Saturday, November 20, 2004

Photo--Map of Louisiana! You can see where I had to drive back and forth!

Monroe, Louisiana—New Orleans, Louisiana—Shreveport, Louisiana—Day 294

Waking up early again this morning (before 6am), I had a few hours to kill before the zoo was even going to open at 10am. Luckily the hotel had “free internet” in each rooms, so I was able to get some work done on things while I waited for the zoo to open.

I decided that I would start doing some research on the zoos that I would be hitting up on my USA leg of the trip (I only have zoos left in the USA now). I opened up my notes with the lists of zoos that I need to go to and scrolled down the list.

Oh my god.

As my eyes scanned over the “Louisiana” section, I saw the worst thing I could have seen.

“Audubon Nature Institute. 6500 Magazine Street. New Orleans, Louisiana 70178.


Are you kidding? Are you telling me that there was a zoo in New Orleans that I MISSED? That I drove RIGHT PAST yesterday on my way to Monroe?

Yes. Its true.

How this happened is unexplainable. I could blame it on all sorts of things—jet lag for instance—but really I think it was just me subconsciously deciding, hey, I like a challenge. I will make things as difficult as possible for Sarah RIGHT before she wants to go home for Thanksgiving. Stress is my favorite thing.

Oh man. So what I would need to do is go to the zoo here in Monroe right when it opened at 10am, photograph the lone hippo there, then book it BACK to New Orleans and get there around three o’clock or so where I would photograph the hippo there, then book it BACK up to Shreveport where, tomorrow, I would drop off the rental car and get my flight to Tucson.

So I killed time on the internet while I anxiously waited for time to pass. By 9:30 I was ready to burst. I called the zoo in New Orleans to confirm the existence of hippos (the person I talked to claimed that they had three!) and I mentally prepared myself for my big day.

After getting my “free” continental breakfast and checking out, I headed to the Louisiana Purchase Gardens and Zoo. I was there before it opened and was, of course, the first person in line. I was standing in line before they even opened the gates. Once they did, I bought my ticket ($4—a deal!) and asked the girl at the ticket booth what the hippos’ names were. She told me that there was just one, and that the hippos name was Penelope.

Great. I ran off (literally) to find Penelope, wherever she was. I didn’t have a map of the zoo but searched around for signs, luckily spotting the hippo sign close to the entrance. I ran past the birds (who called to me “hello!” as I ran past!) and passed a keeper and two teenage girls who looked like they were doing some sort of internship at the zoo.

I found Penelope, eating a huge thing of hay. I snapped a few pics then ran around to the side to get a better view of her.

That’s when the most amazing thing happened to me.

Just as I set down my bag and camera case and got ready wait for Penelope to stop eating (or for me to get a good shot of her), Penelope stopped eating and came RIGHT over to me.

She then proceeded to POSE for me, opening and closing her mouth (I’m assuming that she was expecting food from me) and it was a beautiful moment. As I clicked away, Penelope surveyed me, turned a bit, put her head down, lifted it up, opened her mouth—you know, all of the things that I would ask for from a hippo. Penelope just KNEW.

After about five minutes of modeling, Penelope grew tired of me and the lack of food I was providing her. She turned around and went back to her hay as I shook my head in amazement that THAT actually just happened.

I went to find Penelope’s indoor enclosure and found a ghastly indoor pool behind huge bars. The bars were so that you couldn’t even see the pool clearly at all. It was disgusting. I had no time to spare and dashed out of the zoo as quickly as I came—all this happened in under fifteen minutes—a record for sure.

I got in the rental car and sped off, thanking Penelope for providing me with such fantastic photos. The drive down to New Orleans was fine—rainy at times. In fact, it was pouring with such a strength at one point that I thought I would have to pull over at a rest stop and wait (thus narrowing my chances of getting to the zoo on time) but luckily the rain came and went.

I pulled into the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans with sore feet and a tired, well, everything. I got out and raced to the ticket booth where I got my ticket. It was three o’clock—I had an hour before the animals were “put away” and until five before the zoo officially closed.


I asked a stringy teenage boy directions to the hippos and he told me with great enthusiasm. I made it to the African Safari area as fast as I could (the zoo really wasn’t that small so this was easy) and found just one lone hippo in the enclosure—swimming around in circles over, over and over. I took pictures whenever the hippo came up to breathe (every few minutes or so) and after a while of this I decided to find out the deal about the hippo.

