Saturday, December 18, 2004

Portland, Oregon—Eugene, Oregon—Winston, Oregon—Day 323

Getting from Portland to Eugene really should have been just a quick flight—nothing over 45 minutes. My flight was scheduled for 9am and I arrived at the airport with an hour and half to spare. When I got my ticket I noticed that it showed me on a flight leaving at 11am, not 9am. I realized that my initial flight must have been previously cancelled or something and so I wasn’t really bothered by the fact that I would now have over three hours to wait at the airport until my flight boarded.

I killed time reading and wandered around the Portland airport. People watching is my new favorite sport so I did just that. I also spent a while probably talking too loudly on my new cell phone (which I got yesterday) and trying to figure out how to program it.

When it was time for me to board I wandered over to my gate which was actually below the rest of the gates. You had to go downstairs into a little waiting area. That’s when I saw the sign.

“Flight 6302 to Eugene CANCELLED”

Cancelled? Oh man.

So I got in line and when it was my turn to talk with the airline people they told me that yes, my flight had been cancelled because there was too much fog on the ground in Eugene. Their little planes simply weren’t allowed to land with so much fog. Great.

So what was my other options? I could wait for the next flight that would leave at 4pm (which still had the chance of not actually leaving) but could also opt to take a bus from Portland to Eugene. I would take a few hours but I would be guaranteed to arrive.

Of course I opted for the bus and was given directions as to where to meet it: Baggage Claim 10. Not any specific place around #10, just the baggage claim itself. Great.

So I went out past the security and to the baggage claim where there were just hoards of people. How was I supposed to meet anyone here? On top of that I had to find my luggage in the midst of everything and it was supposed to show up on the belt.

I waited and after quite some time it finally did. Thank god. I also found several other people in with the same situation because we were all in the luggage claim department asking about how where we REALLY were supposed to meet. We stuck together and found others by spotting anyone carrying the little yellow ticket that they gave us.

Finally the baggage area cleared out—all except a woman and an emergency crew who was helping her. She appeared to have fainted and dint’ look to be in such good shape. Our airline employee who was in charge of us finally showed up and we started walking towards the bus outside.

Our group comprised of a woman clearly distressed by the whole idea of taking a bus, a girl who was just done with her first semester of medical school, a young marine who had just finished boot camp and an ex-marine who had, as of yesterday, just retired from the navy. And then there was me—the hippo photographer.

We boarded the bus and after much complication (there were one too many people on the bus than they had names for—such drama!) and an hour later we were off. The woman behind me chose to talk on her cell phone LOUDLY SO THAT EVERYONE COULD HEAR HER and once the driver attempted to put on some loud holiday music which was greeted with “TURN IT OFF!” from the passengers. We were not happy to be having to take a bus (I actually didn’t mind but it was annoying) and wanted to get to Eugene as quickly as possible.

I fell asleep, woke up right before we hit our pit stop and chose to walk around for the ten minutes we were there. I went to the restroom and it was quite funny—a mother and her four children were all in one stall. It was like one of those scenes were someone opens up a small car and out comes twelve people---she opened the door and they came out one after another (just after you thought there couldn’t be any more in there!).

Back on the bus I tried to read a bit but found my attention wavering. So I watched Oregon go by out the window until we finally made it to the Eugene Airport. I got off, got my bags and went to rent my car. Its funny when people get in situations like this---a missed flight, a broken elevator, things like that—because you develop this sort of comradery with them. You have to say goodbye and wish them a happy holidays—hope that Aunt Susie’s fruitcake really does turn out ok. You know, things like that.

I was excited to be off the bus and on my own terms again but not looking forward to driving down to Winston. Its about an hour south of Eugene or so. Luckily my car had cruise control which made up only slightly for the lack of good music on the radio.

The further I drove the denser the fog became. When I arrived at my hotel you could hardly see anything around you. It was quite cool yet exceptionally eerie at the same time. I pulled into a hotel off of the freeway that was just five miles from the zoo and checked in. I then left to go find some dinner at an Italian restaurant. I got take away but it took so long that the waiter even brought me free cheesecake before my food arrived for me to “snack on it.”

