Sunday, 16 August 2020

Why We Went Raw


I field a lot of questions about why we transitioned our dogs from kibble to raw food.  I also get asked about our choice in the type of raw food.  Believe me when I say, it wasn’t our first choice, or even our second. It has been an onerous process involving discussions with numerous experts and many hours of research.   Quin.  Quinn is the reason. I’ll start at the beginning.

We got Quinn, a German Shepherd, in 2016.  We were attracted to the breed for a couple of reasons.  First, we were looking for something that might provide some protection, not only to us but to our other animals.  We live on a farm in Alberta, Canada, where coyotes, foxes and owls were making lunch out of our cats.  We wasted something of sufficient size and temperament to not only deter predators from parading through the yard but, if the need arose, could hold their own. Our dog would be outdoors but with house privileges, therefore indoor and outdoor manners were key to success.

Introduction to obedience and agility

A German Shepherd is a serious commitment but all dogs are not created equal.  It soon became evident that Quinn's energy needed to be managed; that, if given an inch, she was going to run with the whole mile. I needed to step it up if I was going to remain at the top of the pack. She is intelligent, agile and dominant. She needs not one job but several. We were already working with a trainer, we added weekly dog club for socialization and training for both her and me. We have now worked with the breeder and several trainers to introduce Quinn to obedience, agility, scent and protection work. 

The first inkling that something wasn’t right with Quinn's health was immediately upon her arrival to her new home.  We found ourselves taking her outside 3 and 4 times during the night. Every. Single. Night.  Both edging toward our sixth decade, this certainly wasn’t what we envisioned when we decided getting a puppy was a good idea.  We were well advised to crate train and, while little Quinn was great at letting out a bark to let us know the urgency of the situation, the uninterrupted sleep was telling on us. Truth be told, she never had more than a couple of daytime accidents in the house (none in her crate) and those incidents we clearly missed the signals. Shortly thereafter it was suggested that we bell train her, a concept which she was quick to grasp and resolved any confusion.  But getting through the night was a completely different can of worms.

Fun and Games
After a week, and some internet research, we decided a vet check was in order and, sure enough, she was diagnosed with a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI).  Being a female, her private bits had direct contact with the ground whenever she sat down.  While her ‘outie’ would eventually become an ‘innie’ as she matured, we were warned that UTIs in very young dogs often result in a chronic condition, sometimes even requiring surgery!  Who knew? It took two full rounds of antibiotics and several weeks before she finally passed her pee exam. We were advised to escalate her hygiene by daily cleaning of her vulva with a clean, warm, wet cloth.  We did this faithfully avoided any further UTIs.

Her first winter, when she was about 8 months old, we noticed she was doing a lot of scratching.  While she never scratched herself raw, she continuously licked her paws and scratched everywhere.  Our vet indicated Quinn may be prone to allergies, a condition becoming more common in dogs, and that food was often the culprit.  He hinted at the dilemma we might find ourselves in; that we could spend a copious amount of time and money trying to treat this condition without ever finding any solid resolution. He suggested we first eliminate as many toxins in the home as we could.  He explained that allergies to certain proteins was common and to try a limited ingredient kibble.  If that didn’t work, perhaps switch to a hydrolyzed kibble, which goes through a process to break the proteins down to particles so tiny that the body can’t actually distinguish that it’s even a protein. He also had clients that transitioned their itchy dogs to raw, some with great success. We were given a short-term prescription of Vanectyl P to get us over the hump.  And it worked, for awhile. And then, once again, we found ourselves living with Itchy Skin Quinn.

So began the purge.  While we didn't use a lot of chemicals in the home, we disposed of traditional cleaning products in favour of nontoxic options.  We went from washing her bedding with laundry soap to nothing more than hot water.  We kept the humidity up because our winters tend to be so very dry.  Most of our furniture was leather; we had no carpets. Our animals were never allowed on the bed but we took it a step further and banned Quinn from the bedroom. We sanitized her doghouse and kept as hygienically clean and dust-free as possible. We groomed daily and wiped her down with a damp cloth to remove dander.  We added fish oils other supplements to her diet.  We began feeding a high quality limited ingredient kibble.  The scratching continued. 

