December 22, 2009

18,815 miles later....

I got home this morning to find my cell phone didn’t work in New York (works in the Caribbean and Latin America, but not in Queens) and there was about 6 inches of snow on the ground. I started debating how much the pilot would charge to just hide me in the bathroom and fly me back to Colombia.

After being berated in Colombia by police and airline security, it was a welcome change to pass through customs at JFK. I usually have more trouble getting back into my own country than entering any other. The guy did make me take my glasses off so he could compare my passport photo, then stamped me back into the good ol’ U. S. of A. He smiled and said “Welcome home, miss.” – Double kudos to you, sir. Thank you for your kind sentiment at 6am on a Tuesday morning, and muchas gracias for not calling me ma’am!!

In the last 5 weeks, I've traveled 18,815 miles... can you say FREQUENT FLYER?

Minus the snow, freezing cold, utter exhaustion, 40 lbs of dirty laundry, and jet lag…. good to be home! When do I leave again??

Let's talk about how much I love Colombia.....

This morning I had breakfast with RH and the police dogs; and I did NOT get any photos!! They are very hyper and wiggly, so it was impossible to handle my camera and the dogs, but even without photos, it was awesome! The police have 3 yellow laboradors – 2 males, Nicko and Bosco, and one female, Luna. They are beautiful dogs and very well cared for. I was trying to find out (in Spanglish) if they had made any arrests or seizures since working for the Galapagos; I think Luna discovered some illegal sea cucumber shipments?

The woman in Quito did a hack-job stamping my passport – and I spent 20 minutes trying to explain to the metal detector guy that I could not read the exit stamp, and if I couldn’t read it, chances are the US Border Patrol wouldn’t read it either. The woman in customs rolled her eyes and sucked her teeth a few times (pretty universal for “F you” in any language) before re-stamping my passport.
Thank you senora and buenos dias to you too.

My flights from Galapagos and Quito were uneventful, and I even had extra room to spread out and sleep (a HUGE deal for someone with long legs on short planes). I am in Bogata waiting for my flight to NYC, and there is some sort of delay. I couldn’t seem to find out when or from which gate the plane is leaving, so spent about an hour wandering up and down the hall looking for someone who speaks English. The entire Colombian national guard showed up to search everyone on the plane – they actually search you in the hallway BEFORE you can get to the waiting lounge! I think the poor guy who had to dig through my nasty sneakers and dirty laundry probably hates his life right now – my shoes smell pretty rank after 3 weeks ;-)

I must have had 8 people ask me the same questions over and over and over again in
the 10 feet between the hallway and the waiting lounge:

“Are you traveling alone?" -- yes

"Where has your luggage been since you arrived?" -- with me

"Who packed your luggage?" -- I did.

Then that guy went through it and made me pack it all again after he dug through my dirty laundry.

"Where are you going?" -- Nuevo Jork

"Where did you come from?" -- originally...??

"When did you leave?" -- as soon as I get on this plane

"Did anyone give you anything to carry with you?" -- you mean the stranger in the women's room??

Yeah amigo, I’m from New York.
I get the drill.

December 20, 2009

And then there was one....

B left this afternoon, right after a quick jaunt to the other surfer beach near Playa Mann. Some obnoxious kids were chasing a sea lion, and I was ready to chase them. It’s really very sad that some people (especially the ninos!) don’t seem to appreciate the rare beauty of the Galapagos. I don’t like to fight, but I would gladly punch out a few ninos to keep the sea lions safe and happy!

We got a “backstage” tour of the San Cristobal airport (it helps to have friends in high places) and got to see where the police dogs check the luggage for illegal imports/exports (mostly sea cucumbers and shark fins). There are currently 3 police dogs on San Cristobal, and all are spayed or neutered!! YAH!! :-) I am meeting with all of them tomorrow to give them parasite medications and talk to the police about overall care.

The rest of the afternoon I spent with AK (a CIMEI volunteer) having lunch, then walking around and enjoying my last day in paradise. I had my last dinner at Rokas y Cactus – my FAVORITE San Cristobal restaurant – and then hung out with AK on the malecone until way too late. Tomorrow I have to pack, meet with the police, and then leave my island.

Until next time…

December 19, 2009


Conquering Kicker Rock

Last night B and I walked along the malecone (Spanish for boardwalk) and FINALLY saw some lobos (sea lions)!!!!!!!!!! I was totally freaked out the first few days by the lack of lobos, but they ALL came out last night!!!!! BABIES TOO!!!!!!! Thank goodness, as my trip would have been ruined if I didn't have my nightly chorus of Lobos singing me to sleep :-)

B and I checked by CIMEI this morning, but the door was still locked and my note was still on the door. We met up with our diving boat at 8:30am, and set out on an exciting diving day!! I don’t remember the captain’s name, but our dive masters were Angel 1 and Angel 2 – both from mainland Ecuador. We used the same dive company last San Cristobal trip, and they were equally awesome this time. News to me, the oil tanker Jessica wrecked right off the coast of San Cristobal, and is apparently a hot dive spot, especially at night. Unfortunately, I learned this with 2 days left on the island, so that’s a BIG definitely for next time!

