Saturday, August 18, 2007

Our Visit to the San Diego Zoo

I am no militant animal rights activist, but I feel pretty passionately about the subject, specially when it comes to issues such as animal cruelty, most predominantly in circuses and puppy mills.

I understand that the idea of keeping a wild animal in captivity is not quite right, it's not fair at all to the animal's inherent right to freedom and domain of his own territory and life. However, we've already fucked up the planet enough that sometimes an animal's territory and free life are not what's best for its survival and well-being. That's why I'm not 100% against zoos. During my visit, the San Diego Zoo convinced me that they too feel that way in the most part, and the animals they keep, even if their space is much more limited than what a free range would be, are healthy and well cared for.

Besides, and this is the selfish, Elmyra-like part of me talking: I like seeing animals up-close, specially those I haven't seen before. It gives me a rush to the head like few other things do.

The San Diego zoo is huge like none I've previously visited. I haven't seen all that many zoos. To be honest, I've only visited the Zoológico de Mayagüez (the main Puerto Rican zoo), the zoo inside the Science Park in Bayamón (terribly depressing, I'm amazed they haven't been shut down), the Matecaña Zoo in Pereira and the Miami Metro Zoo (a free-range zoo, most probably bigger than the San Diego Zoo, but I was way too young when I visited, so I don't remember too well). Thing is, I wasn't quite ready for the vastness of the zoo. More than half a day wasn't enough to see everything there was to see. We missed the big cats and the monkeys, for example. However, they have set tourist traps outside every main attraction. I think that's a way of not only selling every plushie, keychain, resin figurine and t-shirt imaginable, but it's also a way to guarantee that no one will get to see the whole zoo in a single day, so they'll buy a 2-day or 3-day pass for the next time.

Our main goal for the day was to NOT get lost inside the zoo, and at least that we achieved. We got on the tour trolley as soon as we got inside, just to get a gist of how the zoo was laid out. In spite of our best common sense, we sat on the top tier of the bus. I got a nice sunburn on my arms as a result, but we got to see some of the exhibits from a nice vantage point. No big cats nor monkeys, though. They like the dark, apparently, so their exhibits are not as easily accessible or viewable.

I tried to take as many pictures as possible from the vantage point the top tier offered, but the point came fast enough in which I was so amazed by everything that I didn't know where to look, much less where to point the camera lens. So Eze took the camera from my hands and took some pictures himself.
A spectacled ape
Yay for a smiling and confused Diana!

After the trolley, we got on the Skyfari (an aerial tram), which would have been totally fun, but instead was totally hilarious, as I realized Eze is pretty nervous about unsecured heights. I laughed all the way to the other side of the zoo. Yes, I'm evil that way.

We then visited the polar bear exhibit: a huge tank with some rocks and overhangs to provide shade for the bears. The special part is that the tank has an observation room that allows the public to view a side section of the water as well, so we could enjoy what was going on underwater just the same as what was going on at the top. At that hour, the little Coca-Cola pals were having some nap time, however. I was amazed at how much they look like dogs, not ferocious at all. I guess I'd be of a different mind if I were stranded in the Arctic pole (or on the island of Lost).

After that we ambled around a bit, ate some cheap-ass churros (after tasting some decent copies in here, having imitation churros at a zoo park is a lukewarm experience at best). Caught some four-legged, hooved friends, including the ever-so-hailed zebra - which is just like a donkey glorified by very funky stripes.

One of the biggest highlights of the trip to the zoo was seeing the pandas. Pandas are said to be on the verge of extinction, mainly because of their refusal to have sex (therefore procreate), plus they insist on eating only bamboo, which is a very frail plant that gets wiped out with incredible regularity. It seems to be a species bent on self destruction, just like us humans. I guess that's why we:
1) insist on meddling in their affairs and keep them in captivity, every once in a while goading them to fuck, utilizing increasingly weird methods of encouragement, and
2) get all teary-eyed, sympathetic and soft-hearted at the sight of one of these distant cousins to the raccoons. However, when we see a raccoon, we can't help but thing of garbage, go figure!

Crunch-a-munch Panda
However stupidly suicidal as this species seems to be, having them so close was almost magical... and I couldn't stop thinking of my sister all the while.

There was also the issue of the kiwi. I really wanted to see one of them, SO much, principally to take a few pictures to show my brother (he has been nicknamed "Kiwi" since he was 14 years old). We deviated from the fastest route and took the most up-hill trekk to be able to see these birds. I was SO curious, I had never seen one of these up-close. I arrived to the exhibit only to be greeted by a slab of metal, a note on kiwis, saying that these are nocturnal birds and that the exhibit had been set up with a lighting scheme similar to moonlight, to increase to probability of the kiwis showing during open hours. GODDAMMIT! The exhibit was fucking dark as hell, and worse yet, no kiwis showed! >-( Goddamned antisocial animals!

