Hampi: Joshua Tree’s fraternal twin

Posted in Uncategorized on December 23, 2008 by chelseaerinrobbins

Hampi India: what a freaking amazing place!  For those of you who haven’t heard me say this already, Hampi, India is like Joshua Tree, but take out the J trees and throw in some coconut palms, crazy monkeys, ancient temples, amazing food and wonderful people.  Oh, and I cannot forget the rice terraces; they are amazing too.  The rice terraces: something so simple to a local, but an amazing geometric masterpiece to me!  They are nestled in every flat area possible (not covered by roads or buildings… or temples) and they really add to the beauty of this ancient settlement.  The “orphans” and I (as I like to call my eclectic worldly crew) did a lot of cite seeing in Hampi by foot.  I think we probably walked about 8miles +/- in the few days we were there.

 

Seeing Hampi by foot is a great way to get around and allows one to really mingle with the locals.  As we walked along one of the country roads one day up to the lake, we were really able to get a sense of how the locals lived.  Small huts housed with whole families (mom, dad, siblings, grandparents, etc.).  But those were the lucky ones, many people in India aren’t that lucky and from the moment one arrives in India, the mass poverty is evident.  Anyways, as we walked long the road, we saw the many women tending to the rice in the fields, dressed in their beautiful colorful traditional Indian garments.  Also, there were many men and children (I would estimate as young as 5) working the fields as well, using picks to dig trenches and wooden plows attached to oxen.  It was like stepping back in time.  Also we would often get followed by children who would want us to take their pictures.  Many of them weren’t begging, they just wanted to see themselves in our digital cameras.  It was very apparent that technologies such as the digital cameras are not commonplace in such impoverished areas. 

 

Overall, the general feel of Hampi was positive and the people really were exceptionally kind.  While we were there, there was also a 12 day religious Hindu festival taking place.  Hindus from all over came to partake in the festivities.  From before the sun rose until 10pm every night, we could hear the sounds of the Babas chanting in Hindi over a loudspeaker for all in Hampi to hear.  Sometimes, I would also hear the deep hums of “om” as the Baba and all of the Hindus chanted this word in unison.  Hearing a whole city chanting “om” is quite amazing and really brings a sense of peace to the surroundings.  One afternoon during the festivities, we ventured into the heart of the city for some “people watching” and temple exploring.  In reality, I think we were the “people” being watched with all of the folks staring at us and smiling, asking to take pictures and asking “what your name”.  It was really fun and we sure stuck out like sore thumbs!

 

I’d have to say that my fondest memory of Hampi was the day we hiked to the monkey temple.  Pascal, a friend from France, was the only one of us who had visited Hampi before.  His excellent navigation skills and previous experience proved very beneficial while we were there.  Because Pascal knew a back way, we took a trail winding through the hills to the monkey temple instead of the road.  On the way back, as we were crossing in between a few rice terraces after sunset, I began to notice little florescent lights flickering on and off amongst the grass.  Fireflies!!! SOOOO cool!  So we made our way back home from the monkey temple, accompanied by the songs of frogs croaking and fireflies buzzing about.  It was one of those special memories I will always cherish. 🙂    

          

