Friday, August 20, 2004

London, England—Day 202

Today started off with Jo driving me through London on the way to the M1 motorway which leads up to both Whipsnade and Woburn, the two zoos that I have to do in England. They are just about 15 miles from one another and my hope was to get both zoos done in one day. I had no idea if this would be possible, but wanted to get an early start on the day anyhow.

I dropped Jo off along with her bike and began my solo trek up to the motorway, swerving around roundabouts and telling myself NOT to drive on the right-hand side of the road. All in all, I did a pretty good job and weaving through traffic and miraculously ending up on the M1 just as Jo and Jake had said I would.

The first zoo I wanted to visit was Whipsnade since it was south of the Woburn Safari Park and it just made sense to me to do that one first. I drove up the M1 in my toothpaste colored car (a collective color decision with my cousin, aunt and I) and pretty soon found the signs showing the exit for the zoo. I zoomed off and pretty soon I was at the entrance to the zoo. I checked my watched, 10:01. The zoo opens a 10:00 so I was perfectly on time!

The gates opened and cars began filing into the zoo. When it was my turn I bought my ticket and got my map and found the hippos. I drove right out to the hippos (going a tad over the 10 mph speed limit and swerving around just a few cars really) and accidentally drove down a “Zoo vehicles only” road, parked my car, and hopped out right next to the hippos.

First things first, I had to survey the area and see just how many hippos I was in for. But the looks of it, it seemed like there might be quite a few but as I walked up the embankment to the hippo house on the hill (that sounds like a book, like Little House on the Prairie meets Hippo House on the Hill) and went in, I found that several of the hippos were in fact Pygmy hippos. I walked back out of the house and found three Nile hippos (or common hippos as they say here) in two separate enclosures. One for Ben (obviously the male) and one for Nigna and her baby who was born late last year.

So I waited and waited and eventually saw the baby’s nose pop out of the water to take a breath, along with its mother. Ben on the other hand really wasn’t coming out of the water at all and looked more like a stone than anything actually living. So I decided to concentrate on getting the baby and mother hippo’s photos first before trying to figure out how to stir up Ben into doing something more exciting.

I took a few pictures and waited. Then took a few more, and then waited. And waited some more.

Nigna and the baby (whose name appeared to be “Common Hippo” which I was SURE wasn’t right) weren’t really doing much of anything either. So I started calling out to them and waving my hands up in hopes that one of them would open their mouths or something. Eventually the baby did (probably more annoyed with me more than anything) and I took some great pictures of the baby sticking out its tongue which was quite funny.

Every so often I would make my way back over to Ben to see what he was doing but in all of the time that I waited, he remained in the same place. Three hours of this went by (me standing, waiting, the hippos sleeping) until Nigna and the baby started moving around a bit more. The baby started sort of moving around and started biting Nigna’s mouth and face.

Now THAT is what I want to see!

So as the two began to play and bit one another (playfully, of course) I snapped away and groups of families would come over to ooohhh and ahhh at the baby. It was clear that the baby was teething (I’m sure hippos suffer the same as human babies in that respect) so the baby was trying to chew on something. Then the baby went and found a stick and started carrying it around in its mouth which was SO cute. I only managed to get one good picture of it because the baby kept dropping the stick but everyone around me was laughing, and I was too.

A baby hippo swimming with a stick in its mouth is quite a sight.

I went back over to Ben to check out what he was doing (nothing of course) when a zoo keeper came over to me and parked his bike. Excuse me, he said, I couldn’t help but notice you standing here. For three hours. What on earth…?

So I explained to him the situation and he just laughed. He called the keepers on his walkie talkie to see when the hippos would be fed (3pm I was told) and to find out the name of the baby hippo (Nola? Lola? Something like that) and I thanked him. He told me to come back to the hippos at 3pm and so I would.

Well that gave me just over two hours to wait. So I decided that I would try and make it to Woburn, get the hippos there, and then come back for the 3 o’clock feeding time.

I got in my toothpaste-colored car and zoomed away with directions from Whipsnade to Woburn. If only it could have been as easy as it seemed to be on the directions. Instead of getting back on the motorway (which was technically a longer distance) I followed these directions which had me going on all sorts of small roads and roundabouts. At first I started off just great—had no problems. Until I got to the “follow the small roundabout” instruction—where the heck is the “small roundabout”?!? I passed like six before doubling back and trying to find the street name that I was supposed to have turned down, which is hard when you are trying to read the map, maneuver around these tiny roundabouts AND not hit anyone. Did I mention I am driving a manual here?

