Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Get yer pith helmet

Let's finish up my San Diego trip report.

When you get to the fourth day you're a little glad that it's almost over, but you don't want to give up just yet. Especially if you're going somewhere as special as the San Diego Safari Park (formerly known as the Wild Animal Park).

If you've never been it's a huge treat. They have miles and miles of land to let the animals roam and interact as naturally as possible (without letting carnivores thin out the herds). As you can imagine, maintaining all this land and many hundreds of animals isn't cheap, and they monetize it however they can.

Included in the admission is a ride on the Africa Tram Safari, the basic tour of the vast Africa area. From there, the list of specialized tours is long and specialized. You can take the Cart Safari for a more personal experience with a smaller group. You can get a close look at the cheetahs, or feed the rhinos and giraffes with your own hands. You can fly on ziplines above the area or climb through the trees on suspended logs and ropes. You can go behind the scenes to see the vet stations and breeding programs. You can even camp out overnight. There are many more special experiences, and each one come with its own considerable price tag. It's all to benefit this non-profit so it comes guilt-free.

We decided that once we had finished with the Africa Tram we would take the Cart Safari through the Asia area. That, along with the more traditional zoo-style exhibits for smaller animals, would be plenty for us on our last day out before heading home. (I have daydreams of coming back in a few years and climbing through those trees with an older child.)

Theo's love of vehicles translated into fascination with the tram itself. Spotting animals along out tour wasn't too difficult, though sometimes you'd have to get the right angle to spot a baby snuggled with its mother. There were a lot of attempts to get Theo to see things, and for most of it he wasn't super cooperative. He didn't want to sit in a lap or be picked up at stops, and after a bit, we had to just let him be.

The Cart Safari through Asia went much better for him. The very comfy, over-sized golf cart held less than a dozen people. The open sides and lower stance made it much less claustrophobic than the large tram, feeling more like a real safari in a jeep, and bringing us closer to the action. Theo dug the motion of the ride and was more interested in the animals as well. Our guide was very knowledgeable, too, making this tour worthwhile for all of us.

One might think that all the bang at this place was in the tours and large spaces but one would be mistaken. There were amazing things everywhere and we didn't even get to half of it. There was a lemur enclosure with no barriers between you and the animals, much like an aviary. We found a spot to watch the scheduled cheetah run - pretty amazing to see it in action. Theo and his cousin were delighted when we fed the lorikeets, who were lovely and very friendly to humans, though rather competitive with each other.

We happened upon a couple of meet 'n greets with handlers bringing animals out for a talk, including the adorable, fluffy African Pygmy Falcon, smallest of the falcons and no bigger than a sparrow; and the Three-Banded Armadillo, which ran around and around us on stubby legs then curled up into a perfect ball when picked up.

We saw lovely large fruit bats stretching their wings to span 3 feet, cute fennec foxes drowsing cozily, the incredibly small dik-dik, the tiniest of deer - it's these types of animals that capture my imagination.

Just thinking about the end of that day makes my mind groggy and my limbs ache. So. Very. Tired. As made our way out we were half-joking about how we can't wait to get back to our boring day-to-day. Putting ourselves out there is a lot of work. Truly experiencing life often isn't a vacation.

In the days that followed our trip Theo kept mentioning how much he loved staying in the hotel with his cousin, aunt and uncle next door to us. We kept all the park maps and he loves going over them again and again, discussing what we did, what we missed, what we'll do "next time". We're still much too close to even consider planning another one, but it won't be long. Eventually, you forget the hard part and only remember the fun part. I mean, look at this last post, I left nearly all the tough bits out, and it's been less than a month! ;-) I can be a determined homebody, a lazy lump, a complainer and an anxious over-planner, but with notches like this on my belt, I don't think anyone would figure that, and that's a good thing.

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