The Rollercoaster of Emotions at IAR

Posted in Uncategorized on December 23, 2008 by chelseaerinrobbins

Volunteering for International Animal Rescue has taken me on a journey flooded with a rollercoaster of emotions; one morning we are making plans to release animals back into the wild and the next moment is filled with sadness for another sick animal that has to be euthanized. Over the last few weeks I have experienced such joy working with these animals and hope that I can give to them as much as I get from working with them. Recently, a puppy that I have been absolutely in love with had to be euthanized and I was beside myself with sorrow. I had already made plans to bring my furry buddy back to the U.S. if it couldn’t get adopted by a loving Indian family. I always tend to go for the underdogs (pun intended) and this little fellow was an uber underdog from the moment he came in: cowering in the corner and growling at anyone who tried to take him out. I have never been scared of a puppy before, but he was the first to intimidate me as well as others. There were only two volunteers (Kevin from the UK and I) who could take him out of his enclosure and were only able to do so after about a week of petting and talking to him every day. He was starting to make great progress and others were now able to hold him as well. Then, one day, while I was there in the afternoon, he had diarrhea in his cage with some blood in it. Unfortunately this is virtually a death sentence for a 3rd world pup. Parvo spreads like wildfire and devastates whole litters of pups in the rescue center. Not to mention, 3rd world Veterinary medicine is a lot different from first world vet medicine and the same luxuries provided to 1st world creatures simply cannot be afforded to these animals. This is the reality of things but it is still hard. So when my little buddy was suspected of Parvo, it wasn’t good. One of the kennel boys asked me to “take him to the back to the vet” and I assumed it was so they could examine him. So when I asked him why, he replied that my little friend was going to be euthanized and I was besides my self, trying to hold back my tears. I knew this was bad. Having the perspective of working in many veterinary clinics in the U.S., I knew this pup had a really good chance of survival because he was still very active and was even showing progress by eating more. But it is just different here; it’s as simple as that. I asked the vet to let me bring the dog back to my place where I would treat him but because Parvo is extremely easy to transmit to other dogs, I would be putting every puppy I worked with at the center at risk. So, I took a deep breath, said my goodbyes and kissed his little wet nose. It just kills me that I know he would have had a chance at home in the U.S. and I could do nothing for him here. The sad reality of things is that this happens every day and that is why everyone should spay and neuter their animals. Whether in the 3rd world or in the 1st world, it’s a responsibility we all have to ensure no animal has to live a life being afraid and then die unnecessarily when it never should have been born. As pessimistic as it seems I am being right now, I’d like to say I do believe Kevin and I made a difference for this little guy because when I said goodbye that day, he was sitting calm and mellow in his cage; he wasn’t the frightened little guy he was a few weeks ago when he first arrived at IAR. I truly believe even though he was scared when he came into this world, he was at peace when he left it.

 So with the lows there are of course many highs that come with being at IAR, Goa. For example, the same day my little friend was taken from this earth, I went along for some exciting releases of animals back into the wild. First there was “Sandy”. He was this mangy Indian street doggie, reddish tan and a little rough around the edges. He was captured, neutered, treated for mange and then released. We all crammed into one of the IAR rescue vans with Sandy in a cage in the back and headed off to some little town outside of Anjuna, dodging potholes, other crazy Indian drivers, the ever so “holy” cows and the folks on “motorbikes” and bicycles carrying so much stuff that I swear they should compete in the Guinness Book of World Records for the most crap one person can fit onto a bicycle. Anyways, so we zipped down by the river to this nice little spot where a bunch of elderly Indian dudes were hanging out and chatting it up. Mick (a fellow from the rescue center) opened the back of the van, unlatched the cage and off he went; Sandy was finally free! It was such a wonderful thing to see. The locals were happy to see him too and as fast as the latch was opened, Sandy disappeared down some little alley between dingy cement houses and coconut palms. Oh, I also forgot to mention the two additional passengers that were accompanying Sandy, myself and the other IAR folks that went along for his release; there was also a 4ft crocodile and a monitor lizard housed in separate burlap sacs in the back seat! So after we released Sandy it was off to release the crocodile and then the monitor lizard. It was just such an indescribable feeling of pure satisfaction and joy to see these animals returned to their homes after their stay with IAR. This is truly what makes it all worth while!

On another day, we also went out to capture a female in the dog trap and brought her and all her puppies back to the center.  Mom was to be spayed (after the pups were weaned) and the healthy babies would stay with mom and eventually get adopted out when they were old enough.