Secretly I was happy that there was just ONE hippo, not three!

So I wandered over to the elephants where the keepers had just finished up a talk to various visitors. I asked two teenage volunteers what the name of the hippo was—and it turned into a huge debate. Several other volunteers (all under the age of 17 practically) came over and there was a great discussion about the hippo’s name. Then they pulled in reinforcements—actual zoo keepers (who were all at least 35) and I got the enthusiastic reply from one of them, Jerry I think was his name. He was quite a character—seemed like the crocodile hunter type—and he proceeded to tell me all about Tony (the male hippo) and Tony’s history—how there used to be another hippo (Rosebud) but that Rosebud passed away after giving birth to a baby, then the baby passed away after refusing to be fed once the mother died. Tony, after surviving his loss, has managed to survive as one of the oldest hippos in captivity and, more miraculously, as the only original animal in the zoo.

While Jerry worked out just exactly how old Tony was (this took quite some time until he settled on the fact that Tony was born in 1952), I jotted down the notes about Tony. Apparently Tony swims in circles all day because he and Rosebud used to be separated on two sides of the enclosure. Now that the enclosure is opened up for both sides to be accessed at once, Tony continues to use just his one side. Poor guy.

I thanked them and headed back to Tony who was doing much of the same thing that he was before. I watched for a bit longer and then wandered over to the Louisiana Swamp exhibit to check out gift shop and the famed white alligator exhibit and then came back to Tony.

I stayed there until closing time—until of which Tony did not do another thing that warranted me taking photos of him. Especially since it was getting very dark with storm clouds rolling in, and because of the horrible mosquitoes that really should go away in November (at least I think so!) I was ready to get out of the zoo. I said goodbye to Tony and headed out of the zoo and hit the road back up to Shreveport.

Funny how the drive back up to Shreveport wasn’t all that bad. I don’t know—maybe I was delirious from the five hours of driving I had done this morning—I don’t know. Somehow I managed to drive all the way back avoiding the rain and not losing my mind either. Nothing was going to stop me from thanksgiving turkey and my mom’s chocolate pecan pie. My only stops were for gas and I pulled into a Renaissance Inn in Shreveport for the night. The hotel turned out to be a skeeeetchy place, complete with rickety beds, no towels, and bed bugs. Yuck. I was so exhausted from the day—and considering it was 11pm when I pulled in—that I cut my losses and turned out the light, hoping that morning would come quickly and feeling happy about going back to Tucson for a much needed break with the family.

Web Link--Audubon Zoo, New Orleans

Friday, November 19, 2004

Web Link--Louisiana Purchase Gardens and Zoo

Pittsburg, Pennsylvania—New Orleans, Louisiana—Monroe, Louisiana—Day 293

This morning I woke up bright and early to catch my shuttle to the airport from the hotel. Since it was so early (6:15) there was hardly any traffic and we made it to the airport at 6:45, giving me plenty of time for me to check in and get my 9:20 flight to New Orleans.

The flight to New Orleans was just under three hours and I passed my time reading and trying to master the Portuguese language. We landed in New Orleans and I went to the baggage claim where I collected my bags and headed straight to the car rental desk where I picked up my compact car that would take me five hours north to Monroe.

The man renting me the car was quite a character—big and bushy with those thick plastic glasses straight out of 1985. Because I am just one year shy of 25, they slap on a $25 “under-age” surcharge for renting a car. The woman whom I spoke with on the phone when I made the reservation warned me that I must “have a clean driving record” and I will admit that my record isn’t spot on clean. I was hoping that he wouldn’t discover this and turn me away.

He just typed in my info and after charging my credit card, handed over a rental agreement and sent me on my way to the shuttle bus that would take me to the rental lot, where I could pick “any compact car that I wanted.”

So I went out to the “second curb on the left” and waited for the shuttle to come. It pulled up and I hopped in (ok, hopping is not the right word, I dragged my stuff up the steps into the van and collapsed with heat exhaustion) and we pulled away to the rental lot.

We were soon there and I waited for my compact car to be cleaned, disappointed that I wasn’t able to pick just any car that I wanted. They seemed to be out of cars! So I waited and finally a guy pulled up in a silver Chevy cavalier and handed me the keys.

I was off. I pulled out of the lot and made my way to Interstate 10, which would take me as far north as Lafayette, then I would head north to Monroe.