Resignation - Kiwi & I
Yep! That's a very frustrated Diana, trying to be contented with having a picture taken with a fucking board...

One new favorite animal after this trip? The meerkats! I was very surprised by these fellas. I was under the impression that these animals were as big as a small dog, but when I saw these bite-sized bundles of playfulness, I was hooked. They're small, they're cute, they're playful and they're carefree. For the time we were there, three or four meerkats were playing around under the sun, tumbling and running onto each other and flopping belly-up to bask in the sunlight. They made a fan out of me in a couple of minutes!

Finally we stopped by the elephant pen: two Asian elephants and an African one share a relatively small territory. I don't know how they pull it off, and it seems as if the reduced space has kept the elephants from growing into their full-fledged glory. Or maybe as an adult I've grown to expect things as majestic as elephants to be as huge to my eyes as they were to my 8-year-old self.

We wrapped it up by visiting the koala exhibit. Funny thing is, while the koalas held behind acrylic sheets were stuffing their faces, the ones sitting in their trees outside were all curled up in their sleep in an exactly identical fashion. These little critters seemed fragile to me, not in a baby-cute way, but in an old-geezer-who-needs-your-elbow-to-stand-up sort of way. It's like getting a grandpa wrapped up in extra-fuzz.

We left the zoo with lighter wallets, but we at least got the idea that next time we should dedicate more time to the visit, and maybe even give more attention to the Wild Animal Park.

BTW: You can visit my Flickr set of our visit to the San Diego Zoo and get the whole gist of the paseo: I took tons of pictures and included more than a few comments. So feel free to drop by, look around and leave comments ;-)

Friday, August 10, 2007

Our Visit to San Diego - The Town

That's better!, originally uploaded by dhevi_anais.

We got to San Diego on Tuesday (July 24th) at midnight. Ravenous, thanks to the overprice of airport food and the hairline slit of a time frame between connecting flights, we were oh-so-thankful when we realized, already in the room, that there was at least one pizzeria available for delivery until 3am. Nothing could have prepared us for the kind of yuckiness such pizza would possess: it was progressively bad as you ate it, until at the end you were only minutes away from disemboweling your disgust at the porcelain throne. Hahahah! Thankfully, the rest of the trip fared much better, food-wise.

The free breakfast was way better, as Pepe can attest! Thank you, Pepe! The offer was "Free Continental Breakfast", and I was expecting a deluge of fruit and seeds, like a huge trail mix on a plate. I was pleased to find that they also included cereal, pastries, muffins and a small toaster oven.

The first day, we went immediately to find our feet: bought a 4-Day Tripper and saw a bit of downtown San Diego, before heading for the Zoo (I will talk at length about the Zoo on a later post). After the Zoo, we headed immediately to the convention center for Comic-Con Preview Night (I will also talk at length about the Comic-Con on a later later post). At the end of all that flurry of activity, we were tired and incredibly hungry again (the San Diego Zoo doesn't offer a great variety of fair-priced, healthy, hearty meals ... just nachos, fajitas and churros, and all of it is junk-food quality and overpriced. The convention center didn't have any food stands open either, I think. So after some bickering and dawdling, we finally plopped our sorry and tired asses on a sports bar/restaurant named the Lobster Baja Burrito mutherfucker ... No, that's not the actual name, but it was equally long and I didn't keep a memento to remind me. The food was yummy, fairly priced, and abundant. I was a happy camper, and I think my travel buddies were happy as well. We went to sleep full and contented.

After that, the rest of the trip was mainly about the Comic-Con. For the next couple of days, we woke up at about 7am had our Free Continental Breakfast, and headed for the convention center. On Thursday, we decided to visit the Horton Plaza, a sort of mall in a totally different style from the ones I've seen so far in my life and travels: it has steps and levels all over, pretty but confusing! Pepe says he visited one just like that in L.A. I wonder if that's the ways malls are all over California...

We found another gastronomic haven at the Horton Plaza that night: the something-something Café (sorry, my memory is hideously bad when the rest of the body is taking over all the energy), which is sort of like a deli-style market with a small grill outside. We ate ... a LOT. I'll have to say: when they advertise grain bread, they DO mean grain. It was unnerving to feel thick, chewy seeds inside my sandwich. The grilled chicken alfredo pasta (cold!) was awesome, and I finally had my first Cherry Coke ever! I bought a Cherries n' Cream soda and a canned cold "frappuccino" drink from Cinnabon for the road (they were good too!). I also tried their berry parfait: not so good.

On Friday night we took the wrong bus, ended up pretty far from the hotel, had to take a taxi all the way back. It was a creepy experience, mostly because (in the bus) I sat in front of a guy that at first sight looked all normal and primped. After a while I noticed he was laughing to himself for no apparent reason (no Bluetooth hands-free cell phone system nor headphones were on sight) and he was also sucking his thumb (a full grown man!) and fondling his own chest. Ew!!! and Weird!!! After that, I couldn't fully gather my nerves again that night.

