The Bear Necessities – The LiBEARty Bear Sanctuary, Romania

The Bear Necessities

The LiBEARty Bear Sanctuary, Romania

A blog post by Lady Felicity

When Greg suggested we go to Romania to film our travel adventure video ‘Romania: Seeking Dracula’s Castle (which you can watch here), I was instantly excited. If you have read my previous blog post you will already know of my interest not only in the fictional Dracula, but particularly in the man behind the myth, Vlad the Impaler.

Research into the various locations in Romania with a significant link to either Dracula began immediately. I also like to make sure we see the best of whatever country we visit, however, even if it doesn’t necessarily tie into the documentary’s main focus. We discovered some interesting dinosaur, fossil and geology related places which we touch on in the video, but one of the big things I wished to include was the country’s bear population.

Romania is estimated to have some 6,000 brown (aka grizzly) bears living in its forested mountains. Last year (2019) there was an increase in bear attacks on people, with some proving to be fatal. Many of the locals living in small villages near the bear’s habitat in the mountains wished to cull the bears’ numbers while conservationists push for the bears to be protected. Trying to balance this, it was finally decided that a license would be given to hunters allowing a set number of bears to be killed each year. Tourists pay a lot of money to go out with these licensed hunters to shoot the bears.

The idea was to kill the bears coming into contact with people, but these are usually the small, undernourished, starving bears that seek food scraps from bins and campsites. Hardly a ‘decent trophy’.

The hunters go into the mountains and kill the larger grizzly bears that likely never leave their own habitats. This result satisfies neither the villagers living in fear of the bears, nor the conservationists trying to save them. I think that most people could see this dilemma from both sides. My love of animals means I would never wish for any animal to be harmed, but I can easily understand not wanting to be lunch for a hungry bear!

When I read a bit more about some of the bear attacks I discovered that one of the key places we would be visiting (Poenari Fortress) was a hot spot for bears coming into conflict with humans. So much so that a lot of our research indicated that the access to Poenari Fortress, with its 1,480 stairs through forest leading up the mountain, (if a bear doesn’t kill you the climb just might!) is regularly closed.

Since a mother bear with her two cubs recently attacked some tourists, it had been closed while they tried to figure out a way to prevent this being a problem in the future and reportedly would not open till the issue was resolved. We found a few conflicting dates as to when the access would reopen and so in the end Greg emailed Visit Romania, who indicated it had just reopened.

During my research I discovered that in the summer months it is possible to go into the forests with the conservationists. As well as visiting schools to raise awareness and understanding regarding the bears with the locals and the younger generation, the conservationists try to encourage this positive attitude towards the bears with the tourists too. I loved the idea and was disappointed to discover we would be in Romania during the bears’ hibernation period, so no tours would be running. On the one hand I was relieved that it was therefore unlikely we would have a potentially dangerous encounter with a bear during our visit, but it also meant it would be unlikely we would be able to include the bears in our documentary.

As our visit to Romania neared, we discovered one holiday maker had encountered a bear near Poenari Fortress about two weeks before we were due to visit. It turns out the weather this winter is warmer than usual and heating up each year. This plays havoc with the bears’ hibernation. Some still sleep while many have a shortened hibernation or don’t seem to bother at all.

Excited and rather nervous, I longed to see a bear in the wild but preferably from a safe distance! I even went so far as to drag Greg to the area along the river beneath Poenari where bears are often sighted in an attempt to encounter one. Though we did this twice, we were unsuccessful. Seeing my disappointment, Greg went for plan B.

The LiBEARty Bear sanctuary.

Ordinarily I am dubious about so called ‘sanctuaries’. So many of them sound so good, rescuing, rehabilitating and releasing animals wherever possible. They sound perfect and some of them truly are. Many, however, cross a line. Once they start breeding non-endangered animals rather than rescuing injured or ill-treated ones, they cross from sanctuary towards zoo in my mind. Some have ample land with lots of space for the animals while others have tiny enclosures. There are different levels of sanctuary but no animal should be forced to spend its life in a small cage.

We spent the evening in our hotel room researching the sanctuary, making sure we could find nothing to suggest it went against our beliefs and morals regarding animal welfare. Once satisfied we booked a tour with them. This process in itself was an indicator as to what the bear sanctuary is like. You can only enter the sanctuary on a guided, one-hour tour, which has limited numbers per tour as well as running only at set hours. They only run a few tours a day (in English and Romanian) and children under 5 years old are not permitted. Straight away this felt right, focusing more on the animals in their care rather than on having as many tourists, and therefore profits, as possible.