Heading over the swamp land that makes up the area around New Orleans, through Baton Rouge and on to Lafayette, I was really impressed with the scenery. The fact that these freeways were just built right over the swamps was really something I hadn’t seen before.

I coasted onwards to Lafayette, stopping for a bite to eat at a Subway off of the freeway around noon. I drove on and on, and ended up taking a smaller highway up to Monroe where the speed limit wavered between 30 and 60 miles per hour. It was nice though—stopping at traffic lights and being able to look around. So THIS is Louisiana.

I made it to Monroe around 4:30pm where I actually passed the signs for the zoo. I knew it would be the best thing for me to get a hotel near the zoo and luckily I had quite the selection just down the road. I checked into a Hampton Inn and collapsed on the bed exhausted from my long drive.

I asked the girl when I checked in, who seemed to be just one of those ambiguous people who look like they are just out of high school but on the other hand might be thirty something—you just couldn’t tell. I asked her how I could get to the downtown area of Monroe. She just looked at me.

“Well,” she says, “what part do you want to go to cause there ain’t much there.”


“Well,” I said, “how about a movie theater? Any nearby?”

She nodded and proceeded to give me directions to the nearest theater, which was just off of highway 20.

“You can’t get lost” she told me.

I thanked her and headed to my room where I lied down for a while stretching out my tired feet. Still feeling slightly jet lagged, I could most definitely have gone to bed then but I forced myself to get up. Who knows what god-awful time I would have woken up if I went to bed at 5pm!

So I headed out around 6:30pm to see just what Monroe was made of. I drove on the freeway and exited where the receptionist told me to go—but didn’t find this “easy to find” theater. In fact, I drove all around and all I could see were Wal-Marts and McDonalds. No theaters to be found. I gave up my search and ended up at “Martha’s Catfish Buffet”—this all-you-can-eat buffet place.

I walked in and told the girl standing at the entrance “One please.”

The waiters around her all just kind of smiled and told me to head right in, pay first, find a seat and then the server will help you. So I did this—I went and paid $13 bucks for my dinner and my drink and sat down at a table. I waited for a bit until the server came up to me.

“Honey, are you waitin’ for anyone?”

“Nope.” I smiled.

“Well, shoot, did ya pay? Cause all you gots to do is get your tray over there, get your dinner and then I will bring ya a drink.”

Ohhh, right. I went and got my tray and started helping myself to all sorts of fried fish, fried cheese, fried shrimp, fried potatoes. Everything was fried.

“You aint from here are you?”

I turned around and looked at the man questioning me, who was obviously an employee (I could tell by his bright blue “Martha’s Catfish Buffet” t-shirt). He introduced himself as the owner and I smiled. He asked me where I was from and replied with arched eyebrows when I said Arizona. “Well, how did you end up HERE?” He asked. Rather than explaining, I just told him that I was “passing through.” Satisfied with this answer, he proceeded to show me all the food that I should eat. “Did you get a bit of the fried catfish? How about this baked bit?” I assured him that I was trying the house specialties and thanked him for his help.

Once my plate was full I went and sat down. My waitress brought me my drink and I ate my dinner. Several employees came over to “check on me” while I was eating, just to see if I needed anything else. It was obvious that I was the only non-local there! I finished my dinner and headed out feeling stuffed full of Louisiana food and hospitality. I drove back to the hotel where I ended up falling asleep at 9pm, exhausted from my day.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania--Pittsburg, Pennsylvania—Day 292

Flying to Pittsburgh (the land of Steel) this morning was fine. My flight was so early (6:30!) that it wasn’t delayed and I was probably the only person on the plane not in a suit. I got my bags in Pittsburgh and a shuttle to my hotel and found the distance from the airport to downtown Pittsburgh quite impressive.

I checked into the hotel and threw my bags down on the bed, noticing the hotel’s offer of “free wireless internet.” So I plugged in my computer and sat down to figure out the Pittsburgh Zoo’s opening hours. Sadly, at this point, it was still before 10am which is when may zoos opened. I had already been up for almost five and a half hours.

So I checked the website and searched for the hippos. When none came up I thought, hmm, this is strange. So I typed it again (afraid of misspellings) and again found nothing regarding hippos. I decided to call and a nice woman at the zoo picked up the phone.

“Hello, I was just wondering how many hippos you had at the zoo” I said (how nice is it to be able to ask JUST what I want!)

“Hippos?” She replied, “We don’t’ have any.”

