Travel, exposes you to so many new and wondrous things- landscapes, people, food, but this post is not dedicated to any of those things. Instead, I've opted to pay homage to the animals that touch, scare, ground and endear us while we roam.
Sometimes the most memorable encounters and interactions on a trip are not human to human, but involve our furry, scaly, or winged friends.
I love animals. Throughout many of my long term travels, the animals that I adopted and invited into my life created stability and comfort while I navigated my way through foreign languages, customs, landscapes and cultures.
Here are some of animals I have loved, run from, or been freaked out by, on my travels:
These koi fish (a type of carp), are everywhere in Japan. Koi ponds dotted the frenetic cities of Tokyo and Osaka and provided a much needed dose of calm. I loved watching the koi swim around in silent loops and flutters of colors.
I encountered this elk in Alaska. Thinking an elk was as innocent as a dear, I galloped in to take a picture. He was not happy to see me. After I took his picture, he charged at me, emitting an absolutely terrifying growl. I made it to the car without incident, but never again will I stop to photograph an elk.
I loved my time feeding and petting baby elephants on a reserve in Phuket,Thailand. I've always had a fascination with elephants and being able to stroke their soft velvety trunks and look into their enormous and soulful ebony eyes was truly amazing. I also felt really bad for these little guys because they spent the majority of their day chained to a stake only able to walk in circles. I wanted to liberate them, but my fear of a life sentence in a Thai prison was stronger.
Do you know what this is? I have no idea what this scaly little lizard/dinosaur is called, but I do know that I almost walked right into it during a vacation in the Bahamas a few years ago. What you can't see are his sharp teeth, which he revealed as I came in contact, his little head cocked back, ready I assumed to lunge. Imagine throwing your beach towel on top of that guy! Eek!
These dogs were the fuzzy little loves of my life in Ghana. They lived between the banana trees behind the house I was staying in and provided much needed activity and companionship when the power went out and during rainy season downpours. A large crocodile was rumored to live just beyond the gates of the house where I was staying. Now, I'm not sure if the locals made that up to scare me, since I never saw him, or any sign of him, but walking around with my little fuzzy friends in tow at night made me feel safe. Dogs are so wonderfully perceptive, and I, unfortunately, am not.
This guy, also one of the lovely dogs of Ghana, would keep me company every time I visited the Cape Coast Cafe (almost daily). We shared many chicken and rice platters. This little guy was a skilled hunter and would eat the flies that buzzed around me mid-air so that I could eat in peace. We were kindred spirits this one and I.
Have you ever heard a peacock? The sound that comes from these luxuriously adorned gentlemen is far from dignified. A cross between a honk and a blood curdling scream, this is the sound we heard non-stop while vacationing last year in Jamaica. We stayed on a nature reserve where the peacocks had free rein. I'll never forget the heavy thud of their bodies and the sound of their nails on our roof as they jumped from our roof to the nearby mango trees every night to sleep and then every morning in reverse to hop down. These lovely gentlemen are absolutely beautiful to watch and observe though. They add instant ambiance wherever they roam.
When I was in Arenal, Costa Rica a few years back, I had the opportunity to spend the day with some horses. Combing and petting these beautiful animals in this rich setting was so grounding. Not at all grounding, was my wild horseback ride up a volcanic mountain on a horse who refused to take directions from our tour leader. I ended up off course and ducking vines as my horse decided to take an alternate route to the top of the mountain. Luckily, I made it back to my hostel at the end of the day, unscathed and feeling like a cowgirl.
This kitten, this beautiful little purring kitten, lived beneath the hammock, that was right outside our bungalow door in Cahuita, Costa Rica. Every morning, she greeted us. Many a afternoon, we spent quality time swaying together beneath palm trees in the hammocks that lined the Caribbean Sea. It was so tempting to put her in my suitcase and take her home with me.
I was on my way to a shared guest house kitchen during a stay in the Berkshire mountains in Massachusetts, when I encountered this curious little guy. Luckily he was just a baby, but where there is a baby bear, the mama is never far. Needless to say, I let him have the kitchen and decided I would take his picture, from a distance instead. From that day forward, I made a point of humming and singing out loud any time I walked around to avoid any surprise encounters- boo!
This lovely lady lived in the courtyard behind my guesthouse in Stone Town, Zanzibar. Every morning and early evening, she'd sing and howl outside of our door. In the afternoons, I'd find her grooming meticulously in the sunlight. Some days she would follow us to the main road where we would hail our taxi, other days, she'd pretend we didn't exist. She was a steady and calming presence.
I can't remember which part of Zanzibar this took place, but we were staying with a friend of a friend who had a beautiful house right on a private beach. In the back, attached to a tree, lived his pet monkey. I remember being so amazed. I'd never encountered a tame monkey up close. I spent a lot of time hanging out with the little guy who let me pet and carry him as if he were a cat. I remember that he'd curl his little hands around my finger like an extremely buff newborn. He had quite a grip!
On a hike through the forest in Zanzibar, we noticed a lot of racket in the trees and vines above us. Looking up, we discovered we weren't alone, we were surrounded by monkeys. They swooped above us and put on a very entertaining show. We stopped and admired the lush and active canopy above.
Chameleon crossing! On the same hike in Zanzibar, we encountered this vibrant chameleon. He was crossing the busy road at the entrance of the forest when a local man decided to help him along safely by offering him a lift on a stick. Before setting him free, we had the chance to pet and hang out with him a little bit. He was quite the quirky little fellow.
Behold the mighty Tanzanian Jungle Rat! When I was living in Mozambique, I encountered these helpful and intelligent banana loving creatures. These rats, are more than mere rats, they save lives. Cuddly and friendly, with the oddest mole-like snouts, these beady eyed and intelligent creatures are trained to sniff out land mines (a horrible reminder of the twenty year civil war). They are light enough, that they don't set the mines off and are able to clear fields, so that they can be restored and returned to the people for farming and living. Go rats go! As my friend Tamika said- "It's ironic how we need to train rats to save people from other people!"
This wily rascal of a kitten lived in our backyard, beneath the shade of the well in Mozambique. I must admit, she had us trained. I mean, look at that face. I remember walking an hour to the central market to buy tuna and sardines to feed her. She came inside and ate dinner with us every evening and provided hours of lively entertainment, even ripping our curtains down one evening during a thunder and lightning storm.
I saved the best for last. This dog, literally wandered in through our open front door in Mozambique. It was an ordinary afternoon. I stepped outside to draw some water from the well and when I returned with my full bucket, there he was, the dog, we eventually named Nutella, curled up on our couch. I was startled at first and screamed for my roommate Tracy, but within seconds, his little tail began wagging and we were petting and cooing to him. We tried to find his owners for days, to no avail and before we knew it, we were the proud owners of a beautiful dog named Nutella. He followed us everywhere and turned what used to be somewhat uneventful hour long walks into town into fun adventures.
What animals have you encountered on your travels?