The LiBEARty bear sanctuary is the largest animal welfare project in Europe. In 1998 a Romanian woman, Christina Lapis, saw 3 bears in tiny cages outside Romanian restaurants. Later she discovered more bears in similar conditions such as outside petrol stations. The bears in each place were kept to attract customers and they all lived in terrible conditions.

Her aim was to stop this cruel and illegal exploitation of these incredible, native animals. Reporting these places with their captive bears to the police did no good- the bears could be confiscated but having lived their life since infancy in a cage they could not be returned to the wild. For one thing they would not survive, and for another they were too used to people and would either seek people out for food or because they were traumatized and therefore now aggressive towards people. No safe place existed for them – if confiscated they would be shot.

Christina Lapis created an organization- Milioane de Prieteni (Millions of Friends), which is based in Brasov, Romania. In 2005 the Millions of Friends Association signed a public-private partnership with the Town Hall of Zarnesti, through which they received a 49 year concession for the necessary land to build the ‘LiBEARty’ sanctuary.

WAP (World Animal Protection) joined these efforts in the ‘Save the Captive Bear’ project. It is now the largest project in Europe for the rescue, care and welfare of the brown bear. Millions of Friends also created a school education program teaching about animal welfare.

The sanctuary has 69 hectares of oak forest containing trees for the bears to climb and swimming pools to cool off and splash in, as well as appropriate food according to their natural diet and medical needs.

The tour started with a video giving the history and a brief overview of the sanctuary. The video only lasted a few minutes but those minutes had me in tears.

The sanctuary doesn’t want healthy, wild bears. That isn’t the idea at all. Those bears should be in the wild where they belong. No, this sanctuary is for the bears that have been captured and traumatized by people. The introduction video showed some of the bears in the cages where they had spent their whole lives up till the point the sanctuary saved them. One bear was kept in an elevated cage so that the bears’ waste would drop to the ground below and be easier for the ‘owner’ to keep clean. This meant that for years the bear had nothing but large metal grids on which to stand, sit and lay upon. The bear lived for years in agony and now it has comfort in the sanctuary but the damage is done, both to her feet and her mind. Seeing people distresses her and she can barely walk. We do not see this bear in the sanctuary- any bear that finds it too traumatic to see people is protected from visitors. If we wish to see these bears there is a link on their website which takes you to a live camera feed. They are looked after but are kept as wild and peaceful as possible.

As we walked around the sanctuary with our tour guide (there were only about eight of us on the tour) she went into details about the bears we saw, their past, their rehabilitation and personalities now. We learnt a bit more about the sanctuary, how it is run and how they deal with various problems with the traumatized bears. Her love and sympathy for the animals was clear and she was happy to answer my many questions.

Some of the bears come from zoos. Since Romania joined the EU many zoos were either closed or had to raise their standards to meet with the EU animal welfare regulations. One example of this will always be with me. One bear aged about 15 had spent her life in a tiny cage in one of these zoos. When the zoo enlarged the enclosure to meet with the new regulations they got two more bears.

The original bear was picked on by these other two and was too afraid to leave her cage and move into the new enclosure. Someone visiting the zoo reported it to the LiBEARty Sanctuary and they rescued not only the bear but some wolves who were also kept in substandard conditions in the zoo. EU regulations may have improved things but they are still, in my opinion, still so far away from good or right. When we saw this bear we had to keep our distance so as not to agitate her further. She is now in a large enclosure though she doesn’t seem to realize it. She spends her days pacing back and forth along one small section of fence and each time she reaches the corner she bashes her head into the wall. Normally the enclosures have a line of electric fence to deter the bears from climbing out but they couldn’t do this with her. She has smooth metal sheets at the top of the enclosure to stop her scaling them. Like most of the rescue bears, she is smaller than she should be. Being kept in small cages and fed largely human scraps rather than their proper diet, they have stunted growth amongst other issues. Watching this beautiful girl pace in stress and agitation, knowing it was a zoo that had done this to her, caused irreparable mental damage… it still makes me tearful now, just the memory of her.

Some of the bears we passed seemed happy, content with their lot in life, but the fact they seek us out and walk along beside us as we tour the sanctuary indicates the damage. Bears do not seek people out if they are healthy and happy.

