Saturday, November 27, 2004

Web link--Riverbanks Zoo and Garden's website

Greenville, South Carolina—Columbia, South Carolina—Day 301

By the time 10:30am rolled around, I had already woken up, eaten breakfast, checked out of the hotel, got a shuttle back to the airport, rented my car (a red Chevy Monte Carlo!), had driven over 90 miles to Columbia and was pulling up into the Riverbanks Zoo and Garden’s parking lot.


I grabbed my gear and headed into the zoo, neglecting to bring my scarf and gloves despite the chilly weather. I bought my ticket and went in and immediately found the hippo viewing area. Despite the fact that there was only one hippo, much to my disappointment, I was excited to see the hippo out of the pool in his enclosure which was rapidly filling up with water. He munched away on some hay in his enclosure with his bottom facing me (never a great picture really!) and so I waited patiently for him to turn around.

After a while, he finally did. I snapped away as the hippo munched some more and as I felt my fingers getting numb from the cold. I was the only one there appreciating the hippo and his presence, and I’d like to think that the hippo appreciated me being there too. As the hippo made his way down his little path to the pool, I got ready to capture the moment of him entering the water.

Click click click.

The hippo immersed himself in the water (luckily this “immersion” was really only knee deep) and I snapped away as the hippo moved towards the waterfall pouring out water onto its back.

Click click click.

My luck ran out with the hippo decided to turn his back on me, move out of my viewing area behind some bushes and go to sleep. At least I had gotten some good pictures of him eating, so I was happy.

I went out to find someone to help me with his name and wandered into the gift shop where I bought hippo Christmas ornaments (tis the season!) and some other zoo souvenirs. I then went out and found a keeper walking by and asked him about the hippos name. After a brief moment to think, he told me “Monty” and agreed that it was sad that there was just one hippo but offered no other information about whether they used to have more.

I thanked him and walked out, double checking with the ticket people on Monty’s name, although none of them seemed to know. Even the volunteer membership guy didn’t know, but he (like the others) claimed that he was “new here.”

I went out back to my car and zoomed off towards—well, I didn’t know. I cruised around downtown Columbia and after finding not much around there to do, I decided to go back to a mall that I had passed on the highway coming down. Since the weather was terrible (rainy and cold) I thought that the best thing would be to take an easy day, check out a movie or something, and find the hotel early.

Most of this happened—except I didn’t find a good movie to see. None of the theaters I found were playing anything decent (of course, just when I want to see a good movie!) and so I spent the afternoon killing time Christmas window shopping and at Barnes and Noble reading all about wildlife photography and getting free samples of egg nog lattes.

When I had had my fill, I then headed to find a hotel to stay in near the airport—I drove almost to the airport and then backtracked to a hotel down the freeway a bit. I checked in, dropped off my stuff, and then after a bit headed out to find a late dinner. My hunger pangs passed as I dined on the all you can eat salad bar at Ruby Tuesday’s as I waited for my dinner to arrive. I ate my “New Orleans Seafood” like there was no tomorrow—then headed back to the hotel, thinking of tomorrow and of the god-awful time I would have to wake up to get the rental car back and to catch my early flight to Birmingham, Alabama.

Friday, November 26, 2004

Tucson, Arizona—Chicago, Illinois—Greenville, South Carolina—Day 300 (THREE HUNDRED!!!)

My brother Simon and my mom dropped me off at the Tucson International Airport with plenty of time for my 1:42pm departure for Chicago. I said goodbye to them and to Tucson but felt refreshed from a good time back home.

Since I was the only one in the American Airlines line, I didn’t have a problem checking in. The airport buzzed with passengers who did a “stop-over” Thanksgiving like me—in one day, out the next. I went through security (again amused at the almost anal-retentive security staff) and milled through various magazines as I waited for my flight to start boarding.

