Saturday, December 11, 2004

Lufkin, Texas—Houston, Texas—Day 315

I headed back to the Ellen Trout Zoo this morning for a second chance to get some more pictures of the hippos. I arrived and had five minutes to kill before the zoo opened. With the weather finally getting on the colder side, I sat on a bench by the entrance absolutely freezing. The zoo finally opened (a.k.a. the woman at the desk told me could now go in) and I headed back to find the enclosure.

To my luck, the hippos weren’t out yet which was a good sign. This meant that I could photograph them as they walked down into the pool. Sure enough, just a few minutes passed until the big heavy door to the inside enclosure opened and there appeared a hippo head.

It was Pancho so I waited while he made his way out to see Mara and Nakili. Specifically I wanted pictures of Nakili. So I waited while Mara decided to stand in Nakili’s way—preventing her from leaving. Despite the keeper’s shouts of “move out! Get out!” that she was obviously shouting to at Mara, Mara stood her ground. Eventually though I think that Nakili got the best of her and moved Mara out of the way due to sheer force.

The door behind them closed and I snapped away.

They did their thing as hippos do—stopping, standing, (posing!) and I was happy to get some pictures of Nakili but unhappy about the sun’s reflection. There was no really way to go about it—the direction that I had to take their pictures in was the exact spot that the sun was rising. But I didn’t let a few rays and glare get in my way.

Despite the sun, the weather was still cold. I waited until the three hippos immersed themselves in the water (Pancho, then Nakili, then Mara) and then stood in front of the underwater viewing glass where I watched Pancho and Mara show off for the camera. Seriously, they were both floating along and would stop and press their noses RIGHT up against the glass. It was extremely cute—especially of course with Mara—and I was delighted. I left the zoo a little earlier than yesterday but with much better photos.

I spent the rest of the morning driving back down to the Houston area. I stopped for some cold medicine at a drug store and proceeded to have a funny conversation with a girl who knew that I “obviously wasn’t from here” after I asked her where the post office was. She gave me directions but wanted to know more importantly WHY I was in Lufkin “of all places.” I told her that I was working as a photographer right now and she just looked at me dumbfounded. “Well what the heck do you have to photograph HERE?”

I left with directions for the post office which I never succeeded in finding. Never mind—since it was Saturday it was probably closed anyway. I made it Houston just after lunchtime and found a hotel near the Bush Airport where I would be flying out of early in the morning. After checking in I went straight tot eh FedEx store and shipped some things to my boss. The woman working at the counter was most impressed with my job—but not in any sense that she REALLY cared as to what I was doing. She was more interested in the fact that I was a photographer because I could buy this really nifty PHOTO CALENDAR and make one for all of my family for Christmas! Or, since I told her my boss loves hippos, she exclaimed, “Well, you could make him a T-SHIRT with your photos on it! Here’s a brochure!”

This went on for a few minutes. She even wouldn’t let me leave without taking with me a full on catalogue that showed just about everything that I could print, scan and ship to my loved ones for Christmas.


Tomorrow its off to San Antonio which I am excited about since a friend of mine from college is from there. While he won’t be there, I have heard enough about it to want to know for myself what it is like. Until then.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Web link--Ellen Trout Zoo website--check out the sound effects! Go to the "Animals to See" link on the left side bar and then click on the "Hippo" button under the "Animal Highlights" section at the top of the page (the first link on the left above the DeBrazza's Monkey picture)

Lufkin, Texas—Day 314

After a night hanging out at my fab hotel room just south of downtown Lufkin, I was ready to get out and go to the zoo. Problem was finding it. My directions led me in a not-so-right direction, and I eventually pulled over to a gas station to ask directions. The woman working there (who looked like they had been working there for years) told me to go down “such-and-such loop and then on the side road, then turn right, then….” I couldn’t follow but nodded and smiled the best I could. Once I had my “directions” I headed out of the gas station and to the left (the only direction that I was able to follow). I then drove for a bit until I saw a huge sign for the zoo—complete with hippos on it.

Problem was that the zoo sign said “Straight ahead 1.8 miles but the road then split off. You could go either “straight” left, or “straight” right. Hmmm.

