Saturday, May 29, 2004

Puebla, Mexico--Day 119

The next morning I was off to the zoo, which is called Africam Safari (yes Africam, not African) and is basically this zoo that you can drive through much like those in Australia, right up to the animals. The amazing thing with this zoo is that you don’t actually have to be driven in a big safari bus with a guide, but you can actually drive YOUR OWN CAR right into say, the lion’s den. Honestly, I was so shocked! There were just people all around driving with their windows down, taking pictures of like the lions on rhinos who were not that far away from their precious children sitting in the back seats. Anyway, moving on…

I got a taxi to the zoo and had him drop me off, which was sort of a mistake on my part (at that time I didn’t realize that you had to drive all around the zoo to get around it). I was scouted out by one of the ticket girls who picked me out of the crowd (big surprise) and helped me get at ticket. Silly me didn’t have enough pesos so I tried using my credit card, but that didn’t work (no, my credit is good, the phone lines were indefinitely busy) so I had to pay in American dollars which they were satisfied with.

The girl who was helping me then pointed me in the direction of the bus that I would bet getting on to go around the zoo in (no I could not walk, a lion would eat me!) and as we walked over a huge black and white striped bus zoomed up and we boarded. I inquired about the hippos’ names, and was told that they didn’t have any! What, no names? Surely they are named. I would find this out later, that in fact, they are not!

Anyways, back to the bus. How fun was this! All of the people on board appeared to be related (I think the tour guide on the bus said that they were a family, but then again, my Spanish is shaky). The tour guide and our driver introduced themselves (I think) and we were off into the African savannah.

I kept looking at my map and hoping and hoping that the hippos weren’t going to be a drive by like those fateful Singaporean hippos and that my chance to get good pictures of them wouldn’t happen. We drove around basically what was a dirt road through “Africa” as we saw lions, tigers, giraffes, and all other sorts of animals that you would see in Mexico, I mean Africa.

We got to a rest stop where there were no animals around but plenty of souvenir shops, photo opportunities (one of which you could ride on a camel wearing a sombrero) and food kiosks. I went into the gift shop and bought a mug and a few postcards and went back to the bus stop so that I wouldn’t miss the bus. What I thought was going to be a ten minute break turned into something like an hour long stop and it was quite a while until anyone else meandered back to the bus. Luckily I had my book with me and again, what really is a schedule anyways?

We were finally off to where the map showed the hippos and thankfully enough there was a parking lot in front of the hippos area. Fingers crossed, we approached the hippos and joy we stopped and were given another ten minute break (which actually turned out to be more like ten minutes than an hour this time). It was plenty of time for me to get some great pictures of the six sleeping hippos who were all laying in a row basking in the sun. Click click click. More stares from people around me, but I don’t care. Yes, I AM going to take lots and LOTS of pictures of these hippos, thank you very much.

The bus starts its engine up again and I race to get back on board, and we are taken to the start of another zoo where zoo goers walk around and look at animals that weren’t necessarily part of Africa. I walked around a bit trying to find a taxi back to Puebla to no avail and was told that I could ride a bus back. So I got to this bus station thing and sit down to wait, reading the signs saying that a bus comes every hour, but that was not guaranteed.


Since there were buses there at the moment, I decided to go scout out the hippos names again. About an hour later, I have walked through just about the entire part of this second zoo and have seen way too many butterflies and bats, and not enough zookeepers to help me with the hippos. Finally I track one down and break up his conversation with a younger child (obviously I am more important! jk) and am told again that the hippos don’t have names, which was followed by a very strange, questioning look on his part.

I thanked him and headed back through the zoo to the bus stop (did I mention how hot it was? I was just about dying) and stopped at this funny little gazebo over a lake. You had to walk over this small wooden planked bridge which has a sign saying something like “no more than 10 people on at once.” Well the minute I get over the bridge and on to the gazebo, a herd of school children come bounding along and all race onto this bridge and starting jumping up and down making the bridge go crazy. I was stuck! There was no way I could push through the kids on the bridge and with my luck the bridge would probably break while I was on it considering all of the kids (definitely more than 10) that were on it. Finally I made my move and had quite the time trying to get back across while the bridge was invaded by laughing children. I couldn’t stop laughing which made the kids jump even harder but finally I made it across.


