Friday, October 15, 2004

Verona, Italy—Bussolengo, Italy—Day 258

Waking up as to not disturb Sarah, who had at least a few hours more to sleep to get over her jet lag, I got up and got ready. I managed to wake her up when I had to turn on the light and we made plans to meet up after I went to the zoo. I headed downstairs to breakfast where I had a quick bite to eat before heading down to the bus station, where I was told that I could get a bus to the zoo. This sounded like a more economical way for me to get to Bussolengo where the zoo is (about 20 minutes from Verona) and so I headed to the bus station which was conveniently just down the road from our hotel.

I found the billeteria (the ticket booth) and bought a one-way ticket to Bussolengo. I then waited for my bus on the corresponding platform where I paced back and forth double and triple checking to see if I was in fact on the right platform. I was only doing this because my bus was supposed to leave at 9:30 am and at 9:25 my bus was there, but there was no one on it. At 9:27 I started to worry that I was standing at the wrong platform, and at 9:29, when no one was making any attempt to board the bus, I figured I was in the wrong place. I turned around to ask someone for help and a girl told me no no, just wait here for the bus.

So I did and soon the bus driver showed up. Along with the girl and several other passengers who appeared out of nowhere, I boarded the bus and was even shown where I could validate my ticket. Good thing that I accidentally validated my ticket in the station. I shook my head at the girl and waved my ticket at her as she reached out to take my ticket to validate it for me. She got the point, smiled, and sat down in the first seat. I sat down a few seats behind her.

We started driving to Bussolengo and I wasn’t quite sure how long it would take—I was told at the bust station that it was about a half and hour. I settled down for the ride and kept my fingers crossed that I would get off at the right stop. We drove out of Verona, stopping to pick up several passengers on the way, and finally went out on the main highway heading for Bussolengo. We were following a cement truck very closely (almost too closely at some points) and no sooner did that thought pop into my head did I hear a big thunk.

The driver and the woman sitting in the front seat looked at each other then down at something on the windshield. I strained my head to look at what they were looking at, but couldn’t see. The other passengers on the bus seemed disinterested in the source of the noise, so I settled back down in my seat and chose to ignore it for a bit.

Clearly something was up though because both the driver and the woman were pointing at something and must have deducted that the loud clunk that we had heard must have come off of something from the cement truck. It was not hard to figure out the driver’s assumption that it was the cement truck’s fault because he took this moment to pull RIGHT up to the end of the truck and honk his horn sporadically and flash his lights. HONK HONK flash flash. HONK HONK flash flash. He repeated this every so often but the cement truck was not getting the point. Or he was just ignoring it. Anyways, this went on for some time. Eventually we came to a stop light and were stopped for just long enough for the bus driver to hop out and go confront the driver of the cement truck face-to-face. The bus driver came back and started up the bus again and drover for about another hundred yards or so before both the cement truck and the bus pulled over (subsequently blocking traffic of course) and examined the damage.

I found all of this quite amusing—it seemed like we were never going to get to Bussolengo at this rate. While the two drivers talked and exchanged information (or something—the bus driver was writing down something while the cement driver—with an amazing curly mullet that definitely deserves to be mentioned here—punched numbers into his cell phone. I could watch all of this from my spot on the bus. Cars honked but we stayed put until the exchange was done. The bus driver then hopped back in, started the bus and we were off again.

My whole sense of time was off after this and I had lost track as to which stop I was supposed to get off at. Since we had taken so long figuring out the whole cement truck incident I couldn’t really gauge how much longer I had on the bus.

We finally came up to a stop and several people got off. I decided that I would too and as the bus drove away, I wasn’t sure if that was a smart move on my part. Luckily I had seen signs for the zoo before when I was riding on the bus, so I knew that it wasn’t that far. I started walking towards the center of town (where I assumed I could catch a taxi) using a church’s steeple as my guide. I made it into town and couldn’t find a taxi stand if it was the last thing on earth. I almost went into the police station to ask where I could get a taxi until I spotted a hotel. I went inside and found that the hotel had both a reception area and a bar. Everyone in the room was on the bar side (and at 10am, why not?) and so I asked the girl behind the counter if she could help me. Luckily she spoke perfect English and not only knew of taxis but offered to call one for me.


Ten minutes later I was riding in a taxi to the zoo. The taxi driver could speak a little bit of English, so I tried to explain to him my needs. Turned out that the zoo was a safari park (…not again!) and so I would need him to drive me into the zoo. Would that be a problem, I ask him. He didn’t think that it would be. I think he thought that I meant would he be able to take me in a TAXI, not whether or not he would drive his taxi in. He seemed to have no problem with it which was a relief.

We headed to the zoo and soon drove up to the entrance where we paid our admission and headed in. We started off and the taxi driver asked me if I wanted to see any of the other animals. I shook my head and told him no, and he just laughed. We zoomed past the other zoo visitors in their cars, which the taxi driver thought was quite funny. After passing the giraffes, zebras, lions, tigers—you name it—we finally made it to the hippos. I knew it was the hippos because there were three large humps in the water that weren’t moving. Must be the hippos.

We stopped at the hippos didn’t do anything. Great, my hopes of having the hippos frolicking on the grass were crushed and instead I had three lumps in the water. This would not do. We watched for a bit until I realized that there was a keeper sitting in a truck near the entrance to this area (the hippos and the rhinos) and perhaps he could help me.