Brother and Sister

By the time Quinn was a year, she had received all of her puppy vaccinations and was of a proper age to spay.  Because we were intent on having a German Shepherd that was properly socially conditioned, we not only were active in  dog club but enrolled her in puppy day care, the latter of which required Quinn to be fully vaccinated and medicated for flees.  We chose Bravecto because we were advised it was safe and provided a full three months of control.  What we didn’t anticipate was the lethargy and loss of appetite from it.  The vet suggested we follow up with FortiFlora, a prescription probiotic.  Within a week, her appetite and high spirits returned. The scratching continued and, this time, with a vengeance.

Our community did not have a dermatological vet, but there was a general vet who specialized in allergies.  At our appointment, we were advised that Quinn had allergies but diagnosing the cause would not be easy.  Allergy testing was not recommended as results were inconclusive until she reached 3 years of age. The cause may be environmental but food was the easiest to rule out because it can be controlled. Since a limited ingredient diet didn’t seem to help, we should try an elimination diet.  We had concerns about hydrolyzed protein kibble; what good could possibly come from such a highly processed diet?  We had access to wild meat. A hunter herself, she was not opposed to a homemade diet providing the protein was one which Quinn had never previously consumed.  Together, we settled on a diet of moose, potatoes and Hillary’s Blend, a supplement providing all of the essential vitamins and minerals. We had to continue this diet for a minimum of eight weeks; the longer the better. In addition, biweekly baths using the Chlorhexidine-based shampoo, Duoxo; regular doses of Dermoscent Spot On and over-the-counter Loratadine were added to the protocol.  Quinn was fast becoming a very high maintenance dog.  I began a journal to track how itchy she was, on a scale from 1 to 10 and noted all treatments.  We explored the various over-the-counter and prescription medications, including apoquel, atopica and allergy shots. After copious amounts of research, we did not invest in the last three, simply because none of them appeared to prove effective, all appeared to have considerable side effects and they were costly. We agreed with the vet to abstain from vaccination updates, which tend to stress the body and aggravate skin conditions.

Winter Adventure

When we left for our annual three-week vacation in March, 2018, we left Quinn in the hands of a capable dogsitter, armed with a book of instructions and enough homemade dog food, precisely weighed and meted out in single serving bags, to last a month.  A calendar laid out precise scheduling of her medications and baths. The day we arrived home, our dogsitter told us that Quinn had, the day before, nibbled a small piece of her ball away and then later threw up a wee bit of blood.  We weren’t terribly worried; the piece was miniscule and should easily pass.  But, being the doting helicopter parents we are, for the next several days, I followed her through the cold and snow so that I could inspect her pee and poop.  What I discovered was that she had diarrhea with a bit of mucous and blood.  While I didn’t actually see her vomit, I found a couple of piles that also appeared to contain a bit of blood.  We waited a couple of more days; long enough to collect samples, and off to the vet we went.

One of many reasons to crate train

The original thought was that there was nothing urgent. Quinn appeared to be in excellent health and superb condition. She was the proper weight; her coat looked great and she was alert and active. We could take a 'wait and see' approach or run tests.  We opted for the tests.  An ultrasound pointed toward some kind of blockage.  It was agreed that Quinn remain at the clinic, with a follow-up ultrasound at the end of the day.  The call we received late that afternoon was that Quinn did indeed have a blockage and consent was needed for surgery.  A few hours later, our vet advises that what was thought to be a blockage was actually ‘a gelatinous mass of bloody diarrhea’. Deep chested dogs (which Quinn isn’t) sometimes suffer from intestinal distress due to bloating.  It is not uncommon to stitch the intestines to the upper abdominal wall to avoid this life-threatening condition but Quinn was so raw internally, the vet decided against this procedure. Instead they opted to remove the infection as much as possible and close. Antibiotics and fluids would be administered and Quinn would be ready for home in a day or so.