On another outing recently, I got to meet some new friends of the primate type! John Hicks is the founder of IAR, Goa and has a beautiful home situated in the rainforest overlooking one of India’s many expansive rivers a few towns over from Anjuna. He has a primate rehabilitation center he runs from his home and we were invited over for the grand tour! One of my IAR buddies (Maria) and I hopped on my valiant stallion (aka: my 75+/-cc scooter) and whizzed off following the IAR van as it headed for John’s pad. I know I said it before, but I swear, driving in India is just as crazy as the videos one sees on YouTube. I once read an analogy on someone’s travel blog with respect to driving in India. The author wrote “driving in India is like playing a game of Frogger” and I can tell you that is exactly what it is like; chaos and confusion and horns and exhaust and all of the above. Anyways, sorry for that tangent, let me get back to the story at hand. So we arrived at John’s house and got to see all the cool monkeys he housed. One especially little cute fellow caught my eye; his name was Bradshaw and he is a Macaque who was rescued from the hands of some mean folks who were trying to sell him in the illegal pet trade. Unfortunately, they really didn’t care about his wellbeing whatsoever (as tends to be the norm in the illegal pet trades) and he was frequently attacked by the traders’ dogs. He had bite wounds on his back he was recovering from, but fortunately, they were almost completely healed. I got the honor of hanging out with this sweet little fellow for part of the afternoon and was ecstatic. But let me tell you that he was a little terror; all 1.5 feet of him! Since he was still a baby, he is completely dependant on his foster moms and trying to take care of him allows no time for anything but chasing him around. He is just like a little toddler but he can climb! I would chase him around and he would climb on the stone walls of the house, on the plants and even on me! He could also jump like a flea and one of the folks who was swimming at the time (Mick) got quite a surprise when he felt a crazy monkey bounce from the poolside onto his head!

Aside from Broadrick, there were also about 20 other monkeys at John’s facilities. Most of them were adults (or teenagers per say), but there was one other little female monkey who was only 3 months old and needed constant attention. Someone accidentally ran over her mom on the road and when they approached the female to see if she was ok, she had passed away, but this little female monkey was clinging desperately to her deceased mom. It is a tragic story, but fortunately she found her way to John’s rehab sanctuary where she will be cared for until she can be released (along with a whole troop of monkeys) back into the wild.

International Animal Rescue: the whole reason I am here

Posted in Uncategorized on December 5, 2008 by chelseaerinrobbins

 

It has been a few days now since I arrived in Goa and I am settling into the whole routine of volunteering at International Animal Rescue and then enjoying the great food, warm weather and soaking in the rays of the beautiful beaches. In my next blog post I will include a bunch of pictures from the IAR center but until then, I’m gonna go get some dinner and enjoy the evening. Hope the U.S. is treating everyone well and I will be doing the crazy Nor Cal snow dance for you guys tonight! Hopefully when I return, the gargantuan snow pack I ordered will have arrived! 🙂

 

Well, it was exactly one week ago that I arrived in Anjuna, Goa.  My skin is now a few shades darker from my beach escapades (and don’t worrie Thane and Kaden, I am safe wearing a bikini; thank you for your concern) and I am sporting the tell-tale signs of contact with animals: flea bites!  The tan part I am quite satisfied with but I could do without the flea bites.  Well… I guess it comes with the territory working with International Animal Rescue (IAR) so in reality, it’s really not so bad.

 

Before arriving at IAR I had this mental image of my task at hand.  I was going to be the MacGyver of veterinary technicians; I’d sport a bright snazzy sweatband and my spiffy IAR shirt (ok… scratch the sweatband).  I’d dash to and fro throughout the state of Goa, rescuing animals and using whatever means necessary to help any living creature I came across.  Bird, reptile or mammal, everything would be just peachy.  So, on the first day when I arrived I was given the grand tour and was put work right away.  Ok, so I am not exactly the MacGyver-esque gal I was hoping to be, but I truly believe I am here making a difference for the animals.

 

IAR, Goa is situated about 2.5 miles outside of the town of Anjuna, Goa.  Every day I putt down the country roads on my scooter, driving on the left side of the road, avoiding cattle, cars, potholes and people alike, making my way to IAR’s Rescue and Veterinary center.  Eventually, I venture down a rutted dirt road and can hear the familiar howls and barks from the 90+ dogs that are patients at the center.  With the massive numbers of various animals coming to and fro the center, it is quite impressive how well organized everything is.  There are over 20 paid staff members at the center.  There are several staff members in the reception area admitting animals and there is always at least one veterinarian on hand, if not 3 or 4 seeing patients, doing surgeries and making the daily rounds for the 100+animals that temporarily call International Animal Rescue, Goa their home.  There are also over ten kennel staff who busily race to and fro, cleaning kennels, going out on rescue calls and basically doing whatever is necessary to keep things in order.  And finally, there are the volunteers:  People who have come from all over the world to do their part to try and make a difference in the lives of these animals.  In the ten years that the Goan IAR center has been open, I am only the third volunteer from the United States (Erin and Amber: let’s increase this number ladies!).