I chose to go to the right and finally hit the road that my original directions told me to turn on. My gut feeling told me to turn left, so I did and barreled down a road that seemed to lead to nowhere. But then I spotted the zoo across the end of the road (which ended up at the freeway again—I probably really could have gone straight either left or right and ended up there!) and I went into the zoo. I parked my car and headed in.

By this time it was just bout 9:30—the zoo opened at 9am. I was clearly the first person there. I paid my three dollar entrance fee (pocket change compared to Busch Gardens!) and headed in. I first noticed a small enclosure on my right with a sign saying that the zoo’s two “new” hippos (Pancho and Nakili) were in the new hippo enclosure in the African part of the zoo. Because there was no map of the zoo (“Sorry”) I had to find this Africa section on my own. After a bit of hunting (there weren’t ANY signs in the zoo) I found it. It seemed that this old looking area that I first came across was the hippos’ old enclosure. The must have had a hippo before Pancho and Nakili, it must have died or something, and then they got the pair and moved them to this new part.

Anyways, I finally found the two—and it turned out to be three. There was a big baby hippo fast asleep on the sand in their enclosure and two bigger hippos (presumably Pancho—the male—and Nakili—the female). I knew who was who when Pancho decided to spread it against a wall and knew that Pancho was the male from the zoo’s website (Click on the link—it comes with sound effects!).

Anyways, I set up shop and watched the hippos for almost three hours. Because they had just gotten into the water before I showed up, they weren’t really going to get out often. But Pancho eventually did and he wandered over to the Baby and started licking it. It was cute until gobs of saliva started gooping out of his mouth which was a rather disgusting—yet still endearing—sight.

Nakili didn’t come out of the water at all and I finally gave up when the Baby got scared by a passing tractor (yes, a tractor) and went into the water. The underwater viewing area was decent and every so often the hippos would glide by. The baby was especially cute as she/he would come right up to the glass and press its nose against it, checking me out just as much as I was checking HER out.

After quite some time I decided to head out of the zoo with the intentions of coming back in the morning. I left the zoo, first stopping at the gift shop and then asking the staff what the baby’s name was. They told me Mara (and I made them spell it to be sure!) and I headed out of the zoo.

Now I had a slight problem. There is NOTHING to do in Lufkin. It was just before noon and I had the entire rest of the day to do something. I thought I would catch a movie, but all of the movie theaters I found were closed. Even the local mall wasn’t that exciting. I got lunch at a Chili’s (again, just to find a place to sit down and read) and then wandered around Target (my new hobby) and ended up back at the hotel that I had checked out of in the morning. I checked out because I was hoping that I could get the zoo done in one morning. But I thought it would be best for me to stay to get some better shots of Nakili. So I checked back into the hotel, doodled around on the computer and finally it was a decent enough time to get dinner.

So I went out to the local supermarket and grabbed a microwave macaroni and cheese, excited by the idea of making dinner IN my room. I then went back to the hotel, found my key to all of sudden not work and spent a good ten minutes waiting for the receptionist to come back “from helping a customer” to give me a new key.

Hotel life in the USA is just not the same as in Europe. There are only so many options to choose from and none of them involve killing time looking at gorgeous Roman ruins and sitting in Spanish cafes.


Thursday, December 09, 2004

Dallas, Texas—Houston, Texas—Lufkin, Texas—Day 313

This morning was a first. I missed my plane!

How it happen remains a mystery. I set my alarm and somehow it didn’t go off. Why I didn’t get a wake up call from the hotel is also a mystery. Anyways, I was having a fabulous dream when suddenly my conscious knocked in and I bolted up in bed.

Looking at my clock I saw that it was 7:30. My flight was leaving at 8:30.

So I threw everything into my bag, threw on my clothes, and threw myself into the car. I made it to the rental return at the airport at 8am and to the check in counter at 8:15. Obviously there was no way that I would make my flight.

I handed over my I.D. and my trusty gold Aadvantage card, hoping that they would just let me on to the next flight since I was such a valued customer. To my luck, they did! They girl just laughed at me when I said that I missed the alarm and checked me onto the next flight which wasn’t departing until after 11. So I now have three hours to kill (most of it spent catching up on my blog!) and sitting in the Dallas airport waiting for my short flight to Houston.

