Sunday, November 14, 2004

Barcelona, Spain—Day 288

I woke up early this morning and headed to the hippos. This meant walking a few blocks from my hotel to the closest metro station. Since it was Sunday morning, the metro was running slow so I had to wait six full minutes before a metro car pulled up to whisk me away to the zoo.

I made it though and bought my ticket and it appeared that I was one of the first people at the zoo. The Barcelona Zoo is famous for having the world’s only known albino gorilla, “Copito de Nieve” (which means “Snowflake” in English and “Floquet de Neu” in Catalan). I was excited to see him and the hippos.

First things first: I went and found the hippos.

There were two hippos in a small enclosure just as you walked up to the Pachyderm exhibit, which was a circular enclosure that you walked around and were able to see the elephants, rhinoceroses and hippos on your trip around. The two hippos were basking in the sun—one hippo out of the water and comically perched on the edge of the pool, the other in the water. Unfortunately the sun was just so that there was this huge shadow being cast on the hippo out of the water, making it difficult to photograph.

I took a few photos before finding the other hippos, located on the upper portion of the walkway. There were two hippos in there as well—seemingly a mother and a bigger baby—and they were sleeping next to each other in the water. I couldn’t tell which pair of hippos had the best (or rather worse) living arrangements.

So I took a few pictures of them too and went back to the first set of hippos. After quite some time, probably an hour or so, I decided to find a keeper to help me. Just as I thought this and turned to look for someone, I saw a man walking towards the hippos. I casually went over by the meerkats (the entrance to the keeper area) but just missed him and felt silly for some reason to call after him. So, like a groupie who wants an autograph, I waited while I watched the meerkats watch me. Finally a different keeper came out so I asked him what the hippos names were. HE told me that he didn’t know and that he worked with the lions. I couldn’t understand if he was telling me whether or not the person that worked with the hippos was actually working today (he was telling me something of the sort) but just smiled and nodded along.

Thankfully he went inside to find someone who could help me. Or at least he disappeared and came back with another keeper who seemed to work with the hippos. He told me their names—Rita, Gorda, Komtu and uh, uh, uh, forgot the last one. HE couldn’t tell me who was who, just that Gorda and Rita were the mothers.


But again, luck was on my side. He went off on his bike and magically returned with another keeper who knew just what was up. Turned out that Gorda (the mother) and Komtu (the baby) were in the first enclosure (with Komtu being the one out of the water) and Rita (the mother) and MARIA (the baby) were in the second enclosure.

Thank you.

So then it was their turn to ask questions about WHY I wanted to know. I tried my best to explain and they just laughed and shook their heads at me before waving goodbye and heading back to their jobs.

I stayed with Gorda and Komtu for quite some time and luckily the keeper went in and made all sorts of rustling noises from behind the enclosure which got the hippos excited and moving about. Click click click.

The keeper came out with a hose and started spraying the hippos. Click click click.

Then the keeper went and got some hay and set it out for the hippos who happily started munching away on it. Click click CLICK.

Once I was satisfied with my photos of Gorda and Komtu (after they had devoured the hay and Komtu had retreated back to the pool while Gorda sniffed around for more food—eventually settling herself down near the keeper’s entrance in hopes of more food) I went to check on Rita and Maria. Same old story—they hadn’t moved.

Took this time to go find Snowflake in the gorilla section. I found the gorillas, but no snowflake, only photos of him. Turned out that Snowflake died last year, so now, there is no Snowflake! I immediately felt bad for the zoo—obviously Snowflake was their pride and joy, what were they going to boast now?

I went back to Rita and Maria and found that they had moved. So I waited and waited and found the crowds for a good spot (who seem to gather the moment something good is JUST about to happen) and got some great photos of Maria moving all about and showing her big teeth (really they weren’t that big since she was small, but don’t tell her that). Anyways, I got my photos and decided to head out of the zoo.

The zoos’ loss for Snowflake was felt in the gift shop, which I visited on my way out. Hoards of postcards, stuffed animals, lunch boxes—you name it—filled the shelves all depicting Snowflake. I wonder if children would still buy this memorabilia even though they hadn’t even see the animal at the zoo today—if parents would buy it out of memory for the beloved Snowflake. It would certainly seem that the zoo would be anxious to sell off truckloads of Snowflake stuff before the memory fades.

I went back on the subway and took it to a sort of hip area of the city, La Ribera, where I visited the Picasso Museum and had some lunch. I then headed up to Las Ramblas where I walked around for a bit, bringing back memories of being here just a few weeks ago with Elizabeth on our weekend away, and feeling quite sad about the idea of having to leave. It was the weather that was dragging me back to my hotel rather than my urge to get some work done (getting the last of the European hippo cds done before boarding the plane in the morning) so I went back to the hotel and worked until the last hippo photo was burned onto a cd.

By this time it was past 9 o’clock. I was starving. I set out again on a search for a restaurant near my hotel but came up with the same place I ate at last night (too embarrassed to make a repeat performance) and a local small bar filled with smoke and old men (too wimpy to suck it up and watch sports with them). I finally settled (after about a half hours’ walk) on a different Asian place for dinner just for the sake of it. I was tired and had a lot on my mind considering my departure in the morning.

I went back to the hotel and packed my bags, set my wake up call (5am!) and booked my taxi.

Do I really have to go back?