Not even 5 minutes from the dock, we spotted DOLPHINS!!! The boat pulled over, and we jumped overboard (Adrien screaming, “DO THEY BITE????” diving from the boat). The water was a little choppy, so we didn’t see any in the water, but could hear the sonar dolphin calls from underwater!! I got some awesome video clips once back on the boat, with my Spanglish screaming in the background. There were about 3 dozen dolphins (adults and babies!) feeding right off shore. SO COOL!!!! Too bad they swim faster than me, else I would have been right there in the fish buffet with them :-)

Diving was AWESOME – but no dolphins :-/
We went to Leon Dormido (Spanish for “Sleeping Lion” – aka as Kicker Rock by the gringos), and a hot dive spot for all sorts of great wildlife: sharks, rays, turtles, whales (apparently Shamu isn’t so friendly in the wild). The last few days had DOZENS of hammerhead sightings, but of course, we didn’t see any :-( Did see some awesome fish, Galapagos sharks, sea turtles, lobsters, etc etc etc. My underwater camera case was still wet from the DR (can’t trust me with anything nice) and fogged up underwater :-( :-( :-(
But B had a nice camera with him, so I’m going to poach some shots off of him.

He is also wins the Best Buddy of the Year award – as I was sucking down air like it was no body’s business, and wound up with almost no air on the 2nd dive. I called the 1st dive, as I was at 50 BAR after about a half hour. We were very deep (about 70 feet max) so by the time we got to the surface, I was at about 8 BAR. The 2nd dive, I got to 50 BAR and started running REALLY low just before the 15 feet safety stop. B is buddy of the year for sharing his air with me AND actually having air left – 1000 PSI – he must have little girl lungs ;-) Also, many many thanks to Capt Saam and friends for whipping me into a half-way decent diver. Not panicking and remembering the buddy breathing stuff actually came in handy!!!! Now I need to learn how to use my computer, and not just read it (but definitely came in handy for the safety stops!)

Back on shore, the CIMEI was still closed, so I took a shower and a nap, then went to Renato’s house to find out what happened (I was pretty certain it wasn’t good). He was asleep, but I managed to deduce that the dog had died, either at 9pm or 9am, and he had to go tell the owners that afternoon (I thought it was a street dog :-(...) Pam felt very bad, but it was just one of those things that happen. Even in the states, with top notch technology, chest xrays, blood screens and the whole deal, it still happens.

December 18, 2009

don't pack up just yet....

Today our fearless leader left us :-( and took the hotel room key with her!! I will apparently have to “break into” my room for the next few days, which is OK since the window is easily accessible and the screen is less than secure.

B and I went back to CIMEI this afternoon to clean up and pack, and talked to SharkSky about some SCUBA diving tomorrow. I (finally) got some free CIMEI internet on my computer, so didn’t have to pay $1.50/hour at the café up the road. B left around 3pm to find a phone, and I stayed in the office to “hold down the fort.” I didn’t think that would involve any actual work, but P and L came running back into the clinic literally 5 minutes after B left.

They operated on the 2 dogs from yesterday (2 big spays) and one had just gotten back to its home when the incision started bleeding. I left my Facebook unattended and ran through the usual drill: catheter (minus a t-set, so made my own), fluids, atropine (but couldn’t find a syringe), etc etc etc. The emergencies tend to arrive when you are least prepared and completely unorganized (as seen on the first day, and now again on the last). Apologies to L for screaming at him, but that’s just how I get when I don’t have syringes (bad habit from days at Davis… not proud of it).

While L ran the streets looking for B, P started surgery. Big shout out to her on that – she was obviously freaked out, but got in there like a pro. The dog looked like total crap, but she found the bleed (superficial thank god) and had started fixing it by the time B got back. Hindsight is always 20/20, and apparently the owners told RH AFTER the fact that the dog had been anorexic, lethargic and overally ADR for about 3 weeks – probably NOT a good surgical candidate :-/

The maxi pads from the other night came in handy again for a belly/compression wrap, but the dog did not look good. When we extubated her, there was a huge yellow snot ball on the end of the tube – no bueno. She apparently had several other issues going on, so we loaded her up with fluids, antibiotics, pain meds, and hoped for the best. Fingers crossed, we went to dinner, and planned to check back in on her at 11pm. B called it a night early (we’re going diving tomorrow!!) and I hung around the CIMEI for a while before leaving a note on the door and calling it a night. Hopefully everything will work out, and if not, we’re in the Hotel San Francisco, 2nd floor, rooms 3 and 11 :-/

Day 3

It is about 2 am and I SHOULD be sleeping, but just got back from my inaugural visit to Iguana Rock – the San Cristobal nightclub that I have managed to miss on all prior visits.