I made it to Houston, picked up my rental car (an SUV! I fit RIGHT in now!) and I was soon on my way headed north to Lufkin. Lufkin is in eastern Texas and yes, in the middle of nowhere. However, three hippos are at the Ellen Trout Zoo and I will be spending the next few days here before heading back down to Houston, then on to San Antonio.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Photo--Sign at entrance to Fort Worth Zoo

Dallas, Texas—Days 311/312

Its funny because I have met a lot of people on my trip this year who have instantly thought I was a cowgirl because I was from Arizona. Mostly its these people who have no idea how drastically different Arizona is from Texas. (Is really any other state like Texas? I doubt anyone would dare to think so). OBVIUSJLY me being from Arizona meant that I was a boot wearin’, plaid lovin’ rodeo queen despite my protest that I wasn’t. Now I do admit that these types do exist in Arizona (and yes, we do have “Rodeo Break” which allow us two and a half extra days of vacations in February) but let’s face it, I don’t live on a ranch and I definitely don’t have a horse and more importantly, I do not own a cowboy hat. Clearly those are the makings of a cow-person, none of which I have. Plus my family is British so we’re really more of the fox hunting type when it comes down to it.

Anyways now that I was in Texas, I wanted to see them for myself because obviously they are not anywhere else other than the lone start state of Texas.

You know, the real cowboys. The pickup trucks. The families with matching mullets.

Yeeeeeeeeehaw! Welcome to Bushland!!

So far Texas has proven to be all that I thought it would be, more or less. Lots of truck drivin’ Republicans sporting their “W2004” bumper stickers and actually, truly wearing cowboy boots in public.

My god. It really exists!

I was able to spot several of them at the Fort Worth Zoo, where I spent the two mornings I had in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area. The zoo is actually a really nice zoo despite the five dollar parking fee they throw at you upon entering. Both days I bought tickets (although Wednesdays are half price!) and I located the hippos on the first day without a problem. They were near the elephants (as always) and while the elephants had THEIR names posted outside their enclosure, my hippos didn’t.

Luckily the two were out of the water just as I arrived. As the first one literally dashed into the water (and as I fumbled with my camera) I got just a few shots of him/her before taking almost 100 or so shots of the second hippo who causally finished up the last bits of their hay before wandering down into the water. I cornered some zoo workers who were leaving the employee lot right next to the hippo enclosure (nicely located for my benefit of course) and they told me that the hippos names were Daisy (the stroller) and Jonsey (the dasher). I was confused to how “Jonsey” was spelled (its pronounced Jones-see so I thought for sure it would be spelled Jonesy but I cleared this up on the second day when I actually talked to the hippo keeper himself (after a nice man radioed him in for me) and he told me that sure enough, it was spelled J-O-N-S-E-Y.

I watched the hippos for a bit the first day and then decided to come back the second morning which turned out to be a good move. The second morning (half price Wednesday!) the hippos were not only NOT in the water, but not outside yet. This was a good sign for me because this meant that I could get pictures of them whenever they did come out. So I patiently waited and soon a keeper came out, laid out some hay, and the doors opened for the two hippos.

I could tell the two apart very easily and the keeper pointed out even further how much smaller Daisy was, and how much darker Jonsey was. The woman who helped me on the first day weren’t quite sure who was who—their discussion about which hippo was which involved one of their sister in law’s sp-and-so who talked with so-and-so who thought Daisy was the lighter one—well, this woman turned out to be right.

So I happily took pictures of them chomping away and then when they were finished, gracefully easing themselves into the pool which was just filling up. They swam around a bit and drank from the huge fountain of water shooting into the pool and filing it up which delighted several families around me. I took pictures and videotaped for a bit and decided that my job was done.

After going to the zoo on both day I had nothing to do but to kill time. I spent the first day reading all about photography at a Barnes and Noble (its just like a library! They let you just SIT there and read!) and doing a variety of aimless things like driving around and checking the internet. The second day I was more productive and went to the John F. Kennedy museum in Dallas (I ventured to the other side which was over 20 miles away!) and spent the afternoon completely fascinated. The museum is amazing and on the 6th floor where Lee Harvey Oswald shot Kennedy (ok, ok, so we don’t REALLY know that he did it but c’mon…) and looking out of the window was completely eerie. Anyways, it was really quite something and I drove back to my hotel after spending a good few hours there. I then went and grabbed something to eat (last night it was sushi at this great little sushi bar, tonight it was a salad at Chili’s) and went back to the hotel.

