Blow the Horn: Essentials

Dear Reader,

Blowing or honking the horn turns out to be a whole new experience in India. Encouraging signs are everywhere.

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For some essential on how, when, where, why, whose and what horn to blow in India, don’t miss them on my upcoming feature post!

 

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Canneto di Caronia: a Poltergeist town

Dear Reader,
Remember Sicilians and superstitions saga on this blog?
Well, mystery and curiosity struck again and Stanito & staff are right there on spot.

It all happened one day, when I receive this piece of news via e-mail:

The mystery of Caronia’s fires, a 10 year long-lasting nightmare. 
A trip to Canneto di Caronia, in the province of Messina, through people and houses burnt down by mysterious fires that have stricken the area since 2004. 
TVs, fridges, washing machines and even couches and sofas catch fire seemingly without an explanation… 

And then the video:

As part of my Sicily plan, Canneto di Caronia was set towards the end of the trip.

What Happened?

First incidents are dated back to 2004 so it’s been going on for about 13 years now. This bizarre phenomenon revolves around spontaneous combustion of mattresses, beds, cars, and devices like fridges and mobile phones, even when these are switched off. Quite obviously, the events couldn’t but attract the attention of physicists, geologist who gave all sort of explanations. Villagers were not convinced though…

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Theories:

Grounded theories vary. It could have been simply arson or old devices and poor electrical cables simply gave up.
Well, arson was ruled out when the devices that caught fire were unplugged. Then something happened: in 2007 an Italian newspaper published a leaked report from Civil Protection, concluding that aliens were the only plausible explanation as the result of the two investigation led to ” 15 gigawatts high power electromagnetic emissions that were not man-made”. Investigation remained open attributing the causes to simply “unknown electromagnetic radiation”.

And then something even more incredible happened! The Vatican’s chief exorcist, Gabriele Amorth, backed the villagers true fears by saying the following: “these fires are caused by the Devil. I have seen incidents like these before. Demons occupy houses and appear in electrical devices”. The interview in Italian is right here.

Another report also detailed a possible UFO landing close to the village, citing “burnt
imprints which have not been explained were found in a field.”

What’s Canneto di Caronia like today?

Years have gone by and eventually the town emptied considerably. Don’t forget that this is the region where superstitions have a big role in people’s lives (read my post on Sicilian superstitions for more on the subject). The episodes have attracted the attention of geologists, physicists and volcanologists, NASA experts without providing an accurate scientific explanation so far or a logical real conclusion to the case. Naturally, the villagers are blaming supernatural entities like UFOs, poltergeists, or other demonic forces, prompting them to evacuate the town.

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Some of the villagers came back but the town still remain in ghost state…

 

 

How to Enjoy Mexico: understand its background first!

Dear Reader,

It’s been almost three since I moved to Mexico and I don’t feel I have fully explained this wonderful country. I wrote several posts on it and it will probably take several chapters to even slightly envision what Mexico is and it’s worth doing so. I want you to feel it as if you were here with me exploring this remarkable land.

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The beautiful and shining Guanajuato town.

It sounds so basic and futile when you think about it, as if by reading the title the imminent thought would be “oh come on, no need for guidelines”. But believe me, there is a science behind the enjoyment of a new city or even country, especially one you hope to survive without stress and melancholy. You might also think that all it takes is to join a tour or simply read about it on a travel guide.

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Learn how to make tacos. It’s fundamental in order to understand how delicious they can be…

Let’s take Mexico as an example. Mexico is a huge country full of colours, culture and above all contradictions. They say that here in Mexico you will find four stories: the one the Government wants you to believe, the one academic institutions want to teach, one that foreigners want to explain. And the last one, the one you have to discover yourself. And this is mine.

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Cute little restaurant in Mexcaltitán, the Venice of Mexico

Certain beliefs and conceptions of reality characterise some populations more than others, and Mexico recalls images of ancient civilisations, plundering Spanish conquistadores and moustachioed revolucionarios. The many contradictions of this vibrant country lie in its unique history and are deeply reflected in the character and personality of the people. The expansive friendliness of norteños (Mexicans from the northern states) compared to the more defensive and rebellious southern Chiapanecos (people from Chiapas state). Mexicans can be intensely fatalistic, resigned even. And when the mood takes in, they are hedonistic and carefree. A reserved poker face will suddenly give way to astonishing warmth and familiarity.

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Indigenous children from the sort of forgotten state Chiapas

We know Mexico’s first hundred years were bloody while the last eighty-five years have been at peace; it shares a long land border with the United states and yet they couldn’t be more different.
When the Spanish brought Catholicism, the missionaries took a very pragmatic approach to it and incorporated many beliefs from earlier religions. That’s why there are so many religious festivals here like Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), the Muxis (gay/transgender divinity festival), the Guelaguetza and many others that blend Catholic celebrations with indigenous rituals.

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Mexico is dual.