Today was an interesting example of the Rolling Stones’ classic…. “you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you get what you need” I also need to send out an island-wide mea culpa to my San Cristobal companeros… the running joke is that Ecuadorian time is always an hour behind Gringo time. So Galapagaean time is 2 hours behind Gringo time, and thus the Americans have a good laugh at their expense. HOWEVER… it seems that the Dutch have taken Galapagaean time to a whole ‘nother level – an appointment at 7:30am turned out to be around 3pm! So a big Lo Siento to all my amigos in San Cristobal – sorry to get you up early and make you work through lunch, but we were hungry and tired right there with you!

Everyone showed up dressed and ready to impress at 7:30am, and started off at a nice, but abnormally slow pace. After we heard that the Dutch filmmakers took an hour lunch break, we said screw it and started surgerizing away. When they DID show up, they took RH hostage for a few hours to run around the island looking for “difficult” people resisting sterilizing their pets. Good luck with that. They did bring us a pure-bred Husky and a pregnant lab mix, but didn’t even stay to film the surgery! So the wasted film opportunity turned out in favor of our 3 visiting veterianarias, P, P and R, as we had ample time to spare, and B was able to teach them some awesome surgery stuff. Each one had a pretty interesting, difficult surgery (3 big dog spays) so it was awesome learning and hands on experience. By the time everything was said and done, it was a ridiculously long day, and we could have been done by 3pm, but it worked out the way it was supposed to, and we finished around 5. We actually pushed 2 surgeries off until tomorrow, just because it was so late and it would have been another hour and a half to finish 2 dog spays.

After a MUCH NEEDED shower, EC, B and I had a great dinner at Miconia, and I stuffed myself with almost an entire pizza. Island time being what it is, we were supposed to meet up with the CIMEI people at 8 (I think?) but we were VERY late, and they had almost bailed on us. Again, it all seemed to work out, and after B bought everyone a round of drinks, I think they forgot about our tardiness ;-) We had the whole club to ourselves, and thus, made complete fools of ourselves on the dance floor. There were MANY photos taken (and apparently videos too) that will probably be destroyed due to inappropriate content ;-) but an awesome time was had by all. EC leaves early tomorrow :-( so we will be up early, but it was a great night and an interesting campaign. 3 days of surgery, 31 spays/neuters (18 today!), a handful of poison cases, and one hit by car surgery. Good surgeries, good learning experiences for the vets and great team work by all.

December 16, 2009

day 2

Many thanks to B for miscalculating the Daylight Savings time/Galapageñean time change – I was up at (what was thought to be) 8am, and in a hot panic to throw on clothes to be at the clinic ASAP. As I was throwing things into my backpack, I heard a faint “beep beep beep” – from my Blackberry alarm (good for only that in the Galapagos – thanks Verizon for “Global” service) – which was set for 7:30am. I then recalled a moment yesterday that B commented his clock was wrong, and had a nice laugh at his expense ;-)

Breakfast was at the other coffee shop on the street, and I noticed that my favorite island experience was somewhat missing… Prior trips to San Cristobal were filled with sea lions – carpeting the beaches, flopping on the rocks, barking and snorting in chourus with crashing waves. I scanned the boardwalk and didn’t see a single one. When I looked over the sea wall, I saw maybe 3 or 4 in the water or on the beach – compared to the dozens I saw 6 months ago!

Apparently breeding season is coming up, but it did seem a bit odd to not have as many ashore this time of year. I thought it was perhaps from all of the Christmas decorations along the boardwalk, but one other possibility was if this was/is an El Nino year. Whatever it is, it made me sad to not see all of my barking and flopping sea lions on San Cristobal :'-(

We had a slow but successful day in the clinic – no deaths!! After yesterday, it was a blessing to have no issues. We sterilized 21 dogs and cats, and treated one very badly hit by car puppy, who had some nasty tearing and scalding to her flank and practically a degloved rear hock. Anesthesia is a wonderful thing, and after a few doses of narcotics, she was sound asleep and ready for surgery. After a mess of clipping, scrubbing, and dust-bustering, B placed a drain in the flank and repaired the hock (which had broken the joint capsule but not the bone). Wound dressing became an issue, as there were no Telfa pads to be found – again, B McGuiver to the rescue – Anna and I went off the local pharmacy/corner store to find feminine hygiene pads with non-stick, absorbent lining. The man at the counter looked at us like crazy people when we had him bring out every brand/style of pad for us to inspect. But it worked like a last-minute, home-made Telfa pad dream!

After a long day of surgery, cleaning, prepping and organizing, we (finally) met with the Dutch filmmakers who are coming to film the clinic tomorrow for their Darwin documentary (we are part of the Galapagos/invasive species bit). It was nice to have dinner with English-speaking people (although mi español is pretty mejor after a few days ;-) and hear of their adventures around the globe thus far. They are re-creating Darwin’s voyage of the Beagle, and their time in the Galapagos is being spent documenting the changes brought about by humans and other invasive species. I didn’t get the impression they truly understood the complexity and challenge of the Galapagos – I don’t think anyone really does until they experience it first hand. It should be interesting to see what they want/can document, although I get the impression that what they’re looking for, we already fixed a few years back. Oh well… it should be interesting and we will all look great on camera (thanks to lovely uniforms that were custom tailored by the man around the corner from CIMEI). Hair, makeup and coffee is at 7am. Time for beauty sleep…

December 15, 2009

when work and vacation blend together.....

