It’s always pleasurable to interact with local people while traveling, but chance experiences with local animals can often lead to some amusing stories. This month we asked our readers to tell us about memorable encounters they’ve had with nature or wildlife during their travels.
Jungle with a Bite
In 2016, my husband and I took the Rwanda extension on O.A.T.’s Best of Kenya & Tanzania Safari. We were there, of course, to see the Mountain Gorillas. We were a group of eight, all holdovers from the safari, so we had been together for several weeks. The trek up to see the gorillas starts at 7500 feet elevation and you hike until you find your assigned family of gorillas. We were told our group had a “medium” hike.
We trudged up the hill, with it getting narrower and steeper as we went. Ultimately, I was assisted (read pulled) by two porters who were determined to get all of us to the gorilla family. When we finally got there, one group member determined via his fancy watch that we were at 9300 feet. Although we were supposed to stay 25 feet from the gorillas, it was impossible. The vegetation was dense and our gorilla guide took us off trail to view them. My 300 mm lens was more hindrance than help. I was getting pictures of gorilla nose hairs.
We spotted the silverback slightly down the hill and all got in a tight clump to watch him. As we were focused on the gorilla, we all started squirming and suddenly realized we were standing in a biting ant nest. These little critters were vicious, crawling everywhere inside your clothing and they bit hard. Pretty soon, all eight of us old geezers were ripping off our clothes in the jungle and the gorilla rangers were picking ants off of us in the most delicate areas. Luckily we were all too busy to take photos, but I remember wondering if the gorillas were watching our naked bodies thinking, “Geez, those creatures should get some hair.”
While the ant bites hurt when they happened, they left no lasting mark or effect (and I would know since I am ultra-sensitive to insect bites). So it ended up being a very funny story to add to the wonder of watching the magnificent gorillas. This was probably the most strenuous hike I have taken with O.A.T. in many trips, but also one of the most rewarding.
Thanks to: Vicki S., 13-time traveler from Westlake, OR • The Best of Kenya & Tanzania
A few years ago I went on the tented safari—it was wonderful. The Maasai people we visited were very hospitable and warm. I thought the closest I would have gotten to the wildlife was when a few zebras were outside my tent in the Lake Burunge Camp, but I was awakened by a noise outside my tent and got up to see what was going on.
Thru the screen I saw one of the older Cape buffalo that decorated our Serengeti camp every morning with evidence of their presence long after they had left. It had been pulling vegetation out of the ground and chewing, which was what woke me up. I brushed up against the canvas and discovered it was right up against the canvas also. I decided to maximize the experience and put both hands on the canvas and felt it breathing. Earlier in the week, I had laid down on the ground to get a different perspective of my surroundings, but still was not as one with Africa as when I felt the buffalo breathing—it was awesome! I expected many wonderful experiences going on safari, but I didn't expect to get that up close and personal.
Thanks to: Janet M., 2-time traveler from Edison, NJ • Safari Serengeti: Tanzania Lodge & Tented Safari
Before I knew about Grand Circle or O.A.T., I travelled independently to South Africa and later Zimbabwe. On my last night there, all packed and ready for the next morning’s plane, I went to bed and was wakened by the sound of the door opening. I knew I’d locked and bolted it, and then realized it was the door to my third floor balcony.
In came a good-sized baboon, which came to the foot of my bed and stared at me inquisitively. When I bellowed "Who invited you?" the startled visitor bolted for the door, but not before grabbing my cherished bag of macadamia nuts from the dresser. When I travel, I will never again go to bed without my camera handy.
Thanks to: Leslie W., 17-time traveler from Boston, MA
I was staying on the second floor of a hotel in Africa. The balcony overlooked a small lake in the shape of the African continent. I was watching the animals come to the lake to drink and continue into the forest holding my binoculars, so I would not miss anything.
Suddenly, my binoculars went dark! I raised my head to see what had happened. A monkey was sitting on the rail of the balcony, looking through the other end of my binoculars! I screamed and ran for the door to my room. The monkey was apparently more startled than I, because it scurried off. I loved my tour from the Southern tip of Africa, up the Eastern coast to Egypt. I have never been disappointed on any of the many trips I have taken with your company.