It emerged from its bloody history and claimed its place in the modern world. And now globalisation and free trade is altering Mexican society once again.

 

Rebellious and Fashionable Iranian ladies

Dear Reader,

time to break the backward image most people get from just hearing the name “Iran”.
There are many things to say on this regard but this time I will start with a small preview on women fashion…

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Too modern and too conservative at the same time. Fashion in Iran is more than The Rich Kids of Tehran and highly linked to a strong feeling of rebellion. Stay tuned for my story.

 

Photo of the Day: Stanito in Esfahan

Dear Reader,
One of the best benefits of traveling in company is that casually your travel buddies are excellent photographers. My friend Lichix took this photo of me in Esfahan while visiting the stunning Masjed-e Jameh Mosque, the biggest mosque in Iran and the pioneer of Islamic architecture.

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With this post I’m opening a thread of How-To posts dedicated on how to take beautiful pictures in places where the camera is not very welcome. Stay tuned! 🙂

Stanito and the Guineafowl Puffer fish

Dear Reader,

There are experiences in life which are just wonderful and unique and expressing them with words is not enough 🙂

It all happened on a weekend…

We went diving in a secret location. We were told that the conditions were not ideal, meaning visibility was poor, but that we could still enjoy appreciate the smaller creatures of the oceans. It is true that when visibility is great you tend to focus on big creatures like manta rays, sharks, whales, and what not.

This time, however, surprises came in small size.

No sharks, no nothing big, but this guy was worth the entire experience.

Meet the friendliest guineafowl puffer fish

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Our dive buddy found him, he was slim, once in his hands he puffed up immediately

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Gilles grabs him first before passing him onto me

And then he laid in my hands

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First time I hold one in my hands. He felt soft, slimy, spongy, until I let him go

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Puffy fish swims away

No need for sharks or big buddies. This puffy little guy was worth the trip.

 

Photo of the Day: Balloons

Dear Reader,

In 1842, Don Benito Leon Acosta and Rubí de Celis, born in Guanajuato, managed to take off in a hot air balloon made by him. It was the first time an aircraft ever flew over Mexico. Balloons have ever since become a colourful and picturesque attractions in the state of Guanajuato.

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The Day of the Dead in Mexican Style

Dear Reader,

Have you met Catrina? no?!
This is her:

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Ladies and gentlemen, this is Catrina.

Catrina is a tall, elegantly attired female skeleton sporting an extravagantly plumed hat. She is the creation of print maker José Guadalupe Posada, dated back in 1910, a time where calaveras (Spanish for ‘skulls’) images were wielded as political and social satire, poking fun at human folly. La Catrina has everything to do with the Mexican Revolution elements and she is also the main character of the curious Day of the Dead Mexican festivity.

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Unlike in many other countries, Mexico has a different view of the Dead. Even though this holiday coincides with the Catholic holiday called All Soul’s & All Saint’s Day, the indigenous people over here have combined the traditional Catholic ritual with their own ancient beliefs of honouring their deceased loved ones and celebrating their return among the living. That’s right, dear Reader, they believe that the gates of heaven opened at midnight on October 31 and the spirits of all deceased children (angelitos) are allowed to reunite with their families for 24 hours. On November 1 and 2, the spirits of the adults come down to enjoy the festivities that are prepared for them. This is what gives this holiday a very curious and yet unique touch.

It is a festive, joyous time of celebration in Mexico. The Day of the Dead is probably one of Mexico’s most important holidays, and this means that people invest a lot of time and money into celebrating it, more so than any other holiday.

Ok, so Travel Buddy and I went to the core heart of traditional Jalisco state, a little town called Tlaquepaque because we literally wanted to immerse ourselves in the Day of the Dead festivity.

The entire town looked glorious and colourful

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When you walk along the streets you notice many little altars which honour parted loved ones. Some of them will even have some of the things they loved, such as their favourite drinks, objects, dishes.

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Sometimes the dead person is a child, or many in fact. One specific altar, dedicated to the fire which killed 38 of children in Sonora in 2009, was filled with toys and pictures of the children.

Catrina is without a doubt the representative of this holiday. So much in fact, that everyone wants to look like her!

Children

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Adults

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And even waiters in a restaurant will join the spooky folklore

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Stanito and Travel Buddy could not be exception to this rule

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Here I am sitting between a lady skeleton and her male companion

While Travel Buddy took it even further when he sat down and played cards with another skeleton gentleman

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In the end, why should the remembrance of our beloved dead ones be a sad event?

Baby crocodile as pet? Bad idea.

Dear Reader,
This is Juanito, a baby Nile crocodile that we found at a protection centre on the Jalisco coast. I bet you think he looks so cute that you might want to hold him and take him home with you.