It was at this point I felt a little bad for my wanting to see one in the wild when visiting Poenari Fortress. We learned from our guide of a location not a million miles away where wild bears are almost always present. Tourists park there and feed the wild bears. This encourages more bears and it encourages them to approach people and their cars. Some bears are hit by the cars as a result and some people get overconfident.

It seemed crazy to me but one lady was apparently so confident after feeding this bear from her car, she actually got out and turned around to take a selfie picture with the bear! She got more than she bargained for when the bear gave her more than a hug! Who would be crazy enough to turn their back on a grisly bear stood an arm’s length away!? This woman, apparently, and she is not the only one trying to get too close to these large, wild animals. My wish was to see bears in the wild but when people start to interfere and tempt them closer to roads and villages, no good can ever come from that.

A line from Jurassic Park which I love, ‘These creatures require our absence to survive, not our help”. I too wanted to see them but not when it changes their natural behavior and endangers them as well as people. A tourist can leave, what about the locals that live nearby and now have bears seeking out human scraps once tourist season is over? I believe that these people meant no harm, it is their ignorance that does harm. Visiting the bear sanctuary, hearing the stories, seeing the damaged bears, the ignorance is not an excuse. People need to see, learn and respect the life around them.

From bears that pirouette whenever they see a person as this was how they earned their food, to bears that think they are human and want to be close to us, to bears that can’t stand the sight of humans, the sanctuary has it all. They have so far rescued over 125 bears from what was an abusive nightmare of a life before finding as much comfort and normality as the sanctuary can provide. The mission is expanding though. A true animal lover struggles to draw the line at one species and now the park is also home to some wolves and deer that needed the help too.

On a separate site to the LiBEARty sanctuary they have created ‘Victory’, a dog shelter dedicated to the care of stray dogs, as well as offering help to dog owners in the community. The shelter has a veterinary clinic where they neuter people’s dogs for free. They rescue, treat, house and re-home stray dogs and help owners with their pets too. Driving around Romania, so many stray dogs are in need of help but places like ‘Victory’ are now working to improve this. Slowly, people are learning.

Education is such an important step and those steps are slowly but surely happening. One story from the bear sanctuary had such hope.  A hunter visited the sanctuary and has since stopped hunting. He explained he had never seen the bears in this light before. They were a way to make money, nothing more. After seeing them at the sanctuary, he couldn’t kill them anymore. It changed his life.

The bear sanctuary is a true sanctuary. It isn’t about money – they borrow rather than own the land. The animals are neutered not bred and if they ever run out of bears needing help they would happily close, mission accomplished. If a billionaire gave them enough money to mean the need for tourist donations was gone, they would likely close their doors so the bears never had to see a tourist again. As it is, the sanctuary does the very best for the bears that it possibly can.

If you ever plan to visit Romania (when the current world crisis has passed and we are all able to travel again!) I highly recommend it but most of all I hope people will visit the sanctuary, support their cause, donate, ‘adopt’ a bear, watch their live camera feed online… even if you don’t visit Romania much of this is possible from the comfort of your own home so long as you have an internet connection and a warm heart.

I know that with the way things currently stand in the world and the crisis we are going through this year, a lot of people are comparing themselves to caged animals. They have no idea. Not really. But we do all miss freedom and safety. In that we are all alike.

Thank you for reading, take care and stay safe.

Felicity

Find out more about:

Bear Sanctuary Webcam

Millions of Friends

Victory Dog Shelter

P.S.
You can watch all of our travel adventures – plus a few new videos (and ‘Like’, ‘Subscribe’ and ‘Comment’) on YouTube at www.youtube.com/gregandfelicityadventures.

 

P.P.S. While we aren’t able to travel, we are performing new ‘(Almost) Live’ online magic and comedy shows – and you can see a couple of segments here – a little magic clip and some of my puppets!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dracula: The Man Behind The Myth

Dracula: The Man Behind The Myth

A blog post by Lady Felicity

Back in January (2020) Greg and I had finished editing our Turkish adventure (which you can watch here) and were pondering where to go for our next episode. We bounced ideas back and forth, all of which had merit, but when Greg suggested Romania and a film about Dracula, all the other places were instantly filed away in the back of my mind for later. Romania had my full attention (and if you want to watch our travel adventure video before reading on, you can do that here).

