Animals on Travels

Travel is one way to add colour to your life, whether you're a man or a mouse, woman or wombat. I'd like to share with you a few of my encounters - of animals on travels.

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4. Tropical coconuts

Almost 3 years of living with Irish weather is enough for anyone to lose their natural pigmentation with all the sunshine there isn't. It's the craic that holds you captive - that and the crazy running after pots of gold at the end of flimsy rainbows. But then I moved to Thailand... Sorry, I shouldn't say 'but' like it's a bad thing, because living there was pretty spectacular. The thing is, outside the big city in the interesting parts of the country, you have no defences against the super-mosquito. Man, they are dark and lovely, mean and mighty, always hungry, and like their Scottish counterpart, the midge, they are deadly quiet. Their bites leave you with giant golf ball-sized welts on your unprotected skin. Then I learned about a wonderful thing called 'deet' - mozzie killing chemical that surely strips off layers of your skin cells along the way too - and it happens that in Thailand, you can buy anti-mozzie spray with up to 95% deet! Not very Buddhist-like, hmm? Nonetheless, with my skin lathered up in deet, the mozzie population of Koh Chang (Chang Island) could either die of hunger or suck the less sweet blood of other, less paranoid humans on holiday. Of course that means I was perpetually drenched in a frangrance of citronella - not the most alluring scent a woman could project in a place of romance and tropical naughtiness. Well, it was either that or go around covered in beach sand head to toe like a life-sized human sand castle, an anti-mosquito remedy some locals swore by. Ha! They were probably thinking, "Suck the farang dry!" Farang is the name Thai people use to refer to all foreigners, although plenty of them had trouble pronouncing the letter 'r', so... Ahem. Sorry, we were documenting animals on travels. Let's get back to the subject.

Look, there were simply too many animals of interest to mention: the small Asian elephant (which I refused to ride after I saw one chained to a tree, very distressed); slithering snakes (you could see them passing under your chalet if you had one of those built on stilts, and if your chalet was flat on the ground, yikes!); the wonderful amphibian symphonies (croaking never sounded so sweet), with the adorable sound of the gecko (yes, they make the cutest sound!) interspersed like stand-up comedian popping up on stage shouting silly jokes at irregular intervals during a classical concerto. All of them made me feel a certain joy to be where I was, but there is one animal that can tell you stories about Thailand and then some. A tail-wagging, tongue-dangling animal that trots stoically on its travels down the street or beach: the Thai dog.

Did you know that some cities in the world are either dog cities or cat cities? Only the truly boring cities go both ways. Well, forget city, the dog is king in all of Thailand. Sure there are a couple of cats around, but they know better than to put on airs, especially since they couldn't be counted on to do anything about the badger-sized rats routinely scuttling along the pavements on a sultry evening. The streets of Bangkok are overrun by stray dogs and although I have not read this in any scientific journals, I believe it can be proven that the male dogs of Thailand all have one very distinctive trait about their anatomy: giant, pendulous, droopy testicles. The first time I saw a pair of those on a dog, I assumed the dog was sick, that it had some kind of genital disease; but the I soon realised that the city was full of dogs with testicles hung so low they were almost dragging along the ground. And those dogs were oblivious, happy even, as only a goofy old dog can be. It gives new meaning to the term 'droopy dog', doesn't it?

For those of you inclined to feel sorry for these strays, let me tell you what happened to them around October 2003. Bangkok hosted the APEC summit that year and in preparation for the arrival of then US president G.W. Bush, some idiot decided it would be better to remove all stray dogs from the streets of Bangkok (in order to create a better impression of the city). That must've been a mission to accomplish! Well, they rounded up the dogs and deposited them - only for the duration of the APEC - at a Buddhist sanctuary some distance outside the capital. Out of sight, out of mind. The dogs got together, mated and had a party, producing a small canine population explosion! And soon there were lots more little doggies on the streets of Bangkok with their droopy little testicles bobbing from side to side between their little legs, jiggling along with a life of their own.

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