I make it back to the front of the zoo to ask again about the hippos’ names (sorry, no names!) and a big Esterella Roja bus drives past me and the girl who was originally helping me with my ticket told me to run because that was going to be my ride back to Puebla. So I run back to the bus stop on the other side of the zoo, only to find about a bazillion buses there now. I make a quick guess as to which one could possibly be mine and luckily I found it, but he told me that he was leaving in an hour, not right now. Hot and out of breath, I just nod and collapse down onto the bus bench where I gather my breath and take out my book to pass the time. There was no way that I was going to be missing this bus back to Puebla.

The bus ride was great and I even got it for free! He dropped me off at the Centro, which I thought was going to be the center of town. Oh no no, the Centro was the central bus station! Whoopee. So I then took a taxi from the bus station to the zocalo, which is the center of Puebla.

In the center is a huge gorgeous cathedral and I would like to say that I spent the next few ours wandering around the town taking in all of the sights. Really that is what happened, but honestly it was because I was completely lost and couldn’t find my hotel. I wanted to desperately drop off my stuff form the zoo but couldn’t for the life of me find my hotel.

Finally I ask someone and am directed to the other side of the streets (I was walking along the even numbered streets and didn’t realize that the odd ones were on the other side of town) and got back to my hotel. I dropped off my stuff and then went and found some dinner and watched a dance performance in the square where I actually saw the REAL Mexican hat dance being performed! How cool!

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, May 27, 2004


Leon, Mexico--Days 115-118

The past week has been wonderful here in Mexico. After getting the hippo photos in Leon, I was off for a few days and headed to Guanajuato, which is about 45 minutes away from Leon and is absolutely beautiful. I spent an entire day walking around the town taking loads of photographs, visiting a museum entirely devoted to Don Quixote as well as several impressive churches, and rode a cable car type thing up to the top of a huge hill which overlooked Guanajuato down below. I decided that I wanted to find a day tour to several towns nearby and to my luck, found a full day tour for the next day that would visit San Miguel de Allende and Dolores Hidalgo, both towns involved in shaping Mexico’s history during the revolution. The only problem was that the entire tour was going to be in Spanish! I figured that I could manage.

Anyways, the next morning (on Wednesday) I got up and had to get another taxi down to Guanajuato from my hotel in Leon. I arrived and went to meet the tour and found another girl like myself, Melanie, who was in Guanajuato for two days and visiting for a friend’s wedding from Ireland. What a relief to find someone my age and in the area for the same amount of time! We chatted while we waited for our tour and at 10:30am we were escorted down one of the alley ways to meet up with our tour guide. Soon thereafter a suburban whizzed up and we hopped in, greeting our Spanish speaking tour guide as we left to pick up two other passengers who turned out to be these really nice middle-aged women from Chile. We set off for our first destination (Dolores Hidalgo) and already I was feeling great about going on this tour and happy that I had met some nice people!

Basically we had a private tour the entire day. Driving through the mountains to get away from Guanajuato, we then hit up lots of cool sights. On our way to Dolores Hidalgo we stopped by a brightly colored grave of the creator of Mariachi music, and proceeded onwards to Dolores Hidalgo where we got a full on tour of the area and its history regarding the Mexican revolution, and picked up some tequila flavored ice cream while we were at it. So far so good, I was understanding (most of) what was going on! But my suave Spanish was unfortunately not enough to really help Melanie (who didn’t speak quite as much as I did but was still getting along) understand all of the history that our tour guide was explaining to us which, try as I might, went in through one ear (which was straining to pick up every last word) and out the next.