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Remember that sad story of those iguanas that were taken away from Galapagos and suffered a very sad death?
So here I’m appealing to common sense and launching a warning against the ownership of exotic animals as it represents a major issue here in Mexico. Hear me out.
Unlike with tender iguanas, the most obvious constraint associated with crockie care is the obvious gigantic size that adults are capable of reaching; Nile crocodiles (the one I’m holding) is one of them capable of reaching up to 20 feet in length and weighing in at up to one ton!


If stretched out, full grown adult males wouldn’t even fit in your average bedroom. Because I expect most sensible people to have ruled out the larger crocs by now, I will focus on why keeping the readily available baby or dwarf caimans, the smallest members of the Reptilian Order Crocodilia, is still not an option for an overwhelming majority of responsible reptile owners wannabes.
While I am the first to admit that I understand the appeal of holding these absolutely gorgeous animals (I said holding, not owning) that are strangely reminiscent of dinosaurs; there are many reasons why doing so should be avoided by all. Before I get into the cons of croc ownership, I will provide a brief overview of crocodilian biology.
Crocodilian’s have an extremely ancient evolutionary lineage which predates the emergence of the dinosaurs. The first croc like reptiles appeared in the late Triassic Period, some 225 million years ago (though modern groups aren’t found in fossil beds dating older than approximately 80-85 million years ago during the Cretaceous period). Crocs are highly adaptable animals whose amphibious lifestyles and extraordinary ability to withstand long periods without food helped them survive the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction event responsible for wiping out the dinosaurs some 65.5 million years ago; when an asteroid impact in the Gulf of Mexico had a long-lasting and devastating impact, killing over 75% of animals living at the time, including the dinosaurs. While major extinction events are devastating to the animals unable to adapt to the changing conditions, this extinction event allowed for a massive radiation of the mammals, as well as the crocodilians, to a lesser degree.

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1) Costs:
the housing, feeding habits and veterinary expenses are sure to cost several thousands of dollars throughout the extremely long life span of a crocodile (which have been known to live up to 70 in captivity). Are you prepared to take on a life long commitment to a potentially aggressive animal requiring a significant amount of time, room and money to thrive in captivity?
2) Powerful Bite:
Remember that the title of the most powerful bite in the animal kingdom belongs to a crocodilian; and while the dwarf caiman is a fraction of the size of a saltwater crocodile, they are still deceivingly powerful animals capable of inflicting a serious wound on inexperienced reptile handlers. Only highly experienced reptile handlers (or those learning under the direct supervision of professionals) should physically approach or handle a crocodilian. Regardless of ones experience level, handling should be done minimally as crocodilians are often easily agitated and stressed by handling. Caimans should be fed using tongs or a similar device to distance the handler from the crocodilian during feeding. As I alluded to earlier, crocodilians are highly intelligent reptiles, and can be target trained to make feeding/moving them more manageable. However, to see their cognitive abilities at work, you do NOT need to buy one. There are plenty of related videos on YouTube and many zoological facilities will show the feeding of their crocodilians to the public if you find out what time they are fed before planning your trip.
3) Captive Diet and Nutritional Requirements:
The captive caiman diet should include small invertebrates, fish and varied, appropriately sized frozen/thawed birds and rodents. An adult caimans appetite can be quite voracious, and whole frozen rodents/birds can be expensive if not purchased in bulk. A large part of the crocodilians diet should consist of whole animals to ensure that the caiman can attain the necessary calcium from the prey animals bones. The diet should not be based on just fish, or on chunks of meat/flesh; while those can be supplemental items, the diet should be primarily whole rodents or birds. Feeding live birds or mammals is, as always, NOT recommended as doing so in captivity frequently increases aggression, exaggerates feeding responses and endangers the handler and reptile alike. The diet will also need to be supplemented with a specialized vitamin/mineral mixture with calcium at least once a week to make up for possible gaps in nutrition. Are you sure about this?
4) Legal Implications:
Can you legally own a crocodilian where you live? Are you willing to accept legal accountability of the crocodilian if it bites someone? The legalities associated with crocodilian ownership vary from one state to another; some countries have no regulations regarding the ownership of crocodilians; some allow only smaller species; others require permits; and still others have total bans on private crocodilian ownership with people breaking the law on this and many more matters. Just because you live in a country that doesn’t respect the laws pertaining to private crocodilian ownership doesn’t mean you can. An enormous amount of legal information ought to be considered by all perspective crocodilian owners, especially those without a long history of handling and caring for large, dangerous reptiles.
In conclusion, as nice as it would be if crockies stayed hatchling-sized and remained manageable, it’s simply not the case. Crocodilians get much bigger than most other reptiles kept as pets, and thus require significantly larger enclosures than just about any other animal you’ll find in the exotic reptile trade. They can be dangerous, difficult to predict, aggressive, messy and very expensive/demanding animals to house responsibly. For these reasons, I urge perspective crocodilian owners in the countries where beautiful reptiles hatchlings are frequently seen in exotic reptile shops to steer clear unless they can realistically expect to provide the level of expert care AND the space these animals will require in adulthood.