When you travel, everyone’s constantly warning you about the people you might encounter. What they don’t tell you is that you’ll eventually interact with other species in ways you weren’t expecting; that lush tropical foliage can harbor bugs that are bigger and more fierce than anything you could’ve imagined and in seemingly urban environments, the lines between the wild or farmland and the city can be much more blurry than you thought at first glance. Here are four of my most memorable animal encounters around the world:
» A frog in Ghana
My family and I spent a very festive holiday season in Ghana in 2003-04. We stayed with some family friends while we were in the capital city of Accra, and at that time of year, it was a full house. But there was one extra guest I didn’t know was staying over. One morning, I woke up and went to use the toilet. Business as usual, right? Wrong.
I opened the lid. I screamed. The biggest frog I’ve ever seen was just chilling in the toilet bowl, staring at me nonchalantly with its googly eyes.
Okay, so this encounter wasn’t exactly dangerous, but for the rest of the trip, I battled a slightly irrational fear that a frog would jump out of a toilet and bite me on the bum and spent way more time than I should have examining toilet bowls before I could sit down.
» A cat in Brazil
In Salvador da Bahia, Brazil, locals have come up with an endearing and unlimited supply of reasons to celebrate. When I volunteered there, my favorite celebration quickly became the weekly Tuesday night festivities in the town center that involved all kinds of good stuff — drumming ensembles, a big stage with music performances by local artists, and open air clubs with live forro music and dancing.
On my last Tuesday in Bahia, I was soaking it all in before I had to go. During a break from dancing, I was walking back to my group’s table when I heard a cat growl and then felt sharp teeth sinking into my ankle.
Knowing that rabies was an issue in Salvador (in 2006, at least), I was speechless for a moment before I could articulate what happened, while my friends stared at me with concern wondering what was going on.
After a sleepless night, the following morning I discovered the ease of public healthcare in Brazil. At a clinic, after a very short wait, I was given one of a series of five shots for free. I may have been bitten by a potentially rabid stray cat, but the process of getting medical help was so much more civilized than anything I’d experienced before.
» A cow in Cambodia
From what I hear, Cambodia’s roads have vastly improved since I visited in 2008. I’m curious to know if the drivers have. Each bus trip I took at that country felt like a daring adventure. You had no idea how bumpy it would be, the number of people you’d find riding alongside you on one motorbike, what kind of gigantic pieces of furniture you’d see someone carting around on a motorbike, or what you’d hit.
On the day we arrived in Cambodia, after a long ride on the pothole laden “Dancing Road”, our bus driver hit a woman on a motorbike as soon as we reached our guesthouse in Siem Reap. Luckily, she walked away relatively unhurt.
A few days later, we were on our way to Phnom Pehn on a different bus with a different driver. All of a sudden, the driver started honking wildly so we looked ahead to see what was there. There was a cow hanging out in the middle of road with no intention of moving and our driver kept moving on with no intention of slowing.
Eventually the driver realized he couldn’t honk the cow away, so he finally started stepping on his breaks. But we still hit the cow. Thankfully, he slowed down enough that there wasn’t much damage to the cow or us.
» A wasp in Bolivia
One of the best craziest things I’ve ever done was a bare bones tour of the Amazon Basin in Bolivia. The first day was fairly easy as we made our way down the river in a motorboat and saw an insane amount of wild animals.
The second day, we put on rubber boots and took off through a largely treeless swamp in search of an anaconda. We started early in the morning and were having no luck finding an anaconda hours later as the sun grew stronger and we ran out of water. As I sloshed around through the swamp in boots filled with mud, I had completely lost interest in finding a snake when all of a sudden, someone finally found a freaking anaconda.
To be honest, what I was most excited about was that it meant we could head back to the camp site soon. I was overjoyed when everyone had had enough of the anaconda and we started heading back. Then, a gigantic wasp swooped out of nowhere and stung me on the shoulder as if to say, “This adventure ain’t over yet!”
It hurt like hell. Our guide immediately started throwing swamp mud on my shoulder because he said it would cut down the pain. But I forgot about the pain in my fear of not knowing what kind of bug had dug itself into my skin. Hours later after getting lost in tall grasses of the swamp, piranha fishing, piranha eating, and card playing by flashlight, my shoulder had a four inch welt that hurt and itched, but I was still breathing and all was well.
» Have you ever had a scary encounter with an animal on your travels? «