Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Dallas, Texas—Portland, Oregon—Day 319

I flew from Dallas to Portland today finally leaving the lone star state in search of something a little bit greener. I sat next to a hilarious woman and her husband. She walked onto the plane wearing a ridiculously huge fur coat (I’ve never seen anything like it) and while the rest of the plane ordered juice with their breakfast snacks, she ordered a beer.

We started talking and but the time we had landed she knew a lot more about me than I did of her! She was delighted to see pictures of the hippos and hear all about the past year. We landed in Portland and they headed off to Bend, Oregon to visit their children (her step-children) and I set off to find myself my rental car.

I was soon on my way to my hotel in Portland. I drove to the downtown area and through a series of one way turns found my hotel. But then I decided that since the day was still young, I could stop by the zoo instead of going straight to the hotel.

So I did this—luckily the zoo was really close to the hotel and to downtown Portland. I parked, got my ticket and headed in.

Finding the hippos wasn’t hard. Photographing the pair wasn’t hard either. The two of them showed off quite a bit for me—the larger one getting in and out of the water while the smaller of the two would come over and open her mouth for me on command. It was quite a delightful sight seeing the two of them together swimming around and playing. The weather outside was really cold so I kept having to move around a bit to stay warm. At least the hippos looked content in their pool.

The enclosure had an underwater viewing area and an overlooking area onto the pool which was great for me to get pictures of them. There were also sound effects set up so that when someone walked into the underwater area sounds of hippos grunting to one another turned on.

When walking out to the overlooking spot I walked past a man and his son. As we crossed in front of the speakers the little boy asked his father, “Dad! What IS that?” The father told him, “Well son, that’s the hippo.”

And the little boy replied, clearly disgusted, “Doesn’t the hippo know that its rude to fart??”


With that said, what was hard however was finding out the hippos names. I went to ask the woman at the information desk and she had their names on file: Kiboko (a common hippo name—its means “hippo” in Swahili) and Mukenko, which means “volcano” in Swahili apparently. I thought my job was almost halfway through—now I just needed to know who was who.

Well the woman at the information desk didn’t know but agreed that she really should have that information handy. So she sent me in the direction of the main office. In there I met three happy looking employees who gladly helped me. “Ummmm” says the first one. “I think Bubbles is the one with the patches over her eyes….or is that the other one?” They debated for a bit until I interrupted.

Bubbles? Who is Bubbles?

I told them that I had the names Kiboko and Mukenko…not Bubbles. Hmmm.

Oh! They said, They must have nicknames! So one of the women gets on the phone to call someone who would actually know the truth. I was connected with another woman who told me that the hippos nicknames were Bubbles and Poppy, but she didn’t know which was which, or if Kiboko was Bubbles or Poppy, or if Mukenko was either. But SHE knew someone who was. But this person (apparently an avid hippo lover) was on the phone so I would have to call her back. But, she told me, I could call the hippo keepers themselves too.

So I tried the keepers but they weren’t there so I went back into the main part of the zoo to try and find a keeper. I ended up running into some other volunteers who didn’t know a thing about the hippos but did know anything and everything about the elephants. But they agreed to find someone who would help me and we walked over to their offices. I waited outside while the two woman disappeared and soon thereafter the talkative one (the one who told me all of the elephants’ names during our walk) came out with a slip of paper. She handed it to me and told me that “this was all I could get.”

She walked away and I looked at the paper. Mukenko and Kiboko were written on there as well as Bubbles and Tiny being their names. Tiny? Wait a sec, how can two hippos have three nicknames and more importantly WHO WAS WHO?

Since it was getting late (and I was told that the keepers probably had already left by now) I decided to call once I got back to the hotel. I left after hitting up the gift shop and drove back to my hotel which is located right in the city center. I checked in and spent the rest of the evening catching up on things and leaving phone messages and emails for practically half the zoo employees at the Oregon Zoo. I would get to the bottom of this hippo nickname silliness somehow!