Sunday, January 09, 2005

Salt Lake City, Utah—Fresno, California—Days 342/343/344

Well, when my friends heard that I was going to Fresno, those who were California natives said “ewwww---have fun.”

I didn’t know quite what they meant until I landed and found that there is a whole lot of nothing in the Fresno area. I got my rental car and immediately drove to the zoo. I had a map and found it with no problem and pulled into the Chaffee Zoological Gardens parking lot just before a big gust of wind blew a tree over near by.

This was not good.

The weather has been awful while I have been here and Fresno has had its fair share of wind and rain. I headed into the zoo and found it to be seemingly closed (it was just turning 10am when I arrived which is the time it opens in the winter) and there was a sing on the door saying that entrance to the zoo today was “free due to inclement weather.”

So, I wandered in.

Problem was that there were no maps in the zoo and no one around to help me. This left me to a lot of wandering and guessing as to where I thought the hippo would be. Yes, just a lone hippo. According to my notes, I should find only one.

And after a while, I did. I had to ask a keeper who l eventually found cleaning up some debris. He redirected me past the tigers and it was at the end of a short walk that I found the hippo in the water. He had a small enclosure and a big blue ball in the pool with him. He was lying in the water with his head sticking out in a




I took some photos and was happy to see the “hippo feeding 1:30pm” sign by his enclosure. Alright! I decided to just come back at 1:30 to talk to the keeper one on one.

So after taking pictures of the enclosure and the outside of the zoo, I left and headed to downtown Fresno where I found, well, not much.

Fresno’s downtown area is truly out of 1965. I walked around a bit trying to find a place to eat breakfast but only found a homeless guy preaching about how “religion started in Fresno!!!” and that “Jesus is walking the streets right now!!!” I turned, looked, and couldn’t find him.

I finally found a café that served breakfast stuff and sat around it for a few hours trying to kill time before going back to the zoo. When 1 o’clock finally rolled around I went back to the zoo and waited in my car until 1:25 to avoid the downpour of rain.

I got to the zoo entrance and found it locked shut. Oh no! I guess due to the weather they decided to hut the entire place down.

Luckily I have two more days to spare to come back to the zoo.

So I headed off in the northern direction, namely to Yosemite. Its about two hours from Fresno so I drove off thinking excitedly about the beautiful views I might see ahead. My adventure began as I passed several signs warning me that I needed snow chains, which I ignored of course (hey, I’ve driven in Minnesota! Who needs chains?!?!) but ended when I finally got up to the top of the mountain where you had to pay to get into the park—and where snow chains were obviously needed. Opting not to get tuck on a mountain overnight, I headed back down and called my friend Dave who lives in San Francisco. We decided to meet up in Santa Cruz the next morning (along with his girlfriend Julie who is also from Macalester) so I drove around the countryside until finding a hotel to stay in overnight (after of course taking several wrong turns and getting on highway 5 where every exit is like 17 miles from each other! I went almost 40 miles in the wrong direction…)

The next morning we had a little reunion at breakfast in downtown Santa Cruz and despite the rain and wind, Dave and Julie took me on a tour of the surfing museum in Santa Crux and of the university there. We then parted ways and I spent the rest of the afternoon driving around Monterrey and to Salinas. Then I headed back to Fresno, staying the night in a slightly sketchy hotel off of the freeway before driving the rest of the way back to Fresno this morning.

I then made it back to the zoo at 10am and found no hippo in his enclosure but instead the keeper who was cleaning it. However the keeper told me that the hippo, named Buldgy, would make an appearance at 1:30pm for the feeding time.

So I left the zoo (again) and made a plan to come back again at 1:30 (again) and hopefully this time the zoo won’t be closed. I bided my time at a local mall (blah) and got back to the zoo just in time for the feeding.

Luckily it was open and the sun was trying to peek through the clouds which was nice (its been raining ALL weekend!). I was of course the only person however at the hippo enclosure and the keeper almost forgot about the feeding time. But luckily she didn’t and eventually emerged carrying a big bag of hippo treats—carrots, gourds, even bell peppers! She told me ALL about hippos (I nodded with enthusiasm as if I didn’t know anything about hippos of course) and I found out that Buldgy was 53! I snapped away as Buldgy got out of the water and came over to be hand fed by the keeper.

I, of course, was loving it and got some great pictures. I thanked the keeper when it was all over (she left Buldgy and I for some goats—GOATS!) and I left Buldgy and headed back out to take on the ever exciting city of Fresno. Whoooopeee.

Well, the time has come. Ok, its not quite here but sadly, tomorrow I head to San Diego.

My last, and final, zoo on my hippo adventure.

Right now I don’t want to talk about, don’t want to THINK about it all being over, so I won’t go into it now. But I definitely know that tomorrow when I am at the San Diego zoo, tears could definitely be shed.

Until then.