Monday, February 13, 2012

A winter trip to the zoo in which this narrator almost gets eaten

As you may recall, I LOVE the zoo. Even when I'm not actually visiting it, I'm thinking about visiting it. Any remotely sunny morning brings the following conversation:

me: Hey D, you know what it's a good day for?
D: uhhh....lemme guess. The zoo.
me: Wow, how did you know I was thinking that?!

Our last visit there was conducted practically in the dark (November or so, the sun setting very early) but now that we've gained some extra daylight I thought it would be a good day to make our first official visit of 2012.

Did I notice that it was -15 C (5 F) before we left? Uh, no. You think I'd be used to this kind of weather after all those years in Alaska but man, I was never walking around in a zoo at 5 F in Alaska! It was freakin' cold out there! (In Alaska I was usually watching Netflix under a blanket. For about 8 straight years. That's how I survived to tell the tale. And in Siberia, well, we were usually no further than two steps away from a shot of vodka. For warming purposes, of course.)

There were even more cats than usual roaming around the zoo grounds. In fact, the first one darted out the main gate as we approached the ticket window, leaped up in front of our faces, landed on the counter, and quickly squeezed itself through the little window to get inside. It was so perfectly choreographed that the lady selling tickets burst into laughter. And it was perhaps an ominous sign of an encounter with another cat, later....

By the way, I've been trying to get a picture of this sign for a while. Apologies for the angle but nowadays I'm always fearful of a ferocious scolding when I try to take a picture of anything.
Free admission the first Wednesday of every month: World War II veterans, Chernobyl survivors, large families, orphans, and invalids. There is an actual word for survivors of Chernobyl: чернобыльцы.
Yeah, the zoo! The zoo! I can't believe I convinced these guys to go with me :p
We headed for the Primate House right away since it always closes the earliest. Unfortunately the interior has been in a state of ремонт (remodel) for months now and the chimpanzee is still tucked away out of sight. They did have a new crocodile exhibit though, and the monkeys were as cheerful as always. The zookeeper was selling little figurines of entwined hippos from a card table and I got D to buy me one for Valentine's Day because seriously, if you truly love the zoo then what's more romantic than two hippos? Nothing, that's what! :p

After that we got followed to the Elephant House by a cat that was eager to slip in the door behind us (after following us all the way from the Primate House). The elephants were not very exciting today but I did see another foreigner; he was wheeling a cleaning cart around and said Извините - Excuse me- with an accent, so that was kind of exciting.

It was even colder by the time we came out so we looked at the llamas (or alpaca?) for a minute and then went into the surprisingly clean and fresh-aired Hippopotamus House. They must have just cleaned it because it was amazingly non-hippo scented!
Usually there's a small crowd inside the building, staring at the hippos' backs, but this time were were alone since apparently all the other hippo fans are afraid of freezing to death at the zoo.

After that there were no indoor spaces to turn to for warmth.
We saw the owls, hawks, and eagles while we still had feeling in our hands. D got into a hooting contest with an owl and then a screeching contest with a hawk. My goal today was to pick up one new word in Russian from this trip (must set my goals low) and here's where I got it, from the bird signs. Did you know that put on the endangered species list translates as put in the red book?

Then we went to the large predators where I had a BLOODY HEART ATTACK from this evil, evil lioness. Tigers? Check, sitting in cages in the back. Jaguar? Check, pacing in the back. Hyenas? Inside. Lion? Oh, where's the lion? *Lean over to look at the bottom of the habitat* LIONESS SPRINGS UP AT MY FACE Holy freakin' cow and sweet baby Jesus!!!! Is my face still there?!!! There was a fence enclosing the lion area but this lion was like the velociraptors in Jurassic Park. Remember that scene where they're testing the fence? Waiting because they know eventually they'll get out and eat people? Oh, and they're completely evil? Yeah, it was like that. The lioness would pace, stop, cock her head and stare right at me, carefully back up, and then leap up against the rock wall. With determination. How can I tell you in so much detail? Because yes, I stayed there (briefly), paralyzed like prey, waiting for my heart to start beating again. Also, I couldn't really believe it. Us humans are weak, true, but when's the last time something looked at you like a piece of fruit they were determined to bat off the tree? I'm talking about direct. eye. contact. Hello, nightmares.

(Later I discovered I had taken a picture of her in September 2011. Yes, with that same look in her eyes.)

Finally, D and Mikhail noticed their friend who was about to be eaten (aka, me) and got us safely away from there. They showed me the calm flamingos and a huge black mellow raven that could hoarsely cough out "давай! давай!" Isn't that the coolest thing ever? A big black raven that can say "Come on!" in Russian! You know you want one....

Our last shivering stop was to see the bears. My brain was so cold that I forgot they'd be hibernating. The polar bear was out, though. For someone who loves the zoo I sure don't like a lot of the animals. I've hated bears ever since I arrived in Alaska, especially polar bears. The most annoying commercial is that CocaCola commercial showing friendly, soda-drinking polar bears because in real life, that white bear would rather stalk you in the snow for 19 hours and then eat you. So I try not to get too close to the polar bear but at least he's always out in the open (unlike a certain LIONESS, ahem). As a matter of fact, the polar bear is always pacing the exact same route, over and over and over again. And he was really skinny- his rib cage was visible. He was probably about as cold as we were! He looked like a polar bear on a serious diet. Maybe he's unhappy because there's nowhere to swim; I've never seen a polar bear habitat without water before.

So there you have it. I still love the zoo but I'm going to wait before going back, basically until a) the weather is tolerable and b) I don't see the lioness every single time that I close my eyes.

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