Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Lisbon, Portugal—Day 270

I was up and at ‘em early this morning so that I could get to the zoo first thing. I got up and had breakfast in the hotel (the breakfast room is on the 10th floor which is in its “panoramic restaurant”—oooh) and for the first time found it convenient that my room is on the 9th floor.

I had breakfast (no sketchy eggs at this place!) and then got my things and headed out on the metro to the zoo. Ahh, thank goodness for the metro! There is a stop RIGHT at the zoo (in fact, called “Jardim Zoologico”) AND right near my hotel. They are even on the same line! Couldn’t be better.

So I took the subway to the zoo and got off at my stop and headed into the zoo. It was 10 o’clock on the dot—right when it opens. I found the entrance and bought my ticket and headed to the hippos.

I had heard from several people about the appalling condition that the Lisbon Zoo. I went in expecting the worse of the worse but found it to be somewhat ok—yes things were small and needed improvements, but it definitely wasn’t the worse that I have seen. However, I did only walk from the entrance to the hippos (via the monkeys) so I really don’t have much to judge.

Anyways, I found the hippos—six of them! And the TINIEST baby I have seen so far. SOOOO cute. I almost squealed with delight (really, I made that oohhahhheeee! Noise that can only be compared to a squeal) when I saw the baby who as SO cute. Did I mention that she was cute?

Anyways, to my relief, there were three hippos on one side and three hippos on the other, separated by a small divider. Plus there were two pygmy hippos to the left of the Nile hippos, which of course I didn’t photograph, but there were there too. Anyways, the separation made it easy for me to tell them apart since the tiny baby and her mother (the hippo with the big tooth sticking out) and the other hippo (the one without the tooth) were on one side and the bigger baby, its mother and clearly a huge male (again you can tell with the whole poop thing) were on the other.

To top it off, the tiny baby, mom and other hippo (sans tooth) were all out of the water when I showed up. I quickly threw down my bag, got out my camera, and snapped away as they came lumbering towards me, stopping of course before getting in the water (work it, work it!) and then gracefully settling down in the water (yes, I did say gracefully). It was perfect.

I started taking pictures of the other hippos when a keeper appeared and started feeding the monkeys who were just down from the hippos, closer to the pygmy hippos. I made my approach (getting out my “what are their names?” translation that the man at the hotel desk wrote out for me before I left the hotel this morning) and showed it to her. To my complete surprise so told me “Of course I can tell you” in PERFECT English. In fact, she even had a British accent when she spoke English.

I had hit the jackpot!

So she rallied off their names—Pele (the big male), Juliana (mother of the bigger baby), Peão (the bigger baby), Mada (mother of the tiny baby), Bocas (the other hippo—sans tooth) and the tiny baby (who is still unnamed but a female) and showed me who was who. She asked me why and I tried to explain to her about the porcelain, but she just smiled and said “cool” and then told me all about seeing the tiny baby hippo being born. She went off and told me that she would be around if I needed any more help.

So I spent a few more hours at the zoo taking pictures of the hippos, specifically Juliana and Peão who kept getting out of the water, walking around, looking over to the other side at the tiny baby, and then getting back in. Then Juliana would do a series of flips and rolls (no joke) which was just hilarious. I got some great flipped over and upside-down hippo pictures (her head four feet sticking wildly out of the water with her belly upright) and got some great pictures of all of them when the sun finally came out.

Between my photographing of the hippos however, I couldn’t but help notice the monkeys escaping from their enclosure (more like a cage really). No seriously, the baby monkeys could fit through the bars! They would sneak out and walk out onto the grass and collect leaves for the bigger monkeys (too fat to squeeze through the bars) and back out again. They would do this and play in the grass a bit chasing insects and even at one point going up to the pygmy hippos, putting their hands on the bars as if they were actually WATCHING them like me. I became more amused at them that I did at the hippos (which is a big thing to say really considering the cute baby hippo and all her glory) but I was just fascinated with these monkeys. They were totally misbehaving and the best part of it was was that they KNEW it. They would roll around on the grass and at any time they sensed a keeper coming they would scurry back into their enclosure. It was hilarious—I would look over and see these two monkeys just sitting in the road and whenever you could hear a keeper coming—wheeling a wheelbarrow past with hay or driving by in a cart or something—anything—they would dash back into their cage and pretend like they were there the whole time with innocent looks on their faces. They were definitely playing it cool—what, me? Escape? No, I would never, I have been swinging on this branch the entire time!

And what happened the minute the keeper was out of sight? You guessed it, dash right back out again.

What luck! I headed out of the zoo happy with everything. I spent the rest of the day exploring Lisbon some more—visiting the Museu Calouste Gulbenkian to have lunch (it’s a famous art museum but I decided to just have lunch there instead of visit it since the sun just came out as I was finished with lunch and figured that I should be outside while it wasn’t raining). walking up to the ruins of the 9th century Castelo de São Jorge which overlooks Lisbon and has amazing views. I then took a tram though the historical Alfama district which is a beautiful system of winding cobblestone roads and alleyways, visited the gorgeous Mosteiro de Sao Vicente de Fora (a 16th century monastery) and then walked back down to the waterfront through the streets of Alfama. I then walked to the main plaza, the Praca do Comercio, and went up the Elevador de Santa Justa (to get a another good view of the city). All in all I had a wonderful—if not another exhausting day. I made it back to my hotel in the evening and after much debate about what to do, I decided to head to the huge mall in Lisbon (also conveniently located on the metro!) to get my much needed suitcase instead of having to take time out of another day to do so. I made it to the mall (which is absolutely huge—it rivals MOA!) and found both dinner and a suitcase shop. I wheeled my glorious new suitcase back to my hotel and felt my shoulders already thanking me for saving them from future grief.