WHAT?? “Uhh, no hippos, really, are you sure?”

There I was asking the woman, who WORKS at the zoo, are you sure you don’t have hippos? Aren’t you forgetting the most important animal EVER?

“Nope, no hippos, sorry.” The woman sounded apologetic and I thanked her and hung up. What? No hippos?

I checked our hippos database online and sure enough, it suggests that there is one hippo at the Pittsburgh zoo but that must be wrong. Now what was I going to do? I was supposed to have three days here!

After much debate, I contacted the airline and after forty-five minutes on hold (I kid you not) I was able to change my flight to New Orleans (the next hippo stop) to tomorrow instead of killing time in dreary, cold, rainy Pittsburgh. I then sorted out a rental car for the New Orleans zoo (which turns out to be in Monroe, Louisiana NOT New Orleans which is a five-hour DRIVE from where I am flying into—that will be fun!). I then had the sudden realization that there was a slight chance of me being able to go home for Thanksgiving given this new sudden absence of hippos. Sure enough, after another forty-five minutes on hold with several airlines and canceling of hotels, I had a frequent flier flight to Tucson for just a few days over Thanksgiving—something that wouldn’t conflict with the hippos. I would fly out of Shreveport, Louisiana (after dropping the rental car off there on Sunday morning) and be back in South Carolina to Columbia for the hippos there by the following Friday, making both Thanksgiving and “hippo-graphing” possible.

How wonderful! I was thrilled and am so, so looking forward to being at home for the holidays. While South Carolina seems nice (I haven’t been…yet) the idea of spending Thanksgiving at a Denny’s didn’t really sound appealing to me. This was much better.

I spent the rest of the afternoon walking around Pittsburgh and impulsively getting my hair cut (always an adventure with me) and reemerged from the hair salon with a passable cut. I am not sure, however, if this is better than my memorable zebra-stripe experience but what can you do after the fact.

I then went back to the hotel, got dinner at a rib place (taking pleasure in the luxuries of barbeque sauce) and went to bed early at the hotel, finally feeling like I could get more than five hours of sleep. Problem was that I still had to wake up early in the morning (5:30) to catch my 9am flight to New Orleans.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania—Day 291

My day in Philadelphia was spent doing great things. I got up and visited my new friends at the UPS store where I shipped home all of the souvenirs-slash-unnecessary accumulations that I have being storing up like some squirrel for the past few months and have yet to part with. Seriously, who needs to be carrying around SEVEN extra books?

With that taken care of I stopped for breakfast at this fabulous little Philadelphia born and bred diner, complete with waitresses with thick East coast accents serving up the daily special like there was nothing else on the menu. Everyone in the place was eating the daily special—the same friend eggs, bacon, toast, fried potatoes, juice and coffee—including me.

After breakfast, I called my friend Annie (whom I met while studying in New Zealand and who now works in Philadelphia) and ended up walking something like twenty-six blocks to meet her. This was entirely my own doing—she was not able to answer her phone while she was at work but I knew that she had her lunch break at noon and that she worked on 30th street. So I started trudging towards 30th, which took me just over a half an hour to get there. It was actually really nice to walk the whole way—the sun was out and the sky was clear—and moreover really interesting to see the changes (economically, socially, culturally, etc.) in Philadelphia the more you approached crossed the river over to the UPenn and Drexel University side of Philadelphia. You have to wonder if the students at UPenn even cross over to the other side of the river unless they are doing urban studies projects.

Anyways, meeting Annie was great. We only have a few minutes to talk since she had to get back to work earlier than she had anticipated. If there is anyone that I have ever met in my life who is truly, truly kind and caring its Annie. She is always just so wonderful to talk to and it was nice to be able to catch up with her for a bit while we strolled around until I dropped her back off at her office at Drexel University where Annie works as an admissions counselor.

After saying goodbye to Annie I wandered over to a place near both campuses for lunch. It turned out to be this “bubble” tea place where they serve you tea with these “bubbles” in them (I have had them before in L.A. called “boba” tea) and they are of Asian influence but are basically these chewy balls of, well, chewy stuff. They are not bad but surprise you when you forget that they are in your drink and then you suck one up. Anyways, I had a good lunch and then wandered around UPenn for a while before taking the subway (ahem, I mean underground tram—there is a difference!) back to City Hall.

