Yogurt

The Day Blueberry Yogurt Saved My Life

Derek Travel Tips & Advice 42 Comments

Blueberry yogurt

Two nights ago, I sat at a small plastic table just a few feet from the sidewalk, ready to eat one last meal at my favorite restaurant in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. As I sipped on my vanilla-infused mango shake, I kept looking all around me, trying to catch a glimpse of every tree, every storefront and of every person that passed by. I wanted to notice as much of Mexico as possible and to preserve as many memories as I could before flying back to the USA the following morning.

However, none of that has anything whatsoever to do with this story.

What does have to do with this story is that while I was in the midst of all these observations the other night, a dog approached my table. He was clearly a stray dog and didn’t look to be in the best of conditions as he began barking at my feet until one of the waiters shooed him away. And while I can’t be certain, this dog also appeared ready to take a nibble out of someone’s leg, a feeling I had after watching him chase pedestrians down the sidewalk, bearing his teeth, growling and barking ferociously until they ran away.

Eventually, I finished my meal and upon standing up, realized that this stray dog was now waiting for me as I was the last remaining customer in the restaurant. And so, I looked to the left, looked to the right and then glanced across the street, hoping I’d find the one thing I needed most at that very moment – a place to buy some yogurt.

A GOOD CHOICE OF SNACKS

During my travels I’ve come across a handful of dangerous situations, some of them quite serious and disturbing. However, whether it’s been a gun pointed at my face, an explosion in front of my cabin while working on board a cruise ship or even being kidnapped in Bangladesh, my greatest fear has always been of stray dogs.

It all began when I was in Chiang Mai, Thailand during the days when I was teaching English. I lived in an excellent apartment building near the main university and was within walking distance to everything I could possibly need. The only problem was that whenever I wanted to eat something late at night (which was almost every night!), I had to walk down a dark and isolated stretch of road for about ¼ mile in order to reach the nearest shop or food stall.

The first time I took this walk, I was convinced that my life was about to end. As soon as I had reached the darkest part of the road, six stray dogs came from behind a fence and surrounded me on the sidewalk. Acting purely on instinct, and without any clue of how to handle such a situation, I chose to start running as fast as I could, hoping to reach the first shop before being eaten by the dogs. Somehow, I outran the dogs, although I did lose a sandal in the process.

Wild dogWhile in the safety of the shop, I purchased a handful of snack items while trying to decide whether or not to ask the owner if I could crash on the floor of his shop until morning. There were no taxis in this area at night and the only way to make it home was to walk. However, after twenty minutes, my brain had somehow convinced me, as my brain tends to do, that the situation wasn’t nearly as dangerous as I remembered, even though I clearly remembered six wild dogs lunging for my legs while I ran half-barefooted along a dark sidewalk at speeds that I was quite certain I would never be able to reach again.

I left the shop and waited some more, watching the dogs roam around in the distance. At one point, they all seemed to disappear and so I chose this as the appropriate moment to begin my speedier-than-usual walk back to my apartment.

Of course, as soon as I was enveloped in the darkness once more, the terror-inducing barking began and the dogs started sprinting towards me from the other side of the road. This time, however, instead of running, I decided to reach my hand into the plastic bag full of snacks. I grabbed the first thing I could, quickly peeled off the lid and dumped the contents out right in front of me.

Instantly, the dogs left me alone and began licking up the blueberry yogurt.

I took this opportunity to slowly back away, but in the end, I only managed to get about 10 meters down the road before the dogs finished the yogurt and began chasing me yet again. And so I pulled out another container of blueberry yogurt, and instead of dumping it in front of me, I scattered it all over the place, dripping a little here, a little there and so on.

In the end, I arrived at my apartment in one piece, although I had used all three of the yogurts I had purchased to ensure my safety and was now stuck with only two small bags of raisins. I also didn’t find the sandal that came off my foot either.

