I must admit, after twenty plus years of traveling to Aruba I was not prepared for this. Several years back they built an enclosure at the Seaport Marketplace and advertised the presence of a Bengal tiger. Anne and I, loving animals as we do, went on several occasions over the years to see the tiger but never did. We resigned ourselves to the fact that when we were on vacation in Aruba, the Bengal tiger must be on vacation somewhere else. This year we didn't even give the tiger a thought. We went about our business of having fun and ignored any references we saw to the tiger at the Seaport Marketplace.

Then, Thursday afternoon, we decided to go shopping. The parking situation is atrocious along the waterfront with construction on the nearby pier. We tried parking in the front but nothing was available. So we headed to an additional parking area at the rear of the Seaport Marketplace, near the tiger cage. Leaving the car we noticed several people gathered by the side of the tiger cage looking in and wondered if, this year, the tiger might be there. We walked over to take a look and, to our surprise, there was a tiger in the cage. It wasn't the white Bengal tiger we'd seen advertised previously, it was a beautiful Siberian tiger.

Standing by the cage we noticed signs advertising the next photo session at 3:30 p.m., just a few minutes away. We decided to wait and see exactly what was going on and began talking to one of the people standing near the cage. We learned that you could have your picture taken sitting next to the tiger. They were there to pick up pictures taken at an earlier session. When the handler, Marc Chandler, and his assistant arrived and handed out the pictures I was pleasantly surprised when I saw the digital photo printed on letter-size paper. It was a good picture and it started Anne and I thinking: "Why not!" We have pictures from around the world of us with exotic animals, but none with such a ferocious reputation as a tiger. Somehow we put aside the fears and worry and decided to go for it. Having decided to have our picture taken the next decision was ... Do we go for the $25 instant Polaroid or spring for $35 and get a letter size digital print. The decision was simple when I asked if I could get a floppy disk with the pictures of Anne and I on it. They told me they'd put it on a CD-ROM for a nominal fee, and Anne and I joined the line to have our picture taken with Tessa the Siberian tiger.

Anne with Tessa

Art with Tessa

Standing in the line we read all of the warning signs. Don't touch the tiger's ears! Don't touch the tiger's paws! Wait until you are called before entering the enclosure! You're paying to touch the tiger, the photo is just a keepsake. There were several others, but I don't remember them now. Naturally you end up thinking about the danger involved. Your whole life you're brought up believing tigers, an endangered species today, are ferocious and very dangerous animals. You've seen all the movies depicting tigers as fearless hunters and man-eaters. You've also seen them at the circus in cages roaring and swiping their paws at the trainers. Standing outside you don't know quite what to expect, but you think only the best thoughts. "I'm going to pet a live tiger. I'll only be in there for a few seconds, a minute at most. That person did it and nothing happened." The thoughts are endless, but the excitement caused by thinking about what you are about to do outweighs all other concerns.

Being the gentleman I am when it was our turn I sent Anne in first. She's much prettier and smells a whole lot better than I do, so, if the tiger was going to eat anyone she'd definitely choose Anne over me. (Only kidding honey!) Anne went into the cage willingly. I tried to see what was going on, but the bars were to close together to get a good look. I heard no ruckus and no loud roars so I figured everything was going well. A few seconds after she entered she emerged with a big smile on her face. It was now my turn to face the tiger.

When you enter the enclosure you are instructed to stand next to the doorway against the steel bars until they are ready for you to take your position next to Tessa. I waited patiently. I could see Tessa sitting on top of a picnic table with her handler, Marc Chandler, in front of her. There was a large red ball on the ground and Marc had Tessa on a long chain link leash. When Marc's assistant, Helen Bradley, summoned me I walked over and took my place next to Tessa on the picnic table. Helen stepped back a few steps and within seconds the picture was taken and I was escorted out of the tiger's cage.

Arriving outside to my waiting wife's chants of: "She didn't eat you?" and "Wasn't that something?" I was both overjoyed and somewhat disappointed. Overjoyed because I did have the chance to actually sit next to a living, breathing tiger, and disappointed because the experience was over before I knew it. With the pictures taken Anne and I now set about doing our shopping with the intention of returning at 6:30 p.m. to pick up our pictures.

I must mention that we were accompanied on this shopping trip by Anne's sister, Irene. Irene waited patiently while Anne and I had our pictures taken with Tessa. Unfortunately Irene is basically afraid of her own shadow and didn't want to have anything to do with the tiger. So her going into the cage for a picture was out of the question. She was perfectly happy to sit on the other side of those steel bars, safe and sound out of the tiger's reach.

When we returned at 6:30 p.m. to pick up our pictures Irene, Paul and Paulie, Irene's husband and son respectively, joined us. We waited impatiently at the rear of the enclosure for them to arrive. When they arrived they handed out the pictures and I was extremely happy with the results. In both pictures Tessa looked straight at the camera and had great expressions on her face. In Anne's photo Tessa was caught wetting her lips with her tongue. It was great! Having given us the pictures they then handed us the CD-ROM and, to my total surprise, they had printed a front cover with Anne's picture on it and a back cover with my picture. For the nominal fee they charged it was well worth it.

Seeing the pictures Paul and Paulie decided to have their picture taken with Tessa, but Irene was still reluctant and just wouldn't budge from her position of "no way."

Paul with Tessa

Paulie with Tessa

Seeing the pictures I was overjoyed at how good they were. Then it dawned on me ... neither Anne or I had actually seen Tessa's face the entire time we were in the enclosure. She never turned to look at either of us. All we saw was the back of her head and that disappointed me. Then I read a sign on the wall ...

"Ask about a private session with Tessa!"

I did! Click here to find out what I found out and enjoy more pictures and short video clips of Anne and I with Tessa.

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