So we drove over to him—found him smoking in his truck—and my taxi driver pleaded my case for me. While they spoke in Italian, I could pretty much figure out what they were saying and it didn’t seem like the keeper was in any hurry to help us. He wouldn’t feed them for us, wouldn’t even tell us when exactly the hippos were fed. After a few minutes of talking—then begging—we were sent on our way no better off than how we came in.

We drove back over to he hippos and parked again and waited. This is when the taxi driver—feeling frustrated of course and definitely impatient—gathered up a few stones that he just so happened to have in his car and started tossing them into the water with the hippos. I was sitting in the back and told him not to do it but it was too late. He threw a few in and one hippo moved a little bit, but really paid no attention to us. I kept telling the taxi driver to stop but he kept finding “just one more little stone.” When he finally ran out of this collection that he had in his car, he opened up his door and got out, which is like the quickest way for us to get kicked out of the zoo. With the keeper RIGHT near us, I couldn’t believe that he just opened the door and hopped out, hoping that the keeper wouldn’t see us. Yeah right!

He gathered up another small stone and got back into the car. I kept glancing over at the keeper’s truck but didn’t see any sort of movement from it so maybe he didn’t see us. Maybe he just didn’t care. Anyways, after throwing the last stone and driving us backwards for a bit to get a different view of the three mounds, the taxi driver was almost ready to give up. I asked him to drive us back to the keeper so we could at least ask them what their names were. We drove back and pulled up again to the smoking keeper who told us that the hippos didn’t have names. This was the oldest game in the book—the one where the keeper just doesn’t want to help you. I know they have names—they all do—so what were they?

He claimed over and over again that they didn’t have names, but finally told us that there was another hippo in the walking area of the zoo—an older hippo who was separated from these ones. Great, at least I could go get his pictures. And his name? “Pippo” answered the keeper.

At this point both the taxi driver and I threw up our hands and exclaimed “PIPPO!!!”
It was so funny—we were both equally exasperated with the keeper. We headed out of the safari area of the park and to other side of the park where the regular zoo was to find this solo hippo. My taxi driver decided however to stop near the entrance and hopped out.

I waited for him to come back and he eventually did. It turned out that he had asked about how we could get a good picture of the hippo. They told him that we had two options (and as the taxi driver told them back to me, they were these, “Number 1—go inside the zoo and walk around like normal people” or “Number 2—go find the director of the zoo and maybe we don’t have to pay.” Well, considering I never would opt to do what normal people do and the idea of not having to pay sounded good to me. So we chose option number two and he drove me to where they told us we could find the director.

We parked in a lot behind the zoo which was in the courtyard of a few small buildings. A man came out of one of the buildings and the taxi driver asked him if he knew where the director was. Turned out that HE was the director!

So I explained my situation to him (luckily he spoke excellent English) and before I could even really get my whole story out he was grabbing his keys for his truck and we were getting in it. I waved to the taxi driver as we zoomed off back towards the hippos in the safari area. Whoohoo!

We made it back to the hippos and I got the full scoop on the hippos: Their names were Anna, Jane, Pippo and there was a baby in the mix as well that was just one month old—too small to name. Pippone was the name of the male hippo in the walking zoo area. Pippo seems to be the trendy name for male hippos here in Italy!

I was thrilled not only for his help but because as we pulled up the hippos started moving about a bit, just enough to get some decent shots of them. We even talked with the smoking keeper again who seemed a bit surprised to see me pull up with the director on my side. HAHA—touché!

The hippos moved about and grunted to each other, and moved around some more. The view and angles were not ideal, but I couldn’t really get anything better than being with the director of the zoo. The director was patient with me and waited while I snapped away. We stayed there for about five minutes before he got a call and we had to get on our way. At least I had gotten a few pictures out of it and I thanked him for his help as we drove back towards where the taxi driver was waiting. We took a detour however and I realized as we pulled up to the solo hippo Pippone that we had driven around the back to the walking zoo.

I hopped out and took several pictures of Pippone—feeling quite like the paparazzi—before dashing back into the director’s truck. We then zoomed back over to where the taxi driver was waiting. I thanked the director and got back into the taxi as the director zoomed off back to work.

Phew! The taxi driver was pleased and shook his head in disbelief when I told him that this hippos DID have names. He wanted to know what they were and was shocked to find that there was a baby hippo in the water as well that we weren’t able to see. A BABY?? We headed back to Bussolengo where I would catch my bus back to Verona. He dropped me off and told me where to buy my bus ticket and waved as he drove off.

What a morning! It wasn’t even noon at this point. I went to buy a ticket at the tobacco shop (where the taxi driver told me I could) and luckily another girl was also trying to buy a ticket. And she spoke Italian. So when we were told we couldn’t buy tickets there, but only from next door, I just followed her. And when next door was closed but she waved down someone inside to get us tickets, I followed along as she asked for two tickets for the bus, one for me and one for her. We crossed the street and waited for the bus. After two hours of frantic hippo chasing I was now able to collect myself.

The bus came and I got on, finding no empty seats so I had to ride the entire way back standing up in the center part of the bus which was quite funny since the bus was two buses connected into one. I stood on the center disc that rotated as the bus went around corners and tried to play it cool and not fall over every time it turned.

I made it back to Verona and started walking back to the hotel when I ran into Mo walking towards me down the road. What a great surprise! We had planned to meet later on in the day but now we would have the rest of the day to hang out. We spent it walking all around Verona—climbing the steps of the famous Roman Arena coliseum, standing on the balcony of Juliet’s house from “Romeo and Juliet,” visiting the Duomo while taking pictures of all of the beautiful scenery along the way.