Today was supposed to be clinic set-up day – wake up early, have a casual breakfast, meander down to the CIMEI office and organize for Wednesday and Thursday. EC had a TV interview bright and early, and they followed her to the CIMEI office where a few more shots/footage was collect. As that was going on, a man brought in a dog with a mild prioprism, and after a few minutes of stuttering en español, I convinced him to get the dog neutered

At that point, it seemed like I turned around and all of a sudden there were ½ dozen seizing animals in the office and hysterical people outside. Apparently, an entire neighborhood of animals had gotten into a rat poison supply early that morning, and within 20 minutes, we had 2 cats and 3 dogs seizing in the waiting room. The next few hours were a literal mad house – calling for valium in one room, oxygen and crash cart in the next. Of course, the ONE thing we didn’t bring to San Cristobal was Vitamin K (used to treat warfarin-type poisoning bleeding disorders), and apparently there was an island-wide shortage of Vitamin K (of course… whatever we need we don’t have – but we probably have an ample supply of 25 gauge needles and gauze!!) A few people literally scoured the island and came up with 2 mL of Vitamin K, and (after a brief Google search) a big bag of parsley (apparently a rich natural source of Vitamin K… good to know!)

Unfortunately, despite the injectable Vitamin K and all other emergency procedures, 4 of the animals died within a half hour of each other. First the small kitten, then a puppy, then the older dog, and finally the other cat :-( It was discovered that these people were actually neighbors of each other, and that someone had put out poison (intentional or not) that all 4 animals had eaten (and subsequently vomited up). Death wasn’t done with us yet, as there was a cat that went missing for 3 weeks and came back with a badly broken leg. After euthanizing it, we discovered a HUGE hemoabdomen that would have definitely been inoperable under almost all circumstances. A man brought in his 7 year old Husky (yes, there are Siberian Huskies in the Galapagos…) that had terrible neurologic signs, and was also euthanized. The man was quite sad, and even despite the language barrier, I could tell he was deeply upset. With the help of a translator, I tried to tell him he made a humane, loving decision, and he thanked us profusely for helping. When all of the smoke finally cleared, everything was cleaned, washed and put away; we showered and met up for dinner at the Italian/pizza place at the end of the pier.

After lots of laughs and recalling old memories (and probably making a few new ones… CADILLAC!!!), we saw the man with the husky walk by with ANOTHER husky – apparently it was the older dog’s offspring, and after a few smiles and awkward spanglish, I (think) I convinced him to get the younger dog neutered on Thursday (in front of the documentary TV crew ) We’ll see what comes of it, but fingers crossed!!!

December 14, 2009

Sea Lion and Surfer, San Cristobal, Galapagos

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Bienviendos a Paradiso

After another long day of traveling, it was a HUGE relief to be back on “my” island (nicknamed as such after my first campaign to the Galapagos in 2008) – stepping off the plane always feels like coming home. It is also an incredible experience to be Animal Balance celebrities, and receive 1st class treatment and hugs from EVERYONE – including the immigration guards, taxi drivers, park service people, and even the airport drug-sniffing dog (who was thankfully neutered this year!!)

After dropping off our bags at the hotel, we met up with the CIMEI director, RH, for lunch. While the others elected to shower and rest, RH and I went to the Galapagos Naval Base to surf (he surfed, I watched). I was itching to get in the water, especially the beautiful waves, but was traumatized by a surfing accident in 2005 that left me with a fractured vertebrate. So I sprawled my white gringa self out on the rocks and took photographs of the surfers. The best surprise came while I was scanning the waves with my camera lens, and saw a dark shadow move through the water. I was a bit panicky just watching the surfers (making sure no one crashed, everyone who went under eventually came back up, etc) but nervous when I saw the shadow in the waves. Suddenly, a small head popped up from the waves, followed by a sleek black body and stubby fins, and I watched as a sea lion (“lobos” en español) surfaced for air before diving back into the surf. The sea lion actually “surfed” with a few of the guys for a bit – mimicking their movements on the surface under the waves. Several times, they actually seemed to be united – surfer and lobo in an awesome synchronized swimming ballet. As soon as I saw the sea lions (apparently there were sea turtles too – according to the surfers), I knew I was home and my soul was at peace. At peace, until later that night… when the Animal Balance and CIMEI people took over the local karaoke bar!! We practically cleared out the place with our horrid, cat-spay-minus-anesthesia karaoke skills! I’ve never been a big karaoke fan, and usually only sing in the car where no one but the dog can hear me. But it was pretty irresistible to grab the mic and sing – especially in Spanish! Great way to immerse in the language – practically Rosetta Stone set to music ;-)

After a few Mexican drinking ballads and greatest hits of the 80s – everyone hit an exhaustion wall and we called it a night. Walking back to the hotel through the streets of San Cristobal, we came across a dog playing “fetch” with a plastic bottle. He “tossed” the bottle into the air and chased it with his nose and paws. It was a beautiful, carefree expression of canine joy – and he actually seemed “embarrassed” when we ooh’d and ahh’d over his delight. Time is relative in the Galapagos – and there always seems to be time to enjoy the simple things.