The country occurred to Greg because he knows I enjoy my fictional books and have a hoard of fantasy books, many of which indulge in mythological creatures of all types. I know a lot of teenagers go through that stage and I think I started younger than most! I remember when I was at primary school, we had a day where you could take a favourite toy into school with you and I chose to take my deck of tarot cards with me, passed down from my mother’s youth.

My childhood reputation amongst my class as a witch and then, due to my pale skin and long, dark hair, a vampire, was born. I didn’t mind, though my mum was quite shocked when the class bully took one look at her, went a shade of white and ran in the opposite direction when she was waiting in the playground at the end of the day to collect me. Even back then I had a creative imagination and hinted at what the mother of a vampire witch might do to naughty, tasty children.

Much to my Nan’s discomfort, my Mum understood my fascination and indulged me. My collection not only of fantasy fiction but particularly reference books relating to myths, legends and their origins. I loved history and became intrigued with old religions, their beliefs, gods and monsters. My collection of not only books but ornaments, models and decorations grew over the years too. It amused me when I met my sister-in-law, a golden blonde with a love of Disney collectables, me standing beside her with my pale skin and dark hair and my collection of swords, statues and pewter dragons back home. Then you add Greg beside me and I have my hairy, werewolf companion!

This interest has never waned and my enjoyment of fantasy fiction remains strong too. My favourite writer, Karen Chance, features some genuine historical figures in the fantasy world she has created and I love that combination. It was the fact that Karen Chance features Dracula and his brothers in her series which inspired Greg to suggest Romania and Dracula’s Castle.

While Greg’s mind jumped to Bram Stoker’s famous novel, ‘Dracula’, my mind instantly went to the arguable origin of that book and Vlad the Impaler. Thus our documentary title was decided – ‘Romania: Seeking Dracula’s Castle’.

Greg would take me in search of the fictional Vampiric Dracula while I would search for the Wallachian Warlord, Vlad Dracula.

I must admit I confused my best friend when I was talking about Vlad. There are many variations to his name, and he has a number of different titles.

Sometimes he is referred to as Vlad Dracula or Vlad III of Wallachia. He is also known as Vlad the Impaler – in Romanian that is Vlad Tepes – while to the Ottomans it was Kazikli Voyvoda, meaning ‘Impaler Lord’. I am aware I switch between all of these names for him throughout the documentary and it can cause confusion.

Over ten years ago I first read a book called ‘Vlad: The Last Confession,’ a novel by C.C Humphreys. This was a historical adventure novel and the author did much research into Vlad Dracula, including much of what he learned in the story to create a realistic feel for this historical ruler (if you’d like to read the book, it is available here).

The thought of doing our own research into Vlad Dracula and walking in his actual footsteps had me so excited that we booked our flights to Romania that very night!

Vlad Dracula is a controversial figure, and that is probably putting it mildly. I will explain…

Vlad was born in 1428 in the town of Sighisoara. He was the second legitimate son of Vlad ll of Wallachia (Yes, I know that his father having the same name also doesn’t help with the confusion and it is about to get worse!)

His father, Vlad ll of Wallachia became a member of a chilveric order known as ‘The Order of the Dragon’ in 1431. Thus he became known as Vlad Dracul or Vlad the Dragon. He, like his son, had a complicated reign and was Voivode aka ruler of Wallachia from 1436- 1442 and again from 1443-1447. With me so far? Good.

Now, Vlad the Dragon (our Dracula’s father) had three legitimate sons, Mircea ll, Vlad Tepes (our Dracula) and Radu the Handsome.

Being ruler of Wallachia always seemed to require help and originally Vlad the Dragon seized the throne with Hungarian support. After the death of the Hungarian ruler, Hungary’s position weakened, resulting in Vlad the Dragon having to pay homage to Murad ll, the Ottoman ruler. It all gets rather involved, convoluted and complicated at this point, and if I am not careful I go off on a tangent about all the other rulers too. There were invasions and power struggles between various lands, some of which now make up the country of Romania.

All of this affects our Dracula as his father basically got caught in the middle of a power struggle between the ruler of Transylvania and the Sultan. Vlad the Dragon was captured in 1442 by the Sultan and later released, but our Dracula and his younger brother, Radu, remained with the Sultan as hostages to ensure Vlad the Dragon’s loyalty. Meanwhile the oldest brother, Mircea, remained in Wallachia as the heir.