A couple of days went by, during which time Quinn continued to wane. While we had supplied the clinic with her several feedings of her elimination diet, a decision was made to switch her to hydrolyzed canned food for easier digestion. When her health continued to decline, she was tested for Parvo, not once but twice. The original stool and vomit samples had been destroyed without analyzing; the clinic wanted new ones to test for parasites. They were adamant that there was some other underlying condition. Antibiotics were switched. Always an excellent source of advice and information, I stayed in touch with the breeder who, by this time, was a good friend. She phoned to tell me, if a decision was made to euthanize Quinn, she would give us another puppy. My heart skipped a beat or two, I began to cry, and told her we weren't 'there' yet. Of course, she knew that; she just wanted me to know.  It took much longer than anticipated but Quinn did eventually begin to recuperate.  Five days and $2,200 later, we took her home.

Finally home
We chose a different path forward.  We found an integrative vet who also practices acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM). We told him that we were done with the ‘boutique’ style of veterinary medicine consisting of a lot of very expensive suggestions without any real resolution.  While we knew Quinn definitely had health issues, we weren’t convinced it was allergies.  We felt it was something deeper.  We had played by the book; we tried the vast majority of recommendations, we were vigilant on her skin care, we were deeply invested. And we almost lost her.  It was time to change course.

This vet took the time to explain who he was and what he did.  He is self-described old school, that doesn't always find expensive concoctions yields positive results. While some of the old drugs do indeed have side effects, one has to weigh not only the cost but the amount of medication needed to keep Quinn comfortable. He supplements traditional veterinary medicine with TCVM, which is based on food, rather than medication.  He also augments his practice with acupuncture.  He suggested a homemade diet consisting of meat, vegetables and grain.  The list of appropriate vegetables and grains, I have since learned are classed as ‘neutral’ or ‘cooling’ foods. While raw is preferred, it could also be cooked.  While it was best if the ingredients became the entire diet, it could also be used as a topper. He added the Chinese herbal supplement Si Miao San.  To provide Quinn with some relief from her discomfort, he prescribed a very low dose of Vanectyl-P. We continued the weekly baths with medicated shampoo to remove any dander or irritating substances from Quinn’s skin which would give her some temporary relief. He agreed that we should abstain from vaccination updates.

Agility work

I had already done a lot of research on feeding raw.  I had a grasp of the differing philosophies between feeding Prey Model Raw (PMR) and Biologically Appropriate Raw (BARF) with the latter also incorporating a limited amount of vegetables, seeds and fruit. In general, PMR feeders don’t believe plant matter is appropriate for carnivores. The diet focuses on whole prey (meat, organs, bone).  BARF operates on the belief that dogs are omnivores or obligate carnivores. Diets consist of muscle meat, organs and bones, up to 10% fruits and vegetables, sometimes dairy and supplements.

TCVM is based on much the same principles as we humans apply to ourselves; better nutrition will cause our bodies to perform better.  Processed foods, sugars, dyes and high carbohydrates, as found in most commercially prepared foods does not equate to good health. Certain conditions or diseases produce a lot of heat in the body, including inflammatory diseases, such as arthritis, diabetes and Cushings Disease. Certain foods, such as venison, chicken and lamb add heat to the body, while melon, cold water fish and rabbit have a cooling effect.

Si Miao San is a Chinese formula directed at treating inflammation and commonly used for inflammatory bowel disease, allergic dermatitis, Cushings and diabetes. It also has anti cancer properties and supports good digestion.

Food Therapy From the Chi Institute

I have never fully come to a conclusion whether Quinn actually has allergies exacerbated by her diet, or whether she had a gut problem.  I think it’s safe to say that she had a weak immune system.  The early UTI was our first clue; her reaction to Bravecto was the second. We learned that Quinn’s diet was wrong from the start, which began as a quality lamb and rice kibble which supplemented with venison-based. Both choices add heating elements to an already inflamed dog.  We were literally piling on fuel for the fire!