From that day on, my routine was quite simple. I made sure that I always had yogurt on me whenever I made that walk or any other night time walk that I took around the city. Sometimes the dogs weren’t there, but when they did approach me, I was always prepared with my weapons of bacterial fermentation.

And so, two days ago, after I finished my last meal in Mexico, I was disappointed to discover that there weren’t any shops open for me to buy yogurt. As a result, there was no way I was going to attempt the long stroll from the restaurant back to my apartment, the path of which took me down an unlit and quiet road. I certainly was not in the mood to be chased by this dog, nor any of his friends, and I also didn’t feel like losing another sandal.

I took a taxi home instead.

USEFUL TRAVEL TIP

Always carry food when traveling, especially when walking at night. And even though I’m quite certain that there’s no scientific evidence to support this claim, yogurt seems to be loved by stray dogs all over the world. Yogurt, especially blueberry-favored, has never failed me, and I’ve used it to escape dog attacks not only in Chiang Mai, but in Calcutta, India; Melbourne, Australia; Mendoza, Argentina and San Salvador, El Salvador.

After all, as travelers we lock our backpacks in order to fend off pickpockets, we carry only a small amount of money in case we are robbed and so why not take this extra precaution as well and carry some food in case we encounter a pack of stray (and hungry) dogs.

Of course, some may think that having food on you will actually help attract these animals. But if you don’t have any food and you find yourself surrounded by six raging beasts, then your safety may then ultimately depend upon your performance in a a foot/paw race. Even if the dogs approach you because they smell the food, at least you can peel back that lid, spread the yogurt all around and get to safety as quickly as possible!


Any other tips or stories you can share about encounters with wild dogs or other animals? I’m sure someone has been through something a lot worse!!

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Comments 42

  1. Pingback: 10 Of The Most Inspiring Websites For Aspiring Digital Nomads | The Barefoot Nomad

  2. Bob

    I just must be really lucky, I’ve never come up against a wild dog in my life. Until I read through all these comments, I just figured, if I really needed to I could probably take a dog in a fight…now, I’m not sure I could.
    I wonder if yogurt works against wild kangaroos? That would probably make one of my friends way more comfortable to know.

    1. Earl

      Hey Bob – Well, I certainly hope you remain that lucky and continue to avoid wild dogs! If it does happen, I do think it’s probably best not to test out your theory of being able to take on a dog with success.

      As for the kangaroos, not so sure about that one 🙂

    1. Earl

      Thanks for the comment Mike! Trust me, I never would have considered using yogurt if I hadn’t been forced to come up with a solution on the spot!

  3. Sabina

    Dogs can be adorable or terrifying. I can’t believe you’ve come so close to being attacked so many times! I hate it when you’re just out somewhere doing your thing and the come snarling along, looking like they could bite. Thanks for the food tip! That could be a life saver, literally.

    1. Earl

      Thanks for the comment Sabina! I guess I’ve been quite unlucky with such encounters. Hopefully you won’t have to put this tip into action any time soon 🙂

  4. Gareth Leonard

    I’ll have to remember this! I was ambushed myself by a pack of hungry beasts as I came out of a restaurant in Tilcara, Argentina. I didn’t have any food on me so I let the dogs follow me over to the park where I managed to loose them to an unsuspecting couple who were eating empanadas! It was their problem now!!!

    1. Earl

      Haha Gareth! That’s not a bad way to deal with stray dogs either…passing them on to someone else. After all, the other couple had empanadas to save themselves and you didn’t have anything, so that seems reasonable to me 🙂

  5. Andi

    Ay Dios mio, pobrecito!!!! Thank goodness for the yogurt and that the dogs were hungry for dairy and not human haha. I want to hear more about this kidnapping, sounds like QUITE a story!

  6. Kyle

    I second the comments on picking up a rock to pretend to throw at them. We used this many times in Latin America and it worked well. We heard the trick was to never actually hit the dogs with the rocks as if you do, they will realize that it doesn’t hurt that much and keep coming at you. The dogs in Chiang Mai have been pretty relaxed so far, though. You must have gotten a rotten batch.