Mircea ruled Wallachia in his father’s absence and was also caught in the conflicts between the Ottoman Sultan and the ruler of Hungary. In the end he only lived to the age of 19, only ruling for three months from September to December, 1442. He was actually captured by his own boyars from Targoviste who blinded him with a hot poker and buried him alive. His father, Vlad the Dragon, was captured and killed shortly thereafter. A sad state of affairs for Mircea and The Dragon.

Meanwhile Vlad III (our ‘Dracula’, meaning son of the Dragon) and Radu were also having a difficult time. It is said that so long as their father remained loyal to the Sultan, the boys were taught and well looked after. They were educated in logic, the Quran, the Turkish and Persian languages and literature. Radu also became friends with the Sultan’s son, Mehmed ll.

Once their father’s loyalty moved away from the Sultan, things changed for the hostage princes. There are rumors of torture and brain washing. Radu converted and became a puppet for the Ottomans, while Dracula resisted and was treated accordingly.

With Vlad the Dragon and his eldest son dead, the ruler of Hungary invaded Wallachia in 1447 and installed Vlad’s second cousin, Vladislav ll, as the new Voivode (I know – too many Vlads, too many Dracul/ Draculas and now a Vladislav too!).

Hungary then launched a military campaign against the Ottomans alongside Vladislav. It gets complicated again now, with our Dracula sneaking into Wallachia in Vladislav’s absence (and with Ottoman support), then being forced to flee when Vladislav returned. There was much moving around for Dracula until relations between Hungary and Vladislav deteriorated. In 1456 Dracula gained Hungary’s support and invaded Wallachia, killing Vladislav and retaking what he felt was his rightful place as ruler of Wallachia.

As I said, all rather messy and complicated. However, so far our Dracula has only been known as Vlad Dracula- the son of Vlad the Dragon. This is about to change.

Dracula is now in charge of Wallachia and he knows it was his own boyars who killed his brother and father. He has also seen and learnt some unpleasant things from his time as a hostage. Things such as torture methods… and impaling in particular. He began a purge among the boyars, as well as plundering the Saxon villages as they had supported his opponents (Vladislav’s brothers as well as Dracula’s own illegitimate half brother, Vlad the Monk!). His enemies were impaled. Peace was restored in 1460 and with it we have his new names: Vlad Tepes and Kazikli Voyvoda.

Vlad the Impaler had arrived.

Now we have Vlad the Impaler in charge of Wallachia and a new Ottoman Sultan, Mehmed ll. When the new Sultan ordered The Impaler to pay homage to him, Vlad instead captured the Sultan’s two envoys and impaled them. Dracula had not forgotten what was done to him or his younger brother during their time in Ottoman hands and the conflict his family was dragged into.

In February 1446, Vlad the Impaler attacked Ottoman territory and massacred tens of thousands of Turks and Bulgarians. The new Sultan tried to replace Vlad with his younger brother, the Sultan’s puppet, his beloved Radu the Handsome. Many Wallachians switched allegiance from The Impaler to his brother as Radu promised the surviving boyars that he would restore their privileges and promised that defectors from his brother’s camp would not be punished. Radu preached of lasting peace and a gentle reign with no revenge for any past wrongdoings. He approached the Saxon villages punished by his brother, converting them with talk of advantageous trade regulations.

Once the Ottomans secured Radu’s place as the new ruler of Wallachia he chased his brother, The Impaler, to his mountain stronghold in Poenari Fortress.

In desperation in 1462 The Impaler fled to the King of Hungary (Matthias Corvinus) for help, but Corvinus had him imprisoned on what were likely false charges of collusion with the Sultan. It is said that there were incriminating letters found, but these are believed to be a forgery by Corvinus himself.

The Impaler was held in captivity from 1463-1475. Stories of his brutality spread in Germany and Italy. The neighboring Moldavian ruler requested his release in 1475 and he was allowed to fight in Corvinus’s army against the Ottomans.

Radu (thanks to Sultan Mehmed ll) was ruler of Wallachia on and off for thirteen years (1462-1475) and by the time Vlad the Impaler was ready to try again to reclaim rule over Wallachia, Radu had been dethroned by another- Basarab Laiota.

Radu was born in 1437/ 1439 and died in 1475. (Aged 36/37)

With the help of Hungarian and Moldavian troops, Vlad the Impaler forced Basarab Laiota to flee but he soon returned with Ottoman support. Vlad the Impaler was killed in battle in January 1477.

