Deej and Stains' day at the zoo!

Trip Start Jun 24, 2012
Trip End Sep 21, 2012

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Flag of United States  , California
Sunday, August 26, 2012

This morning we got up nice and early and helped ourselves to the free breakfast in the hostel to prepare ourselves for a busy day in San Diego's Zoo and Balboa Park.

We left the hotel at 8.45am and walked for a few blocks through downtown in order to reach the stop we needed to catch our bus from. The city was strangely quiet, even taking into consideration it was early on a Sunday morning; I sort of expected at least some people to be out and about, but aside from the ubiquitous homeless people everywhere, there wasn't a soul. We considered that this might be because San Diego has a large Spanish population, and therefore a more religious one, which might mean everyone was at church, but this was just speculation on our parts.

The bus stop was apparently a hub for the homeless people, many of whom were searching through bins for plastic bottles to trade in (you can get about 5c a bottle in California, along with some other states), which made for some uncomfortable waiting, but they left us alone, and we them. Our bus driver eventually showed up (the bus had been there all along), and beckoned us in as she finished stuffing a breakfast sandwich into her face.

The bus took us through the city and slightly out of it, and headed through Balboa park, the city's largest green space. We knew the zoo was in the park, so as soon as we saw signs for it, we hopped off the bus, and soon discovered that we had been a little premature, and had gotten off a stop early. A short walk quickly rectified the situation, and we found ourselves at the entrance of the zoo! I was really excited =]

We got our tickets - which even with a discount voucher were extortionate - and headed in. I'd read on the Internet that it's recommended to go and see the pandas first, as you have to queue up to be allowed to see them, so that's where we headed to as soon as we picked up our maps. The zoo has a number of different trails you can walk on to get around the zoo, so we headed down the 'Fern Canyon' trail past the sleeping sun bears, to get to the pandas. When we arrived at the enclosure, we found that there wasn't much of a queue at all (although when we walked past later in the day people had been standing for around an hour!). The area in which the pandas are kept is all themed around China, so alongside the panda exhibit you have the red panda and some short clawed otters and some weird deer/goat things that I can't remember the names of... The pandas themselves were lovely, but a little boring, as they were just sleeping. San Diego has an amazing reputation for breeding pandas, which is incredibly difficult - one of their pandas has had 5 babies, which is a record for breeding them outside of China - and a couple of weeks ago they had another one born. On the exhibit the keepers had monitors up which showed the mummy panda and the baby inside together, which is adorable (and you can also watch on the Internet too!)

After the pandas, we walked along the hippo trail, past the hippos, crocodiles and okapi and then onto the monkey trail, which also contains the great apes. The way the zoo has done this is good, as you get to view them on two levels; there is a suspended walkway through the enclosures, which themselves are high, so you can see the monkeys up in the trees, which is nice. After the monkey trail, we wandered past an exhibit containing two young grizzly bears, called Scout and Montana, who were taken from Yellowstone National Park after their mum had been teaching them to raid campsites for food, to save them being destroyed as nuisance animals.

By this point we were getting hungry, so we stopped for some Chinese food back near the panda exhibit; we were expecting this to be like the lush Chinese food we had in Epcot last year for some reason, and were sorely disappointed with what we ended up getting...still; it gave us the energy to carry on with our day, so we couldn't complain. We popped into the panda gift shop to have a look at all the adorable panda teddies - this was my idea, not Laura's- and somehow ended up in a chinese calligraphy masterclass with an amazing guy called Master Henry Cheng...and by somehow I literally mean we were standing watching and he shoved brushes in our hands and we had to join in haha.

It was really cool; I've always wanted to try it, but I don't think Laura was very impressed at first. Master Henry showed us all the steps to draw a baby panda eating bamboo on a mountain, and we had to follow, then afterwards he went around everyone telling us how we did and correcting any errors. I was laughing at Laura for making her baby pandas head so fat compared to mine, but it turned out Master Henry loved Laura's and said mine was too small, so I had to eat my words. She clearly has an undiscovered talent with Chinese calligraphy drawings! I was a bit miffed that mine didn't seem to be right, but some other people who were in the class properly mangled their poor baby pandas, and mine wasn't as bad as that, so I felt a bit better. I was so happy that we'd gotten to try the calligraphy out, and we had our pictures to keep; it was really fun =D

After this excitement, we went to see the big cats along the imaginatively named 'big cat walkway' - we couldn't really see many of them as it was so hot they were all sleeping in the shade, but we did entertain ourselves for a while watching a mountain lion that had been hand raised, perform for the crowd and try to get everyone's attention (apparently he wants to be fussed, according to the signs near his enclosure, but I wouldn't fancy it myself after seeing how big their claws and teeth are!). He went absolutely mental when a woman in a wheelchair scooted past; he followed her all the way along, and went long for her after she had driven past. Not sure what that was about, but I reckon he thought 'easy prey' more then 'let's be friends!'