    1. Earl

      Hey Kyle – Alright, if you’re telling me that the rock trick does work, then I shall give it a try. Hopefully I won’t be in a situation where I’ll have to give it a try but in case I am…

      And these dogs in Chiang Mai were the only angry dogs I came across over there, so I’m not surprised you haven’t run into such a problem. Apparently this one pack was the only one not influenced by the hundreds of calming Buddhist temples scattered around the city!

  7. Laura

    I, luckily, have not come across attacking stray dogs on my travels. I’m not a fan of picking up a rock to scare a dog, so the food method sounds much better to me. If the poor thing is willing to attack me for food, it must be really hungry!

    1. Earl

      Hey Laura – I’m happy to know you haven’t had to deal with this on your current travels! And you’re right, if the dog is so hungry that he’s coming after us, why not be provide it with some food to satisfy its hunger? Not only does it help us escape, but it helps them survive as well.

  8. AdventureRob

    Lol! I can’t say I’ve heard this travel advice before. I’ve never been attacked by a stray dog, you’ve had 5 (!) which seems a bit excessive over a lifetime let alone the amount of years you’ve been travelling. Maybe they are attacking you BECAUSE you carry the yoghurt? haha

    1. Earl

      Hey Rob – That’s a funny point indeed as I have considered the possibility that the yogurt attracts the dogs but I’m not sure how to handle that thought. I’m a bit nervous to face stray dogs without food just in case that theory is wrong!

  9. Nate

    This is probably some of the most odd travel advice I’ve heard in a while but it makes so much sense. You sure do have a knack for getting into interesting situations!

    1. Earl

      Hey Nate – I hope you don’t mind if I consider your description – “the most odd travel advice I’ve heard in a while” – of this post to be a compliment???!!

      Enjoy your Indian meal next weekend!!

  10. Audrey

    Stray dogs freak me out as well, but I never thought to throw yogurt at them. We were advised in different parts of Latin America to pick up a rock and hold it high – for better or for worse, many stray dogs are trained that if someone holds a rock up they are about to throw it at them. I never really felt safe with this approach though and like the yogurt strategy much better.

    On a completely side note, we picked up some Stonyfield non-fat blueberry yogurt when we were in NYC last and it was such a disappointment. Perhaps we picked up a bad batch, but it was like they purposely extracted the taste from the blueberries and the yogurt was snotty. Such a disappointment – my memories of it were so good.

    1. Earl

      Hey Audrey – I’m not fully convinced with the ‘holding the rock over the head’ method either. I just feel better knowing that most stray dogs are going to be quite interested in eating food that is suddenly dropped in front of them.

      As for the Stonyfield yogurt, that’s surprising that you had such a disappointing experience! On my last visit to the US, it was as good as it usually is, but I’ll have to try again this time to see what’s going on. Hopefully it was just a bad batch and not a sudden change in the way they produce the yogurt. That would be a huge let down!

  11. Leigh

    I too have a fear of stray dogs but have never thought to carry bluebery yogurt. I’ve usually had dogs chase me on my bike – in Mexico, Ecuador, and yes in Canada too… The adrenalin kicks in and I start screaming & kicking but from now on I’ll try at least the biscuit routine as suggested in the comments.
    Earl – you have had some really hairy experiences!!

    1. Earl

      Hey Leigh – I’m going to guess my hairy experiences area a result of my fondness for walking down dark streets that I probably shouldn’t be exploring! Being chased on a bike is an entirely different situation. That could be quite dangerous I would imagine, trying to kick the dogs away while not falling over. I’ll feel a little better now knowing you’ll have some biscuits on you the next time it happens!

  12. Vagabond Roots

    That’s a great story! I wouldn’t have thought of tossing food at them, I probably would have let out an embarrassingly high pitched squeal and tried to climb something. I’ll have to remember trying your way if I’m ever in the same situation.