My food finally arrived and I drove back to the hotel to eat in my room and called it a night.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Portland, Oregon--Day 321

Here's the email I received back from one of the keepers at the Oregon Zoo which I thought was quite funny since I saw Don Ho perform in Honolulu while I was there:

"Mukenko" is the larger one, also known as "Poppy". Personally, I've always thought that was a dumb name for a hippo, so I took to calling her "Tiny" instead. There were two reasons for this: the incongruity of naming the larger one "Tiny", and the fact that it lends a certain "Don Ho" flavor to the area. "Tiny the zoo..."

So, "Mukenko" is also known as "Poppy" who is also known as "Tiny" leaving "Kiboko" with the nickname of "Bubbles."


Photo--Mt. Hood

Portland, Oregon—Days 320/321

I have spent the past few days in Portland figuring out just when in my life I am going to be able to live here. It feels a lot like Minneapolis and St. Paul (where I went to Macalester) in its small town/big city set up. Plus there are loads of things to do and great little shops and restaurants to check out. Plus while it feels a bit like Minneapolis, there is no snow!

I spent most of one morning driving to Mount Hood which was just great. I drove along the Historical Highway and stopped at every waterfall along the way to take a picture. There were several people doing the same thing and we obviously kept running into each other at every stop. Two guys had their cameras with them as well and one enthusiastically told me “If you do it to me I’ll do it to you!”

I laughed and what he meant was that if I took their picture, he would take mine.

The drive was really beautiful and I drove to Mount Hood on a sort of back road that had multiple signs warning me that I needed chains. I ignored them.

The dense fog that covered the road and everything around me didn’t deter me. Nor did the snow. I was preparing myself for some full on snow but it never came. Instead I came around a bend and the fog literally disappeared into bright blue sky and BAM! There was Mount Hood.

It was truly a fantastic sight—the snow covered mountain set against the brilliant blue sky.

I made my way back to Portland and spent the rest of the afternoon riding the trolley and walking around the downtown area. The next day I spent again in Portland, this time going over to the 21st and 23rd streets for some great window shopping.

Tomorrow I fly to Eugene and then will drive down to Winston, Oregon to go to the safari park there.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Web link--Oregon Zoo website

Dallas, Texas—Portland, Oregon—Day 319

I flew from Dallas to Portland today finally leaving the lone star state in search of something a little bit greener. I sat next to a hilarious woman and her husband. She walked onto the plane wearing a ridiculously huge fur coat (I’ve never seen anything like it) and while the rest of the plane ordered juice with their breakfast snacks, she ordered a beer.

We started talking and but the time we had landed she knew a lot more about me than I did of her! She was delighted to see pictures of the hippos and hear all about the past year. We landed in Portland and they headed off to Bend, Oregon to visit their children (her step-children) and I set off to find myself my rental car.

I was soon on my way to my hotel in Portland. I drove to the downtown area and through a series of one way turns found my hotel. But then I decided that since the day was still young, I could stop by the zoo instead of going straight to the hotel.

So I did this—luckily the zoo was really close to the hotel and to downtown Portland. I parked, got my ticket and headed in.

Finding the hippos wasn’t hard. Photographing the pair wasn’t hard either. The two of them showed off quite a bit for me—the larger one getting in and out of the water while the smaller of the two would come over and open her mouth for me on command. It was quite a delightful sight seeing the two of them together swimming around and playing. The weather outside was really cold so I kept having to move around a bit to stay warm. At least the hippos looked content in their pool.

The enclosure had an underwater viewing area and an overlooking area onto the pool which was great for me to get pictures of them. There were also sound effects set up so that when someone walked into the underwater area sounds of hippos grunting to one another turned on.

When walking out to the overlooking spot I walked past a man and his son. As we crossed in front of the speakers the little boy asked his father, “Dad! What IS that?” The father told him, “Well son, that’s the hippo.”

