Thursday, November 04, 2004

Seville, Spain—Jerez de la Frontera, Spain—Seville, Spain—Day 278

Today I woke up early and got ready to go to the zoo in Jerez de la Frontera, which is an hour away from Seville via train. Waking up at the hostel early, I decided to skip the shower and head straight to the train station so that I could catch my nine o’clock train to Jerez. Since I had inquired yesterday at the Tourist Information center near the Cathedral as to how to get to the train station, I set out walking to the bus stop that I needed to catch the bus at. However, on my way there, I realized that at the rate I was going, I was going to miss my train. So I hopped in a taxi and we set off to the train station. It was lucky that I did this because fifteen minutes later I was at the train station and I had about five minutes to find my train and board before it left.

So I found my train and rode down the escalator to my platform (the escalator being one of those ones that are more like moving walkways but that are at inclines so that you can bring your luggage carts, strollers, wheelchairs, etc. down them. In front of me I had this woman who had her huge luggage on an equally huge luggage cart that was taking up the entire escalator. I couldn’t get passed her which was making me anxious about missing my train. That would be my luck—watching the train leave just as I am approaching it. She seemed in no hurry to get to the platform (her train was the one opposite mine that still had ten minutes before it left) and so I had to grin and bear it as we slooooowly made our way down. Unfortunately there weren’t steps that I could have raced down instead so I had to wait for her to get off before I could dash onto the train.

I did just this and the train doors closed just before I found a seat and sat down.

The train started off towards Jerez and I spent the hour on the train trying not to fall asleep. The past two nights at the hostel haven’t been the greatest in terms of sleep so I felt tired and my body cranky. So I tried to focus on my book to pass the time, which didn’t work. I eventually gave up trying to read, dozing on and off before we finally made it to Jerez.

I got off and went straight out of the train station, having no real idea how big Jerez was or how I would get to the zoo. I went straight to the taxi stand (I have learned my lesson about missing taxis—although I have to say that I am better off here since I can speak Spanish) and go the next taxi that pulled up to take me to the zoo.

My taxi driver was really nice—he was really interested in the fact that I was from the USA and wanted to know all about Miami, Florida. He seemed disappointed that I personally wasn’t from Miami—the “place that was always summer” he kept saying. “Is it true—is it ALWAYS summer there?” I tried to tell him about Arizona and the fact that its also always “summer” there (or at least hot) but he wasn’t as interested in Arizona despite my boasting about Arizona NOT having humidity.

We made it to the zoo and he dropped me off and I headed in. I bought my ticket but was unable to locate a map of the zoo so I just started to wander in the general direction of where I thought hippos might be. There were no signs for the hippos, only for elephants and giraffes and a few other animals. I followed the elephant signs keeping my fingers crossed that there would be the hippos near them.

I was the only person in the zoo besides a huge group of American school children. It was so bizarre—they were clearly NOT from Spain and running all around the zoo with their teachers on a field trip shouting to the animals and causing the general ruckus that school children do at zoos, but of course all in English. It was completely weird to be in a small zoo in a smallish city with this huge group of Americans around. I didn’t ask where they were from—or why on earth they were at the zoo—but did stop three mischievous looking, pre-pubescent 12 year olds and asked them where the hippos were. The boys were really happy to help me out and all of them gave me enthusiastic directions to the hippos.

“They’re over there!”

“By the llamas!”

“Up the steps!”

From their directions, I could figure out pretty much where the hippos were. The boys told me that the hippos were hard to see because “they were in a cage”. I thanked them and headed to the hippos to see just what this “cage” entailed.

The boys were right. They WERE in a cage. The hippo enclosure was set up so that you could look down onto the hippos below you. There was a caged area set up on the right side of the enclosure which shut the hippos off from their pool and the dirt area next to it. The hippos seemed to be finishing up their breakfast but it was hard to see them through the bars. One hippo finished and stood for a long time looking with that longing “let me out” stance (yes, I know it when I see it) while the other continued to munch on the remnants of what remained in the caged area. Finally the first hippo gave up and laid down on the floor while the other hippo finished up.

A few minutes later (ok, probably about 30 minutes later) the keeper finally showed up. I was anxious for the hippos to be let out and to get their names—and I am sure the hippos were as equally anxious to be let out into the open area. I got my camera ready and watched as the keeper entered the enclosure.

Only he didn’t let the hippos out. Instead he started to clean some hippo dung off of the walls of the enclosure. The hippos watched with great interest and moved around from one end of the caged area to the other as the keeper moved around the enclosure. I am sure the male hippo was thinking “Hey! That took a lot of effort on my part and now you are washing it OFF!?!”

So I watched this for a bit and watched the keeper get the hose and start filling up the enclosure with water, spraying both hippos a little as they opened their mouths to drink the water.

A woman and her child came up to the hippos as she shouted down to the keeper, asking him what time the hippos were going to be let out. He told her that they weren’t going to be let out until such and such a time. I had a hard time following their conversation, but I was able to get this much from it. Hmmm, maybe I should have asked in the first place!

So I walked down to the entrance of the keepers’ area and went to ask him myself about the hippos. Turned out that the hippos were not going to be let out at all today, let alone this afternoon, and that I would have to come back in the morning to see them. On top of that, the hippos didn’t have names! I asked him and he shook his head with a smile (probably thinking what the heck is this girl up to—she just watched me clean the hippo enclosure for 45 minutes and now she wants to know their names) and told me that the tiger had a name, but not the hippos…they’re just hippos!

I thanked him for his help and bid adieu to the no-named hippos. I headed out of the zoo and stopped at the gift shop on my way out where a man smoking a huge cigarette sold me a small zoo key chain and some postcards of the zoo. I then asked for directions on how to get back to the city center from the ticket man and was soon heading down the street, following his directions “to the big church, take a left and walk 10 minutes.”

I did just this and ended up in the city center—or at least what seemed to be the city center based on all of the shops and people around. I stopped for a tea at a café and decided what I should do with my day. I decided to walk around Jerez for a bit in search of historical things (apparently they are famous for their horses there). So I set off after getting a snack at another café and getting a banana at the supermarket. I walked around for a bit (having no map or guide with me to help me) and ended up spotting a church and deciding to walk towards it. I did this but found the big church to be closed. So I walked back to the center where I did a big of shopping before deciding to go back to Seville since I would be back in Jerez in the morning. I could figure out if there was anything interesting to do here and even go down to Cadiz if I decided. In the mean time, I could see some other things in Seville.

So I walked back to the train station (how I made it back there is somewhat of a miracle since I just kept trying to find a bus to take me back but then ended up at it all on my own) and got the next train back to Seville. An hour later I was back at Seville’s Santa Justa station. I decided to take a bus back into town but made the mistake of getting on the wrong bus. Ok, I did get on the right bus but just going in the wrong direction. So this mistake meant that I spent an hour on the bus (probably more) watching people getting on and off and getting sort of a nice little tour of Seville’s university area, which now I can say that I have seen!

I ended up not really knowing where the bus was or where I should really get off. Each stop I was like, ok, I SHOULD get off here, but then I wouldn’t. I didn’t want to end up back at the train station and finally decided to get off. My stop, amazingly, was close to the Praca de Espana. So I walked around there for a bit, avoiding Spanish teenagers who stopped me to ask me the time but then wanted to take pictures with me, and walked back to the main cathedral area where I then met up with Pedro (whom I met in Lagos) who just so happened to be in Seville for the next couple of days for dinner.