 

Because of the massive numbers of needy animals that come into the center, volunteers first and foremost serve to give IAR’s patients a better quality of life.  Every day, each dog gets a walk.  Given that there are always over 90 Indian street dogs in house at the center at all times, this is quite impressive.  The volunteers also serve as an extra pair of eyes for the veterinarians.  As you can imagine, looking after one-hundred animals, most of which are injured, ALL of which require attention beyond the norm is no easy feat and an extra pair or eyes can quickly catch a re-opened incision, a dog who needs his kennel cleaned or simply a water bowl that needs to be re-filled..  Many of the dogs at the center (actually, I’d estimate 60% of the dogs) are infected with mange, a very uncomfortable skin condition caused by microscopic mites which live just under the skin.  Mange is very uncomfortable for the host and results in hair loss and severe itching.  Some dogs merely have light hair loss whilst others are almost completely bald.  Often times, a shake in morning sun during a walk far too often reveals the many airborne skin flakes which have separated from the poor Indian street dog’s body; the dog looks as though he is shaking off after rolling in the dirt!  Fortunately, mange can be treated with antibiotics.  For those veterinary nerds out there, these dogs are plagued with both Sacopties Mange and/or Demodex mange.  No fun!

 

Besides for the mange, Distemper, Kennel cough, Parvo virus and Leptosporosis (which can be transmitted to humans) all plague dogs at the center, especially the puppy ward.  There are so SO many puppies that come into the center on a regular basis (in fact we just got 5 new ones in today).  That is why spaying and neutering are such an important thing to do for the street dogs before they are released or adopted.  Being a stray pup in any part of the world is tough and being one in India is no exception.  Because of the large numbers of pups that arrive at the center, combined with limited funds, sick puppies that cannot recover on their own are euthanized.  Puppies that are too young to eat on their own who do not have a mother are also euthanized.  In this big cruel world, this is a sad reality in Goa.  In addition, the puppies that do not get adopted out are also euthanized.  Believe me; it is not that the center doesn’t care for its animals.  International Animal Rescue cares for it’s patients more than anything, it is just that in reality, a puppy who comes to the center and has a happy life for a short time will live a better quality life than one who is set free in the big harsh state of Goa, where wild dogs roam in packs, are extremely territorial and will severely hurt, if not kill intruders who venture into their territory.  On a positive note, however, there are a significant number of puppies that get adopted by loving locals.  In once such case, there was a blind female who escaped the jaws of death by a wonderful lady who could care for this special needs dog.  The pup arrived at the center early last week with her soft brown, tan and black medium length fur, a protruding round puppy belly and beautiful round almond colored eyes.  We all sympathized for her.  Her fate was practically sealed; she was on a straight path to doggie heaven.  Blind dogs do not survive in the wild in India, more or less anywhere.  In the wild, Mother Nature would have surely wrapped its indifferent, yet cruel hands around the pup which could not fend for itself.  We all took the time to hold and play with this special blind pup and tried to give it the best quality of life possible for its short time on this earth.  But in the backs of our minds we knew it was only a matter of a day or two before she would be taken from this earth, by a caring veterinarian, in the most humane way possible.  I am so glad she found a home but let me tell you, our work is cut out for us at the center.  There are many others like her that also need homes.

 

Besides for the pups at the center, there is an excess of attention starved and injured cats and kittens that are in need of attention.  There are just soooooo many animals and it is hard to spend time with them all every day.  Fortunately, many animals do get love and attention, but it is definitely an infinite task which there is no end.  Other than cats, the center gets the occasional exotic animal as well as an abundance of cows (surprise surprise…after all, it is India, right?!).  For example, currently, we have one 4ft crocodile, a Pacific reef egret, 2 Russell vipers and a monitor.  Furthermore, yesterday (which I unfortunately missed the rescue of; dough!) the boys at the center rescued a cow which fell down a well.  Every day, something new is coming in: dogs with knife lacerations from the hands of cruel humans, battle wounds from the harsh life as an Indian street dog, animals hit by cars.  You name it, we’ve got it! 