Bite work
For more than a year, we stuck to the cooling diet like glue. While we experimented with different combinations of cooling foods we maintained the balance of 30% vegetables/fruit, up to 10% grains and cooling or neutral protiens, consisting of beef, moose and fish. One day, Quinn decided she wasn’t going to eat if we continued to include Si Miao San in her diet.  I admit, I never tasted it but we were warned it is bitter and many animals won’t eat it, in which case, it’s available in pill form. By this time, Quinn was looking radiant and her itching had diminished considerably.

We took Quinn on a 35-day RV road trip across Canada in 2018.  It was a bit of a challenge preparing her meals at times.  We certainly didn’t have freezer capacity to prepare all her meals at home and carry them with us. Instead, we relied on commercially prepared PMR foods which we supplemented with vegetables and grains. We looked for Pet Value stores when it came time for her weekly bath.

Welcome to Nova Scotia!

Quinn remains a high strung, high energy dog, somewhat prone to anxiety. While she loves people, she doesn’t always play well with others. This aspect continues to be a work in progress.  During our travels, we preferred small, municipal campgrounds which were not only sparsely occupied; they came with ball diamonds and lots of open space which lent themselves well for off-leash work to allow Quinn to burn off a little energy. Through Ontario and Quebec in particular, we found ourselves in very large, heavily occupied facilities and, wouldn’t you know it, we almost always were designated a corner lot where everyone would walk their dogs! There are a LOT of people travelling with dogs these days!  This required considerably more vigilance on our part and it definitely generated additional stress for our little family of three but we managed the situation. We ultimately put her back on a low dose of Vanectyl-P before we returned home.  She had two doses of Revolution as we were concerned about Lyme disease (ticks) and didn’t really relish the thought of a trailer full of fleas.

Fast forward to 2020 and we still check Quinn’s poop on a regular basis.  We are slightly more lenient with the diet in that we no longer make all of our treats and sometimes we even slip in a bit of raw chicken.  Meals are now about 8% cooling/neutral grains and cooling vegetables/fruits has been reduced from 30% to 15%. We do not vaccinate.  In the event that we decide we need to, vaccinations will be stretched over several months so as not to overwhelm her system.

Bravo and Quinn, Christmas 2019

We’ve added another German Shepherd to our pack which has been good for Quinn and us.  Bravo may be almost double Quinn's weight but she is the boss. Apparently, that's a common trait of the female genderšŸ˜€. While Bravo's diet is similar, (about 5% vegetables/fruit and 5% grain), he tends to run on the hot side,  so his diet is also based on neutral and cooling foods.

Our breeders stopped by for a visit earlier this year.  I commented that Quinn's intelligence and dexterity better lent itself to a home where someone would do some serious agility work with her, rather than an old couple in their 60s. Our breeder was quick to point out that Quinn landed herself in the right home, one that had the time and financial resources for that deep dive into resolving her health issues.  Anyone can see that both dogs are the epitome of good health. I've personally lost 20 lbs and walk up to 5 miles daily. With the exception of run-ins with porcupines, we've managed to keep both dogs away from the vet. We aim to keep it that way.



