Friday, July 09, 2004

Pont-Scorff, France--La Flèche, France--La Vendée, France—Day 160

Today we set off again a little later this time, around 8 o’clock. We stopped for a quick breakfast at another little small patisserie (yay for French pastries!) and made it to the La Flèche Zoo at around 9:45am when we expected it to be open.  We bought our tickets and this time had a much better map than before so we headed straight to the hippos.  We were also handed a piece of paper that had feeding times on it and lo and behold, the hippos were being fed at 10am on the dot. We had five minutes to get to the hippos!
It seemed like our luck was too good to be true! Not only did we have great luck yesterday getting the hippos but today there would be a public feeding.  So we found the hippos and still have a few minutes to go so while Mom and Peter waited for the keeper to come (and the hippos which were no where in sight which caused me to slightly panic), Peter went off in search of a keeper.  Soon a small group of people had also gathered at the hippos and the hippo came out (again with the gasping on my mom’s part) and the keeper showed up with a big bucket of food.
So she started calling to the hippo (Masaë) but he was definitely more interested in eating the tree than coming over to us.  The enclosure was set up so that he had to walk over to us and then get into the water to be fed. However due to recent winds and rain in the area, there were several branches that had been swept into Marsaë’s enclosure which seemed to be much more exciting to him than the bucket of carrots and cucumbers that he must get everyday.  So we had to wait a bit but after a bit of coaxing he finally came over to us and opened his mouth.  A loudspeaker had come on at this point and was telling all of us (in French of course so I couldn’t understand any of it) everything you would possibly want to know about their hippos.  So we realize that there are in fact two more hippos at the zoo, Elisabeth and Prosper, a 3 month old baby!! So where were they?
Peter asked and was told that they alternated having mother and baby out one day and the father out the next. The other two were currently inside. Oh great. I knew that our luck would run out at some point. So Peter explained to her what we were doing and she told us that we would have to go back to the front desk and ask to speak with the veterinarian who might be able to let us in to see the hippos if s/he were here.  So we walked back to the front and after explaining, asking and waiting again we were told that we were not going to be let in to the see the hippos. Dang. But then the girl who was helping us got a call on her walkie-talkie and told us that someone would come over to help us and talk to us about the hippos if we wanted.
So we said yes and waited a few minutes more and that’s when we met Sandrine. She was the hippo keeper (and the elephants too!) and Peter told her all about the project. She was excited and said that while we weren’t allowed to go into the enclosure, she sure as well could and she could take the pictures for me! Didn’t sound like a bad idea to me, so I thought we should give it a go? So we all walked back to the hippos and I showed her how to use my camera (while Peter translated) but she seemed camera savvy so she took my camera and disappeared. So maybe we weren’t quite out of luck yet!
She returned a few minutes later and while the pictures were good, they were just so dark. I could see already just how cute the baby was and decided that it would be best to come back in the morning to see the other two hippos out in the daylight. Sandrine then told us that if we wanted to come back, we could get in for free and she would come meet us at the front gate. Then she could take us around back to where the hippos are “officially” fed (they are just given apples and vegetables for the public then taken around back to be fed hay afterwards) which just sounded great. She was SO helpful and friendly and her enthusiasm for the animals pretty much excels every other keeper I have met so far.  So we agreed and headed back out of the zoo.
We decided to head back to my Mom and Peter’s house instead of getting a hotel for the night, even though this meant five more hours of driving on top of what we had already driven so far. We spent the afternoon watching the Tour de Franc (like actually being AT the Tour—we drove and had a picnic and watched the riders go by) and were all happy when we made it back to their house and enjoyed NOT being in the car for at least another 10 hours or so.   
(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith.  All Rights Reserved.