Tuesday, October 3, 2000

I'm a Survivor

I learned one thing today: I am a survivor.

It was Founder's Day at the San Diego zoo. That means that admission was free for the day. Someone at the Wild Animal Park yesterday said there would be "a lot of people." That's like saying Cecil B. DeMille invited a few people to stand around during the filming of Ben Hur. Every school class south of Seattle and every toddler with a stroller and a parent was at the zoo today. English was very definitely not the dominant language. And the whole thing was...well...a real zoo.

We actually kind of lucked out at the beginning of the day. We first went to the panda exhibit. I suspect it's about 10 feet from the entrance, but they route you through the whole zoo before you finally find it. We managed to get there just a few minutes before the first viewing session at 10 a.m. and there were relatively few people in the line. Best of all, the new baby panda, HuaMei was visible, sleeping in the tree, while her mother wandered around below.

I've been following HuaMei's progress through "PandaCam" on the Internet ever since her birth a year ago. She's the first baby panda born in captivity to survive and so she's pretty special. I remember the early days, before her Mom let her outside to greet the public. Watching the play between mother and baby was so touching. And now I was able to see them "in the fur," as it were.

After we'd seen the pandas, we did the rest of the zoo. We walked miles and miles up and down hill. Peggy says I "suffered in silence," but actually I was glad to have been forced into doing all that stuff. I saw things I would not have seen had I sat off in a corner reading a book. Of course it got more and more difficult as the day progressed and the crowds got thicker and thicker.

I did overhear some interesting conversations, though. At the orangutan enclosure, two girls were talking about the grouping (large orang, two smaller ones, and then the largest off by himself).

"Those are the kids," a girl said. "They're playing and the Mom is over there saying 'just go away and leave me alone.' The big one is the dad. He just wants to get away from all his responsibilities," she continued. (I decided this might be a good place to do psychotherapy!)

Another girl asked "What do they eat?" Her companion helpfully replied. "Chicken. They can't give them live chickens, though, 'cause that would be cruelty to animals, so they give them whole dead chicken. Frozen chickens."

We took pictures of the frozen-dead-chicken-eating orangutans and wondered if this is why they looked so fierce!

After that it kind of gets blurry. Raptors...and zebras...and bears...oh my!. Up hill and down hill, snapping photos as we went. I kind of hit the wall at one point and had just HAD IT with people shoving and children crying.

I think it was in the Polar Bear viewing area when someone ran a stroller over my sore foot.

Oh, I knew it was an accident and I didn't get upset, but there were four people deep trying to photograph the polar bears, you got jostled if you moved in any direction and I just longed for the peace and quiet of the previous day's wild animal park. The photo shows just a small segment of the crowd standing at the polar bear enclosure (and yes, that's Peggy standing up on a bench to get a photo)

We stayed till near closing time, wending our way through the zebras and giraffes to the front exit and the gift shop (which was wall to wall people, of course). But finally we limped back to the car--well, I limped and Peggy was sympathetic.

On the way home we drove through Old Town San Diego and I suggested we stop and--I can't believe I said this--walk around to get a bit of the flavor of historic San Diego, which included dinner at one of the restaurants. Unfortunately, I forgot about Peggy's sensitive stomach and felt absolutely horrible that she couldn't eat any of the dinner she was paying for.

[Post visit addendum: As we walked back to the car, I asked her if she thought we would continue to stay in touch after she returned to Australia. Peggy, ever the bluntly honest person that she is, said that she didn't think so. She felt her curiosity had been satisfied. I had to fight back the tears and not let her see how disappointed I was. Fortunately, as it turned out, her decision changed before she left to return to Australia.]

We finally returned to the motel, both of us exhausted. In fact, I was too tired to type this journal until 4:30 a.m., when I woke up with stabbing pains in my back.

So we say goodbye to San Diego and get back on the freeway in a couple of hours. With luck we will NOT get lost this time and will find our way to Steve's house with a minimum of u- turns.

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