Anyway, several wrong turns and over an HOUR later, I am on the right track to the zoo, panicking that I wouldn’t make it in time. Should I just turn back? Why did I leave the first zoo anyways? What was I thinking?

I started seeing signs for the zoo and decided that I should just head in and see what the deal was—if I couldn’t make it and get all the hippos then I would just come back as planned. I really had never done two zoos in one day and was sure that it wasn’t going to work out anyways.

Woburn Safari Park is on this huuuuuuuge area of land which also has an Abbey. It took me quite a while to even drive up to the Safari Park because I had to go through all of these grounds before I got there. When I did, I bought my ticket and a map and headed in. That’s when I saw the “if you pass this point you are NOT allowed to get out of the car” signs. The safari park is just that-like a safari. The animals are basically free-roaming and you drive around in your car and they walk right past you. Like in Mexico, except less sketchy.

So after passing the sign, I pulled over just to check my map for the hippos. One glance, two glances, three glances over the map and I couldn’t’ find the hippos. So I backed up my car to the front entrance (really a move I shouldn’t have made) and parked my car in the employee parking lot and ran back up to the ticket windows. I asked about the hippos and the girl at the window had a vague clue about where the hippo was (turned out to be just one hippo) and sort of pointed in a general area as to where he was, although she wasn’t sure. But she told me that I could check with the office people if I wanted to.

So I thanked her and ran over to the main office and rang the buzzer to have someone help me. Out of breath, I asked the woman who appeared where the hippo was (she showed me) and what his name was. She didn’t know but asked the man behind her and he said Perky. She told me, however, that I needed lots and lots of luck to even see Perky because usually he just hides behind the grass all day and never comes out of the water.

Great. So I thanked them, got back into my car (I ran, I probably looked ridiculous) and zoomed over through the one way safari route to (hopefully) find Perky.

Luckily Perky wasn’t far away but I really wouldn’t know. I mean, I found his enclosure all right, and stopped next to the “do not get out of the car” sign, and even caused several car loads behind me to stop and peer into the murky green waters, all of us searching for Perky but I can’t really say that I saw him. Nope, not even anything. I sat in my car for a long time, keeping the car on at first, and then turning it off, then on again to save myself from the horrible heat, but Perky was missing in action. There were plenty of ducks for me to watch, but no Perky. Not even a peep of Perky.

By this time it was getting on 2:30 and I figured I should head back to the OTHER zoo, Perky or not. I raced around the cars and animals in my way (I mean business) and exited the park without any pictures of Perky, just of his enclosure. I figured I would have to call the zoo and arrange a meeting with the keepers, which shouldn’t really be a problem.

So I hopped the M1 South this time (the motorway) hoping that it would get me back to Whipsnade a little bit faster than the wrong way that I came. But this took me down a smaller frontage road before actually getting me onto the motorway but at least it eventually did. So I sped back to Whipsnade and was getting really impatient with all of the traffic.

I finally, finally made it back to Whipsnade. Checked my watch-3:10pm. Ok, so I’m only ten minutes late. Hopefully the keepers would still be there.

I drove up to the entrance and the woman who had given me my ticket earlier in the day recognized me and let me back in without having to pay a second time. So I tried my best to get to the hippos as quickly as possible but found not only pedestrian traffic and cars in my way, but the elephants too. The elephants were being walked around the park and were taking up the entire road. Ok, so it was actually really cool AND there was a baby elephant that wasn’t even taller than the two keepers walking them, and yes, I had never seen anything like that before in a zoo so I was impressed however I was more pressed for time at this point.

Finally the elephants veered off to the right (standing on a hill overlooking a beautiful valley which would have been a magnificent picture—if they were hippos of course!) and back to the hippos.
I parked my car, jumped out, ran over to the hippos and…

Nothing. The hippos were all still where I had left them. Oh no! Did I miss the feeding? Did they do it earlier than expected?

I went inside to the pygmy enclosure to see if I could find a keeper and to my astonishment there actually was a keeper in the back room. She finally passed by the entrance area and I waved her over. She told me the name of the baby hippo (Nola—apparently as in Barry Manilow’s son) and said that hippos weren’t going to be fed until 5:30.

Dang. Soooo, if I waited until 5:30 would I see them being fed? I explained to her my situation and how I needed pictures of Ben pronto.

She looked at her watch and then back at me. 5:30? Do you want me to see if I can throw him some apples or something?

Hallelujah. Where was she earlier in the day? I said yes and went back out to get ready for her to come out.

She did and came right out into Ben’s enclosure with a big bucket with apples in it. After stomping the bucket on the ground a few times and calling out his name, Ben finally perked up his ears and started to make his way out of the water.

