Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Wicked Witch of Key West

There was serious concern today that I ran over the Wicked Witch of Key West while out on tour in the Everglades. Friend and fellow guide Dwayne of the East reminds all wicked witches that you don't mess with safari guides. The witches well-tanned toes must have shriveled up and disappeared before we noticed her thong-sandal under the wheel of my van.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Rat Cheese

You know you want some.

I've milked cows before. It's not easy. They've been walking in their own manure. They kick as well as any horse and some can only stand the milkers for so long. Milking a rat can not be any easier. I hear the "rat milking" stools are tiny and it's nearly impossible to attach the milker to all 8 teats.

Nevertheless - Rat Cheese is sold on the southern slopes of the Great Smokey Mountains.We passed this sign on our way to the Great Smokey Mountain Train Ride in Bryson City, NC. Located on the Cherokee Reservation, the roadside market sold boiled peanuts and jams made from everything from papaya to kudzo. But most noticeably they sold Rat Cheese.

We stopped on our return trip - our imaginations running through a maze trying to find the elusive answer to the query - what is "Rat Cheese".

The woman behind the register - who looked as if she had stood over a boiling pot of peanuts since the Trail of Tears offered as much of an explanation as the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary.

"It's Cheddar"

The locals call it "Rat Cheese" but it's a "ring cheese" that comes from milkin' cows. Why Rat Cheese? She wasn't sure but it gets both rat aficionados and cheese lovers like ourselves to stop if for nothing but curiosities sake.

Here in south Florida we do the same. Go to any restaurant that serves seafood and no doubt they serve Dolphin, mostly to shock the tourists - but it's not the mammal but the fish - aka Mahi Mahi. Sound good? Would you like to start off with a Rat Cheese fondue?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Spending Time Behind Bars

One of my goals in life was to see monkeys in the wild. Growing up at the Florida Monkey Sanctuary in the 70's, I was surround by primates - squirrel monkeys, spider monkeys, capuchins, baboons, siamangs and many more. Many had been taken from the wild and sold in the U.S. as pets, finding their way to the sanctuary through various means.
Some had been born in the U.S. or on the sanctuary and although their lives may have been better for coming to the sanctuary, they were never truly free. To see monkeys in the wild is to experience one of the most beautiful things in nature (which I have several times in Ecuador - I recommend it). To see monkeys in captivity is often heart breaking.

In 1988, many of the monkeys at our sanctuary were sent to other zoos and sanctuaries. I never imagined that 20 years later I would have the chance to see some of them again. But a friend of the sanctuary contacted me a few months ago and told me a few monkeys were changing hands and would be introduced to two sanctuaries in north Florida.

On our trip to Tennessee I thought it would be a good opportunity to visit. The sanctuary was not far from our route. The monkeys in question were Maddie (named after the Cybil Shepard character on Moonlighting) and Gertie (named for the Drew Barrymore character in E.T.). Gertie was born on the sanctuary in 1982. Her mother died at birth and my parents had to take care of her. She lived in the house for the first year or so. Lived in a crib. Wore a diaper. Watched cartoons with us. We essentially grew up with her.

I called the sanctuary when we were close and was informed she had been moved to a new facility which was only 15 minutes from where we were. It turns out her new home is a zoo - which concerned me and when we arrived the sign stated they were closed for a private function. So we became part of the private function and no one was the wiser. We were able to slip into the zoo and found our way to the spider monkey cages. No Gertie. We continued on to the back of the small zoo and found two black spider monkeys. Surely they would not recognize me after 20 years right? Maddie was younger than Gertie and was not raised in the house. I would never expect her to recognize me. She didn't get carried around to baseball games and out to restaurants. She didn't go to New York in the summer time with the family like Gert. Add the fact that Maddie now has testicles - I'm sure that this monkey had no idea who I was. Somewhere along the way, monkeys got switched. I called to Gertie and she came right over. Maybe she wants attention? Maybe this is part of her show?
MaLe called to Gertie. Nothing. She continued to stare at me and chatter. Gertie - not MaLe. I would love to think that she recognized me. The zoo keeper found it interesting and suggested the two spiders are usually shy. I'm not sure I wanted Gert to recognize me because I would have to leave her. As well intentioned as some of the zoos may be, its certainly not an idyllic life for these animals. We left and made arrangements to call the zoo director to see what I could do to help make a better life for the two spiders. Apparently Gert gets quite upset when she is separated from her new Maddie.

I'm not sure what I can do, but I will do my best to help her. It's good to know that they don't breed animals at this zoo. It's also illegal to import monkeys into the United States.

It breaks my heart to see animals in these conditions. It hurts having to leave Gert behind bars.