After Dolores Hidalgo, we stopped at a few tiendas to buy souvenirs. Basically this meant that the women that we were with would stop and chat chat chat with everyone in the store and Melanie, myself, and our driver would be sitting in the car waiting for them. I thought it was pretty funny because they seemed to have no concept of time (which didn’t seem to bother out guide) and that the younger members of the tour were the ones on time, rather than them! Anyways, afterwards we went to a great buffet place for lunch which was fantastic. We were able to help ourselves to wonderful dishes and drink horchata to cool ourselves from the hot sun.

After lunch we headed towards San Miguel de Allende where we were give almost two hours to peruse on our own. San Miguel de Allende is a beautiful small town and Melanie and I had no trouble taking those few hours and walking along the cobblestone streets and taking in the numerous churches. We wanted to find this particular lookout point and found a nice man to help us, but then realized that we had to go back to the car and meet up with the group.

We found our guide in the suburban and climbed in, but what’s the rush really? Melanie and I sat there for a good 20 minutes or so while our guide (a little more impatient this time) went in search of the other two from our group, who were inevitably off shopping and chatting away. Eventually he finds them and basically steers them towards the car (to prevent further stopping points!) and we are driven up to the top to the lookout that Melanie and I were looking for earlier to get a few shots overlooking San Miguel de Allende.

Funny enough, some smart vendor had a shop at the top of the hill where lo and behold, our favorite shoppers ventured in never to return. Again, while Melanie and I sat and waited in the car, our guide went off into the shop to gather the ladies up again and bring them back to the car. At least the two bought stuff in every store that they stopped and chatted in, so at least the time really wasn’t wasted…and who needs to be on a schedule anyways? J

The drive back to Guanajuato was about an hour and half and I had to struggle to keep my eyelids open! What a busy day. Anyways, we made it back and after dropping off the ladies and making it back to the Centro, we said goodbye to our guide and Melanie and I went off to find some dinner to eat, stopping at her hostel first. We picked up her friend (a.k.a. girl she met the day before) Helen, who is from England, and another girl Yuki from Japan (from Osaka! I’ve been there!) and the four of us went off to find some dinner.

Dinner turned out really nice (we accidentally found a place that turned out to be recommended in someone’s guide book) and then while Yuki went back to the hostel, Melanie, Helen and I watched the most bizarre street performance I’ve ever seen (literally a man in a wedding dress and a mask who was falling over drunk while several others played a flute around him and chased another person dressed as a cow--I’m sure it really meant something but I could not get over the strangeness of the drunken man in heels) and then we took the gondola/street car thingy back up to the top of the hill overlooking down onto Guanajuato, which was really cool at nighttime. I had seen in during the day and was happy that we came back up at night.

After walking down the hill this time back to the city center, I realized just how late it was and how unsafe it would be for me to catch a cab back to Leon by myself. With a little persuading (not much!) I decided to stay at the girls’ hostel for a night rather than risk going back. So we went back to the hostel and I got my bed and luckily Melanie had a spare toothbrush (unused I promise!) and the three of us chatted away until we all fell asleep.

The next morning, Melanie and I hopped on board a 1st class bus to Leon. She was heading back to Aguascalientes where her friends’ wedding was to be, and I needed to shower, get dressed, and check out to get to the airport to catch my flight to Puebla. The bus ride was very plush and nothing to worry about (its like a super fancy greyhound). We got into Leon and said our goodbyes, and then I walked back to my hotel, feeling proud of myself for making it there based on my memory of the area.

Jumping ahead a few hours, I made it to the airport and got my flight down to Puebla. I had to transfer flights in Mexico City, and with all the time that it took me to get there and wait for my next plane, I really could have taken my new favorite mode of transport (the bus) and gotten there quicker. Never mind. The Mexico City airport is very confusing (at least initially) and I had quite a time trying to figure out which airline I was on (why would I be on the airline that my ticket said?!? Of COURSE I’m on a different airline, duh!) and finding my gate. After lugging all of my stuff around the airport for a while, I had finally found my correct airline, got my boarding pass, eaten something and was sitting at my gate ready to leave.