December 13, 2009

and the Galapagos adventure begins....

I left early this morning for Quito – where I met up with EE, an Animal Balance veterinarian, and his family in north Quito. I got to Quito early, and spent a few hours wandering around the nearby Mall de Condado – which is still one of the most unreal experiences of Ecuador. The malls in Ecuador are nicer than any other mall I’ve been to (I’m not a huge mall person, but nothing I’ve seen in the States comes close to the Ecuadorian shopping experience) – the parking lots have attendants to guide you to an open space, everything is clean, the stores are great (for those of you in the tri-state area, think Westchester mall stores meet the Palisades layout) and you can find just about anything there. I’ve spent the last 40 minutes at a coffee bar where internet is $0.50/hour (really cheap for Quito) trying to figure out these keyboards en espanol.

Deseo que tu estuvieras aquí......

December 12, 2009

Newton's new law

If f = the mass of airplane food in my stomach,
and u = the altitude above sea level in Quito,
(c) = function of car sickness,
k = constant speed on Pan American highway,
and me = time in Quito, then after about 2 hours...

f*u(c)k = me


Wednesday afternoon I left Santo Domingo and arrived in Quito after a quick layover in Panama City (my 3rd time in the Panama City airport in less than a month). I arrived in Quito around 10:30pm and spent about an hour going through customs and getting my luggage. Some Proteccion Animal Ecuador and Animal Balance volunteers met me at the airport, in case I had a problem with customs. I have never had an issue before with the airports in Ecuador, but this time I was carrying some medical supplies minus paperwork and didn’t want to wind up in Ecuadorian airport jail if there WAS a problem. Of course there wasn’t, but I know the first time I try to test it, I will be on some episode of “Locked Up Abroad – Ecuador” crying that I didn’t do it ;-)

I don’t remember eating anything terrible on the planes or in the airports, and actually hadn’t eaten that much in the last week or so as these trips are notoriously vegan. I don’t care one way or another if someone is vegan, vegetarian, whatever, but it’s the militant vegans that ruin it for me. One of our vets, B, is an awesome cook and had MacGuiver skills in the kitchen as well as in the clinic. He whips up the most outrageous meals from practically nothing (and probably some stuff he finds on the side of the road, but I try not to think about that), but claims he had to “cook to the lowest common denominator” (aka vegans) so I suffered through several meals of vegetables disguised as real food. Most of my time in the DR I ate packaged food, bottled water and bread, and avoided most airport food, but I was SOOOOOOOOOO sick on the car ride from Quito to Ambato. A combination of exhaustion, dehydration, less than healthy food and experiencing the 10,000 ft Quito altitude in the backseat of a compact car that smelled like dog urine was too much for my stomach, and I got very sick very fast. After several attempts of trying to swallow the contents of my stomach and begging the driver to pull over, I somehow survived and arrived in Ambato. I was so sick and exhausted at that point, he could have left me in a sewage ditch on the side of the road and it would have been a huge relief. I passed out on my friend DA’s front lawn at about 2 am, wiping puke from my hair and thanking the gods I was out of that friggin’ car. I had an almost similar experience during my last trip to Ambato (in the same car after being dared to eat yagralocra – a cream soup of animal “parts” with congealed blood garnish - it smelled and tasted like necropsy) and would rather walk up the Cotopaxi barefoot than get in that car again.

I spent most of the day yesterday in bed, and went out for a little bit to drop off my laundry and run some errands with DA. She has an adorable blue car (which I did not get sick in thank god) with a million decals all over it, as part of her duty of the reigning beauty queen of Ambato. It was hysterical to drive around town and have almost everyone stop us and say hello. I enjoyed it, but after almost a year, DA is pretty sick of it and ready to pass the crown on to the next girl.

I was supposed to meet with Proteccion Animal Ecuador volunteers in Ambato to go over projects about the website, grants, donations, etc. I am pretty pissed that I traveled all the way to Ecuador with a laptop full of documents/donations and threw up any/all food in my stomach onto the Pan American highway, only to be blown off and stood up for 4 days. Wednesday, yesterday and earlier today I was too tired and emotionally hung over to care, but then I was just plain pissed and disappointed. One of the biggest challenges I’ve been presented with in 2009 is trying to remain professional in all situations, and this was a huge test of patience. There is SOOOOOOOOOOO much that needs to be done in the veterinary and animal welfare world of Ecuador, and it has been awesome to work with several groups and contribute to the process over the last year and a half. I’ve had inspirational, fulfilling experiences working with veterinarians around the world. It’s a far different experience than anything in the States – a mixture of developing world living, political hurdles, public health, animal welfare, veterinary medicine and epidemiology. The challenges are huge but even the smallest success is tremendous and inspire me to do more for animals around the world. I don’t really believe in New Year’s resolutions, but if I did, it would be to help those who need and WANT help.