And the little boy replied, clearly disgusted, “Doesn’t the hippo know that its rude to fart??”


With that said, what was hard however was finding out the hippos names. I went to ask the woman at the information desk and she had their names on file: Kiboko (a common hippo name—its means “hippo” in Swahili) and Mukenko, which means “volcano” in Swahili apparently. I thought my job was almost halfway through—now I just needed to know who was who.

Well the woman at the information desk didn’t know but agreed that she really should have that information handy. So she sent me in the direction of the main office. In there I met three happy looking employees who gladly helped me. “Ummmm” says the first one. “I think Bubbles is the one with the patches over her eyes….or is that the other one?” They debated for a bit until I interrupted.

Bubbles? Who is Bubbles?

I told them that I had the names Kiboko and Mukenko…not Bubbles. Hmmm.

Oh! They said, They must have nicknames! So one of the women gets on the phone to call someone who would actually know the truth. I was connected with another woman who told me that the hippos nicknames were Bubbles and Poppy, but she didn’t know which was which, or if Kiboko was Bubbles or Poppy, or if Mukenko was either. But SHE knew someone who was. But this person (apparently an avid hippo lover) was on the phone so I would have to call her back. But, she told me, I could call the hippo keepers themselves too.

So I tried the keepers but they weren’t there so I went back into the main part of the zoo to try and find a keeper. I ended up running into some other volunteers who didn’t know a thing about the hippos but did know anything and everything about the elephants. But they agreed to find someone who would help me and we walked over to their offices. I waited outside while the two woman disappeared and soon thereafter the talkative one (the one who told me all of the elephants’ names during our walk) came out with a slip of paper. She handed it to me and told me that “this was all I could get.”

She walked away and I looked at the paper. Mukenko and Kiboko were written on there as well as Bubbles and Tiny being their names. Tiny? Wait a sec, how can two hippos have three nicknames and more importantly WHO WAS WHO?

Since it was getting late (and I was told that the keepers probably had already left by now) I decided to call once I got back to the hotel. I left after hitting up the gift shop and drove back to my hotel which is located right in the city center. I checked in and spent the rest of the evening catching up on things and leaving phone messages and emails for practically half the zoo employees at the Oregon Zoo. I would get to the bottom of this hippo nickname silliness somehow!

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Photo--The Alamo

San Antonio, Texas—Days 317/318

I spent the past two days in San Antonio visiting the Alamo and traveling up to Austin to check out the city that I have heard so much about. I spent a good hour or so walking around the Alamo which was interesting and then the afternoon driving up to Austin and trying to find the University there. I never did find it (how you can’t find a huge university is beyond me) but after having lunch and cruising around a bit I decided to head back to San Antonio.

The next morning I headed back to the zoo to check out what Uma and Tumbo were up to.
Uma was outside again and there was no sign of Tumbo. The weather was cold and I stood in front of Uma hoping that Tumbo would just magically appear in the water with her. He never did of course so I left the zoo after a while and spent another day in San Antonio and its surrounding areas doing a bit of Christmas shopping.

Tomorrow I head to Portland and leave Texas. Then I head to Eugene, Oregon, then finally to San Francisco where I will meet up with a few friends from college that I have there. Then back to Tucson for Christmas which is shockingly NEXT weekend. This year went by extraordinarily fast. It just feels like yesterday when this whole trip was in its planning stages.

And now I have been to 92 zoos this year.

That’s 262 hippos!

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Web link--San Antonio Zoological Gardens and Aquarium website

Houston, Texas—San Antonio, Texas—Day 316

Well my friend is right. San Antonio is a wonderful place. It actually feels a lot like Tucson in a way and I immediately felt at home. My flight this morning was short and sweet and I made it to San Antonio early. I rented my car from Avis. The man was a little too excited to rent it to me and REALLY excited that I was an Avis “wizard” member (their frequent renter’s club). Oohhh.

