In sub-Saharan Africa, carpet vipers, black mambas, puff adders and boomslangs are snakes to be feared. In Australia, the snake blacklist is long and frightening, while in Europe vipers are the main culprit, and in North America, rattlesnakes. What to do if bitten by a snake? Antivenin is said to be the only reliable treatment, unfortunately. According to the 2011 revision of Where There Is No Doctor: A Village Health Care Handbook, the wound of a snakebite victim should be firmly wrapped in a bandage before the person is carried on a makeshift stretcher to the nearest doctor. “If you can, also take the snake,” the authors advise, as identifying the needed antivenin can otherwise be difficult. And things not to do after receiving a snakebite? Cutting the flesh near the wound, applying ice, trying to suck the venom out of the bite and having a beer (as alcohol can reportedly make symptoms worse).
September 28, 2012
If you’re frustrated with medical care in the United States, try getting appendicitis in Antarctica. This potentially deadly condition can strike essentially anyone at any time—and no time was less opportune for Leonid Rogozov than April 30, 1961, at Novolavarezskaya Station, when the 27-year-old Russian scientist was the only doctor within 1,000 miles. After several days of pain, Rogozov concluded he had appendicitis and might die unless he did something. So he lay down in a hospital cot, had assistants tilt a mirror just above his lower belly, administered a shot of Novocain and called for a scalpel. In an epic feat of bravery and anatomical mastery, Rogozov sliced himself open, found his appendix, removed it, sutured himself shut again and proceeded with the finer things in life at the bottom of the world. A similar episode occurred on February 13, 1984, when Dr. Igor Mogirev removed his companion Valentin Gorbachev’s appendix during a tractor journey between an Antarctic landmark known as Dome C and Mirny Station, from which the team was about 600 miles away. The operation was successful—and conducted in the blistering cold after the diesel heater was shut off to keep the fumes from entering the tent and Gorbachev’s abdominal cavity.
The onset of appendicitis, which involves an organ that we don’t even need to begin with, often causes pain around the belly button that then “moves” to the lower right corner of the abdomen, according to this medical advice website. Such a pattern of pain is a flaming red flag, and if nausea, constipation, swelling of the abdomen and fever follow, one should seek aid promptly. May you not be the only doctor on the continent. And if you are, here’s hoping you brought the Novocain. Of course, the human body is a complex piece of living geography, and ailments may strike in many forms, in many hard-to-reach nooks and crannies. Following are a few illnesses and conditions to be wary of when far away from home.
Giardia. How often have you wished during a hot hike in the mountains that you could step to the edge of a stream, kneel and have yourself a bellyful of cold, clear snowmelt? Of course, most of us know better than to drink the water—because nearly everywhere, in waters still or moving, Giardia lamblia lurks. This bacterium is not a killer—just a nuisance, really, that causes diarrhea and other digestive problems within seven to 14 days of infection, and which may remain in a person’s body for years. Wild and domesticated animals are generally blamed as the source of local Giardia populations in lakes and streams, though in much of New Zealand—home to tens of millions of sheep, cows and other nonnative mammals—locals swear their water is safe to drink. During my time there in January and February, I drank directly from streams and lakes almost every day during several backcountry outings. I never got sick, though that isn’t proof that the waters were clean. You should bring a pump, or at least water purification tablets.
Montezuma’s Revenge. In case you need to be told again, don’t drink the water. In fact, if you’re in parts of Latin America, keep your mouth shut in the shower and drink only bottled water—even when just brushing your teeth. Because Montezuma’s Revenge will spoil your trip to Mexico if you give this bugger a chance. Caused by Salmonella, E. coli and other little critters, Montezuma’s Revenge is itself not a disease but, rather, just a collection of symptoms like stomach upset and diarrhea. In other parts of the world, similar illnesses strike tourists, who may be told they’ve got Delhi Belly or the Turkey Trots. Fortunately, this condition only lasts a few days in most cases and is an annoyance more than a danger—though surely few travelers’ tales can be more gripping than that of Montezuma’s Revenge kicking in on the airplane.
Dehydration: So you’re damned if you drink the water—but you’re also damned if you don’t. A seemingly simple condition with a simple cause and a simple fix, dehydration can kill when water is simply not to be had. The first of its signs may be bright yellow urine. Hours may still pass before one actually feels thirsty, at which point the mouth grows sticky and a person may grow sluggish and lethargic. In advanced stages, the skin may seem to retract in super-slow motion, like bread dough, when pinched between two fingers, and if you feel confused and dizzy and notice that you are no longer able to sweat, it’s official: You need a drink of water. NOTE: Dehydration may occur as a result of another illness that has caused vomiting and/or diarrhea.
