Sunday, February 01, 2004

Guatemala City, Guatemala--Day 2

Today got off to a nice, slow start. My room at my hotel is like a cave- completely black when you have the blinds closed. It was great, I woke up several times but had absolutely no idea what time it was. When I finally woke up and got up, it was 10 o’clock. Perfect time to hit the zoo and check out the hippos! Opening my curtains, I was surprised to see an airplane, passing right through several buildings in front of me, heading towards the airport.

After getting ready, I headed downstairs to the front desk, asking where I could get a taxi. The man I was talking to picked up his phone and dialed a number, which I presumed to be the taxi service. Instead he was calling the man that was standing at a little desk about 20 feet from us, letting him know that I needed a taxi. He went and hailed one down for me, and I presented the taxi driver with my address for La Aurora Zoo. The driver and my taxi cab hailer conversed for a little while, saying “Oh, Zona Trece…Si, si, Zona Trece” (Zone 13) and it made me start wondering just how far Zona Trece was from the Zona we were in (Zona 10).

Anyways, we drove off and not too long afterwards he dropped me of at the entrance to the zoo, which was actually not that well marked, which I only considered later when I realized just how big the zoo is. I paid the taxicab driver my fare and was able to walk about 50 feet when I heard “¡Seniorita, seniorita!” I turned and it was the taxi cab man running towards me and waving something in his hand. I went back and he said “No me robo” and handed me back my 100 Quetzal bill that I had mistakenly given him instead of a $10. Whoops. I traded him a $10 for my $100 and thanked him profusely, while scolding myself for not realizing my mistake. My interaction with the taxicab driver was just the first of several really nice things that happened to me today.

La Aurora Zoo is actually a really nice and pleasant zoo. Since today is Sunday, I was surrounded by what seemed like hundreds of groups of people and families, all out enjoying a day out. Families and people of all ages surrounded me. At first I didn’t have a map, so I just headed in the direction that everyone seemed to be heading. Several times I had to stop and let a small child run past me, followed by several kids chasing after them, shouting and running in the direction of “¡El Leon!” or “¡Mira los elefantes!”

The zoo was very spacious and it seemed like all of the animals had a nice living situation, with plenty of water and vegetation. They seemed well cared for, with human annoyances being their main nuisance. I watched as close to thirty people stood by a cage watching one man with a large camera click and shout at a monkey, who I might add was none to please to be shouted at. The monkey was making a terrific loud noise that must have been heard throughout the zoo and was pacing back and forth. I decided not to watch.

After a slow start, I finally found the hippos and to my luck, while one was in the water already, the other was wading towards the water and just about ready to make itself comfortable. This one took its time getting in the water and looked right at me, pausing for several moments, almost to say Here is my best side, take this shot…no wait, here, take a picture of me like this, while the other hippo, standing almost immersed in water, was more than happy letting the sun shine brightly on its grayish and pink back. I watched the hippos for quite some time, photographing every movement I could when I was satisfied with my photos, I decided that I would need someone to help me figure out their names.
Unfortunately on the fact board near their habitat, there was no sign of what their actual names were. I walked back towards the entrance and asked a young man who was working near the gates if he knew the names of the hippos. He started going off in Spanish and every time he said a word I knew, I would nod and do my best to string the words that I knew together, in hopes that I could almost make up and understand what was in between. Nope, didn’t work. He finally went over to his buddy and came back to me and said “El hippo macho se llama Orejitas.” I smiled graciously and he wrote it down for me. What’s the name of the other hippo?” I tried to ask in my best (but pathetically broken) Spanish. He didn’t know. So I decided that I would track down someone else to tell me. Unfortunately there didn’t seem to be any zoo employees around, besides the people working at the ticket booth. Finally I found two more men who were groundskeepers and I asked them where the Educational Center was, so that I could hopefully ask them what the hippos names were. Hmmm, they said, don’t really know. The educational center wasn’t on the map, (which I bought from the first man who helped me) but it was listed on there, with “guidos” in big bold letters. I figured I could get a “guido” to help me. They didn’t know where this so-called center was, but one man decided that he could find out for me. So he tells me to wait and he dashes off somewhere. About 5 minutes later, he is back and smiling brightly. Come with me, he says in Spanish, and we start walking back towards the hippos.

Amazingly, I was able to talk with this man and understand almost everything he said, and he seemed to understand everything I was saying in Spanish. This made me feel much better about my skills (and lack thereof) and I was more than thankful that I had found this man to help me. We walked through the main parts of the zoos, passing the quite elegant “Casa de Te” and along the pathway which was very pretty, with large trees all along the sides. Ah ha, he says, as he veers off the path to the left and approaches two other men. He explains to one man my situation, and the man smiles. Apparently he is “el jefe,” the boss of the zoo. Thank goodness. I ask again what the names are of the hippos and he tells me: Orejitas and Carlita, pointing them out. I thanked all three men, and went back to watch Orejitas and Carlita for a while longer.

All of this name searching and watching took over an hour, and I realized that I was really hungry. I wandered over to the restaurant areas, and picked up a bottle of water. Sitting on the grass, I drank up my water and just watched people and families walk by. It was really nice just sitting there and taking in my surroundings. I eventually got up and walked back to a different area which was sort of hidden from the main pathways, and discovered a whole sort of street market within the zoo, all selling things to eat. Each stall sold various things, ranging from huge fruit that looked similar to oranges then sprinkled with a pepper looking powder, to meats sizzling on outdoor grills. Each of the sort of “sit down” places had an elderly woman standing outside, trying to beckon people passing by to come try their food. I opted to get some fruit and picked a nice looking bag of melon to try. As I bit into the juicy fruit, all the words of my worried family and health nurse came back into my head warning me to not eat the fruit, but I figured that hey, everyone around me was eating it and I wasn’t going to miss out--at least this time.

Satisfied with my fruit, I went back through the gates of the zoo to the outside entrance behind two Guatemalan women who were giggling. It seemed like their first attempt to go through the rotating bars failed, with both of them getting stuck. Dressed in traditional Guatemalan attire, they looked back at me and giggled some more as they made it successfully through the other gate. It was a nice moment.

I located a taxi and we drove back to my hotel. It was time to figure out how to send my pictures via email and establish a system for storing and filing the photos. I ran into problems with my email account being able to shrink and send the photos, so in the end I opted for an entirely new email address just to send photos. Five long hours later, I had everything squared away.

Around 6:30 p.m. I decided to head for dinner, and was able to find a nice place just down the street serving Mexican food. I sat down and ordered and what would I find blasting from the television in the bar? Only the Super Bowl. So, I watched part of the Super Bowl while I ate my flautas, but unfortunately caught most of the half time show, which (in case you didn’t see it) was Kid Rock dancing around on stage singing about being a cowboy and wearing, as a shirt, the American flag. Pretty ridiculous.

Now I am back in my hotel room, looking forward to another big day tomorrow.

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.