- Travel and Places
The Mysterious Disappearance of Alan (Abe) Blank. (New info added)
Views of Abe's Dream.Click thumbnail to view full-size
His Lifelong Dream Snatched Away.
The Terrible Loss of a Great Man.
Abe Blank Pays the Ultimate Price.
I once had a very good friend. His name was Abe Blank and he was generous to a fault and a champion of creatures few people could find it in their hearts to love. Abe, an American, from Des Moines, loved and understood snakes, and he had a collection of them he showed to the public and school groups in La Paz, Baja California. He also cared very much for arachnids: spiders and scorpions. He had a hall devoted to them, too, and he would let people handle huge tarantulas as well as snakes and lizards.
Abe maintained that Baja, Mexico, was one of the most benign places in the world . Something about the warm, desert climate and quiet, cactus covered hills, backed by the azure, limpid seas, imbued residents, man and beast, with the desire to live in harmony.
Where snakes were concerned, Abe would council, that they hardly ever attack without provocation. A snake has difficulty working out whether it is being provoked or not when a 200-pound man steps on it, so you need to take care in areas where poisonous snakes are found. It can also only take so much of being poked with sticks or having rocks chucked at it; and snakes can move and strike very fast once they decide to do so.
Abe said one of God’s creatures man cannot live with, or live without, is the spider. We seem to have something in our psyche that makes us afraid of spiders. Little Miss Muffet of the nursery rhyme was actually a real little girl who was made to “love” the spider she was terrified of by her nature loving father. Maybe when were hunter-gathers there were larger spiders in the forests who really menaced us. Even today, there are four of five species with venom enough to kill a vulnerable human, such as the old or a young child.
Abe told me the worst is little known and lives in Brazil: this is the Wandering Spider and is the most prone to attack us with no reason; its bite has caused the death of a lot of small kids. It is also known as the Banana Spider and has travelled all over the world in bananas, much to the consternation of those finding it, if bitten. Recent studies have suggested it is much more venemous than previously thought. Then the Black Widow whose name bestows on the hapless creature a bark far worse than its bite. The Widow is timid and lives in damp places, it is very unlikely to bother you if you leave it alone.
After the Wandering monster; the most dangerous spider, because of its size and bite potential, is the Australian Trap Door spider, or Funnel web. Again, it lives peaceably in its hole and won’t bother anyone if left alone.
Abe said perhaps the nastiest spider in some ways is the Brown Recluse, it has a really complex and potent venom which can cause the flesh to rot around the bite area, known as necrotic arachnidism, leading to gangrene and tissue sloughing off, sometimes for many months after the bite. Also, it has a habit of getting into cupboards and shoes, etc. When is does bite, it is often not felt until symptoms appear.
Abe had a very soft spot for tarantulas, which he said were practically harmless to man. They have no interest in biting and can be handled with ease. Their bite, in most species, is no worse than a bee sting; they can, however, also throw fine silicon hairs at you if you really rile them, they will make you sneeze, and getting these in the eyes can be serious.
I will never forget the large, shambling and ageing figure of Abe with a group of fascinated Mexican school kids around him, one whose trembling hand supported a large, furry tarantula!
I learned all this and much more from Abe. He would come to the little village of El Triunfo where I lived and we would wander off into the desert just past my front door. Abe would pick up tarantulas and all kinds of snakes, gently, and they seems to know he would not harm them. I helped him with the ads and promotion for his new Serpentarium in La Paz, the culmination of his life-long dream. All his savings had gone into this wonderful collection of flora and fauna of Baja, all housed in large enclosures that imitated as much as possible their natural environment.
He had some teething problems getting all the necessary permits to open the place: bureaucracy in Mexico, as it is in any Spanish country, is a tedious and long-winded process. In Mexico, it involves the judicious application of a little grease.
One day, I had a hysterical call from Abe’s assistant, Victor. “The neighbours have reported a large snake swimming around in their pool, they are terrorized and blaming us!” We rescued the snake, which was not one belonging to the serpentarium. But problems with neighbours were ongoing for years, it’s a miracle the place did finally get the permits and is open, right up to this day in 2009.
But without my great friend, the kindly, philanthropic and gentle Abe Blank.
One awful day, about one year after the serpentarium was up and running, I got another call from Victor. “don Roberto, Abe is missing, we can’t find him anywhere.!” Evidently, he had been heard arguing vociferously with another employee I also knew, and African American by the name of H-----. Abe was last seen walking towards his house he had rented in La Paz.
This wonderful man has never been seen again, nor has any trace of his body been located.
We don’t even know for sure what happened to him immediately before his disappearance. What we do know, however, is very suspicious and perhaps an example of poetic justice at work.
Two nights after his disappearance, a pickup truck slammed at 60 miles per hour, head-on, into the front of a bus doing about the same speed in a deserted area of the La Paz to Todos Santos highway.
The driver, who was killed on impact, was the African American employee Abe had been arguing with. Many of the details were hushed up but I did hear that a quantity of money had been found in the truck and that the driver would have seemed to be speeding north to the US border. We shall never hear his side of the story now.
That’s all anyone knows, Abe, doubtlessly, lies in an unmarked grave somewhere in the desert among the creatures he so loved. And if there is some Day of Judgement, another person may one day be hurled into a pit with snakes, spiders and scorpions to pay for Abe’s murder.
Alan (Abe) Blank, 1937-2001. My dear, dear friend… RIP
Postscript. Do you know what makes me so mad. You can find out on Google, etc. every detail of these mindless celebrities: from their hair colour to who they are sleeping with - to whether they pick their noses or what their astrological sign is. But I could find nothing on the search engines about Abe's death; nothing in the ads for the Serpentarium to say that he was the man who did it all in the beginning. Abe...maybe you're better away from this kind of a world.
Added from a great friend of Abe.
I've been reading with enormous interest about the disappearance of Abe. As you may imagine, Abe was a good friend of mine. Let me tell you how we first met.
I was travelling around Kenya in east Africa. One day I had booked a safari to the arid north of the country. We were about to leave on a truck for 12 passengers and apparently one of the passengers was missing. I was the only one in there travelling alone, so the only empty seat was the one next to me. After more than 20 minutes of a tense wait, one of the funniest looking guys I've ever seen got inside the truck and evidently sat next to me. We began to chat and he told me his name was Abe and that he was from Mexico. He didn't look mexican at all and his english sounded pure gringo but still I said "Excellent, we can speak in spanish then as I'm from Spain". He didn't want to say he was american to avoid hassels and told me the truth. We shared the tent every day and became good friends, birding together all the time (I'm a hooked birdwatcher), in fact we booked another safari together. One day in one of the parks we visited, I was wearing a t-shirt with loads of spider paintings and the african locals were very interested, especially on a big tarantula. Then Abe told us "You want to see a real one?" After some laughing, he went to the tent and brought a big metal box he had in his luggage. I had no idea he was carrying it. Opened it and took out a huge tarantula alive! Most of the locals run away, they hadn't seen such a monster in their lives! I was simply amazed, "what the hell are you doing here with this?" "Oh, I always travel with her, it's my favourite one, cute isn't it..."
Much later met in Barcelona (the city I was living at that time), a few times in his Baja ranchos, birded together through Costa Rica (I had moved there) etc...
One unfortunate day, his friend Rita (I'm sure you know her) sent me an email telling me he had dissapeared and the rest of this sad story.
I miss him very much too...
The address of the Serpentario is:
El Serpentario C.E.M.A de la Paz
Apartado Postal 657
La Paz BCS 23000 Mexico
Victor there may know more about the whereablouts of Alan's family and if his body was ever found