“I’m not anyone, I’m someone. I can’t do everything, but I can do something” Marlin Perkins

December 8, 2009

hasta luego

Yesterday, the majority of the teams had left for the airports, so only the “Colorado crew” and a few others remained. I went to two local beaches with KT, PB, J and D – one in La Entrada and the other near Abreu (two locations where we held clinics). The beaches were beautiful, the water was awesome, and the experience was awesome, aside from the 40 minute trek between beaches. People lose a sense of time and space in places like this. “Oh, it’s only about 10 minutes” is actually more like 2 hours and a million kilometers! So by the end, I was exhausted, inhaled a spaghetti dinner from the Italian/Dominican restaurant (most of which I shared with the restaurant cat, Pelusa) and passed out in bed. Most people went out to celebrate our clinic success – 407 surgeries in 6 days at 3 locations with 6 vets. 126 of those were from the White team, of which I was very proud (and grateful they put up with my daily meltdowns)

Today, the Colorado crew (LP, S, J & D, KT and PB), LS, AN and I took a guay-guay (Dominican taxi) to Santo Dominigo (where we were all flying out of tomorrow). We stayed at an awesome hotel in the historic part of town, and spent the evening walking around the shops and having dinner. Tomorrow, we are all leaving for the airport – most people headed for Miami then Colorado and elsewhere; I’m leaving for Quito and off on the 2nd leg of my adventure in Ecuador and the Galapagos.

December 6, 2009

Diving - DR

Playa Grande, Dominican Republic

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diving and relaxing

Today we went diving!! The water in DR is like a bathtub compared to what I’m used to in New England (even in the summer!) We went to 2 sites, both of which were beautiful. The first dive, I saw a lion fish, awesome coral, sea urchins and anemones. I went through a little underpass/cave and landed on (what I found out later to be) fire coral. I now have a wicked rash/bruise/welt on my knee, and will definitely think twice before wearing a short wetsuit :-) I got some good mileage on my new dive computer, and actually was calm enough to use it. We were between 30-40 feet deep, and it was definitely a lot calmer than the nightmarish waters of the Galapagos. There was a lot of garbage and crap on the reefs, which was depressing, but I saw a few new reef projects that were successfully growing coral, so at least there is some effort to fix the problem.

After the dives, we met up with the rest of the AB team on Playa Grande, the big, beautiful local beach near Cabrera. Everyone passed out in beach chairs and had drinks and snacks from the local cabana boys. The sunset was beautiful, and there were about half dozen beach dogs running around. One was chasing a coconut into the surf, retrieving it, then tossing it back in again. A few of the people I met in the clinics and around town felt sorry for the beach dogs, tried to re home them, etc. In my opinion, I have never seen happier dogs in my whole life! I think my dog would be a beach dog if allowed. They eat from the kiosks, play in the surf, socialize with beach goers and sleep under the palm trees. In fact, I think I would be a beach dog if allowed!!! I played a game of fetch/tag with one dog (whom I nicknamed Rosie) in the surf, and it was probably my favorite experience of the whole trip. I was with an animal who would never have the care and amenities of the dogs in the States. She probably had a fair share of abuse and torture from ignorant people and cruel passers by. She never met me before in her life, and I didn’t offer her food or treats. She was simply enjoying life as a dog, and was more than happy to let me run on the beach and enjoy it with her.

Wish you were here....

December 5, 2009

thank you VREC

yesterday was the last day at La Entrada - the White team officially completed 126 surgeries in 4 days (our goal - my goal - was 125 ;-)

we had a puppy crash in recovery, and after about 2 seconds of panic, my emergency skills came back to me (many thanks to the Veterinary Referral and Emergency Center for beating crash cart skills into me on those long overnights. we had a heart rate intermittently for about 30 seconds off and on, but after about 5 minutes of CPR, the heart started beating again. unfortunately, the poor dog never regained consciousness, and wailed for the next 18 hours. i was pretty pissed that there was such a huge debate over the puppy - the veterinary team had one opinion and everyone else had another. ultimately, we decided to give it overnight to see what would improve (if anything). so one poor vet spent the whole night with the wailing dog (and a valium CRI for two ;-) but as of this morning, no change. euthanasia was the humane thing to do, but it was upsetting to have such a huge debate about it. so if i am ever on life support, i request that only qualified medical professionals make decisions about my quality of life (sorry everyone else - i know you totally don't want to pull the plug ;-)

after cleaning/organizing/packing up the clinic in Cabrera, i took a much needed nap and then did some work on my toxicology homework (yeah...i'm still in grad school... almost forgot about that!!!!) supposedly there is a "surprise" party tonight, so we'll see what comes of that.

December 3, 2009

La Entrada

Today was our first day in the village of La Entrada (about 20 min from Cabrera) - we were in a gym/community center - no electricity but lots of windows! Thankfully there was no generator nearby so I was able to play my iPod for the clinic - we had a LOT of female spays, and the dogs here are pretty beat up and dirty. But at least a lot nicer than the crazies in Cabrera (where I impressed everyone with my awesome dog-wrangling skills).