I set the alarm for 6am for my 8:30am flight to Houston.

Web Link--Forth Worth Zoo website

Monday, December 06, 2004

Orlando, Florida—Dallas, Texas—Day 310

Today I flew from Orlando to Dallas. First I had to get Lyda up and ready for her flight back to Tucson (via Chicago) that left at the lovely time of 7am. This meant waking up at 4:45am and getting ourselves to the airport before the sun rose. We made it, turned in the rental car and checked both of us in at the first class desk—a little AAdvantage perk.

I saw Lyda off at her gate and literally signed her away—signing her unaccompanied minor sheet. We said goodbye and I waited for an hour and half until my own flight to Dallas. The flight to Dallas was fine—uneventful really—and I got into Dallas on time.

I have never actually been to Dallas, or Fort Worth, but have landed at the airport countless times. Whether it be going home from college, or really anywhere, I always seem to end up in the Dallas/Ft. Worth airport. I practically have the whole layout memorized. But this was really the first time that I would leave the vicinity of the airport.

I decided to get a rental car and headed to the rental car location via shuttle then rented a car from a company who would gladly rent to a person under the age of 24 and gladly slapped on a young renters fee and was soon on my way to the hotel. I found the hotel just fine—and found it to be RIGHT across the street from the 6 Flags amusement park! Ahh! No more amusement parks!

I checked into the hotel and spent the rest of the day biding my time catching up on things regarding work and eventually venturing out to a local mall to catch a movie. Driving there was a bit of an adventure—what started as a nice sprinkle turned into a huge flash flood warning in the entire area and I was stuck on the freeway going 5 mph in gusty, torrential rain.

Ohmigod. I was going to die.

Amazingly I made it of the mall in one piece (thank god) and parked under a sheltered parking lot away from the storm. I perused around the mall until my movie started and kept my hopes up that the rain would pass once I had to leave the sanctuary of the mall. Luckily it did and I made it back to the hotel safely and much quicker than when I came.

Tomorrow I am heading to the Fort Worth Zoo to see two hippos there. I’m expecting to see them in full cowboy get up and to chew their hay like real Texans.

I’ll keep you posted.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Photo--Lyda at Disney's Animal Kingdom

Orlando, Florida—Days 307/308/309

So if you think that you can’t handle three days in Disneyworld, you are probably right. However, if you do have the chance to swing by or find yourself here for any reason, you’ll find it all not that bad. In fact, you might even enjoy yourself or even have a really great time, just like I did.

Lyda and I hit up MGM studios, Cirque du Soleil, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, the Magic Kingdom AND Typhoon Lagoon all in three days. Oh, and through in two movies in there as well and you will have our itinerary. We had a great time, despite the fact that I was feeling sick the first day (who knows why but I was definitely ready to throw up at any point which is not like me at all). By the second and third days I felt fine and was actually impressed with my stamina on the rides. We conquered the Tower of Terror, let our jaws drop as we watched the amazing Cirque du Soleil performance, watched Canada in 360 degrees and traveled to the moon at Epcot, got knocked over by the wave pool in Typhoon Lagoon and plummeted down Splash Mountain at the Magic Kingdom, screaming all the way. It was great but I have to say that I won’t be ready to go back again any time soon.

Part of the deal was that we had to visit Disney’s Animal Kingdom so that I could actually see what the Disney hippos were all about. Lyda agreed, just as long as we could fit in the Magic Kingdom AND Typhoon Lagoon all in the same day as well. I agreed and we set off early on the third day to the Animal Kingdom. Since we had bought park-hopper passes, we were able to go from one park to the other without having to buy separate tickets. This worked out in our favor but I still wasn’t happy with the hefty admission prices. We headed in and walked over to the Africa area where the hippos were. We found one lone hippo in an underwater viewing area and since I knew that there were at least twenty hippos, I asked a man working there were the others were. He told me that they were on the safari ride and that we could see them on that.