I then made my way back to Philadelphia’s national park—the liberty bell and hall of independence. Its quite funny to see park rangers in the middle of the city, but don’t tell them that. They take their jobs very seriously. I visited the bell (which, if you didn’t know, doesn’t ring anymore due to the crack) and the independence hall where our forefathers signed us up for our own country. The park ranger giving the tour (which was free and very interesting—definitely do it if you are in Philadelphia) had all sorts of really interesting factoids all about our nation’s history. He kept quizzing us on different things (“Which president’s wife was named Dolly?” things like that) and it felt almost like back in elementary school where you sat in anticipation, dreading the idea of him calling on you.

On our way to the actual room where the constitution and all the other goods were signed (“the most important room in the USA” by the way) I asked the guide about how long settlers were in the USA before independence. The man just looked at me like I was nuts (I recognized it immediately—it’s the same for when you ask about hippos names…) and told me, “well, what’s the first colony of the USA?”

As I stuttered and stammered and tried to recall my American history (its been almost seven years since I had it but really is no excuse) he told me “Jamestown.” Of course, Jamestown! I remembered immediately as he said it and told me that the colony—the oldest in the USA—was just about to celebrate their 400 year anniversary.

I thanked him but before I got away from being asked any more questions he turned to me, shook his head sadly and said, “Where have YOU been?”

Well, if you really want to know…

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Web Link--The Philalephia Zoo Website

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania—Day 290

It seems fitting that my reintroduction to the US begins in Philadelphia—the place where it all began, where Americans severed their British ties back in the 1700s.

More importantly, its also home to America’s very first zoo, The Philadelphia Zoo.

After a shaky night’s sleep—going to be at midnight and waking up every hour until finally getting up at 5 a.m.—I spent some time poking around on the internet before getting ready to go to the zoo. I finally made my way downstairs to find out the best way for me to get to the zoo.

I asked the woman at the reception. She proceeded to tell me driving directions (all of which I was unable to follow of course) and I had to interrupt her to tell her that I didn’t have a car, but could I walk?

She just started laughing. No way could I walk, but I could take a taxi.

Fair enough. Before heading to the zoo I found a UPS store and sent off the last of my European hippo cds to their respective places and got some breakfast at a Cosi café—ordering my “tall chai tea and vanilla-cherry scone” feeling very American. The ability to just order exactly what I want and not scan the menu for translations is astonishing to me. I sipped on my latte and ate my scone (which, by the way, lacked cherries) feeling on one hand happy to be back in a place where you pay four dollars for a drink but its exactly what you were expecting (except the cherries of course) but on the other hand feeling great sadness for the anonymity I have so cherished the past year. Seriously, its been wonderful to know that you can’t understand people or be understood.

I finished I found a cab. The driver was blasting “Sports Talk Radio” or something of the sort on his radio and the commentators were ferociously debating some touchdown of some game of some team—all of which they were getting quite enraged about. As the cabbie laughed, I sighed and looked out the window again struggling with what I was feeling.

We avoided going on the freeway and drove on side streets to the zoo, passing the infamous Philadelphia Art Museum. Its not necessarily famous for its art—it could be, I didn’t go—but because that is where Sylvester Stallone ran up in the “Rocky” movies. We drove on and twenty dollars later, I was at the zoo entrance.

Handing my twenty and then some to the cab, I couldn’t stop thinking about how expensive it was.

Just under two years ago, I had been right here at the Philadelphia Zoo. I was in New Jersey for my previous job (yes, I did have a life before hippos) and that brought me, my friend Rachel, and the boy that I worked with Jonty to the Philadelphia Zoo for the day. We must have missed the hippos while we were here but it was funny that I was back in Philadelphia twice in just under two years, all just to go to the Philadelphia Zoo. Considering that I hadn’t even been to Philadelphia before—or since then—I thought this was pretty funny.

I went in ($15 dollar entrance fee!) and quickly located the hippos. The day was warming up so they well could have been outside but instead they were to be found in an indoor enclosure despite the sparkling clear pool in their outdoor enclosure looking quite inviting. I went in the hot and humid pachyderm room and pushed my way through school children to get up to the hippos—two of them—who were down on a lower level which was being filled with water. From the hay remnants around them, I couldn’t tell if they had already been fed. It was 10:45 or so at this point (the zoo opened at 10am) so I was worried that I had missed feeding time.