Saturday was the oddest day: we woke up at 3:50 to head out as early as possible to the convention center (that day the Battlestar Galactica and Heroes panels were to be held). We had the bestest of days there, topped off by a nice and cheap meal at the resident (fish) taco place: Rubio's Mexican Grill. It was more than fairly priced, the fish taco was decent (at least) and the rest of the food was quite yummy. We visited once more before heading back home, just so you know. We even wished we had the money to bring the franchise to Puerto Rico, it would dethrone Taco Maker and Taco Bell in the bat of an eyelash.

Sunday and Monday were sort of wind-down days: Eze and I didn't leave bed until past 9 am. Both days we totally missed breakfast hour, but bless Mari and Pepe! they brought us some breakfast to the room (talk about friendly room service!) On Sunday we ventured far into Gaslamp street and ambled into a small, posh restaurant (don't remember the name either). The prices were a bit hefty, so I ordered a prosciutto pizza (nice! topped with red onions and goat cheese, although it irked me that they put the prosciutto in the pizza before cooking it, so the ham was sort of over-salty and chewy ... a total pet peeve of mine).

On Monday, to while a bit of time away before leaving for the airport, Mari and I walked a block from the hotel to a local Salvation Army thrift shop. I left with 5 "new" shirts (of which 4 turned out to be pretty decent buys for $3.50 apiece) and a few other trinkets. We arrived at the airport at 3 pm to wait for our flight, which left at 10 pm. Pretty long wait but the San Diego airport is pretty comfy and it offers a few decent-priced options for food.

I was sad to leave, I always am. Leaving is my least favorite part of a trip. Both flights (going and coming back) were horrendous. The Economy-Class seats at Delta and US Airways are terribly uncomfortable and narrow, and damn the day they decided to start scrimping on food! Snacks and drinks at airplanes now are a joke! Even the peanuts are bad. Plus we had a small incident with one of the flight attendants from Delta. I wouldn't bother saving a few bucks to fly with them again. It's not worth it.

So, my take on San Diego?

A nice place to visit, it's incredibly near to Mexico (one of the trolley lines, the Blue Line, goes all the way to Tijuana ... haaa! How I would have loved to make that trip!), and it shows mainly on the food. The climate is bizarre: the sun heats you up and makes you sweat, but the breeze is chilly. I'm surprised I didn't get sick. People there are terminally nice and customer service is incredibly great at large!

The views and the scenery are what you would expect of a city lining a docking bay: boats and seagulls abound, and sunsets are quite tranquil and pretty. Nothing much that is missing in this island, though. Only detail is that the city is cleaner and more orderly (and, of course, this being California, you have way much more chances of running into the beautiful and famous - not an exceptionally great plus to me). It's expensive, and the people there seem to be living life much more preoccupied with how they look than with what they think. Maybe I'm mistaken, though.

I noticed two distinct social classes: the upscale rich kids, visiting Old Town for an afternoon of shopping, and the Mexicans, either obviously service workers and maids, or kids out into the other part of town that's somewhat less refined, less touristic - the part of town I would have liked to get to know better.

Train/Trolley/Bus Station
BTW: Trains got to me. Line cars were pretty and quaint - I had never seen one in real life. But trains are something else. I had seen the Metro at NYC, which is wonderfully engrossing and I will forever be in love with it. But the train in San Diego was the first actual freight train I've seen in my life. I couldn't have fathomed the length of these vehicles, and no one could have conveyed to me the attention their prescence commands ... at least the attention they command from me. I'm in love with trains. That much I can say.

I'm helplessly in love with New York City, this much I could surmise by visiting yet another place that does not fulfill and does not command the heart the same way New York has.

But fun was had, the company was insurmountably great... would do it again in a heartbeat. But let me rest for a year before ... the flight over there is too long and restless.

Also: I read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows during my trip: FUCK Mrs. Rowlings! I feel cheated ...

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Teaser for Memoirs on San Diego Comic Con 2007

I'm back on track, back at work, back to same ol' same ol'... after a week of travel, of discovering what it's like on the west side.

We attended the Comic Con on a year in which attendance was estimated to be a little over 123,000 individuals. It felt like it alright. Crowds were mind-bogglingly large, lines were overlong, and after 5 days of experiencing the warmth of a small town squeezed into an auditorium, I definitely needed to decompress.

I finally got to see a live panda and more than a few koalas curled up in their sleep. I learned a few things about a certain Australian bird and hugged a metal bear. I met a man that changed my life as a child, and without meaning to, I made his day. I saw an absurd amount of movie trailers and previews, some of which turned my eyes into starry orbs with wonderment, but of which I only remember the names of very few.

We (Eze, Pepe, Mari and I) shared our funds for food and other supplies, shared cheap sandwiches and bad pizza, shared a lot of time together, had good times, had arguments, but all in all we had a blast.

Later on, I will be posting pictures and a full recount (up to what my memory will allow) very soon.