I don't remember how many surgeries we did, but it was a lot, and we were done surprisingly early. Here is a panoramic photo of the clinic (panoramas are my new fav thing)

December 2, 2009

been there.....

i worked with these pups in St Louis this summer.... thank you for bringing this issue to the light!!!!

what day is it?

i am BEYOND tired and don't remember the last time i was so dirty after work - i think i will have to burn those scrubs - i don't even want to bring them into the hotel room!!

today was good - we started the clinic in Cabrera at 7am, spayed/neutered 39 cats and dogs, and were done by 6pm. we had an adorable little boy (probably 8 or 9) come to the clinic with his 7 month old cat. he waited all day for the cat to have surgery and recover - rumor is that his mom let him take the day off from school to go to the vet clinic with "Tom" ;-)

most of the kids that visit the clinic have to be told to stay away from the surgery tables, not to touch the animals in recovery, don't climb on the desks, etc etc etc. this little kid was adorable - he watched Tom fall asleep after getting anesthesia, helped me prep him for surgery, and watched the neuter surgery. CD (the other tech on the white team - why they gave us that name i don't know!!) speaks fluent spanish with an awesome NOO YOAK accent, and she translated all of the information about the surgery. he then helped the recovery team care for Tom post-op, and picked out a new cat collar for him before taking him home. it is things like that which remind me why i do this - why i work long days in hot, stuffy gyms half-way around the world, to the point of exhaustion, so i don't even know what day it is. i was informed at dinner that it is actually Wednesday and the DR is an hour ahead of the east coast... the one thing i forgot to pack?? my watch!!!! no matter though... time stands still in a place like this

December 1, 2009


the weather in NYC today - 44 F
the weather in DR today - 84 F

what a beautiful difference ;-)

i am ridiculously tired from the clinic today - but will have pictures soon, I missed the first day of the AB clinic in Cabrera – as of Tuesday, everyone had been divided into 3 teams (red, white and blue… how symbolic ;-). As technicians are always scarce on these trips, I won’t have much of a chance to work with LP (the other AB tech), but it IS work – at least during the day. Hopefully we will all have a chance to socialize after work and after the clinic.

My team consisted of 10 people: 2 veterinarians (Drs. LS and KT), an assistant (CD), 2 volunteers in recovery/post-op, MW on (surgical) instruments ;-), and the other volunteers at the door. I have never worked with any of these people before, but had met MW for dinner while working in St Louis at the dog-fighting rescue, and had spoken to LS on the phone numerous times. I was incredibly impressed by everyone’s awesome attitude and skills – we eventually got into a groove such that one would think we had worked together for years. After many hours in the hot Cabrera gymnasium, we spayed 23 dogs and 2 cats, and neutered 6 dogs – 31 surgeries in less than 6 hours. Go White Team!!

After the clinic, I got to see a bit of the island, as B and I went for a walk to Orchid Beach. I was under the impression it was a brief, 3-4 minute walk from the hotel, but it was actually about a 20 minute hike through DR-jungle brush and up and down steep rocks. It was quite worth it though, as Orchid Beach was a beautiful, peaceful swimming hole, and the water was BEAUTIFUL! Much warmer than I’m used to (what is the Hudson River this time of year?? 40 degrees??) and very clear. There was a full moon that *almost* made it unnecessary to use head lamps on the walk/hike back. Everyone is either at dinner or wandering around. Since I’ve never been here before, and I’m not even sure where “town” is, I’m spending the night on my computer and eating tuna fish on the hotel porch. Now if I can get some of this last minute homework done, it will have been a good day :-)

wish you were here....

November 29, 2009

off again!!!

It literally seems that I JUST unpacked all of my bags and did a million pounds of laundry. But I’m off to warmer climates again, and have an AWESOME brother (to whom I send a huge, blogger shout out) who got me to the airport at 7am. Since my phone/internet/data service will be somewhat sketchy when I get to the Dominican Republic this afternoon, I’ve been in the Miami airport scrambling to type, text, and call as much as I can!

I have traveled more in this past year than I have in my entire life – following my inaugural trip to Argentina, I am (finally) going to the Animal Balance campaign in the Dominican Republic, followed by my 3rd trip to Ecuador. Amazingly, I packed over 3 weeks’ worth of clothes into 2 bags – so laundry will be an event when I get home!

i also was very impressed with my packing skills (and i remembered bug spray!) - i found this awesome packing website that i was a bit skeptical about, but am now a believer! i packed 3 weeks worth of stuff into 1 bag!!! (plus a backpack/purse, but only one big cumbersome luggage bag). it's called, check them out here

so far, the trip has been a success! check back with me tomorrow to find out what i forgot to pack ;-)

November 24, 2009


my trip in Argentina has been WAY too short - in hindsight (always 20/20!) i wish i had planned for more than a 1 week stay :-( i hope to return soon - maybe this spring? i want to spend more time traveling on horses and less time traveling in cars!!!! at least i know that i always have a place to stay at las Nenas ;-)

but now i'm staring down the second leg of my round trip tour - another 20 hours in transit back to NYC. i LOVE to travel but i hate hate hate those planes!!!!!

until next time mis amigos....