Now the only problem was that there were no signs saying that my flight was going out of the gate that my boarding pass said, and on top of that, several different flights kept boarding out of the supposed gate. So I sat there with pass in hand, checking my ticket every single time the girl got on the loud speaker to announce the outgoing flight.

Finally it was my turn and I walked down the runway and got onto a bus, which then took us to our plane on the other side of the airport. Our plane was this small turbo prop jet which looked very cool, yet very much like something out of the 1950s. We boarded and took off, whizzing away into the sky. Literally, the plane was making this whizzzzzz sound that only old airplanes could possibly make.

A short time later we arrived in Puebla. I got my bags, got my taxi, and was off to my hotel.

And what a hotel it was! I walked in and couldn’t believe that I was staying here. It was absolutely beautiful. Walking into a huge courtyard with a large fountain in the middle with people sitting outside under the stars listening to jazz music while sipping their daiquiris. It was straight out of a romance novel, and there I was, all disheveled and by myself.

I checked in (the woman checking in was definitely suspicious of me--giving me one of those, are you sure you are staying HERE? looks) and I was whisked off to my room with the help of a bell boy who told me that the hotel used to a convent and was over 400 years old.

Well that explains it!

My room was just as great and I set down my things then headed down to the courtyard and sat down to have dinner. Romance was definitely in the air, and I sat there doing quite a good job of looking like I too had someone who to share this beautiful night.

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Leon, Mexico--Day 116

Today I went to the Parque Zoologico de Leon here in Leon, but first let’s talk about how I got here. I flew back to Tucson as I mentioned before on the 19th of May and was home for oh, about half a day. It was great to see my friends (my family is out of town at the moment) and do some catching up. It was a tease to be back though because before I knew it I was on a plane leaving for New York the very next morning (early too! My flight left at 7:15am!). I flew to New York for two days of hippo photograph printing with Richard (the boss). It was great to see him and to pick the best photos and print them out. I have to say that I was impressed with how some turned out!

Two short days later I was back on a plane to Tucson, where I arrived after flying through Las Vegas (my least favorite airport) back to Tucson at 1:30am where one of my best friends Sarah (yes, she’s also named Sarah) picked me up! What a whirlwind! To top that off, I was home for just about 35 more hours before I boarded a plane from Tucson to Dallas and onwards to Leon.


All of my flights were fine, all except, well for a few. On my flight leaving from Los Angeles a woman was sitting in my seat and refused to move out of it (she had the seat next to me in the aisle but wanted to sit near the window apparently and wouldn’t give it up) and the flight leaving from Vegas. For some reason my flights there are ALWAYS delayed (this one wasn’t actually by that much) but I had a nice seat in the front when the flight attendant asked for volunteers to move to the back of the plane to equalize the balance of the plane. Now I was sitting nicely in my seat, unlike a few people who had actually moved to the front of the plane from the back. I held a ticket that said I was supposed to be in the front! But she said this and that we wouldn’t take off until a few people moved. No one budged, so I finally did moving to the waaaaay back of the plane.

Luckily the flight was short but unfortunately it was really late at night. But I made it to Tucson just fine.

My flights to Leon yesterday were fine as well--I got to the airport early in Tucson and spent my time reading up on celebrity gossip while waiting for my flight to Dallas and then had to take the dreaded TRAAIN (you know what I am talking about!) to my connecting flight which was in terminal B. I was in terminal A (sorry for those who don’t’ know the Dallas/Ft. Worth airport and what I am talking about). Anyways, I get on the TRAAIN and there is this Japanese guy with a huge old’ mop of hair on his head who is seating right in front of the TRAAIN sign showing what terminals and gates it stops at. So I couldn’t see where we were stopping and was confused a little when we did stop. WE stopped at Terminal A (or was it C?) where the intercom told us “also for all international flights”). So I thought I should get off but then my terminal was B, not A/C. Hmmm. So I didn’t get off but when moppy haired person did, I realized that I was supposed to get off there. So I ended up getting off at the next stop and booking it to my gate, where I realized that I could have stayed on and caught the TRAAIN to terminal B.