So Lyda and I got in line for the safari and were soon on a bumpy safari tour through an “African reserve.” Sure enough, we passed the hippos shortly into the tour. They were on both or left and right sides and I scrambled to get some pictures of them. The jeep we were in couldn’t stop—this was an actually RIDE we were on—and so I managed what I could. We then drove through the rest of the “reserve” area, eventually finding and defeating some “elephant poachers” in the area. The ride was pretty impressive but I Wasn’t impressed with the lack of hippo access. Couldn’t it at least stop at the hippos so that people could get a good view?

When we got off I turned to Lyda and informed her that we would have to go on it again. Despite her groans and her “but why’s” she knew that she had to. We decided to get “fast passes” (a new Disney thing where you get a little ticket that allows you to come back at a certain time and not have to wait in line again) and had any where from a half hour to an hour and a half from now to go on the ride. So we decided to go on a river rafting ride and the dinosaur ride in the meantime, getting sufficiently soaked AND freaked out by loud dinosaurs. We then headed back to the safari ride where we bypassed the long line and were soon again on our way to the animal reserve. This time I videotaped the tour and I think Lyda really didn’t mind THAT much that we had to go on it again.

After we made it back safe and sound after capturing the poachers AGAIN (didn’t they get the point the first time?!?!) Lyda and I headed out and spent the afternoon at the other parks, then caught a movie and dinner before crashing back at the hotel. Phew.

Date: Thu, 04 Nov 2004 12:51:16 -0800
To: "Sarah Galbraith"
Subject: Re: Hippos (KMM14332562V91509L0KM)
From: "Disney Guest Mail"

Dear Sarah,

Thank you for your latest email.

Sarah can take as many photos from the "show" side of the attraction as you want. However, the husbandry staff cannot disclose any information about the collection to the general public.

Once again Thank you for expressing interest in our collection but at this time the Animal Kingdom Husbandry staff are not going to be able participate in your project.

We hope you understand and wish you well in your endeavor.

Thank you!


Charlene Hobot

WDW Online Communications

Original Message Follows:

Dear Charlene,

I appreciate your emailed response. I understand 100% that it is against Disney policies to allow non-Disney employees behind the scenes at your theme park.

With this in mind, would it be possible for me to photograph the hippos
at their "on" stage location (i.e. where they are on display for the entire public) but also to meet with their keeper at this same location so that I could also get their names as well? I would not need more than 15 minutes of their time.

I have included several pictures of the hippo porcelain service (from an emailed attachment from my employer sent to a hippo enthusiast group) so you can get an idea of the project. This is truly a unique opportunity and certainly something that we would love to include the Disney hippos.


Sarah Galbraith
Date: Tue, 26 Oct 2004 11:38:11 -0700
Subject: Hippos (KMM14247581V13668L0KM)
From: "Disney Guest Mail"

Dear Sarah,

Thank you for waiting so patiently while we research your request.

Unfortunately, because of overriding company access policies this is not something we will be able to participate in.

At this time we can not have non-Disney cast members in specific back stage areas for safety reasons, not only the individuals safety but also for the safety and health of our animals. Also at this time we do not permit non-Disney photographers to photograph anywhere that is not considered an "on" stage location.

Sarah, the Director of the Animal Operations team at the Animal Kingdom as well as the entire husbandry staff wanted me to thank you for your expressed interest in our Hippos, but at this time we are not going to be able participate in your project.

If you have questions or need further assistance, feel free to contact us.

Please include your full name, E-Mail address, and reservation number if applicable on all correspondence.

Thank you!


Charlene Hobot

WDW Online Communications


To Whom It May Concern:

My name is Sarah Galbraith and I am currently working for a private porcelain collector and avid hippopotamus lover who has commissioned the Royal Copenhagen Porcelain Company to create a unique dinner service with representations of zoo hippopotami. Since February 2004 I have been traveling around the world photographing hippos in zoos to be used for the porcelain service. This comprehensive project will be completed in 2007 will be internationally exhibited.

We hope to represent your hippos in the service. I will be arriving in
Orlando on the 1st of December and will be in the area until the morning of the 6th of December. I would like to arrange a meeting with the hippo keeper during that time to learn about your hippos (their names and ages) and photograph each of them. According to my notes, you have quite a large number of hippos at your zoo so your assistance will ensure that they secure a place in the collection.

I look forward to your response:

Thank you,

Sarah Galbraith