I got a few shots of him getting out of the water but unfortunately this was of his back side, not his front so I had to race up the hill to get pictures of him through a wooden fence. I only managed to get a few ones (albeit good ones) of him through the fence before he walked right up to the area where they are let in at night. Dang. It seemed like Ben had absolutely no interest in eating these apples, just in being fed for the night.

Ben stood there at the door for a long, long time. I walked back down the hill at this point, waiting at the bottom for him to turn back around and come back into the water, but then the keeper opened up his door for him and in he went. Disappearing from sight.

Well, I had my lucky break for the day. I decided to wait it out until the park closed before heading out but as 5 o’clock rolled around it started to POUR with rain again so I decided that Ben wasn’t going to be coming out any time soon. At least I got the pictures of him from the side through the fence so I wasn’t too strapped for pictures. I said goodbye to Nola and Nigna and headed out of the zoo, stopping at the gift shop on my way out.

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Dublin, Ireland—London, England—Day 201

Despite my hangover this morning, I was able to get up at the god-awful hour of 6:30am, pack, say goodbye to Kim, check out of the hotel and make my way to the airport for my flight to London. I was excited because my family all lives in England (yes, ALL of them and no, I don’t have a British accent because I was raised in America) and my aunt, uncle and cousins were going to pick me up at the airport.

Plus, it was an E.U. flight, meaning that I was flying from one European Union country to another which meant that I wouldn’t have to go through customs. Muahaha.

Sure enough, my aunt, uncle and cousins were there to meet me at the airport. We got my things and headed over to rent a car so that I could get to the zoos tomorrow since both are zoos in which you drive through and must have a car. So I rented a car AND a mobile phone (just in case something happened to me) and about an hour later we were all on our way over to my uncle’s mother’s house for lunch.

We went out for lunch to a nearby pub. While we waited for our food Jane (my aunt), Melanie (my cousin—not to be confused with Melanie yesterday) and Kweku (my other cousin) and I went on a walk along the canal near the pub. It was all nice and sunny at first but then the clouds quickly gathered overhead and it started to pour with rain. We found refuge under a tree and then ran back through the drizzle to our food which was waiting for us.

We had lunch and said goodbye to Jane, Henry (my uncle), Kweku and Mel as they headed off on a vacation to Ireland (we swapped places!) and I stayed at Alizon’s (my uncle’s mother) while I waited for my other aunt, uncle and cousin (Jo, Jake and Roo) to pick me up to go to their house for the night.

Confused yet?

Anyways, Jo, Jake and Roo showed up and we headed to their flat in downtown London, attempting to stop at an IKEA before but unfortunately missing the turn. Luckily I wasn’t driving—I did for a bit but then almost killed me, Jo and Roo so I ended up swapping so that Jake drove my car. Ok, almost killing them is an overstatement but we all agreed that things would be a lot more, er, better off if I let Jake drive my car through London traffic.

We made it back to their awesome new flat, cleaned it up a bit (they’re renting out an extra room that thy have) and eventually had dinner after two prospective renters came to check out the flat.

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Photo--The Millenium Pole! Ahem..:)

Photo--The Liffey, Dublin

Photo--Kim and I at the Guiness Storehouse! Dublin, Ireland

Dublin, Ireland—Day 200!

Today was much more of the same touristy stuff as yesterday except we got off to a much later start. After posting my CDs back to the United States (which proved to be quite the fiasco—not only do Irish post offices not take credit cards, but they also don’t sell boxes to ship things in!), Kim and I hit the tourist office and were disappointed that we had missed several really cool sounding tours for the day. So, over lunch, we decided to just spend the rest of the afternoon braving the rain and checking out Dublin Castle among other things in the city.

It turned out to be a great day and the rain eventually let up. We did a tour of the Dublin Castle (originally built in the 1200s on top of a Viking settlement) and visited the Natural History Museum. We then hit the Temple Bar area of town for dinner (Mexican food and margaritas!) and went back to the hotel where I found a message from Melanie waiting for me. Melanie is a girl whom I met in Guanajuato, Mexico (remember?) who lives in Dublin. She told me to call her when I got to Dublin, so I did but found out that she was away on a vacation. I wasn’t sure if she would be back or not so I wasn’t really expecting to hear back from her.

But we did and so Kim and I set back out on the town to meet up with Melanie and her friends. We had SUCH a good time with them—Melanie, two of her girl friends whose names I cannot remember, and two of her guy friends Barry (who works with the government and social security—basically gives money to help sick people) and John (who works for—who basically screens and then classifies pornography into different categories all day long. I’m not joking—he has to decide what good pornography is and what is really bad pornography, along with the different sub types of pornography that I just won’t go into right now).

