Saturday, February 07, 2004

Sao Paulo, Brazil--Day 8

Today I woke up and had just enough time to eat breakfast in the Patio before I was picked up by the taxi driver to be taken to the zoo in Sorocaba. The drive to Sorocaba took about an hour, and it was really nice to get out of the big city and see the countryside of Brazil, all of which is very green and very pretty.

We had to stop several times once we got into Sorocaba to ask directions to the zoo, and finally we made it. The taxi driver dropped me off and promised to be back at to pick me up in the afternoon. The “billeteria” (ticket booth) at the zoo was this very small and sort of shady looking window (and when I say shady, I don’t mean hidden from the sun) and there were signs surrounding all signs around the window. I paid my two Reales (which is about $1) entrance fee and set off in search of the hippos. No maps were available and I was able to tell right from the start that this zoo was not only very small, but also very run down.

To give the zoo some credit, they were in the process of remodeling the zoo grounds but unfortunately for me this meant that many exhibits were closed and that you could not walk through all of the normal pathways to get to the animals. This made it extremely problematic for me. Now I know that it can’t be *that* hard to find the hippos in a zoo, but on top of all of the confusion with the construction, I have found it very difficult to understand Portuguese and to get myself understood. I wandered around for quite some time, following the signs to the hippos, but with no luck. I asked several zoo employees where the hippos were (at least that is what I think I asked them) and was pointed in all sorts of different directions.

Finally I asked a man who was sweeping the dirt pathway from all of the leaves that had fallen. He pointed towards this big sign that said in very big, bold red letters “DO NOT ENTER-PEOPLE PROHIBITED” (despite the language problem I could DEFINITELY tell what this translated to) and he sort of gestured for me to go into the prohibited area. Here goes, I thought, as I pulled back the board that was prohibiting me and I stepped over some fencing and onto a muddy path, wandering in the direction that he pointed to. I know that I keep saying “I wandered here” and “I wandered there” but really I feel like no other word better describes my experiences so far on this trip because that is exactly what I’ve been doing- wandering until I run into something that seems of importance. This particular wander did not lead me where I needed to be (or so I thought) but only amidst the construction site. Whoops. I walked back (not wandered this time since I knew how to get back) to the man who was still sweeping and tried to express to him my problem. He got very frustrated and (I think) was saying, what? No Hippos? And then he gestured some more and finally put down his palm leaf (which he was sweeping with) and came to show me where the hippos were.

And so they were there were, right where he had *obviously* described to me (he expressed this to me by gesturing and talking in a louder tone) and I thanked him. He pointed out the hippos and their names, and then went back across the fenced boarder (back to the non-prohibited side) and left me with Tavea and Lure, the two hippos.

From seeing their living space, it was pretty obvious (or at least to me) why I didn’t notice them the first time. All they have to live in are a small pond and a concrete space with a feed stall. No signs pointing to their home saying what animals they were or anything. I assumed that their original home must have been under construction, and that they were just here temporarily (at least I hoped so). Besides that, they were both immersed in the water. A person passing by would not have any idea that there was an animal living there unless one of them came up for air at that particular moment.

Anyways, I sat down and for the next four hours, watched the two only the problem was, Lure (the big male hippo) did not do ANYTHING except sleep in the water. Occasionally he would come up to breathe (about every four minutes or so according to my stop watch) and stick his nose out of the water and then back down again. Luckily Tavea (the female) was more active and was out of the water several times to eat and then sleep a little bit in the sun before heading back into the water. Out of the water she would grunt loudly, which would wake up her companion who would surface to the top (amidst a huge amount of bubbles) and would match her grunting only in a much deeper and louder tone. He would wake up and sort of stick his head out of the water and check on her, then immerse himself completely back into the water, not to be seen or heard from for the next four minutes. This situation was very frustrating (I honestly started talking to Tavea telling her to go wake him up) but I did manage to get a few good shots while he surfaced a few times.

While I watched, near to me on some sort of amphitheater was some sort of program/activity/game for little kids. There was a whole school group of them on the stage and a man with a microphone who kept shouting things and then the whole group would yell and cheer and start chanting. This went on for about three hours and the excitement of the group never stopped and occasionally Tavea‘s ears would prick up when something particularly loud was being shouted. Then she would look back at me as if to ask me about what the heck was going on. On several occasions parents and their children would wander over from the amphitheater to where I was and look at the hippos. They were on another side that was also blocked off, and I think a lot of people were also wondering how I managed to get over to the side that I was on. When the activity ended, all of the children and parents left the amphitheater, passing the me and the hippos on their way out. I was definitely spoken to a couple of times, but I just smiled and would pretend like I didn’t notice that they were talking to me.

When it was time for me to go, I said goodbye to Tavea and Lure and found my way amidst all the construction back to the main gate. I tried talking with a woman behind the ticket gate to ask how old the hippos were, but that didn’t work. A police man came up to us and stood next to her (as if I was going to cause any trouble or something?) and what I think she said to me was that the hippo exhibit was closed. (she said something like “No vea a los hipopotamo“). I’m not sure. I said ok and smiled and went out and met my taxi driver who drove me back to Sao Paulo.

When I got back to the hotel I did my photo transfers and went on a walk. I wandered (again with the wandering) along some side streets to the tourist center that was nearby. It was closed and so I grabbed a snack (thank god “quiche” is universally used) and wandered again down some more streets, on all of which were street vendors trying to sell their merchandise. I found some sort of mall. realizing that tomorrow is Sunday, which means that virtually everything will be closed and I have no idea what I am going to do with myself. So I made my way back to my hotel to look at my guide book but ended up taking a nap. Around 7:45 p.m. I went and found some dinner and that leaves it up until now.

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.