So, as kids and teachers came and went (and as the screams of “ewwww! It SMELLS!” subsided) I took pictures of the two hippos but was anxious for them to start moving around. Luckily, eventually, they did. One hippo was lying down and it got up and started trying to drink the water that was pouring in while the other turned around and looked at me. The whole enclosure had this trippy blue light filtering in through the skylights which were making all of the pictures bluish. Tré Picasso.

Then, to my delight, both hippos turned around and looked at me. I gestured for them to open their mouths and one of them did (that’s my girl!) and I snapped away while the custodian just looked at me laughing. He came up a few times to look over the edge and see what the hippos were doing (and how they were responding to me) and just laughed.

There was a guy who was in the room (which had other animals the further you walked down) who was showing the school children the animals. Finally, when no groups were taking his attention, I walked over and asked him what the hippos names were. He didn’t know, but said that there was someone else I could ask. Just then the hippos started to move more and a keeper appeared through a doorway behind the hippo enclosure.

She came out and put some lettuce and such things on a small gated area that the hippos had to walk up some steps to get to. (It was their entrance to and from the indoor pool). Once she finished, she left through the doorway again, despite my “M’am! M’am!” trying to get her attention. The gate between the enclosure and the pool opened and the hippos rushed into it. The gate then shut again which prevented the hippos from going back into the pool. The hippos began devouring their food (which looked more like just treats to get them out of the pool) while the water pressure into the pool increased and started to fill it up faster.

I snapped away at the two hippos for a while and was delighted to find them looking at me and opening their mouths on my cue. I then saw the woman reappear again and went over to ask her. She seemed to be avoiding me as she moved away from me (again, despite my “hello”) but finally I got in her way.

“Um, what are the names of the hippos?”

“Unna and Cindy” she said shortly.

“Well, what’s the difference between them?”

“Nothing. They are the same,” she replied.

“Okkk, are there ANY differences?” I probed.

“Well, Unna has two white spots between her eyes. That’s it.” she replied as she quickly walked off, leaving me unable to ask any more questions.

So I went back to the hippos and sure enough, Unna had two white spots between her eyes. Thank goodness—I don’t know what I would have done. Find another rude keeper?

So I filled up my memory card with pics of the two hippos (250+ pictures) and as my battery began to run out, I said goodbye to the pair and went outside to take pictures of their outdoor enclosure and of zoo signs, stopping at the shop on the way out.

I asked the two ticket taking girls about how I could get back into the city.

“Well, what part of the city are you going to?” one asked me.

“uhhh, I don’t know. The main part?” I replied, making an apologetic “I-don’t-live-here” look.

“Well, shoot,” she says as she surveyed me up and down. She starts going off on where I could go—taking bus number such and such here, then transfer there, or take bus number yadda-yadda and then transfer here.

I told her to tell me whatever was easiest.

She nodded and told me, “Ok, walk under the bridge and take the #15 to Broad street. Buy a transfer on the bus and that will get you on the subway at Broad street. You can take the subway in to City Hall.”

I thanked them and headed under the bridge where I found the bus stop and a nice girl who told me how much the bus cost.

“It’ll be $2.60 for the ride and a transfer.”

Two-SIXTY? Geesh!

So the bus finally came and I got on. It was so packed and I had no idea where I was supposed to get off. Luckily the girl whom I asked before was keeping an eye on me and after about twenty minutes she told me that the next stop was mine. She got off too and showed me where the subway was. Then a nice guy—a skater type who was munching on a hot dog—showed me which train to catch into the city.

I stepped out of Philadelphia’s City Hall station feeling grateful for the kindness of strangers. I spent the afternoon walking around the city, making my way back to my hotel on 4th and Chestnut. Passing the liberty bell and all of the historical landmarks, I promised myself that I would be a tourist tomorrow. After catching a movie near my hotel (another guilty pleasure of being back in the USA—I saw a film in Spanish though which is kind of ironic!) and had dinner at the Sassafras Café down the road. Tomorrow its another day in Philly and then I head to Pittsburgh on Thursday.

Hippo Porcelain

Here are several pictures of the hippos along with the pieces of the Fauna Danica Hippo Service that have already been completed! Enjoy!