Sunday, 31 May 2020

Northern Colombia: Natural Wonders & Ancient Civilizations

Wiwa Village of Gotshezhy

It’s been over two months since arriving safely home from our significantly reduced vacation to Northern Colombia, courtesy of Covid-19.  I struggle not to allow this World pandemic to overshadow an adventure where vast diversity and striking beauty is bested only by the hearts of its inhabitants. This is our second visit to Colombia, so that should tell you how well our first visit went.  Check it out:
one of many species of native orchid
Roughly the size of Alberta and Saskatchewan combined, Colombia is second highest in the world when in comes to biodiversity, encompassing Amazonian rainforest, highlands, grasslands, deserts, islands and coastlines of both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Ethnically and linguistically diverse, 99% of Colombians are Spanish speaking and English is not widely spoken.  What comes to mind for many is its 30-year drug war.  It has taken decades to rebuild the stability of the country and many remain unconvinced that Colombia is a secure choice for travel.  Our experiences say otherwise; in fact, there has been a marked increase in tourism since the signing of the 2016 Peace Agreement.
GAdventures Caribbean Colombian Express
For the second time in more than 20 years of travel, we opted for a small group tour with GAdventures, a Canadian company utilizing local guides and small, locally owned businesses, ensuring the most benefit to the host country. Much to our surprise, we found this group completely different from our 2019 experience, which ranged in age from 28 to a young 70-something and was dominated by singles, most of whom were women.  Our 2020 group’s baby was 52 years old, a new experience for our guide as well.  While each day begins with a group activity, there is also plenty of free time. Accustomed to travelling as a couple alone, this is a critical element.
Cartagena's Getsemani District

Getsemani District
We began in what is undoubtedly the most expensive city in the country, Cartagena, spending a couple of days exploring the historic Walled City, constructed between the 16th and 18th centuries.  Hosting myriad hotels and restaurants, the Getsemani district is a favourite.  Not only is it less expensive, it is teeming with character.  Structures are colorful, architecturally interesting, and festooned with street art.  Reggaeton music can be heard on every street corner.  And did I mention the street food? Not to be missed!  We visited Castillo San Felipe de Barajas, located on the Hill of San Lazaro, It constructed in 1536 and expanded in 1657 and 1763. A UNESCO Heritage site now serves as a location for social and cultural events.
Graffiti depiction of much loved native son, Gabirel Garcia Marquez
There’s no better place to people watch than the Plaza San Pedro Claver but our favourite remains the less touristy Parque Centenario (Centennial Park), home to capuchin monkeys, sloths and giant iguanas;  where vendors hawk their wares and you can always find the works of native son and novelist, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I consider One Hundred Years of Solitude one the best books I’ve ever read and would have gladly picked up a copy of Love in the Time of Cholera or The Autumn of the Patriarch had I been successful in finding a copy in English. 

Our next stop was Minca, about a 4-hour drive from
Cascadas de Marinka
Cartagena. Due its close proximity to the Venezuelan border, a steady influx of refugees gave witness to the devastating poverty evident along the road between Minca and Cartagena. Colombia, once itself in turmoil brought on by the war on drugs, recently announced the creation of Special Stay Permits to allow the more than 1.6 million Venezuelans to stay and work. With a population of about 800, one might think Minca has little to offer.  One would be wrong. A backpacker’s haven, Minca is a major gateway to La Cuidad Perdida (the Lost City). Activities include day hikes; cliff jumping; coffee and chocolate farms; birding, tubing and, of course, the Lost City, a 4-day hike deep into the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. Here, we dipped our toes into the cooling waters of Cascadas de Marinka before being ushered to Posada Villa Margarita, where we would spend the next two nights. 

Posada Villa Margarita, our favourite accommodation
We took a bumpy jeep ride to Casa Elemento, to watch the sunset. Hosting a large pool, full-service restaurant and bar and amazing views, we could lay out over the jungle canopy on super-sized hammocks to watch a glorious sunset. If the size of the hammock doesn’t surprise you, some of the rules might!  Sex in public areas was taboo! We bumped back down the mountain to fill growling tummies at the Lazy Cat before retiring for the evening back at our villa for the evening. 
Magdalena River Tegu