    1. Earl

      @vagagondroots – Hopefully you’ll never have to deal with that situation but it never hurts to have some food on you just in case, especially because I don’t believe the high-pitched squeal method has been tested yet. 🙂

      Thanks so much for the comment!

  13. rose

    I usually walk around with dry biscuits, as I find them easier to carry than yogurt! So far that, and occasionally carrying a large enough stick to keep them at bay, has worked fairly well.

    But last time I had dogs attack me I was quite unprepared, and was empty-handed, on my way to the toilets way behind an empty temple in northern Thailand. All the monks were indoors, chanting, and as I walked between 2 buildings suddenly 3 dogs started growling, got up and surrounded me. In my panic, my first reflex was to clap really loud, right in front their faces. They were only startled for about half a second, but it was time enough for me to turn around and run back to my friends, although not without a small nip in my calf to remember the whole incident by…
    Food is definitely the best solution!

    1. Earl

      Hey Rose – So what you’re saying is that the ‘Clapping Loudly’ method is not exactly recommended 🙂 Carrying a stick, especially when you know you might be an area with stray dogs is a good method as well. Carrying a stick and biscuits (or yogurt!) is even better!

  14. Mike

    Next time it happens, just pretend to bend down and pick up some stones or something from the road and then threaten to throw them at the dogs. This usually scares most strays.

    1. Earl

      Hey Mike – That seems to be another popular method when dealing with stray dogs. I’ll have to give it a try. It would be a lot cheaper than always having to buy yogurt!

  15. Moon Hussain

    Excellent tale from your travels, Earl. I have a fear of dogs. I just remembered that while I was waiting in the car with the driver in Pakistan, (really young, after school??), I saw this man trying to walk past this stray dog. This dog wasn’t friendly and was chasing the poor guy around and a couple others.

    Meh, dogs…… I love my cats 🙂

        1. Earl

          Hey Moon – I’ve tried to take something, but nothing has worked. The last time I slept in the same house as a cat, I had to be taken to the emergency room in the middle of the night after having trouble breathing!! So no cats for me!

  16. Don

    I’m going to keep this tip in mind. Blueberry just happens to be my favorite yogurt but I’ve had difficulty finding in some third world countries.

    1. Earl

      Hey Don – You’re right, blueberry yogurt can be difficult to find. I’m sure any flavor works but I just prefer to go with what has been successful in the past. When it comes to stray dogs I’m rarely in the mood to experiment!

  17. Adam Mayfield

    Great story! I was actually LOL-ing a few times! 🙂

    When I was a wee lad my mom used to take me down to the local park by the river and give me a few pieces of bread to feed the ducks. It was an absolute blast! Well, at least until the giant geese showed up. To a 5 year old these geese were F’ing huge!! I tried to feed them and make friends but that didn’t work so well. After that first bite they had a taste for bread and would stop at nothing to get it. I tried to stop and feed them as much as I could but it wasn’t enough to calm their hunger, which soon turned into a huger for little Adam fingers.

    After having several of my fingers bitten by geese I had no choice but to run. I guess it was pretty funny if you ask my mom. Seeing her only son run in terror from 3-4 geese can really make an afternoon memorable.

    1. Earl

      Hey Adam – Wild (and hungry) geese is definitely not something I’ve encountered during my travels. Hopefully you weren’t scarred for life by this incident and still have all of your fingers intact! I’m sure it was more than amusing for the others in the park to watch…

  18. Margo

    We were hiking in Austria w/ a baby on my husband’s back and a good sized ram kept ramming us (pretty gently – he wasn’t charging us) along as if trying to herd us off his alp. My daughter who was then about 9 mos.old thought it was hysterical. Finally a crusty farmer came along and made his ram stop bothering us by dragging him off by his horns.Not exactly an encounter w/ a wild dog. I’ll have to remember that yogurt thing – would never have thought of that. 🙂

    1. Earl

      Hey Margo – Just the fact that you were hiking through Austria with a 9 month old is quite remarkable! I think I’d much prefer to encounter a ram than a wild dog 🙂

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