Friday, September 10, 2004

Lyon, France—Peaugres and Romanche-Thoins, France—Lyon, France—Day 223

And what an early start I got! I was up and at ‘em way earlier than I thought. I kept waking up in the middle of the night hoping that I wouldn’t miss my alarm to get up since I knew that I had a big day ahead of me. It was rather silly really—almost as if I had a plane to catch or something. All I was doing was renting a car and let’s be honest, nothing would ever be as bad as driving in Paris.

So I got ready and headed down for breakfast where I discovered my first ever egg cooker. Its this thing where its almost like a toaster, except for eggs. You put your egg on this wire rack thing and I think you push it down into the boiling water and then it pops back up again with your boiled egg. It seemed like a good idea but I decided on a bowl of cereal instead.

I then walked over to the train station to rent my car. The same woman who had registered me yesterday was there and I was early! A whole half and hour. I was making good time—it was just turning 8 o’clock. I filled out the necessary forms and she handed me the keys, telling me where the car was. You know, just under the bridge, outside to the left, over the street and down a bit.

Um, ok.

So I went out and then had to turn around back again to get directions for a second time (repeated by with an additional frustrated emphasis) and I got it right the second time. I located my car (thank goodness for license plate numbers because I had no idea what type of car or what color I had rented) and by the grace of god the entrance to the freeway was RIGHT outside of the train station—like you practically had no other choice in the matter but to get on the freeway.

I was happy.

So I zoomed out in search of Peaugres, France which is south of Lyon. I only went here first out of the tree because I found a nifty brochure about it at the tourist office yesterday, where I inquired about renting a car. I set off with directions in hand (practically a first!) and just over an hour and a bit of trying to sing along to French pop songs, I was in Peaugres.

And I was early! I had about a half an hour before the zoo was even going to open. So I set about trying to find a cash machine to get some money out which meant me driving around the downtown area of Peaugres trying to find a bank and more crucially somewhere to park the car. I found a bank alright, but no parking spaces despite going around one-way streets for a bit, so I drove back out to the safari park, stopping at a big supermarket again with hopes of finding a cash machine.

I parked and walked in and there was the cash machine right smack dab in the front entrance. I walked up excited about my discovery only to find it to be out of order. Dang!

I gave up my quest for cash and drove back to the safari park. I pulled up to the entrance and was first in line, that is until some wise guy pulled up in front of me! I couldn’t believe it! I bought my ticket after the gates opened and set off, beating the guy and his family in their mini-van into the safari entrance.

The map to the zoo had me going in all sorts of directions before I would eventually end up at the hippos. So I drove along through the zebras, hyenas, elephants….yaaaawwwwn…..up and over hills, all with my eye out for some signs of the hippos. I even made sort of an illegal move (illegal as in I didn’t follow the route properly) and cut pass the bear enclosure and instead snuck over to the last bit of the zoo where I knew the hippos were. As I pulled past the bear side though I glanced over and actually saw a black bear sitting in middle of the road, right next to signs basically claiming that if you got out of your car or stopped or rolled down your windows in the bear enclosure you would die.

I couldn’t believe it—this bear just sitting there right where you were supposed to drive your car through. I am sorry, but in no way did I want to be the car that had to drive through to make the bear move!

So I veered left and sure enough, the hippo enclosure was right there, but no hippos! Gasp! Where would they be? There was the signs and everything, yet no hippos. So I kept driving and found this dirty muck sewage looking pond thing at the bottom of a hill. Surely they couldn’t be in there, could they? It looked more like a water sewage storage pool to me than a hippo pool. Plus the map made it look like the hippos were in a lake, not in a concrete rectangle.

So I stopped for a bit, saw no signs of hippo life, and kept going, only to find myself at the end of the safari part of the park. That wouldn’t do! So I again (illegally) turned my car around and headed back through the zebras, etc. and snuck back over to the hippo area for a second glance (but really, how on earth could you miss them!).

That’s when I saw a keeper within the enclosure. So I waited and stopped my car in front of it and waited to see what would happen. Sure enough, the keeper finished whatever she was doing, got in her tractor, and came around to the other side where I was waiting and yelled to me as she zoomed past, and gestured with her arms. She pointed down to where the pool was and (I think) said, “They’re down there!”

So I smiled, started up the car and followed her. When we got to the bottom of the hill she stopped and pointed at the pool to the left and sure enough, as she drove away waving, two little noses came up for air.

Ah-hah! So they WERE in the nasty sewage looking pool!

I spent the next two hours or so there. I stopped my car and had pulled it up to get a better view of the hippos (thus blocking anyone else’s view of them who drove by) and waited. Eventually they both took notice of me taking notice of them and just stared at me. Then they started opening their mouths to show me who was boss (the hippos’ way of threatening me is to show me their teeth) and I happily snapped away. Then the pair started getting playful and after a while started going at each other. It was great and I just took picture after picture.

Several cars pulled up behind me and then went around me and then drove off (probably in a huff) but I took no notice. I just pretended that I had JUST pulled up and was getting some good pictures. Luckily no keepers came around to tell me to move and I wasn’t in any danger of being attacked by a free-roaming animal at that point in the park so they couldn’t really get me for stopping with my windows down.

These two hippos were hilarious and I was quite excited to get some pictures of them and to get (you’re going to laugh) ALONE time with the hippos. When its just me and not bazillions of other zoo goers I can just sit and wait patiently and eventually the hippos will do their thing, taking no notice of me.

I eventually pulled away when I had gotten enough pictures and when a big camper van with small children pulled up. I couldn’t bear staying in their way so I pulled away and set off to find out the hippos’ names.