Oh well. What could I do. I got on the teeny tiny plane which was filled with one woman’s entourage of grandchildren coming home from a week’s in Disneyland (sounded like a pretty cool present to me!) and we landed in Leon around 9:30pm.

Going through customs was a breeze compared to other countries. The man basically asked me how long I was staying, and I said two weeks, and he said, why not a month? And stamped my passport. Sweet!

WE had to go through security check points which was just amazing because it was like you were on a game show. No joke. You walked up to this huuuuge stop light looking buzzer thing and had to press it. If you got a green light, you could pass through but if you got the BUZZZZZ sound and the flashing red light, you had to go over and get your bags searched. It was pure luck that was for sure and I found myself getting really excited to press the button and see if I would be searched or not.

Guess what I got?

My bags were searched and I made it out to the waiting area. I wasn’t sure if someone was supposed to meet me here or not, and when I didn’t see anyone waiting I got a taxi to my hotel which was a ways from the airport. I checked in trying to use my Spanish skills (which weren’t THAT bad if I do say so myself) and called it a night even though I hadn’t eaten anything much.

I woke up this morning struggling just a little (I’ve been through like three time zones in three days!) I got up and ready and had breakfast at the hotel restaurant before getting a taxi to the zoo.

The zoo turned out to a little ways away from the hotel and my taxi driver Freddie was really nice. We got to the zoo and I persuaded him to come in and help me with the hippos (he offered to just wait for me since there wasn’t a taxi in sight at the zoo so I convinced him to come in with me) and we set off to the hippos. There were four of them, two on one side of a huge fence and two on the other. I took some pictures of the two in front of the huge fence but decided that the fence was too obstructing to get decent pictures of the second set.

So Freddie and I set off to find a keeper to help us and thank goodness Freddie was helping me! He went off and talked to a keeper who told us to wait for the “big man with the horse” (I understood that part) and so we went back to the hippos and waited. Finally Freddie got impatient so we went looking for the man with the horse and lo and behold we found him. Freddie went and talked with him and then we were sent to the zoo veterinarian who was going to “let me into the hippo pen”.

Hmm….I wasn’t so sure about them actually letting me in, and sure enough, I wasn’t going to be able to. We talked with the vet and she was really, really nice. She led me back to the hippos, all the while wondering what on earth I was doing and where I was from, and I was able to go back behind the wall and fence to get some pictures of the second group of hippos without the fence in the way. Perfect! Now all I would need to know is their names!

So we walked back to the vet building and she asked around but apparently the hippos don’t have names! I was stunned! They aren’t trained here, she tells me, so they don’t have names.

Poor guys! I couldn’t really object but I thanked her for her help and was on my way again with Freddie. He drove me back to the hotel and I thanked him for helping me get the photos. I’ve decided that its actually been much easier being in these foreign countries getting the photos (knock on wood!) because people are willing to help me out more than in the United States since I am a foreigner.

Anyways, the pictures turned out great and I spent the entire afternoon organizing photos and the photos that we chose for the porcelain service while I was in New York. It took quite a while but I felt much better getting everything squared away. I have two more full days here before I head to Puebla on Friday. After organizing the photos I headed out to fine a good restaurant near my hotel and had a great chicken mole dinner.


Photo--Royal Copenhagen Ice Cream!

For all of those who have requested hippo pictures--sorry for the delay. Here is a picture of Duke, a hippo from Malaysia who happens to be one of my favorite so far.

Photo--Hippo bags Posted by Hello

I can now post photos! Here are some hippo things I've seen along the way... Posted by Hello

Leon, Mexico

¡Buenos Dias! I am in Leon, Mexico and just setting off to the Leon Zoo, where there are six hippos for me to photograph. The past week has been absolutely crazy--I flew from Los Angeles to Tucson, then to New York the next day, then back to Tucson two days later, then to Mexico the day after that! Phew! I arrived last night and am excited to having the chance to use my Spanish again. Updates will come later-