To our knowledge Dracula was born in 1428 and he died in 1477. (Aged 49)

He ruled for one month (October-November) in 1448. His second reign was from April 15th 1456- July 1462. His third and final reign started in 1476 and ended with his death in 1477.

Thanks to the new invention of the printing press, books describing Vlad’s cruelty were among the first best-sellers in German-speaking territories. These tales spread to Russia and were even adopted by Romanian historians in the 19th century. This was largely the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s novel ‘Dracula’.

Despite all of this he is often considered one of the most important rulers in Wallachian history and a national hero of Romania. A ruler who looked after the people rather than making the rich boyars richer. A ruler who protected the people from invaders and was such a strong ruler, theft and aggression disappeared from Wallachia while under his rule.

During our time in Romania and throughout all of our research we were constantly faced with these conflicting impressions of this Wallachian Voivode. Facts were hard to find as so much was propaganda by his enemies or wistful stories from his supporters. At the end of the day I decided that there is no black and white, pure good or pure evil. Vlad Dracula, The Impaler lived in a time so unlike my own that I cannot judge his actions or fully comprehend his reasons. I will always be fascinated by him and enjoyed my time in Romania, walking in his footsteps. All I think it is safe to say is that he was a hugely important figure in the history of a beautiful country which he dearly loved.

Thanks for reading, I hope it wasn’t all too confusing!

Felicity

P.S.
You can watch all of our travel adventures (and ‘Like’, ‘Subscribe’ and ‘Comment’ on YouTube at www.youtube.com/gregandfelicityadventures.
You can also find out about everything else that we do at www.gregandfelicityadventures.com.

 

A Treatise On Magic

A Treatise On Magic

A bonus blog post by Greg

This blog post, while mentioning one of our travels, is not a ‘travel blog’. It is something about the other part of my life, something which I felt the need to write and share, and something which didn’t seem to fit anywhere else…

 

I never used a wand when performing magic shows – I wasn’t that kind of  magician. For as long as I can remember, performing magic, I worked on a simple theory and style of performance:

“The audience know I am using tricks. I know I am using tricks. Why not just admit that I am using tricks?”

This led to my persona when performing magic – I was a trickster, I was playing a game with you. My greatest joy performing magic was when I managed to leave you entertained and befuddled by what I knew to be a simple secret and a big risk taken on stage, to know that you had entered my game and I had ‘won’. Not, I should be clear, in an adversarial kind of way – my ‘victory’ only had meaning to me if it brought you joy – but it was a game clearly laid out at the start. I would usually admit in my patter towards the start of the show that ‘I’m going to keep lying to you all evening, it’s basically my job’.

Then, last year, things started to change. There was a big upheaval behind the scenes in my personal life (don’t worry, everyone is fine!) which left me for a few months in quite a difficult place psychologically. During this time a change started to come over my performing style, and my attitude, with one really odd symptom.

I stopped caring about applause.

This is an odd thing for a performer like me to say. As someone who is used to doing large outdoor shows the sound of applause was a great way to know I had done a good job, entertained a crowd. In the state of mind I was in, however, that suddenly felt a little bit hollow.

You see, false modesty aside, I know I am good at my job. In the situation where my job is to gather a big crowd, entertain them and gather applause at the end, I can do that. I have learnt over the course of more than a decade doing that kind of show how to build to an ‘applause cue’, to offer up subtle body language and ways of speaking that lead to applause. This sounds more cynical that it is – this wasn’t a planned and measured thing, it was something which naturally developed, but I knew it was there. I enjoyed the big shows, and I enjoyed the applause which meant I had done my job.

Suddenly, however, as I say, that was gone. I could still perform, and I could still get the applause, but now it felt empty. There was a crowd who enjoyed what I was doing, but I wasn’t feeling connected to them like I had before. Something had changed.

Between my bigger shows, I usually performed odd bits of magic here and there. As the applause seemed less important to me, however, I began doing more and more of the close-up magic, one on one, in what would normally be my breaks. It also became less and less about playing a game, about trickery, and more and more about finding a moment of ‘magic’. Finding a genuine connection with someone, and seeing a moment of awe – just a tiny moment where they forgot that we both knew it was a trick, and for a fleeting moment they lived in a world of pure magic again- flash across their face. That suddenly became the meaning in performing magic to me, and began to inform the way I performed more and more.