Click to hear Gertie chatter at me

Monday, September 8, 2008

Brett Favre - The Movie

Former Green Bay Packer Brett Favre recently came out of retirement, only to be traded to the New York Jets. Nearly every U.S. citizen knows this and many know the long time Packer leads the NFL in passing yards, touchdowns and interceptions. My Ecuadorian wife does not.

I was asking a friend recently what he thought of Brett Favre's return. MaLe was eavesdropping and chimed in.

"I loved that movie"



No no - Brett Favre. He played for the Green Bay Packers - does Wrangler Jeans commercials - was in Something About Mary - the last reference rang a bell.

Our language barrier can be frustrating sometimes and amusing other times. We just watched a fantastic movie that we both could relate to on that matter.


When his department is outsourced to India, customer call center manager Todd Anderson heads to Mumbai to train his successor. Amusing culture clashes soon ensue as Anderson tries to explain American business practices to the befuddled new employees -- and in the process learns some important lessons about globalization … and life. Director John Jeffcoat's delightful comedy also stars Ayesha Dharker and Matt Smith.

MaLe tends to choose the foreign/independent films which I resist at first and usually enjoy. This one is quite funny and deserving of attention. Its a good reminder that we all need to look outside our borders and take a deeper appreciation of the diversity of landscapes and cultures. We are all both similar and different in many ways. I mean are Brett Favre and Braveheart all that different? Yes and No.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Pigeon Forge - Another Apology

I've been away on vacation, but in my absence a few posts that I had written before I left came out a bit screwy. The previous of which "Polar Bear Opposites" was sabotaged and some of the text did not appear. I blame the NSA but that's what I get for showing my political leanings.

It is fixed now.

Anyway. I'm back and will post some Smokey Mountain spelunking, salamandering and "bear frightening baby" photos over the next few days, but to lighten the mood and assure I have a post that does not mention hurricanes - here's a few photos of our final adventure from Pigeon Forge, TN. (Described in a travel guide as such -"If this town were a haircut - it would be a mullet")

MaLe was too scared to race on the 4 story go-kart track and Ash "had to hold the baby", so Kate humored me and raced around the track of doom. When in Pigeon Forge do as the tattooed, tube-topped, chain-smoking teenage locals do.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Polar Bear Opposites

I'll apologize up front for directing you to a video including Glenn Beck. He's a repugnant human being and I would give my left hand to slap him with my right hand. But he interviewed presumptive VP candidate Sarah Palin a few months ago and I thought a few of her views were utter nonsense.

Sarah Palin is an intelligent, yet agenda-driven person and her utilitarian views on Alaskan oil bubble through. Regarding the interview:

1) Palin says the Polar Bear population has increased over the last 30 years and they should not be listed as an Endangered Species. There are several sub-populations of Polar Bears around the Arctic. 5 are declining, 5 are static, 2 are increasing and 7 populations are indeterminate. I don't know the specific number of Polar Bears in each sub-population but overall there are about 25,000 bears. The problem is global warming - which Palin reportedly doesn't believe is occurring, is causing the Arctic ice sheets to melt. Polar Bears hunt by seeking out ice holes that seals use to breathe air. They then catch and eat the seals which I hear are delicious. As the ice continues to decrease and habitat becomes more fragmented, Polar Bears that require the ice will suffer and could very well become extinct.

2) Palin refers to the oil and natural gas in Alaska as "our oil". "Our" being Alaska's and she demands the right to drill immediately in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Federal land is protected and the natural resources on it, in it and under it belong to the American people. Congress can approve the drilling in ANWR, but they haven't since it is considered to be an insufficient amount. Drilling would be restricted to a small area, but getting the oil to refineries would be environmentally damaging. Pipelines would disrupt Caribou migrations at the least and the 19 million acre refuge was established in the 60's (and planned before Alaska was a state) to protect the natural ecosystem. McCain and Obama are against drilling in ANWR.

3) Palin suggests we are "fighting over energy supplies" in the wars the US is currently waging. Really? I thought it was about "weapons of mass destruction." Did we invade a foreign country to assure oil rights? I do believe she is on the record as saying what most politicians have not.

When Nixon called for the creation of the Endangered Species Act in 1973, Congress approved legislation that "was designed to protect critically imperiled species from extinction as a consequence of economic growth and development untendered by adequate concern and conservation." Polar Bears are perfectly qualified for this protection. They simply "mess around" with Palin's oil and gas drilling interests so the state of Alaska is suing the Federal Government to keep the bears from being listed.

As the former chair of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, Sarah Palin is an appropriate spokesperson for the continued pressure to utilize the natural resources of Alaska, but she clearly cares little for the plant and wildlife of Alaska, nor Endangered Species Act that was created to protect them.

Let's NOT bring these ideals to the lower 49. I won't be voting for McCain/Palin.