It was early to bed when we discovered that we were hitting the trail at 6:30am the following morning to Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona.  Located about 35 km from Santa Marta, the Park was established to protect and promote its ecology and archaeology. Consisting of some 12,000 hectares of land and 3,000 hectares of ocean, this diverse corner of Colombia boasts more than 770 plant species and 100 animals. The Park closes annually during the month of February, in respect for the four indigenous tribes which believes it needs time to rest and rejuvenate. Trails are well marked and heavily trafficked. Our guide provided information on indigenous lifestyle, pointed out flora and fauna, generally having a pretty good handle on where wildlife liked to hang out.  
Playa Arrecifes
We hiked from CaƱaveral to Cabo San Juan del GuĆ­a, stopping at Arrecifes, the furthest point inside the park which can still be accessed by vehicle, for a snack at a local bakery. Playa Arrecifes is one of the bigger beaches within the parks but with many rocks, reefs and strong waves.  La Piscina offers a long expanse of beach to swim, as well as food and other services.  Many stopped here while a few of us went on to El Cabo.  With a campground and restaurant facing a pair of spectacular beaches, if I were a 20-something this would be my destination.
El Cabo
A hiker with an average fitness level can accomplish this journey in about 2.5 hours. Leave time for swimming, eating and admiring some spectacular viewsheds.

Koguis youth offering coconut water to tourists
There are about 30,000 indigenous peoples (Arhuacos, also called Ika; Wiwa; Koguis; and Kankuamo) living in Northern Colombia, all direct descendants of the Tairona , a great civilization whose impressive architectural skills and gold work attracted the attention of Spanish colonists in the 16th Century.  Mother Earth provides everything they need:  food, water, medicinal herbs. The coca leaf plays a central role in daily life and each man carries a bag of leaves to be chewed for its stimulating effect. Each tribe has found ways to adapt to the invasion of their lands.  The Kogui shun outsiders by retreating to higher elevations. The Kankuamo have also adopted strategies to isolate themselves from the 'civilized world. The Arhuacos have almost entirely integrated into mainstream society. 
Harvesting the fibres of the yucca plant to make twine for weaving
Calling themselves ‘older brothers’ and referring to outsiders as ‘younger brothers’, the Wiwa (meaning 'warm') community, of about 7,000, is the smallest ethnic group living in the Sierra Nevada mountains today.  Specializing in agriculture, Mamos, the spiritual leaders, are charged with protecting Mother Nature. They dedicate themselves to safeguarding the natural order of both the physical and spiritual world through meditation, song and centuries-old rituals.  
 men harvest the string, women dry, card and weave the fibre
Gotshezhy is a Wiwa community that cautiously walks between its traditional way of life while accepting some of the Western World’s technological advances and accommodating some tourism. Our visit included a walk through the village, where children play while adults get on with their daily lives.  We shared a traditional meal before demonstrations on the harvesting and dying of natural plant fibres used by the women in the making of traditional mochila bag. 
This little fellow would make a nice snack for someone
Traditionally made for personal and family use only, now that there is a greater dependency on money, bags have become a part of the Wiwa’s economy and are also made for sale.  
A Wiwa Mamo
A local Mamo gave permission to ask anything we wished about the way of life, culture and history of the Wiwa. Our visit ended with a refreshing swim under falls near the Village.
Everywhere in Taganga is close to the beach
Tangaga is a small seaside town about a half hour from the City of Santa Marta.  Although this community suffers from reports of crime and dirty streets, we were met by neither.  Offering unpaved streets but plenty of hostels, guesthouses, bars and diving centres, Tanganga is a respite for the young-at-heart looking for an escape busy Santa Marta.  