I parked my car in the lot outside of the safari area and walked under these creepy small tunnels under the road to get to the other side of the zoo where there is a restaurant, souvenir shop and an zoo area that you walk through rather than drive. I went in and stopped at the souvenir shop picking up a few things before getting something to eat at the restaurant for lunch.

Since I had gotten the man at the front desk of the hotel this morning to write out for me in French “What are their names?” I was set to find out someone to help me with the hippos. (I should note that the man at the front desk thought I was delirious when asking him this—he kept asking what did I need it for, so I finally told him that I photograph hippos, and so he wrote down “Hippopotame” and said, see? It’s the same. And then I tried to explain to him that I didn’t need “hippopotamus” in French but the phrase “What are their names.” I had to explain this a few times before he finally got it…) Anyways, I decided that I would go back to the girl working at the ticket desk that I originally pulled up to to ask her, since she spoke a little English back to me when I bought my ticket.

So I pulled up, got out my notebook with my handy phrase, and passed it through my window over to her. She took it, read it, and laughed. She got on her walkie talkie and a few seconds later I learned their names: Congo and Zaire.

Perfect! I thanked her and was on my way, out of the zoo. I decided that since things were going so well, and that it was only just going on 12:30 at this point, that I would try and get ANOTHER zoo done in the afternoon.

Couldn’t be THAT far from where I was, could it?

So I started driving and realized about, oh, two hours later that I didn’t really know which exit I was supposed to take. And I didn’t really have a good map showing me where to go so I was basically just estimating where I should get off and where I was actually going.

I decided that this was no good and pulled off to a gas station to check my location on a map. I bought a map and found where I was—about 2 exits past where I needed to get off! The exits here are a little different than in the States because they are much less frequent. There seems to be an exit ever 20 kilometers or so which meant that I had to drive until I found the next exit and then drive all the way back to the previous exits, making my total out of the way driving about 50 kilometers.

But I just kept going and was determined to get to the zoo. After finally getting on the right road and going in what I thought was the right direction, I started seeing signs for the zoo. Whooho! I found it! I followed the signs and soon was at this parking lot, which I just assumed was the parking lot of the zoo.

It was, but the zoo (actually it’s called “Touroparc” and claims to be “Three parks in one!” because it has a water park portion, a zoo, and I think some roller coasters. Anyways, I parked my car and headed into this building which kind of looked more like an entry way to an office complex or something. If the big sign wasn’t out there showing me the “Three parks in one!” one might not really know that they had in fact made it to Touroparc.

But I did, and I bought my ticket and went through the building and back outside again where I found the camels. So I really WAS at a zoo. I followed the map and soon ended up at the hippos.

There were two of them and they had this smallish sort of pond that they were in as well as a dirt area and a small little hippo hut. They both eyed me suspiciously as I approached and then came over to me, resting their heads on the wall of their pond and looking at me with this sort of look. Delighted, I took pictures of the two of them resting their heads and it seemed to me that they wanted me to feed them.

I watched them for a bit as they watched me and soon they both moved and gruntingly got out of the water and went over to their hut. They both walked around in it for a bit (I couldn’t really see them at this point) grunting away and again it seemed like they were wanting to be fed. Perhaps they thought I was the keeper and were disappointed that I didn’t have anything for them.

So they eventually came back out, then went over to this other wall where they rested their heads again (turning their back on me) and sure enough, I could hear this faint tractor sound that was getting louder and louder.

Soon it was evident to me and to the hippos that someone WAS coming to feed them. Up pulled two guys in a tractor and in a truck and they both got out and started throwing big green stalks of some sort of plant that they must have chopped down into the hippo’s enclosure. They started munching away and I went over to ask them their names.

More like show them my piece of paper rather than verbally asking them really. I went up to the first guy and handed him my notebook with “What are their names” written on it and he kind of looked at me confused and started talking in French. I did my uhhh, ummm routine and he then turned to his coworker and they talked for a bit. Finally the first guy gets on his walkie talkie to ask someone who responds to him. He writes down their names: Kif and Pof.

What funny names! I thanked them and went back to taking pictures of Kif and Pof who were eating the plants like there was no tomorrow. Its funny trying to take pictures of hippos eating because they bob their heads up and down and at the rate that Kif and Pof were eating it was difficult to get a steady shot of them.

But I did and watched them until the very last bit of greenery was eaten, which takes quite a while. I have realized that when hippos are fed they usually eat everything that is laid out for them in one sitting. There is none of this “I’ll eat a bit now and then more later” with them, they just plow through the whole lot.

So about an hour and a half later, they were finished and went back into the water. I had my pictures, along with several strange looks from the few people that had walked by while I was photographing them, especially from the family who came by twice while I was there.

Besides those few people though, Touroparc seemed completely empty. As I walked back out I noticed the monorail (which had this sort of appearance that it was made in the 1950s and was quite the thing at that time) and the dried up water park. Either Touroparc is just really, really slow in the off-season (which I guess could be September) or its sort of lacking in the attendance rate.

Anyways, I got back in my car with map in hand and headed back to Lyon, which actually wasn’t relatively too far from the Touroparc when I actually had the right directions. I made it back to Lyon and had quite a time finding my hotel and a parking space since there was loads of traffic on the freeway and I just decided to get off before my exit. I made it back though, despite the detour through Lyon, and found a parking garage for the car at the train station where I rented it. I then took the subway down to the main square and had dinner at an Italian restaurant before crashing back at my hotel.

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.