animal magnetism

San Pedro La Laguna Travel Blog

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My mom often recalls how, when I was a little girl, I would often sprint from her side to greet whatever animal we came across…whether it be to chase a butterfly or cuddle a kitten or a plant a kiss on the mouth of a 150lb german shepherd.  I have always, always had this doctor Doolittle kind of rapport with animals and, with some exceptions, was never afraid of many creatures.  As I have gotten older, I have gained respect for (and some fear of) interacting with wild animals, including stray dogs.   When I was living on the finka road, I was warned by friends that when walking home at night I should be more wary of the dogs than the people.  I never had a negative encounter.  In fact, I didn’t interact with any of the dogs… until I met  ‘negra.’ 

I first met my buddy, a lanky black lab mix, while en route to town.  There was an instant attraction, and she followed me all the way to school.  Just as we were about to reach the front gates, negra stopped in her tracks to ogle a half-dried pile of shit on the road.  She gave me something akin to a mischievous smile, dropped and rolled around in said pile of shit with utter joy.  Needless to say, my fellow students weren’t thrilled to meet my new amiga.  A few nights later, one of the few times I walked the finka road alone in the dark, I was about three quarters of the way to my house when I was thrown off balance  by big, pouncing paws. For a moment I was paralyzed…”shit I am being attacked”… I felt teeth sinking into my hand…but they didn’t sink that deep… those teeth weren’t biting, they were guiding me.  I turned to find negra jumping all about, her ass shaking a mile a minute.  She had appeared to see me home safely, and our bond was sealed and signed.  About every other day, the spunky pup would join me for a walk, sometimes planting herself on my porch for a bit.  All the while, I was aware that negra had a proper owner.  She had a collar and looked fairly well cared for.  But it wasn’t as if I were leading her with a trail of breadcrumbs or tethering her to a leash… she chose to follow me and there wasn’t much I could do to stop her, not that I really wanted to.  The day after Agatha tore the finka road to shreds, I found my lil love on the shore… or, to be more precise, she found me. Of course, she accompanied me into town and to a local restaurant.  Someone asked if she was my dog.  My reply was ‘sort of, but not really…she kind of adopted me.’  Another patron, who had overheard this exchange, chimed in…”She NOT your dog.  I know the owner of that dog.  I’ll let her know that she is here in town with you so she doesn’t worry…”  about a week later, after I had moved into the town center, I felt the familiar pull ofgentle teeth on my hand and was elated to see my homegirl dancing beside me.  I had barely had a chance to greet her properly when I heard a whistle up ahead.  Negra looked back and forth between me and the 50something woman up ahead who was beckoning, and reluctantly ran off.  After a second of debate, I ran to catch up, and proceeded to tell the woman how awesome her dog was…how she had been such good company when I lived on the finka road…how lucky she was to have such a loyal and sweet perro.  She responded with a grunt and a nod, and then continued on her way, with negra trotting along at her heels.  I was crestfallen, but I went on my way, thankful for the great company I had had, and thinking it would be the last time I would see my protector. 

There is much more to the negra story, and I’ll get back to it in a bit.  But first, another of my animal adventures.  Last Sunday, I decided to pay a visit to the nature reserve and monkey sanctuary in panajachel that I’d heard about.  I am a sucker for monkeys (see bali 2007 blog), and I was super excited.  I arrived there (after a 15Q tuk tuk ride that should have cost me no more than 5Q, and that I could have walked in 15 minutes).  I bought a ticket, which was discounted because half the park was inaccessible after the storm.  The woman at the desk gave me a map and circled two points of interest.  First, the area where the spider monkeys lived and second, a waterfall at the top of the trail.  I headed down the trail with only the sound of birds, a few butterflies and the earth forest smell to keep me company.  I arrived at the observation deck, and just across a fence were the cutest, playful primates swinging from the trees.  I noticed that there were two info plaques – one describing the spider monkeys and one describing an animal called the “Coati,” a sort of raccoon, possum, sloth hybrid.  I looked down beneath the trees and there they were.  I held my camera at the ready and sucked my teeth to get their attention.  The two funny looking guys sniffed their long snouts in my direction and started to make their way to the gate that divided us, and then under the gate, and then at my feet.  Shocked, I ran down the trail to the office and in a mix of my pathetic Spanish  and a series of elaborate hand gestures, I told the woman that her coatis had “escaped.”  She laughed and shook her head, and proceeded to tell me that the coatis, in fact, were free to roam around the park.  Then she asked if I wanted some bananas to feed them.  Assuming that because feeding them was a viable option, they were, in fact, friendly, I shelled out 2 quetzales for two bananas and set off back into the forest.  I arrived at the same spot and started chucking pieces of the first banana over the fence.  Within seconds, I found myself with seven coatis closing in on me.  I wont lie – I almost shit myself.  All I could see were the four inch claws and raccoon-like beady eyes (raccoons fall into the category of animals I am deathly afraid of – they rank up there with great whites for me).  I chucked the second to (at) the largest of my predators and ran like hell.  Once I had made it halfway back down the trail, I took a seat and spent about 20 minutes psyching myself up to quickly move past that area and head to the waterfall.  Finally, I took a deep breath and tiptoed back down the trail.  I made it past the observation deck without a coati sighting and made my way to a second, higher observation deck from which I could better take pictures of the monkeys I had come to see.  Within a minute of taking out my camera, two of the bigger assholes appeared on the deck, blocking the stairs so that I was cornered.  I started to cry and shout “no tengo comida, no tengo comida,” stomping my feet until they ran away, and then boogied back down to the office.  I was sitting on the stairs, debating on whether or not to leave, when the same woman from before noticed me and  asked me what was wrong.  I told her that I was too scared to pass the coatis, which she proceeded to share with the two people she was eating lunch with.  She then told me that I was the ONLY tourist who had EVER been scared of them, which I find hard to believe, and that if I waited until she finished her lunch, she would walk me up the trail to the waterfall.  I agreed.  And so it came to pass that I had an trail escort, who brought enough bananas and threw them far enough to allow me to capture some photos of the monkeys and of my furry nemeses.  The waterfall was nice, nothing special enough to warrant my near attack.

Back to negra.  Yesterday was supposed to be my last day in san pedro, and so I asked my friend, Kelly, to take a walk with me down the finka road to visit my old house and say goodbye to the caretakers, juan and josephina.  I had told Kelly all about negra, along with the fact that every time I have traveled alone, a black dog has befriended and protected me.  (see ko tao blog from 2007 to meet blackie)  I had also shared with Kelly the story that my Spanish teacher shared with me, a san pedro legend about a black dog with red eyes  who is said to protect lost souls.  Negra eyes are distinctly red.  I shit you not.  So about 100 yards from my old house, there she was, leaping and yapping in a childlike excitement which I matched.  Not only did Negra follow us to my house, but followed us back into town (where she bitten by another little asshole dog), to my hotel room.  She then waited outside with me while I showered, came with me to meet my friends at the thermal baths (which she tried to jump into), then followed us to zoola for dinner, and finally to the Buddha bar, where she sat outside, peering at me over the old west style door with a full on guilt trip in her eyes.  When I returned from a meeting with mary jane on the roof, I learned that a few of the local dogs had attacked her, and she had run off.  I know that she’s ok – she’s a tough cookie.  I have had dogs all of my life, and have had strong bonds with them.  But never have I felt ANY animal SO connected to me.  Had she not had an owner, I would have been inclined to stay in san pedro just to adopt her.  But I’m just happy that I got to spend 7 full hours with my buddy yesterday, and I hope that her owner knows just how lucky she is.

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