Let’s call it “turista no inteligente,” a spin on a phrase I recently picked up in Costa Rica. A classic condition exacerbated by the notion of “being on vacation,” TNI is experienced by millions of unsuspecting tourists per year, and is oftentimes fatal in its most extreme instances. Americans, in particular, seem most prone to fitful bouts of TNI, a phenomenon yet to be explained by the medical community.
My first experience with TNI came as a wee child in Yellowstone National Park — a wild place disguised as an amusement park if there ever was one. Here we witness the classic example of grown men and women playfully approaching bison. An adult bison can weigh upwards of 2,000 pounds and can run nearly 35 mph, far heavier and far faster than an overfed, under-exercised, camera-toting tourist. Sadly, those afflicted with TNI are incapable of knowing that this stately, iconic creature just might stick a bison horn through your belly, perhaps squish your skull with a bison hoof, or even toss your body around like a doll in a friendly game of bison volleyball. Take your pick.
Preliminary studies on TNI have found there to be a missing link in the regions of the brain concerned with proper reasoning and logical judgment; or knowing the difference between what is normally dangerous, and what is normally dangerous but made to appear less so by the so-called “vacation factor.”
On a separate last-minute journey to Yellowstone a few years back, my travel buddies and I stopped to witness the tragic plight of a young male moose submersed in a steamy volcanic hot spring, a drama played out time and time again in these parts. A lone park ranger, clad in his government-issued green/khaki uniform, was stationed just 50 yards from the beast. Suspecting he was doing his best to field countless moose inquiries, I relentlessly quizzed the man until I realized he wasn’t there to play the “ask the expert” game. No, he was on duty to ward of naive tourists, trusty handgun at his side.
“We’ve had people try to pull a moose out of a hot spring, hoping they’ll make a heroic rescue,” he said with his best government-issued deadpan face. “Then we have double the trouble with moose and man clamoring for help.” I chuckle at the thought of it — man and moose, submersed in Earth’s boiling kettle together in some primordial battle of the species — but he doesn’t find it humorous. It’s clear his job can become slightly irritating at times.
Fast forward to last week, and I find myself once again face to face with a TNI outbreak. This time I’m in a remote section of Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula touring a wildlife conservatory. The rules here are quite simple: don’t grab the monkeys, and leave your babies at home because the monkeys will rip them right off you and throw them down the beach. Monkeys get jealous, too, you know. But, as with most TNI instances, a clear message just isn’t clear enough. Sure enough, a mother with TNI was encouraging her children to pet the nice monkey.
Our tour group stopped to have a look-see at a magnificent black tayra, an animal that allegedly “murders for fun,” as our no-frills guide put it. Tayras will kill anything, including full-grown rottweilers. This particular tayra was recently seen toying with a deadly fer-de-lance, swaying back and forth as the snake struck, waiting for the right moment to spin around and snap its spine.
The same mother encouraging her children to pet the monkey now had her fingers in the tayra’s cage, clicking her tongue and cooing as one would in the company of a puppy. “Come here, sweet baby. Come here so I can get a good picture.”
I hope she keeps taking pictures, for we’ll need all the photographic evidence of TNI we can gather.
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