Just when I thought I was a hearty beer drinker (ok, for all of you who don’t’ know, I really didn’t start drinking beer until Poland so I’m still really new at downing pints) I thought I could be suave and order myself a beer. But when John (one of Melanie’s friends) asked me what I wanted (which foiled my plan of going to the bar on my own and ordering), I blurted out “Stella” because that is the only beer that I really knew (besides Guinness) in Ireland. I had had it the night before only because the bar lady had listed it off as a beer on tap and I know a girl named Stella from where I used to work. I figured it wouldn’t be that bad, and it wasn’t. In fact, I thought it was pretty good. So I thought, yeah, I know my stuff, I’ll have a Stella.

Well, the look on John’s face told a different story. After I said “Stella” he just looked at me. And then screwed up his face. And then said, Stella? As if I was totally kidding.


After an awkward silence and me trying to find an excuse, Melanie said, you’re not drinkin’ Stella-that is like the wife beater of all Irish beers.

Great. Way to go Sarah.

Mortified, I blushed and John asked me again what I wanted and I was like uhhh, ummm, whatever you think and turned to sit back down, totally embarrassed by my drink request. How was I supposed to know? Just when I thought I could handle ordering my own beer, who was I kidding? I mean, I’m in freaking IRELAND where beer is drunk like water. They’re the beer aficionados here.

So John comes back with a Heineken for me (mental note—order Heineken next time) and we toasted and spent the rest of the night drinking away.

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Dublin, Ireland—Day 199

Today it was back to the zoo early on in the morning. Ok, more like 10:30am which is not too early, but also not too late. We took the bus again over to Phoenix Park where the zoo is, bought our tickets and headed in. Straight to the hippos. We found Henry, Heidi and Hovie and to our good luck, all three were out in the grassy area of their enclosure. Perfect!

So I started taking pictures as the three hippos ate their way across their enclosure to the other side nearer their indoor enclosure. Henry, the biggest of the three hippos, had a good lie down for a while which provided an excellent photo of him lying out on the grass in a very similar manner to that of a dog. Heidi and Hovie were on the other side eating grass so after I got quite a few of Henry I went over to the other side to catch the smaller two in action. That’s when Henry himself got up and made his way over to where Heidi and Hovie were.

That’s when the pool all of a sudden began to fill up. It seemed like the hose for the pool was turned on behind a door or something because water began to run into the pool from somewhere. Kim and I were horrified though because all of the dung that had been collecting for what seemed to be quite a long time based on the amount of it had settled down in the bottom of the drained pool. We were sure that someone was going to come by and clean all of it out but then the pool started to re-fill which just swirled the nastiness around. The hippos didn’t seem to mind and Heidi and Hovie took the opportunity to jump in and drink up.


Just because the hippos were drinking their own poop didn’t mean that it wasn’t a good chance to take photos, so I kept snapping away while Kim stood there in disgust. Eventually all three hippos had enough of playing in the water and ended up laying down besides each other in a nice row from biggest to smallest. I was happy with the photos and soon, Kim and I were on our way and this time it wasn’t pouring with rain!

We decided to hop on a day tour bus of the city that just so happens to come right by the zoo. We paid for a day pass which means that you can hop on and off at any point you like (well, ok, you have to wait for the bus to stop before doing so, but you know what I mean) and you can take in all of the city sights. We climbed aboard and were then on our way to the downtown area.

The tour bus was great—at first we had our own tour guide on top of the bus (it’s a double decker and of course you had to sit on the top level) who was pointing out funny things around us and talking on his microphone. We got off near the Trinity College area and waited in line to see the Book of Kells (very cool 9th C illustrated depictions of the Gospels) and then found some lunch on Grafton Street. We then got back on board the bus (one runs like every 10 minutes) and were disappointed to find that we had recorded commentary this time instead of a real tour guide.

But we had fun as we sat atop the double decker and I took pictures of everything around us. It was funny, I felt like SUCH the supreme tourist but it was fun nonetheless because it gave me the liberty to take pictures of just anything that I wanted to since hey, I was just a tourist!

Anyways, we spent the rest of the afternoon at the Guinness Storehouse (basically a museum type structure all about Guinness) and downed our first unmistakably Irish pint at the top looking out over Dublin. We then headed by foot back towards the St. Patrick’s Cathedral (Ireland’s national Cathedral), had dinner at a great pub while watching the Olympics (killing two birds with one stone really), and came back to the hotel.