Fast forward to March this year. Felicity and I were in Whitby, a few days before the lockdown started in the UK. My friends in Italy were already in lockdown, and we were all getting daily reports of a growing death toll across the world.

From a more selfish point of view, I had just had my first show officially cancel, but the writing was on the wall – I could see that my shows would be cancelled for months to come, and my career and financial outlook were bleak in the foreseeable future, and I knew that many people would be facing similar prospects. Pandemic and recession were looming over us all.

Yet I was there, in the sunshine, with the most truly magical thing that has ever happened in my life, Felicity (in fact it was a running joke at our wedding two years ago that I had never performed a greater piece of magic than getting Felicity to marry me).

I told Felicity that weekend in Whitby that I didn’t want to ‘get through’ the next few months, I wanted us to come out in some way better that we went in. A big goal considering what the world was facing, and still is, but one which has helped me a lot more than just trying to get through.

I also wanted something else, and Felicity agreed that we would find the right one in one of the shops in town and that she would buy it for me.

It was time for me to get a magic wand.

The magic of Felicity, and the little reminders of magic in the faces of people as I had performed close up for them, had got me through hard times the previous year. I knew that going forward into what was to come that people wouldn’t need a ‘trickster’, and they wouldn’t need me to tell them that I’m going to ‘lie to them all evening, it’s basically my job”.

But they just might need a few magical moments. A few child-like seconds where the world is alive with possibilities, hopes and dreams. Felicity bought me a magic wand that day, in a little shop which also contained a number of mermaids, a good omen for us, and it felt right.

I don’t know what the future holds, I don’t know if one day the wand will be put on display and I will return to being a ‘trickster’ again. Right now I simply know that what I need, and what a lot of other people need, is a little bit magic in their lives. So for as long as it feels right, I will perform ‘magic’, and I will wave my magic wand, and see if we can all share some magical moments together!

If you’d like to see some of my magic, you can see my ‘(Almost) Live’ show on Sunday at 3pm here.

You can also find out more about my magic performances on our website at www.gregandfelicityadventures.com/magic

Stay safe, and, to borrow a phrase, ‘Stay Alert’ for the magical moments all around us.

Greg

 

Calakmul – A Real Jungle Adventure – Part 3

Calakmul – A Real Jungle Adventure

Part 3 – Jungle Ruins!

A blog post by Greg

Hasn’t the world changed since I last sat down to write one of my blog posts?! Many of us are now in various levels of isolation and lockdown – and Felicity and I both wish you all well, and hope that you and yours are managing to stay safe!

On to happier things – since we last wrote we have also released a new travel adventure video with a lot of history included all about Romania, and our attempts to find ‘Dracula’s Castle’, dealing with both the fictional Count Dracula, and the Wallachian warlord Vlad the Impaler. It was an amazing journey, and will be the subject of future blog posts – but in the meantime you can watch the video here! For now, however, I must finally finish up our three-part blog post on Calakmul, and our first travel adventure video, ‘Mexico: Mayan Mystery and Marine Majesty’!

It seems a long way from not leaving our house at the moment, to being halfway around the world last March, deep in the jungle, and headed deeper towards the Mayan ruins at Calakmul. Isolation is a word that applies to both situations, but there was a real beauty in the isolation that we found in the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, and particularly when we arrived with our guide to the entrance of the site and went in.

The three of us probably accounted for about a third of the people in the site for most of the time we were there – a far cry from the fifty thousand people who would have called the vast city their home at its peak! This was truly reclaimed by the jungle – only three structures breached the canopy of trees and when sat atop them, it was a sea of green as far as the eye could see. In fact, after the city had dwindled and was finally abandoned in the 10th Century, it was so thoroughly overwhelmed by jungle that it took the invention of flight before, in December 1931, the site was rediscovered from the air when these temple tops were spotted.

What added to the magic for me was that from the ground the centre of the city is still remarkably well preserved.

Here you can see some of the genius of the Mayan culture at its very finest – there are pairs of temples on opposite sides of one square which align with the sun on the solstice and equinox, and other buildings built to line up with the movements of planets. The feel is that there is no random building going on here – the city, and especially the city centre, was a planned layout which joined together to create an intricate whole. At least, that is how it appears when you look at the significant astronomical markers like the solstice. A few of them where the line of planets and dates seem a little more random do make you wonder whether sometimes a combination of archaeologists and tour guides may just have wanted to find intricate connections a little too much and are stretching them just a little bit. The people here at Calakmul were clearly very advanced in their use of astronomy and their charting of stars and planets, and they were clearly very skilled at charting these in such a way that two connected perfectly. Some of the buildings, however, I would dare to suggest, just may have been put in locations without necessarily taking into account where Neptune and Jupiter on the third full moon after the sun shone through the left temple after midday … you get the idea!