Photo--Susie (Adelaide Zoo)

Photo--Susie on Porcelain

Photo--Taipei Hippos (Taipei Zoo)

Photo--Taipei Hippos on Porcelain

Photo--Jiro (Tokyo Zoo)

Photo--Jiro on Porcelain

Photo--Carlita and Orejitas (Guatemala Zoo)

Photo--Carlita and Orejitas on Porcelain

Monday, November 15, 2004

Barcelona, Spain—Madrid, Spain—Miami, Florida—Philadelphia, Pennsylvania—Day 289

After almost twenty four hours of traveling—taxis to planes, to more planes to taxis—I made it to Philadelphia. For the most part, my time spent traveling across the two continents was pleasant. I had a nice flight from Barcelona to Madrid (albeit a little too early in the morning for my liking) and then fly from Madrid to Miami.

I had quite the ordeal going through customs in Madrid—not when I checked my bags in Barcelona, but boarding the flight to Madrid. I arrived to the airport and had a few hours to kill before the flight to Miami would leave. So I wandered around the airport (my third time this year!) and attempted to go into the Iberian Airlines frequent traveler club, only to be refused. The woman told me, “sorry, we don’t accept gold members, only platinum.” Its funny because after all of this traveling (and after all of the frequent flier miles I’ve accumulated) its become sort of my secret goal (one I only think about when I occasionally check my airline points online) is to become a platinum member. After these flights today I just over 1,000 miles short of making it.

Feeling rejected (but determined to come back someday and use the lounge—I’ll show them!) I killed my time reading magazines before my flight began to board. This is when I was pulled aside and made to wait for quite some time until I was thoroughly interrogated as to where I was going and where I came from.

People that work at airlines don’t like those passengers who live in one place but fly from another. The girl asked me, “so, where do you live?” I said “Arizona” So she says, “where did you fly to Europe from” and I said “Toledo, Ohio.” While this was true, she didn’t appreciate it and got more suspicious. Luckily I had my rail pass with me (after she asked me how I traveled all around Europe) so I was able to show her proof of my adventures (I didn’t mention the hippos…I don’t think that would have helped me in this case).

Satisfied, she sent me on my way to the plane and ten hours, two movies, five failed attempts to use my laptop on the plane and two meals later, I was in Miami where I would remain for the next 5 hours until my flight to Philadelphia. The guy sitting next to me and I had quite the time trying to get my laptop adapter to work. He was really nice and offered for me to use his (“if it breaks, it’s the company’s problem not mine!”) but we found that even using his mine wasn’t working. It’s a mystery really why it didn’t work—something that I will leave up to my computer savvy brother to explain to me later.

First thing I did upon my arrival in Miami (after getting lost on my way to the correct terminal after customs—the customs guy was really nice—he told me after looking at my customs form, “I don’t even want to KNOW where you’ve been!” which was like the best thing he could have possibly said) was finding a calling card to call my family and loved ones abroad. This turned into a two hour fiasco of broken pay phones and money-stealing calling cards. However, when things finally worked I was able to let everyone know that I had made it safely back to the States.

I then found my gate (at first I was so early to the airport that I didn’t even have a gate!) and plugged in my laptop to charge the battery (which had since died on the flight from Madrid). I then boarded my late night flight to Philly (late night for me—it was like 2 a.m. Spain time!) and I faded in and out of consciousness the whole flight back only woken up with the girls around me passed Doritos and Oreos back and forth. Since I was on the isle, and they were all sitting around me, I often had to wake up to pass their goodies to and fro. They did offer me some but the idea of Doritos wasn’t sounding too good just then.

I landed in Philadelphia and got a thirty dollar cab right to my hotel. Thirty dollars! I thought he would ask for my arm AND my leg as a tip!

Welcome to the United States…

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Barcelona, Spain—Day 288

I woke up early this morning and headed to the hippos. This meant walking a few blocks from my hotel to the closest metro station. Since it was Sunday morning, the metro was running slow so I had to wait six full minutes before a metro car pulled up to whisk me away to the zoo.

I made it though and bought my ticket and it appeared that I was one of the first people at the zoo. The Barcelona Zoo is famous for having the world’s only known albino gorilla, “Copito de Nieve” (which means “Snowflake” in English and “Floquet de Neu” in Catalan). I was excited to see him and the hippos.

First things first: I went and found the hippos.

There were two hippos in a small enclosure just as you walked up to the Pachyderm exhibit, which was a circular enclosure that you walked around and were able to see the elephants, rhinoceroses and hippos on your trip around. The two hippos were basking in the sun—one hippo out of the water and comically perched on the edge of the pool, the other in the water. Unfortunately the sun was just so that there was this huge shadow being cast on the hippo out of the water, making it difficult to photograph.