We detoured out of the big cat area into a section of the park called 'Elephant Odyssey', which the zoo have put together to show animals that are related to extinct north American animals from the last ice age, and have linked this in with the tar pits that are found around southern California, La Brea being the most famous example. Therefore they have elephants (mammoths), camels (giant camels), condors, wolves and so in this area. This is an interesting spin to put on the animal groupings, and makes a change from the modern zoogeographic or family-centric approach that you usually find in zoos.

Coming out of this area we found ourselves back with the big cats, and in my favourite part of the whole day, we watched the four month old baby jaguars, Tikal and Maderas, playing for ages. Tikal (named after an important centre in the ancient Mayan region) was climbing around on a tree and kept falling off when trying to jump onto a branch too small to support his weight, whilst Maderas (named after a Nicaraguan volcano) was happy to chill out with her mum after she'd finished running around like a headless chicken. They were absolutely adorable...think regular kittens but massive and clumsy and squishy and just LUSH. Sigh.

After peeling myself away from them, I was confronted with a giant male lion sticking his tongue out at me, and then we skipped over to the polar bear section, which turned out to be Laura's favourite part of the whole day. At first, the polar bears were doing what any regular polar bear would do in the San Diego heat, and just chilling out in the water. Then, the massive male polar bear, Kalluk, decided he was bored and started pestering his sister, Tatqiq to play with him. He kept running up to her and then crouching down to make himself look smaller (as he was easily double her size)...there was a zoo keeper in the area and she said that he has to try and look less threatening, because Tatqiq won't play with him if he looks too big! They're twins and have been together their whole lives and I just found this adorable. Laura was enthralled as they splashed about and wrestled and swam together. We watched them for about half an hour and I think she took about 100 photos!

When the polar bears had settled down a little, we carried on around the zoo,stopping to pick up a souvenir cup of soda, and then hopping on the Skyfari, which is a cable car that takes you from one side of the zoo to the other and feels wholly unsafe whilst doing so. We were getting pretty tired even after this rest, so we decided to next get on a tour bus which drove us around the parts of the zoo we hadn't seen. When we'd completed the tour and stopped to see which parts of the zoo we hadn't yet visited, we realised it was only the children's farm, which we weren't fussed about. Therefore, we decided to leave the zoo and head back to town through Balboa park.

The zoo is amazing, without doubt; the enclosures for the animals are brilliant, and the zoo clearly knows what it is doing, having an excellent reputation for the care of the animals and it's breeding programs, but it was a lot smaller than we were expecting, and we had seen it all without rushing in the slightest in less time that we had anticipated.

After leaving the zoo at around 5pm, we wandered through the park before catching the bus back. The park is absolutely beautiful, with some stunning examples of the Spanish architecture that makes San Diego famous. The park is huge, and contains art museums, galleries, churches, walkways, and restaurants which all have really intricately designed architecture. There was a little Sunday market/fair type thing going on, and with the sun beating down, the palm trees giving occasional shade and the park buzzing with people and stalls and music, it was lovely. There were water fountains and big pieces of public art on display, and what looked like all the dogs that lived in San Diego out for a walk, and Laura and I really enjoyed ourselves spending some time wandering through. She was thrilled when she recognised some of the sculptures in the park as belonging to Henry Moore, although I had no clue at all.

After a couple of hours here, we caught the bus back into town, and wandered back through the streets (still deserted) to our hostel. On the way we picked up some soup and hot pockets for our dinner, and settled down to eat them and catch up on some news. One thing we're keeping an eye on is tropical storm Isaac, which as just swept through Haiti and is off the coast of Florida in the Gulf of Mexico; some of the forecasts are saying that it could head towards New Orleans, and if it does, it'll be when we're there....great!

Fingers crossed we don't get mixed up with Isaac....

Deej x
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