My semi-regular blogging about dinosaurs and writing fiction will resume later this month. For now, I’ll be blogging about travel. I’m spending about ten days in several UNDISCLOSED LOCATIONS in the Caribbean with a travel buddy of mine.
Actually, I had no idea a week in advance that I would be visiting these islands, almost all of which are new to me. You see, we had arranged to spend New Years Eve in Panama City, then board a cruise ship and travel through the Panama Canal and visit various places in Panama and Costa Rica. However, the cruise ship we were going to board managed to run into some submerged rocks three days before Christmas, resulting in a flooded engine compartment and not so much fun for the passengers aboard. To say nothing of the coral reefs that are part of a World Heritage Site. The cruise line canceled our Jan. 2 excursion, but didn’t tell us until Dec. 28. So we ended trying to figure out whether to visit Costa Rica and Panama on our own on very short notice or whether to take a different trip on a different ship that had space, or postponing our trip until later. We ended up opting for a different cruise, particularly since the cruise line did offer various forms of compensation, including for re-booking airline flights. If nothing else, this is a reminder that one truly does need to be flexible when traveling. Also, it helps to have several different frequent flyer accounts with different airlines.
For anyone wanting to follow our travel, check out Mighty Din Travel Blog.
In Hanoi, I did something a lot scarier than petting a tiger – I crossed the street! In Halong Bay, I found unexpected inspiration for a fantasy story I’m writing. Here’s my account of visiting these places in Vietnam.
I sat down next to a fully grown Southeast Asian Tiger and petted it. Actually, I did that with four different tigers. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t something anyone would do casually. That said, if I had thought about it for much longer, I probably wouldn’t have done it.
You can’t see very well from the photo, but each tiger has a sturdy steel collar around its neck that is chained to post driven into the rock. But is the tiger strong enough to pull it out and maul someone? Who knows. If the tiger attacked me, would I be fast enough in leaping away? I can’t count on it.
I was assured that the Buddhist monks, who’ve raised these tigers since they were cubs, have fed them well and gotten them accustomed to these sorts of interactions with people. All the tigers certainly look well cared for. The fur feels just like healthy short-haired cat fur. But what if one of the tigers just wanted to “play”? Cats can certainly shred their toys when the mood takes them. Oh, and there have been “incidents” at the Tiger Temple in Kanchanaburi, Thailand.
They do make sure that visitors don’t do things to set off the tigers – so you can’t wear sunglasses, or hats, or red clothing. The guides take you by the hand and lead you slowly to the tiger, showing you where to sit. They encourage you to pet the tiger. My pulse was pounding so much at first that I couldn’t quite manage to touch the tiger or to smile. All I could think about was that even though the tiger was napping in the hot afternoon sun, it could smell fear.
Probably the scariest moment was with a tiger sleeping on a ledge. I had to climb up a few steps to where I sat, and there was a rock wall right at my back. When I sat down, the tiger was asleep with its head under its paw. The next thing I knew, it woke up and stretched.
So now I’m back in the United States, where the entire experience is utterly impossible for many reasons, and I’m pondering whether it’s a good thing to be able to do this. To be sure, there have been criticisms of Tiger Temple for not working with conservation groups and for promoting the idea that these tigers can eventually be released into the wild, when that can’t happen. I have a hard time being critical of what the Buddhist monks are doing, even if they could be contributing more to tiger conservation and spending less of the proceeds they get from tourists on building a fine new temple. They do raise awareness as to the rapidly diminishing numbers of tigers in SE Asia. Plus, nobody with a heart can walk among these magnificent beasts without wanting to help preserve wild tigers. And if, one day, there is not enough wilderness for a viable tiger population, isn’t it a good thing that the monks can contribute what they’ve learned about raising Southeast Asian tigers in captivity?
Hi folks. I’ll be guest blogging from time to time over at mightydin.com, which is run by a good friend and fellow traveler. Check out my post on our time visiting Thailand.