Chondromalacia. Say goodbye to your plans to spend three months bicycle touring through Southeast Asia if this nasty condition appears in your knee. Chondromalacia occurs when the cartilage protecting the ball-and-socket joint of the knee becomes inflamed. In severe cases of continued use even after symptoms begin, the cartilage can be worn down to the bone. Chondromalacia causes a dull, throbbing pain inside the knee, with difficulty walking down stairs a distinct symptom. You may even hear cracking and scraping. Icing the joint helps, as does—unfortunately—long periods of rest. Chondromalacia may be caused by the knee-cap beginning to travel off-center in its recurring path over the bone of the knee, causing irritating rubbing. Doctors like to say that treatment is simple—just rest the knee for several months, keeping it elevated and iced every day, while practicing a variety of awkward and seemingly futile leg raises and quad-building exercises. Other overuse conditions that can end a long, body-powered voyage include iliotibial band syndrome, tendonitis and a strained or torn Achilles tendon. Inquire at a bike shop before your next tour to see that your seat height is appropriate, your pedal cranks the right length and your clip-in shoe cleats are properly set.
SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome). The virus that infected some 8,000 people, killing more than 900 of them, in 2002 and ’03—when it was first identified—has caused a small scare after the second man within months was recently infected in England. The 49-year-old is alive and now being treated, though a 60-year-old Saudi Arabian man died earlier this year of the disease. Scientists have reported that both men were infected by what seems to be a new, or at least previously unknown, strain of the virus (which the World Health Organization has reported is, fortunately, not easily transmitted). SARS symptoms are initially similar to those of a common cold—but with a notable difficulty in breathing. Helpful treatments, including antibiotics, can be administered in patients who suspect they are infected, even if tests later prove negative. The World Health Organization has not issued any formal travel warnings—just a global alert—in response to the latest SARS case, but this is a story worth following.
Hantavirus. Fear has crept through Yosemite National Park—as quietly as a mouse. For nine people were infected this summer by the deadly rodent-carried Hantavirus. Three people have died, and the park’s staff is now being served by a voluntary testing plan (even though, mysteriously, not a single employee of Yosemite’s 3,000 annual workers has been infected—yet). The disease, which can take six weeks to incubate in a person before taking effect, usually involves flu-like symptoms at first, like nausea, headache and aching joints, which escalate into organ failure. Hantavirus is carried by deer mice and other like vermin and can be spread via rodent feces, saliva and urine, and it can go airborne via dust particles. Fortunately, the disease is rare, infecting just 30-some people in an average year in America. The death rate, though, among victims averages about 30 percent.
Mushroom poisoning. Mushrooms don’t bite, and the most poisonous of them are only dangerous if eaten (myths abound that just touching a “toadstool” can kill you). Indeed, the only reason mushroom poisonings happen is that some hikers can’t resist taking unidentified mushrooms home, sautéing them in olive oil and serving them at potlucks. The mushrooms involved in many, if not most, serious poisonings are two species of the Amanita genus—A. phalloides, usually called the Death Cap, and A. bisporigera, commonly known as the Destroying Angel. Both reportedly taste quite nice, and guests at the dinner table will likely praise their host’s prowess in garnering dinner from the wild, wild woods—until the stomach ache hits. That’s your liver failing. Go get help. Two to three people have died of mushroom poisoning in America every year for the past 30 years. Note that the death rate runs between 10 and 50 percent of all poisonings—and just getting sick from a Death Cap isn’t fun, a liver transplant often being the only cure. Some people may experience frightening but nonfatal allergic reactions to otherwise coveted edible fungi, like the chicken of the woods, the shaggy parasol and the inky cap (which can cause poisoning if alcohol is consumed within days on either end). Know your mushrooms, and—when eating at a party—know your host. Mushroom rookies should not host mushroom dinners. And, keep your dog leashed in mushroom country. Every year, dogs die when they eat Death Caps.
Learn more about maladies and science-based remedies in Where There Is No Doctor: A Village Health Care Handbook. Available here for sale (or as an online PDF via this website), the handbook is hundreds of pages long, bulky as a Bible, and describes everything from treatment for snakebites to witchcraft cures that don’t work to identifying appendicitis to the threats of mosquitoes, and so on and so on. First published decades ago, the book was revised and updated for its 2011 reprinting.
Disclaimer: This blog post is not meant to be used as a medical guide, and anyone who suspects they may be seriously ill should visit a qualified doctor.
Next week: In detail on snakes. No, I didn’t forget about snakebites. Rather, I’m saving this giant topic for next week. For a quick preview, snakes bite as many as 5.5 million people every year, killing at least 100,000, according to the BBC. In India alone, a million people may suffer snakebites every year. Clearly, this is a topic that deserves a blog post all its own.
Do you have any overseas medical stories to share? Tell us in the comment box below.