So as you can see, this volunteer business is keeping me quite busy.  …and if the pics and stories have tugged at your heart a wee bit, please consider donating to International Animal Rescue on my fundraising page: http://www.firstgiving.com/chelsea_robbins

Thanks and have a fantastic day!                         

Goa = radical to the power of awesome!

Posted in Uncategorized on December 5, 2008 by chelseaerinrobbins

Goa freakin rocks! I’d have to say that Goa is a combination of Hawaii (the road to Hana part on Maui) mixed in with the chill Santa Cruz scene and topped off by the friendly Burning Man mentality. Tanja from International Animal Rescue set me up a quaint little guest house in the town of Anjuna (about 5 km from the Rescue Center). The owner’s name is Candy and he is like a father figure to me. He is always giving me pointers about how to be safe, etc. and shows a genuine care for his guests. Besides myself there are two Norwegian couples, a French fellow “Pascal”, “Robert” from Germany and another fellow from the U.K.. The guest house is small and we are all like an eclectic group of orphans brought together creating a family bonded by our love of travel.

Speaking of family, Candy and his family are good people. Though I have to admit I have not bonded with one of the family members: a Dushund who would rather bite and bark at me instead of being friendly. I’d like to think that most animals find me approachable and kind so I am a little insulted that after 4 days this little fellow and I aren’t buds yet. Oh did I mention he is the fattest Dushund I have ever seen?! Perhaps he heard me snickering at him or something.

So about a 5 minute walk from my pad is the beach. Awesome! The water is like bath water and the food and drinks are cheap. $.50 for beer and $2 for lunch. Nice! The first day I arrived, I watched the sunset from the beach in Anjuna along with the stray dogs and cows. It’s interesting seeing all the cows cruising around and I really like it (just avoid the landmines because they’re rather large and most of the time one is either barefoot or in flip flops journeying along the playa). I have also kept an eye out for the International Animal Rescue dogs along the beach and have seen quite a few canines donning their swell doggie collars denoting they have been vaccinated and neutered/spayed by IAR.

Delhi; The City of Urine

Posted in Uncategorized on December 5, 2008 by chelseaerinrobbins

Ok, so I have to admit that traveling alone to India might be crazy, but traveling alone to Delhi, India is bold. Delhi is an amazing, crazy city and definitely put me out of my comfort zone. Bangkok helped prepared me for what to expect, but even Bangkok lacked the sheer numbers of impoverished people Delhi had. Thankfully, I met a fellow at Hong Kong International Airport who was native to Delhi, and who was making his way home from Southern California where he worked as an Engineer. He helped me find a taxi from the airport, a good hotel and even negotiated a lower room rate for me. On the way to my hotel, I began to take in the major aesthetic differences between California and Delhi. There is no organization when it comes to driving and the horn is blasted every second. About every 10 seconds I felt like we were going to run someone over. Also, I don’t think I have ever counted so many people urinating on the side of the road in plain daylight before; quite impressive! I’d have to estimate I witnessed one urinator per mile traveled; amazing! Anyways, enough about urine, that evening my new India buddy (Sandeep) and I went to this uber posh dinner joint. U.S. dance music blared along with some sweet Indian tunes I wish I knew the name of. That night I had my first authentic Indian cuisine; Chicken curry with rice; it was amazing! Then it was time to hit the sack.

The next morning was a little unsettling. About 6am I awoke to the sound of my cell phone. My brother was calling. After the call, I looked over to the window and at that exact moment I noticed the dark silhouette of a face peered in my window. Let me just say that my stomach dropped. Fortunately the peeping tom could not get into my room even if he wanted to because of the way the outside stairwell to the hotel was arranged but it still scared the crap out of me. I checked for peep holes when I checked in but missed the inconspicuous gap in the curtains. A few hours passed with me sitting wide awake in my bed and then I headed back to the airport. One of the guards at the airport wielded a shiny metal machine gun. I was temped to ask if I could take a picture but refrained in fear of looking to touristy. I mean, blonde hair and blue eyes blend in, right? 😉