So I got my keys and took the shuttle over to the rental car part just outside the airport. The woman driving me there was also very excited. “Is this your first time in San Antonio?” she asks. I told her yes and she just about let out a whoop of excitement. “Well, well” she says and proceeds to tell me how I needed to drive to downtown. She helped me off of the shuttle when we arrived at the second Avis building where all of the cars are located and waved as she drove away.

I checked in with the guy at the desk who handed me my keys to my exciting Chevy that I would have the privilege of driving today. I went outside with my stuff to my allocated spot but found a much nicer SUV in my spot instead of the car that I rented. So I started walking back to the office when a shuttle bus driver pulled over. He got out and helped me try to locate the missing car, but we couldn’t find it. So I continued my walk until the shuttle driver called back to me. “Miss! Its over here!” He had found my car which was nowhere near the spot it was supposed to be in . and drove away waving.

I popped the trunk when another woman (equally as enthused) came over and apologized for the car being in the wrong spot. She also informed me that the car was “not cleaned” because their car wash was broken. But, if I wanted to, I could take it to a carwash myself and they would reimburse me. I looked at the car and told her not to worry, it seemed just clean enough for me.

But then I got in.

Good god, it was awful! It was like the combination of bad body odor AND bad cologne all wrapped into one horrible stench that permeated the entire car. I didn’t think about the INSIDE of the car. Everything smelled like nasty man. Throwing up was not an option but gagging certainly was. Good lord, did people REALLY have to smell like THIS?

I masked my disgust as I drove away, smiling and waving.

I headed straight to the zoo and since it was Sunday, there were quite a lot of other people there. I got my ticket and went in and found the hippo enclosure. It was a big concrete pool with an upper area that lead into the hippos’ indoor enclosure. There was one hippo outside but I knew that there should be two hippos there. I went over and to my luck there were signs giving me the names of the two hippos, Tumbo (the male) and Uma (the female). I watched the hippo in the water for quite a while and it didn’t seem to have any intention of moving about. A keeper eventually walked by and I stopped her to ask about which hippo was in the water. She seemed to be keen on hippos and went over to look. She told me that it was definitely Uma in the water and that Tumbo was inside. They were separated because Uma had had a baby hippo recently who was just shipped off to the Phoenix Zoo on Thursday. They had separated the two due to safety reasons (as do many hippos with new babies) and were hoping on reuniting the pair later on in the day. “It should be interesting” she told me.

So I thanked her and waited for this interesting thing to happen.

After spending most of the afternoon sitting first at a table by the snack bar next to the hippo enclosure then on a ledge overlooking the hippo enclosure, I was getting antsy for the hippos to reunite. Uma had at one point gotten out of the water and wandered around on the upper part for a bit so I snapped away until she resigned herself back into the water.

No sign of Tumbo.

But I patiently waited, and waited, and ignored the stares I was getting from people passing by. Eventually a keeper appeared in the hippo enclosure and shut a gate between the pool and the upper level. Then the door to the indoor enclosure opened and viola! Out stepped Tumbo. So I took pictures of him walking out and for the next hour or so of him in the enclosure. But there seemed to be no sign of a keeper and little chance that he was actually going to be let into the water with Uma. I waited and waited and took pictures while I could. Tumbo and Uma grunted to one another and Tumbo rested his head on the gate between the two sides, clearly wanting to get out. Poor guy.

After quite sometime Tumbo seemed to lose all hope of going back into the water and went and stood next to the door that let him out. Soon it opened and he went back in. What? What about this reunion I had been waiting for? The keeper came back out and locked the door that had shut behind Tumbo. Checking my watch there was only an hour before the zoo closed so I guess I missed my chances today.

So I got my things together and headed out of the zoo. I drove into downtown San Antonio and found my hotel. I parked in the parking structure across the street and checked in, spending the rest of the afternoon catching up on work before heading out for dinner. I came across the infamous San Antonio River Walk without realizing what it was. There were tons of people out—I guess it being a Sunday—and I walked along the river while carol-singing school children passed by on boats that cruised up and down the river. I eventually settled on a Mexican food place for dinner and left for my hotel completely stuffed with chimichangas and margaritas.