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21 April 2002

A vacation, even a mini one, is very lucky if it can have a perfect day. This weekend has had (so far) two perfect days. Yesterday at the Tulip Festival was all I'd hoped when I made plans last year to return for the festival this year. I had no expectations/hopes beyond that. We'd made no plans beyond that.

So on a whim, Diane mentioned the zoo, which I'd never seen here. I thought that was a terrific idea, and our plans for the day were set.

Diane was a little uncertain about whether her breathing problems would allow her to walk around the zoo, but we agreed that if she was having problems she'd just sit and I'd go running around by myself (since I'm so "buff" now, you know). The idea of seeing Hansa, the baby elephant born at the zoo a year ago, was just the little extra incentive that made her decide to give it a shot.

First off, I felt downright cute. Diane had given me a pair of jeans she wasn't able to wear. These are short, biking-length jeans. Can you believe I've never had a pair of jeans in my adult life? By sheer coincidence, I had packed a denim patterned shirt to wear up here and with my denim shirt and my new jeans, I was right spiffy, for a fat old lady.

And then the weather cooperated beautifully. Just enough sun to make it warm and lovely, just enough breeze to remind you that you're in Seattle and not in Houston.

I knew nothing about the Seattle zoo. Diane apologized that it might not live up to the quality of other zoos I'd visited. I told her about the Eureka zoo and its handful of animals, such a small place that Bill, the chimpanzee was everybody's friend. I told her it didn't matter. I just wanted to see the baby elephant and whatever else we came across would just be the frosting on the cake.

Well, the very first animals we encountered were gorillas. Three adults and a toddler (about a year old). We stood and watched them for a very long time. The baby was just so darn cute, and acted just like a hairy human toddler. The adults were very indulgent. One would kind of stroke him absently, while loooking off into space, another was obviously the mother because the baby would toddle over and nurse for a few minutes. One very "buddha-loooking" gorilla just sat there and looked above it all. The silverback male never woke up, but slept with his back to the viewing window. But the baby was all the show. We hadn't seen a single other animal and already the trip was worth while for me.

As we finally moved on, we came to a sign telling us we were seeing patas monkeys, gold colored cute little things sitting there on rocks eating lettuce. But when I looked up, I realized that they were sitting at the end of a big field (on the map called "African Savanna") and in the background I could see giraffes...then zebra...and then right behind the monkeys--hippos! I have been looking at hippos in zoos all of my life and have never seen more than eyes and nostrils and submerged bodies, as the hippos dozed in the sun. These guys were up...and walking. Unfortunately there was a hill that hid their full bodies, but still I was as excited as a little kid.

We continued walking around the Savanna, which extends for a huge area around the zoo, and got views of the other animals from several angles. At one point we watched a giraffe seem to herd a zebra off to another area. It was the next best thing to being on a photo safari--or driving around the Wild Animal Park in San Diego. (Though the San Diego zoo is one of the best in the country, I liked the Seattle best--the San Diego zoo and the Wild Animal park, being two different places).

We made a half-way stop at a gift shop (of course) and then continued on to find Hansa and her mom. The thing that is so wonderful about this zoo is that it has so much vegetation that you never quite get the feeling that it's a real zoo. You aren't aware of enclosures and other animals, but it's almost like you've stumbled across this wonderful field of rare animals and you get to watch them in their habitat. (The San Diego Wildlife Park is like that, but without the vegetation, so you're always aware of lots of other people and can see the pens you want to explore off in the distance).

The elephants were in the barn, because it was feeding time. It wasn't quite as ideal as seeing them outside in their pen, and it was a little difficult to get photos of a constantly moving elephant behind glass and behind some pillars, but Hansa did pose for me a little...I love the baby elephant mohawk!

We watched the handler feed them, and lead Hansa around the enclosure by her trunk, but apparently they were not going to go outside any time soon, so we moved on.

We next came to the raptor center, where a beautiful bald eagle was sitting on the grass. We discovered that we were just in time for a raptor show, so we stayed. Fascinating show, unexpectedly so, because, for example, the raven that they use kept getting attacked by crows whenever he tried to fly. We watched this in-air battle going on for some time. The crows had a nest nearby and weren't having any of this upstart flying anywhere near their babies, even tho he was just a feathery actor trying to follow his script.

When the raven finished his bit, there were other birds--a couple of owls, a turkey vulture (know why their heads are bare? So they can stick their heads inside the carcasses they are eating.), and then a couple of falcons. Falcon #1 performed well, but Falcon #2 was freaked out by some wild eagles circling overhead. He never did perform, but hey--how often do you get to see wild eagles in flight?? It was as good as the rehearsed show. As Diane pointed out, people in Seattle drive hours to try to find a place where they can see wild eagles, and here we had them flying right over our head, trying to attack a perigrine falcon!

By now it was 2 and we were pretty hungry, so we stopped to get some sustenance and then begin to head for the gate. We'd been there nearly 5 hours and Diane was wearing down--but she'd kept up like a trooper up to that point. We walked past the tiger enclosure on our way out. First time I'd seen tigers outside roaring. A lot! I'm not sure what was up with this tiger, but I decided it was probably female and she had PMS. That's kind of what it looked like.

After a brief stop to laugh at the antics of the penguins, we were headed back to the car and home. It was just the perfect way to spend a day in Seattle--and I recommend that anybody traveling up to this city make the zoo a "must see" on their itinerary!

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