Thanks to: Janice R. 19-time traveler from Tucson, AZ
Close Encounters in the Enchanted Isles
My first trip with O.A.T. was to Peru and Ecuador/Galápagos Islands. The islands were amazing, and I took every opportunity to snorkel. While snorkeling, I managed to get the entire group on the trip laughing—twice.
First, a seal suddenly came up within two inches of my face and I yelled "seal" so loud that they all could hear me through the snorkel. The seal up close was amazing! The second time, I was swimming over a sleeping batch of nurse sharks and one swam towards me. While nurse sharks do not bite, they are still "sharks" in my mind, and I reacted by bending my knees to 90 degrees and yanking both of my fins straight up in the air. My fellow O.A.T. travelers who were on the boat were still laughing hysterically when I surfaced.
Thanks to: Jane C., 2-time traveler from Concord, CA • Machu Picchu & the Galápagos
My partner Jan and I met on the Heart of India trip in 2014. We have since been to Patagonia and Africa with O.A.T. While in the Galápagos, a Galápagos finch landed right on my shoulder! I had lagged behind the group a bit and the bird must have decided I needed to be checked out. It wasn't something I could actually see for myself since turning my head would likely have knocked the bird off, and I couldn't yell out to the group or the bird would have flown away. Just one of those encounters you have to remember!
Thanks to: Bill S., 8-time traveler and Jan M, 9-time traveler from Redmond, WA
During August of 1964, my family (myself, my wife, and 2 two-year old twins), were taking an auto transit from Panama to the U.S. along the Pan American Highway, in my, by then, old 1960 Chevrolet. The car was arranged so that the back seat could sleep both children, and trunk loaded to the gunnels. We were driving through the jungles of northern Costa Rica when someone announced that they needed a "rest" stop.
While we were stopped alongside the road, a very large blackish colored tapir (about the size of a Brahma bull) walked slowly out of the jungle alongside the road and moved towards our car. It began to make strange but very friendly mewing/squeaking sounds, and slowly came within a few feet of our car.
The tapir showed no aggressive tendencies, and in fact seemed very mild and tame—almost as if it wanted to keep us company. I hoped that it was just interested in taking a view of us. It stood by the car for more than five minutes with its head slowly moving back and forth, just taking in the four of us and the car.
My children were watching it intently from inside the car, but my wife and I were outside the car, as I remember. No one seemed frightened, including the tapir, and soon, the tapir appeared to lose interest, and simply walked slowly back into the dense jungle alongside our car.
It was an encounter that I have never forgotten, for we had met a very nice tapir in its own territory and cherished the incident. I don't imagine that such a meeting is a very common occurrence anywhere!
Thanks to: James O., 3-time traveler from Capay, CA
I was checking email on the gracious veranda at the Ngorongoro Farm Valley Lodge in Karatu, Tanzania, when a voice behind me said, “Take a look at our visitor.”
Standing quietly behind me was a marabou stork, maybe four feet tall. As I approached, the stork walked slowly down the ramp to the dirt path, keeping a respectful distance between us.
Eva, our dining hostess, had fed the stork hard boiled eggs a few days ago and guessed that he came back because he was hungry. By coincidence, I had saved a couple of hard-boiled eggs from our picnic lunch and I hustled to our cottage to retrieve them.
The stork patiently waited for me and I placed them on a wall between us and then stepped back. He picked at them with his long grayish-yellow bill and ate the pieces one by one. The next day, two storks were perched on the roof of the nearby coffee plantation we visited and a third was circling overhead. Had word gotten around that the snack lady was in town?
Thanks to: Anna H., 7-time traveler and 2-time Vacation Ambassador from Andover, MA • Safari Serengeti: Tanzania Lodge & Tented Safari
You don’t need to wait for a new Question of the Month to tell us a story. Email us any time at [email protected]. To read more stories from your fellow travelers, check out our archive of Traveler Insights from previous editions of The Inside Scoop.
See the answers to previous Questions of the Month here.
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