I took a few photos before finding the other hippos, located on the upper portion of the walkway. There were two hippos in there as well—seemingly a mother and a bigger baby—and they were sleeping next to each other in the water. I couldn’t tell which pair of hippos had the best (or rather worse) living arrangements.

So I took a few pictures of them too and went back to the first set of hippos. After quite some time, probably an hour or so, I decided to find a keeper to help me. Just as I thought this and turned to look for someone, I saw a man walking towards the hippos. I casually went over by the meerkats (the entrance to the keeper area) but just missed him and felt silly for some reason to call after him. So, like a groupie who wants an autograph, I waited while I watched the meerkats watch me. Finally a different keeper came out so I asked him what the hippos names were. HE told me that he didn’t know and that he worked with the lions. I couldn’t understand if he was telling me whether or not the person that worked with the hippos was actually working today (he was telling me something of the sort) but just smiled and nodded along.

Thankfully he went inside to find someone who could help me. Or at least he disappeared and came back with another keeper who seemed to work with the hippos. He told me their names—Rita, Gorda, Komtu and uh, uh, uh, forgot the last one. HE couldn’t tell me who was who, just that Gorda and Rita were the mothers.


But again, luck was on my side. He went off on his bike and magically returned with another keeper who knew just what was up. Turned out that Gorda (the mother) and Komtu (the baby) were in the first enclosure (with Komtu being the one out of the water) and Rita (the mother) and MARIA (the baby) were in the second enclosure.

Thank you.

So then it was their turn to ask questions about WHY I wanted to know. I tried my best to explain and they just laughed and shook their heads at me before waving goodbye and heading back to their jobs.

I stayed with Gorda and Komtu for quite some time and luckily the keeper went in and made all sorts of rustling noises from behind the enclosure which got the hippos excited and moving about. Click click click.

The keeper came out with a hose and started spraying the hippos. Click click click.

Then the keeper went and got some hay and set it out for the hippos who happily started munching away on it. Click click CLICK.

Once I was satisfied with my photos of Gorda and Komtu (after they had devoured the hay and Komtu had retreated back to the pool while Gorda sniffed around for more food—eventually settling herself down near the keeper’s entrance in hopes of more food) I went to check on Rita and Maria. Same old story—they hadn’t moved.

Took this time to go find Snowflake in the gorilla section. I found the gorillas, but no snowflake, only photos of him. Turned out that Snowflake died last year, so now, there is no Snowflake! I immediately felt bad for the zoo—obviously Snowflake was their pride and joy, what were they going to boast now?

I went back to Rita and Maria and found that they had moved. So I waited and waited and found the crowds for a good spot (who seem to gather the moment something good is JUST about to happen) and got some great photos of Maria moving all about and showing her big teeth (really they weren’t that big since she was small, but don’t tell her that). Anyways, I got my photos and decided to head out of the zoo.

The zoos’ loss for Snowflake was felt in the gift shop, which I visited on my way out. Hoards of postcards, stuffed animals, lunch boxes—you name it—filled the shelves all depicting Snowflake. I wonder if children would still buy this memorabilia even though they hadn’t even see the animal at the zoo today—if parents would buy it out of memory for the beloved Snowflake. It would certainly seem that the zoo would be anxious to sell off truckloads of Snowflake stuff before the memory fades.

I went back on the subway and took it to a sort of hip area of the city, La Ribera, where I visited the Picasso Museum and had some lunch. I then headed up to Las Ramblas where I walked around for a bit, bringing back memories of being here just a few weeks ago with Elizabeth on our weekend away, and feeling quite sad about the idea of having to leave. It was the weather that was dragging me back to my hotel rather than my urge to get some work done (getting the last of the European hippo cds done before boarding the plane in the morning) so I went back to the hotel and worked until the last hippo photo was burned onto a cd.

By this time it was past 9 o’clock. I was starving. I set out again on a search for a restaurant near my hotel but came up with the same place I ate at last night (too embarrassed to make a repeat performance) and a local small bar filled with smoke and old men (too wimpy to suck it up and watch sports with them). I finally settled (after about a half hours’ walk) on a different Asian place for dinner just for the sake of it. I was tired and had a lot on my mind considering my departure in the morning.

I went back to the hotel and packed my bags, set my wake up call (5am!) and booked my taxi.

Do I really have to go back?