When we set off to climb up the first of our three temples that day our guide, who had been there many times before, wisely opted to head for the shade and wait for us to return. We would later find out that after our early start into the jungle with him leading us on our animal trek, and then the long drive into the site, he would then return to the hotel with us before he set off for his other job, donning full protective gear in the heat and going to work as a beekeeper! Suddenly I felt quite feeble for having struggled so much in the heat when the air-conditioning had packed up for a couple of hours in the cabin the day before (if you haven’t done so already, you can read about that here).

For this couple from England, climbing those pyramids in over 32 degrees with the suns rays on us was hard work. The steps are all a lot steeper than you might expect, and we had spent most of the last fortnight climbing up and down similar steps all across the county. We had been taught to climb on a slight diagonal to protect our knees, but I think it is fair to say that, although we would miss being among the temples, we were both looking forward to bidding farewell to the temple steps for a while – at least until our legs had been given a rest.

When we reached through the tree line and stood atop the first temple we looked out over the treetops and saw another temple rising above us. It was the most ‘Indiana Jones’ that I think I had felt in the entire time we had spent in Mexico – we had been edging closer and closer to it and here we were, atop one temple hidden in the trees, and looking out at another temple rising above us and aiming to get to it. Once we had our breath back we went back down to the courtyard, and worked our way through the trees towards the second temple.

As we went along our guide made us particularly jealous as he explained that he had been inside this temple, known simply as ‘Structure II’. This is particularly impressive as this is the highest and largest pyramid yet discovered in the Mayan world, and is currently sealed off. He only managed to see inside as he was part of the team working there to excavate the site, which has had two excavations since the turn of the century – one in 2005 and one in 2008. When he told us, the idea of going into those temples immediately struck me as an incredible experience to have. Since we were lucky enough to get a look ‘behind the curtains’ at the dig on a Greek site at Laodicea (see our Turkey travel adventure video here for details on that one), I can’t even begin to imagine how special it must have been to be one of the few who had the opportunity to explore inside the pyramids!

We made our way up past the stelae (large inscribed stones), of which there are 117 in total around the site, although many of these are so warn by time and weather that the information which they were built to preserve has long since been lost.

Finally we made it to the top, and once again looked out above the trees. We could see the slightly lower pyramid which we had stood on last, and one more we had yet to climb. We paused there, high above the ruins, high above the Mayan city, and tried to picture for a moment a city below us, the trees cleared, fifty thousand people living their lives beneath us. To imagine the people leaving as the city dried up, to imagine the first trees starting to take route among the buildings left behind. The rains returning, the water rolling over the stelae which such care had gone into making, washing away the writing and images which had been recorded there. Finally the trees covering the site, wildlife running freely through the ruins as they fell silent but for the sound of the animals and the breeze in the trees.

Finally the sound of a plane flying overhead in 1931, and the first people returning to the site to discover a monument to a great city which had stretched too far, and ultimately disappeared – not with a dramatic clash of swords and annihilation, but with a slow fade into history.

All of these images and thoughts were what flashed through my mind as we stood atop that pyramid, which left room in my head a short while later as we sat atop our final pyramid for a moment of reflection on our journey so far.

The Mayan stage of our adventure had been truly incredible. There was a real tinge of sadness that this was the last time we’d be standing atop a Mayan pyramid, certainly for the foreseeable future. As I said at the time, however, if one has to have a last Mayan pyramid to stand on (or indeed a last Mayan ruin to visit), then Calakmul is a wonderful choice!

We’ll be back next week with our first blog about our Romanian travels, but for now thanks for reading, and stay safe!

Greg

P.S.
You can watch all of our travel adventures – plus a few new videos (and ‘Like’, ‘Subscribe’ and ‘Comment’) on YouTube at www.youtube.com/gregandfelicityadventures.

 

P.P.S. While we aren’t able to travel, we are performing new ‘(Almost) Live’ online magic and comedy shows – and you can see a couple of segments here – a little magic clip and some of my puppets!