Playa Grande from the malacon
Long hailed as a noisy, raucous community, with the exception of the exceedingly loud music emanating from a liquor outlet next door to our hotel, we experienced none of this.  By this time, the new realities of CoVid 19 were setting in.  We walked to Playa Grande to stroll the malacon and watch the setting sun.  We found shops, restaurants and bars to be mostly empty and, by 9pm. all but the die-hard were safely indoors.
local musicians fill the streets with the rhythm of the night
Our travels ended in Santa Marta, the capital of Magdalena Department.  Founded in 1525, it is the oldest surviving city in Colombia and the second oldest in South America.  We weren’t really sure what to expect of Santa Marta.  We have heard it described as a ‘Cartagena without the charm’ but we embraced the fact that Santa Marta is a true working city, with an economy based on tourism, trade, port activities, fishing and agriculture in that order.  The City centre comes alive at night with music, great restaurants and a funky atmosphere. Most often used as a base for exploring this part of Colombia, tourists have ample opportunity to spend time by the sea on one of the many nearby beaches.
Our plan was to spend an additional week, first returning to the Tayrona National Park area, to soak up more of its lush jungle scenery, white sandy beaches and the turquioise waters, then returning to Santa Marta to kick back at a nice hotel with a good book and some great food. That didn't happen
Orange chinned parakeets from the balcony of our Santa Marta hotel
In a matter of hours, we received a mandate from our government to return home and notification from our medical insurer that coverage for CoVid 19-related illness would expire in 10 days.  If that wasn’t enough to get us worried, the cancellation of our return flights by our carrier certainly was! Within a few short days businesses were closing, streets were emptying and many Colombians went into quarantine. With the assistance of our guide, we were able to change our accommodations so that we could remain near the Santa Marta airport. 
Houston to Calgary flight
Within days, our travel agent had us winging our way home. Airports were congested with people garbed in everything from homemade masks and scarves wrapped firmly around mouth and nose, to hazmat suits but, oddly, planes were near empty.  It was eerily reminiscent of the odd movie we’ve seen but never imagined could be based on anything real.

We wonder, not only what tourism will look like in future, but where and when it might resume.  We have been so very fortunate and blessed to have had almost the entire world within our grasp.  As it currently stands, we are encouraged to remain within our provincial boundaries. Borders are closed between most countries.  CoVid has indeed changed the World.
Not for the first time, or even the second, we owe a debt of gratitude to our travel agent.  By way of family illness, hurricanes and now Government travel advisories, she has proven her value time and again.  The additional expense is, in our opinion, money well spent. 

We have also come to understand the value of a good guide.  We try to connect on a personal level with guides, hosts, travel companions and others we meet along our journeys.  In particular, local citizens open doors to opportunities you can’t imagine.  We have heeded their advice on how to remain safe from both natural and manmade elements.  They are a wealth of knowledge, not only about the history and natural surroundings but about the culture.  We have had guides take us far outside the realm of traditional tours, wrangling us onto private property to explore areas off limits to the general public; negotiate purchases outside the scope of most travellers’ interests; even impromptu invitations into private homes where we shared food, stories and experiences.  This last time was no different. Not only did we have our guide to help us rearrange our accommodation, he shared tidbits of his own life and knowledge. In this way, we learn more about the culture of the country.   He shared intimate details about the coming of age traditions of the Wiwa that we would otherwise never have been privy about.  He also shared his dreams and aspirations but, more importantly, we made a friend. If you happen to find yourself in need of a good travel agent, or a guide while visiting Northern Colombia, contact information can be found in the Resource section, below. 

In the meanwhile, here are a few more of our favourite memories:

Black Vulture
The things One Can Do with a Satellite Dish

Street Art


King Iquana

Finally! A Culture which Recognizes Humans Come In All Sizes
Cartagena, Old and New

Cartagena Old
Minca and Tayrona National Park:

Leaf Cutter Ants
White-fronted Capuchin

Green Iguana

Veined Tree Frog, also called Milk Frog

Bananaquit (left) and Palm tanager(right)
A Pool with a View - Posada Villa Margarita

Posada Villa Margarita Pet, love his  Jimmy Durante Nose
Posada Villa Margareta

No Explanation Needed

Taganga Sunset

Mother Earth at Casita del Mar, Tanganga
 Santa Marta:
Tribute to Musicians who Passed at the Aged of 27, La Muzzeria
Cats on a Hot Roof
A Room with This View

Luana Johnsgaard, CTC 1-(403) 990-1777