Friday, December 10, 2004

Lufkin, Texas—Day 314

After a night hanging out at my fab hotel room just south of downtown Lufkin, I was ready to get out and go to the zoo. Problem was finding it. My directions led me in a not-so-right direction, and I eventually pulled over to a gas station to ask directions. The woman working there (who looked like they had been working there for years) told me to go down “such-and-such loop and then on the side road, then turn right, then….” I couldn’t follow but nodded and smiled the best I could. Once I had my “directions” I headed out of the gas station and to the left (the only direction that I was able to follow). I then drove for a bit until I saw a huge sign for the zoo—complete with hippos on it.

Problem was that the zoo sign said “Straight ahead 1.8 miles but the road then split off. You could go either “straight” left, or “straight” right. Hmmm.

I chose to go to the right and finally hit the road that my original directions told me to turn on. My gut feeling told me to turn left, so I did and barreled down a road that seemed to lead to nowhere. But then I spotted the zoo across the end of the road (which ended up at the freeway again—I probably really could have gone straight either left or right and ended up there!) and I went into the zoo. I parked my car and headed in.

By this time it was just bout 9:30—the zoo opened at 9am. I was clearly the first person there. I paid my three dollar entrance fee (pocket change compared to Busch Gardens!) and headed in. I first noticed a small enclosure on my right with a sign saying that the zoo’s two “new” hippos (Pancho and Nakili) were in the new hippo enclosure in the African part of the zoo. Because there was no map of the zoo (“Sorry”) I had to find this Africa section on my own. After a bit of hunting (there weren’t ANY signs in the zoo) I found it. It seemed that this old looking area that I first came across was the hippos’ old enclosure. The must have had a hippo before Pancho and Nakili, it must have died or something, and then they got the pair and moved them to this new part.

Anyways, I finally found the two—and it turned out to be three. There was a big baby hippo fast asleep on the sand in their enclosure and two bigger hippos (presumably Pancho—the male—and Nakili—the female). I knew who was who when Pancho decided to spread it against a wall and knew that Pancho was the male from the zoo’s website (Click on the link—it comes with sound effects!).

Anyways, I set up shop and watched the hippos for almost three hours. Because they had just gotten into the water before I showed up, they weren’t really going to get out often. But Pancho eventually did and he wandered over to the Baby and started licking it. It was cute until gobs of saliva started gooping out of his mouth which was a rather disgusting—yet still endearing—sight.

Nakili didn’t come out of the water at all and I finally gave up when the Baby got scared by a passing tractor (yes, a tractor) and went into the water. The underwater viewing area was decent and every so often the hippos would glide by. The baby was especially cute as she/he would come right up to the glass and press its nose against it, checking me out just as much as I was checking HER out.

After quite some time I decided to head out of the zoo with the intentions of coming back in the morning. I left the zoo, first stopping at the gift shop and then asking the staff what the baby’s name was. They told me Mara (and I made them spell it to be sure!) and I headed out of the zoo.

Now I had a slight problem. There is NOTHING to do in Lufkin. It was just before noon and I had the entire rest of the day to do something. I thought I would catch a movie, but all of the movie theaters I found were closed. Even the local mall wasn’t that exciting. I got lunch at a Chili’s (again, just to find a place to sit down and read) and then wandered around Target (my new hobby) and ended up back at the hotel that I had checked out of in the morning. I checked out because I was hoping that I could get the zoo done in one morning. But I thought it would be best for me to stay to get some better shots of Nakili. So I checked back into the hotel, doodled around on the computer and finally it was a decent enough time to get dinner.

So I went out to the local supermarket and grabbed a microwave macaroni and cheese, excited by the idea of making dinner IN my room. I then went back to the hotel, found my key to all of sudden not work and spent a good ten minutes waiting for the receptionist to come back “from helping a customer” to give me a new key.

Hotel life in the USA is just not the same as in Europe. There are only so many options to choose from and none of them involve killing time looking at gorgeous Roman ruins and sitting in Spanish cafes.