November 23, 2009

Technology Withdrawal

I had NO internet or phone access for over 3 days! I was in complete technological withdrawal! but it was sooooo worth every second - I spent Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the Luz y Fuerte Resort in Cordoba with over 400 people - about 6 of whom spoke english!!!! even if there was internet/phone access, my brain would have been way too tired to use it!!!!

on Sunday, I visited los Terrones in Cordoba, which is apparently the Argentinean equivalent of Roswell, New Mexico. the only alien creatures i saw were the 2 guys in the gift shop who refused to let me on the trail in my flip flops. so i had to give them 12 pesos to rent me a pair of nasty sneakers (i don't even want to THINK about where they've been or who's worn them) so i could hike up the "alien trails". after about 30 minutes and numerous near-death falls, we reached the midway part of the trail, stopped for pictures and then stumbled DOWN the rocks and back to the car.

so the story with los Terrones (aside from making money off tourists with bad shoes) is that aliens landed there and "live" in the strange rock formations in the canyons. below are some photos of los Terrones - more can be found here - and yes, Alex did climb the whole thing in his swim suit.

November 19, 2009

The ONE Thing I Forgot to Pack....

..... BUG SPRAY!!!!!!!!!

The mosquitoes in Rosario are EVERYWHERE!!! I have NEVER seen so many in my life! And they found me to be a very tasty American dish :-/ I slept in my clothes with a sheet over my head, but they attacked my ankles - looks like small pox :-(
They TELL me there is no dengue fever in Rosario... perhaps I will be the first case and they will call it "Gringa Fever"

"Rosario or Bust"

I love the Argentinean gas stations/rest stops – they are like little mini-malls in the middle of nowhere. Some bathrooms are cleaner than others, but many are surprisingly cleaner than those in the States. For a peso (about $0.27), the gas pump guys will scrub the dead bugs off the windshield, and you can have café and pastries inside, at the Argentinean version of Starbucks. There are usually a few fat lazy dogs sleeping outside the store, and occasionally they lift their heads when you step over them.

After lunch in B.A., we are off for a weekend trip to Cordoba. Our first stop is Rosario – the half way point between B.A. and Cordoba. Tonight, we’ll meet up with friends for dinner (probably at 1:00am... when I'm more tired than hungry!)

November 18, 2009

Bienviendos a Las Nenas

Since arriving in Buenos Aires late at night, I didn’t see much of the farm in the dark. I had a brief tour of the farm house, but with limited lighting. The farm house is BEAUTIFUL! After a much-needed night of sleep, I woke up to an AWESOME surprise and tour of Las Nenas. The street dog pack followed us around the farm as I saw all of the horses and fields. Two females are pregnant and will probably give birth the day after I leave, but they are beautiful and I’m sure their babies will be too. I was able to pet two horses (a young filly and a young stallion) that haven’t yet been broken or ridden. I’m sure they will make awesome polo ponies, since they seem to be inherently attracted to people (and dogs – the dogs follow the horses around too)

Later that afternoon we took a few of the polo ponies out to the field to run around. Of course, I was stuck on the poor lame pony, who was only supposed to walk around and “walk it off” – they were at the farrier for new shoes that week and apparently her shoes were taking a minute to break in. Once she saw the other ponies running through the polo exercises, her desire to run was greater than the ache in her foot, and she took off! It’s been a minute since I cantered or galloped on a horse, so I flopped around for a few minutes, with everyone screaming instructions at me from the other side of the field. Soon enough, I was galloping along, chasing the ball around the field with the other ponies! The little unbroken filly came to the polo field fence, ears perked forward and intently watching us. Maybe next year she’ll be broken and playing polo too!

That night I went into downtown Buenos Aires (also known as B.A.) to have dinner with friends of friends and tour the city. Again, up until the wee hours of the morning – they party hard in B.A.

November 17, 2009

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step….

.... but a journey of 11,066 miles begins with a long-ass, red-eye fight to Panama City! After almost 24 hours of traveling, I arrived in Buenos Aires and my Argentinean adventure begins!

Tonight I enjoyed the summer breeze (yes, it’s summer here!!) at a café in downtown Lobos. People in their cars cruised on the dirt roads (again and again – apparently “cruising” is a pretty popular past-time), kids rode by on bicycles (everyone stays up very late in Argentina – kids included) and dogs lay on the sidewalk, waiting for someone to toss them a snack (I’m always impressed when I see fat, lazy street dogs, and these perros were fatter than my dog!)

About 10 minutes outside of town, off a dirt road, was my friends’ farm – Las Nenas (the Little Fillies). When I got out of the car, I was greeted by an army of dogs – 16 to be specific. My friends have a tendency to take the “worst case” pups off the streets and give them a safe haven at Las Nenas. I am also impressed when I meet street dogs (even reformed street dogs) who are better behaved than most of the dogs I know in the States.