Sunday, December 19, 2004

Winston, Oregon—Day 323

Talk about fog. I woke up this morning and could hardly see out my window of the hotel. Checking the weather online showed 100% humidity and a 0.8 visibility level. And of course today I had to drive through a safari-style zoo in search of hippos.

Yeah right.

But I was up early anyways and went tot eh zoo right when it opened at 10am. It was almost a joke—you could hardly see anything in front of you while you drove. My luck I was going to run over a zebra or something.

But I got my ticket and had a nice little chat with the girl working at the ticket booth. She promised to find out the hippos’ names for me and if I came back later to check she could tell me. She went over all of the rules and regulations for the zoo (did she say “don’t stop your car”—I wasn’t sure) and I headed in.

The road was completely fogged over and as I drove, animals would emerge from the mist. It was truly a surreal feeling—almost stuff I dream about—with animals just sort of appearing. It wasn’t as if you wouldn’t see them and then run them over, it would just be that they would gracefully emerge from the shadows. Giraffes walked along the road next to my car and ostriches stood in the way.

Where were the hippos?

I finally came around a bend and down a hill and spotted the hippo enclosure. Thankfully there was a huge sign on it saying “Hippo Pond—Home to Morrey and Blippo.” Now THAT is what I am talking about—their names posted right there where I needed them.

Now I know you were wondering when I was going to find a hippo named Blippo but now my search is over. 

So I pulled up, stopped my car and did a sort of desperate “yoo-hoo! Excuse me!” to the keeper who was spraying down the area with a hose. “Excuse me!” I shouted, waving my hands out of the passenger side window as far as I could reach.

Now its one thing to be in Europe or Asia doing this—you know, the arm flail, the desperate shout, looking like a complete moron. I could handle it. But something about being back in the States—back where they actually speak your language—you can’t pretend that you are just some crazy American. No, here you really ARE a crazy American.

So I shouted and waved until she finally heard me and stopped spraying. I asked about the hippos and she told me that they were out in the paddock—that I could see them for sure. I asked her who was who and she told me that Morrey was Blippo’s father (both are males) with huge pink spots on him.

With that I figured it wouldn’t be hard to tell them apart. So I thanked her with another less frantic wave and drove down around the enclosure to see where they were.

Oh they were there alright—almost completely submerged in the water! With their bodies just so that they looked like two huge rocks—at this rate they weren’t going to be moving anytime soon. I stopped the car and waited for a bit and tried to communicate my frustration to the keeper via telepathy. Couldn’t she obviously see that I was only here to see the hippos and that now was the time for her to round them up for me?


So I turned the car around (probably an illegal zoo maneuver—I think you are supposed to just go one way) and I drove back to where the keeper was. I parked the car again and did the wave thing, although a bit more patiently this time. She could obviously see that I was there yet continued to hose down the enclosure. Hellooooooo?

Finally she stopped and came sort of over to me. I apologized in that embarrassed “yes, I’m really asking you these things” type of way and she just laughed. She turned out to be really nice and told me that the hippos come out of the water when the sun breaks (I looked at the sky—would it really be breaking today?) and usually around 3 o’clock or so to eat. I could come back then.

I thanked her and decided to do just that.

When I came back at 2:45 the fog had burned off a bit but it was still hazy and gloomy. I drove around the enclosure to see where the hippos were. I parked where I did the first time (when the hippos were submerged) but couldn’t see them. They weren’t outside, they weren’t on the grass, and hopefully they weren’t in the water where I couldn’t see them. Just then I caught a glimpse of a leg moving INSIDE their little barn! Ah-ha!

So they were inside. As I waited for them to come out I called Pedro, keeping my eye on the barn. When the hippos finally started to emerge I almost dropped the phone. I told Pedro that I had to call him back and started clicking away on my camera.

The first hippo that came out was Blippo. I could tell this only when Morrey emerged because he really did have huge pink stripes on him. Like hippo birthmarks. It was amazing and never have I seen anything like this---in all of the hippos, Morrey is truly unique.

I turned my car around again and went back up to where I had spoken with the keeper before. Click click click. The pair were huffing and grunting to each other and I realized that this was the first male-male pair that I had seen at a zoo. Usually there is like 1 male and 3 females. (I’m waiting to see what it is like at the Salt Lake City Zoo—heehee) so I was surprised. I wanted them to start roughing each other up or something to get some action shots, but they calmed down after a bit.

Perhaps it was me, sticking my entire body outside of the passenger seat and calling to them that pissed them off.

Whatever it was, I got some great pictures. Blippo was definitely showing me who was boss by threatening with his jaws and when I didn’t go away from that gesture he promptly turned around and flicked sh*t in my general direction.

I could feel the love, really.

I snapped away until the two both turned around. Happy with my photos, I headed out of the foggy zoo and back to the hotel. By the time I headed out to the zoo it was getting late. Dinner tonight was had at Denny’s after I tried to find a different place to eat. I tired to eat at “Taco Time” but apparently 9pm is not the time to try and eat there. So Denny’s was my option.

Tomorrow I drive back to Eugene. Then San Francisco! I cannot wait. Puddles and Cuddles are the hippos at that zoo (I did my homework in advance) and I will go with my good friend Elizabeth (you will remember her from my Germany escapades).

Until then.