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, August 16, 2004

Montreal, Quebec--Chicago, Illinois--Dublin, Ireland—Days 197/198

I arrived into Dublin this morning around 9 a.m. I flew from Montreal to Chicago and then on to Dublin on an overnight flight. Too bad I didn’t get any sleep! My flight to Chicago was fine and only did I get a little bit of a questioning look from the immigration woman when she asked what I was doing in Canada. I showed her my article and she just laughed. Out of any immigration person that I have been questioned by she was by far the most amused by what I was doing, and the most interested in it.

She sent me on my way and I fly to Chicago with plenty of time to make my way over to the International Terminal via the tram, get some dinner, read a magazine and watch a terrible pseudo-documentary about Britney Spears before boarding the plane.
I didn’t manage to sleep much on my flight. I had switched seats with another woman so that she could be with her friend mostly and ended up sitting next to a woman who kept her feet crossed over into my leg room area so I had hardly any room to move my legs around. The food was so-so and the movie was as well but at least it made the time pass.

I finally managed to fall asleep when of course it was time for breakfast so I woke up to the sound of “Breakfast? Breakfast?” from the flight attendants making their way down the aisle.

Once we landed I went through immigration which was not as bad as I thought. I got the usual questions like where are you from (Arizona), what is your purpose (business), what’s your profession? (photographer) etc. Just as the guy picked up his stamp to stamp down on my passport he asked me, oh, well, what do you photograph then?

When I told him hippos, his hand stopped and his eyes finally looked up at me. What? He says.

Hippos. As in zoo animals.

He just looked at me in disbelief and I just waited for him to put his stamp down and send me on my way to some further interrogation or something. But he pounded the stamp down onto my passport and handed it back to me saying, Good luck with that.


So I headed out, found my bag and a taxi and was on my way to downtown Dublin. The entire ride my taxi driver recommended places for me to go (basically saying that my hotel was in a sketchy area so I shouldn’t “go left out of the hotel”) Okaaaay, what is that supposed to mean?

I checked into the hotel and went to drop my stuff in my room but decided that it might be best if I laid down for a bit.

Four hours later, I was up. It was 2:30 and not only did I need to get to the zoo but I needed to call Kim, my friend Alicia’s (from Tucson, living in Bellingham, remember?) cousin who just so happens to be studying abroad in Cork this fall. I called her and to my surprise, she was just getting off a train at the Dublin train station and was already in Dublin! She was going to take a taxi to the hotel and meet me in a half an hour.

So I made myself more presentable and after a while headed downstairs to find Kim and she was in the lobby. We came back up and dropped her stuff off in the room before we decided to go survey things out at the zoo.

So we got on the bus and got dropped off at Phoenix Park, where the Dublin Zoo is located. We walked to the zoo entrance, bought our tickets and went in, finding the hippos in the African Plains area.

There were three of them—one big and two smaller ones. Unfortunately they were in their inside enclosure which consisted of two barred areas, one with the big hippo and the other with the smaller two. They were all chowing down on fresh hay that appeared to JUST have been laid, so I knew we were in for a long wait before they ate their food and headed outside.

So we waited and waited and several times dashed outside when one hippo looked like they were going to go outside. We could watch them all along because their indoor enclosure was set against glass but of course there was no hope to get a good picture through the glass and into the darkened enclosure.

Did I mention that it was raining this whole time? Um yeah, it basically started drizzling and then pouring. Kim and I spent a lot of time waiting outside but the outdoor area for the hippos to come out as well, which prompted several families to come over to see what the heck we were looking at, and when it really started to pour went to the indoor enclosure area. As well stood and the rained poured down two puddles began to form on both entrances to the indoor viewing area so we had no choice but to basically leap over (and consequently submerge our feet) the big puddles of water.

At 5:15 p.m. the lights in the already dark inside enclosure turned off, leaving the hippos in total darkness. It was clear that they weren’t going to be heading outside any time soon (all three of them had entered a small indoor pool at this point) so Kim and I decided to leave, finding out later that the African Plains section of the zoo closes at 5:30 anyways.

It was a complete downpour when we walked out of the zoo and back across the park to get the bus, hoping all along that a taxi would pull up and take us back to the hotel. None did, but we finally made it to the bus, got on, and headed back towards our hotel, absolutely soaking wet.

We got off the bus a little ways from the hotel and on our way back to the hotel stopped to get dinner since we were both starving. We then went back to the hotel initially to change clothes but then realized that the Olympics were on (men’s swimming to be more exact) and decided the call it a night being the half jet-lagged, half Olympic-obsessed pair we were.

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.