Now that I have been permanently upgraded to “Group 1” I got to board first and soon we were on our way to Chicago. The flight was fine—I had an entire row to myself and worked non-stop on my Portuguese lessons (muito bem!) before we landed in snowy Chicago at 6pm. I looked outside at the frost on the ground and felt glad that I had spent my holiday in Arizona snow-free.

I then had to wait it out in the Chicago airport for my flight to Greenville, South Carolina! Whohoo! What a place! The only reason I am flying to Greenville was that I could get a frequent flier ticket on American Airlines for Thanksgiving and that was the closest airport (that AA flew to) to Columbia, where the hippos are. So I had to fly to Greenville, then in the morning would rent a car and drive myself to Columbia.

I waited in the small terminal for the “really tiny planes that only go to small airports” after grabbing a salad from some “corner market” store in the airport, noting that it was not a market, nor was it on a corner. We boarded (there was only a “general boarding” call since there was hardly anyone on the plane) and flew to Greenville. Again, the flight was fine (I think I have become permanently immune to flying now) and landed into Greenville/Spartanburg. I located my bags and the courtesy phone to call the hotel to come pick me up. I was happy that the hotel had a shuttle and that it was so near the airport. It was 10pm (8pm Tucson time) and I was ready for bed.

I got to the hotel, checked in and did some emailing before I crashed, knowing that the 6am wake up call would come far too soon.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Tucson, Arizona—Days 296-299

What more can I say—being with the family, stuffing myself silly with Thanksgiving day comfort foods, sleeping in my HOME, seeing my friends—these past few days have spoiled me rotten. As I contemplate leaving tomorrow for the Columbia Zoo in South Carolina, I have to admit that its going to be a long three weeks out on the road again before Christmas, after having been back home for FIVE DAYS (give or take). Considering I have only been home for three other days since the beginning of this trip, this Thanksgiving break in Tucson was much appreciated. Tomorrow its off to Greenville, South Carolina via Chicago, then I will drive to Columbia on the morning of the 27th to catch the hippos in action there. Until then...

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Shreveport, Louisiana—Dallas, Texas—Tucson, Arizona—Day 295

Ohhh bed bugs.

After sleeping with a little bit more company that I have had lately, I took a shower (which is difficult yet surprisingly manageable when you have no towels) and packed up my stuff into my car. I went to have breakfast which turned out to be this ridiculous mixture of food and people. Shreveport—for all of those who don’t know—appears to be this casino town. The hotel ran a 24 hour shuttle back and forth from all of the casinos in the area. The crowd at breakfast seemed like a mixture of those either going out to gamble for the day or coming in from gabling all night. Plus it was served in this “Chinese” restaurant attached to the hotel which was sketchy just in itself. Luckily the rain that had accompanied me into Shreveport late last night had stopped.

I had breakfast, checked out, and was on my way to the hotel where I passed several other really nice looking hotels. I returned my rental car to a girl who looked no older than 13 (although her heavy makeup was making her a passable 16) and found myself waiting for the earlier flight to Dallas on standby along with two other burly guys. Yay for being a gold member—priority standby! The people at the Shreveport security take themselves very seriously—no reasons why the shouldn’t—but I was really the only person in the security line and they made me take off everything (ok, you know not everything) even though I knew that nothing I had on would make the metal detector go off.

Anyways, I got on the standby flight which was nice. I arrived into Dallas two hours early, and then caught the next flight to Tucson which brought me home two hours early and had me seated next to this crazy dread-locked forest service guy who, like me, was learning Portuguese. We started talking (basically him telling me all about his ridiculous escapades in Brazil) and before I knew it (and after I knew waaaay too much about his personal life, ahem) we had arrived into Tucson. My grandparents (visiting from England) and my dad were there to meet me, although my luggage had another two hours to arrive.

I was home. I was happy. I was tired. No more hippos—at least not for a few days. Not that I can complain—surely I will feel lost with out my four legged companions tomorrow or the next.

Turkey and stuffing will just have to suffice.