Sunday 11 January 2004

Honeymoon - Day 3 - The Zoo

Getting to the zoo was a bit of a challenge. The guidebook listed a couple of different was to get there, so using a detailed map we picked the one that looked the easiest, but when we got to that bus terminal there was a sign posted that said the bus we needed only ran on Sundays and public holidays. As this was a Saturday, we had to go to the next terminal, about a 10-12 minute metro ride away. Alas, we got there, got on the right bus, and were off to the zoo!!

At the zoo, we met these two really nice guys who had two extra free passes they got at school, and upon hearing that it was our honeymoon let us have them as a kind of a wedding present which was very very nice of them. I would have liked to have gotten to know these two guys a little bit better, but they went their own way after we got through the gates.

A few words about the zoo: there are very few cages as such, instead they rely on "natural" barriers, such as moats (with water and without), tree and brush lines, etc to keep the various animals in their little areas, and many are allowed

completely free reign of the park (some monkeys, most birds, some reptiles, etc). Also, usually, more than one type of animal exists in each area, giving it more of a biosphere feel. This concept does two things: 1) lets you get very close to the animals, but still stay safe; 2) Keeps the animals happier--even the big cats looked content. I absolutely fell in love with this zoo. Fabulous, fabulous place.

At this point, Stephen and I picked up a map of the zoo, and decided to pay the small fee (less than 2 USD) to ride the trolley, thinking it would give us some useful information on the zoo's inhabitants and allow us to see all of the exhibits. Not only did the trolley move too quickly for picture taking, but the information that it pro ported to provide was scanty to say the least; much more useful for getting around the zoo, rather than really seeing it. So we hopped off at the next stop, and footed it, which turned out to work really well.

I don't know that I can remember all of the animals that we saw, because this zoo is amazingly huge, but they had quite a few species that you don't typically see in American zoos (in my experience). The zoo "specializes" in primates, so they had three large areas dedicated to them: one specifically for Orangutans (no I didn't get to have breakfast with them), one for Baboons, and one large area that probably had 7-8 different species each in their own little sub-section. The Organutans were probably my favorite. There was this one in particular that had gotten a hold of a burlap sack and was throughly amused with it. Great thing to watch!! There were several baby orangutans as well, and although you could tell the animals were used to humans from a far, the mothers of the little ones got pretty anxious at one point and bundled them off to a secluded area. Another great thing about this zoo--the animals can "escape" if they get overwhelmed or scared. No wonder most of the animals seem healthier here than in almost any other zoo I've been to.

There was also this little area that was more enclosed (but still pretty big) that was called "The Fragile Forest" that simulated the edge of a rainforest. Inside they had lots of birds and a ton of butterflies!! Easily hundreds of them--enchanting really--like walking into a fairy tale. After breaking free of the trance of the butterflies, I noticed in the upper corner of the area there were these large fuzzy creatures that turned out to be giant bats!! These bats were easily the size of small house cats. But very tame, and mostly holding still as it was their feeding time. There were also several sloths and two tree kangaroos!! The tree kangaroos were quite cute, and just like regular kangas, except with long claws for climbing.

After seeing many more animals, we came to the center of the zoo that had some eateries, so we decided to stop for lunch. The nice thing is that unlike most zoos, the food was not over priced, and wow was it tasty!! They had this tandoori chef (Indian) that was amazing- he cooked everything to order (with a bit of pre-prep admittedly) and it was beyond good. Stephen and I split an order of chicken tikka (came with a cucumber type salad and mint chutney- mmmmm mint chutney), garlic nan, and vegetable curry. Stephen even went back for seconds!! (for those of you who know his typical appetite, know this is quite a statement) Even two days later he's commenting on how good it was.

So with full tummies and rehydrated we continued through the rest of the zoo. The zoo doesn't have a very large water exhibit, in fact it's the smallest setting with the fewest animals: dozen penguins, four sea lions, two manatees and various pelicans and other birds of that type. Being in a very humid and tropical climate, I can see how it would be difficult to maintain healthy animals that typically like cold wet weather.

Else where there were Pygmy Hippos (with a newborn), regular Kangaroos (I was surprised at how small they were), Baboons, Elephants (newest addition) and surrounding the largest Primate area there was this moat. Beside the moat there was a sign that said: "Please do not feed the fish. Bites can cause serious injury." So, Stephen scoffed a bit, doing his little rant thing, and then we noticed a zoo guy with a large bucket of fish and a stick coming up to the edge of the water. We thought maybe he was going to feed the monkeys, until he stuck a fish on the end of the stick, held it over the water and this huge splash occurred that coincided with the disappearance of the fish. Turns out the moat is populated with 6 Giant Arapaimas that average 1.8 meters long (~6 feet), and about as big around as a decent sized tree (bigger around than most trees in NW Oklahoma). They are the largest fresh water fish in the world, typically found in the amazon river. They're also beautiful fish, with red streaks around the edges of their scales. Ugly faces though, but one is allowed to be less than pretty when you can devour most other species in a single bite. Now we know why they don't need fences in the primate complex, though I wonder how many monkeys they lost to the giant fish.

After wondering through the rest of the zoo, and getting most of the exhibits it was nearly 4:30, and we decided to head back to town to change for dinner. We had originally planned to visit an orchid farm on the way back, but decided instead to focus on the botanical gardens the next day, that had a huge orchid area. So we passed on the orchids in the near time.

We took a different bus back to the metro (different station too, but no worries), and this bus took us through the residential sections of Singapore, which were very interesting. There were obvious differences in housing, but it all seemed to be mixed together and none of the complexes seemed to be truly slum-like. They also had banners advertising all kinds of classes: English comprehension, Children's Robotics, etc. We also passed a *huge* library to rival in size most small universities. Very nice.

At the bus stop was a kind of shopping bazaar, and we got a soy-milk peanut honey snack, that was interesting. Still not sure if I liked it, but it hit the spot for the time being.

We decided to hit Boat Quay for dinner and drinks, supposedly a hot night spot right on the bay. It didn't take long after our arrival to find a tasty restaurant for the famed local Black Pepper crab. The wait staff, while very attentive (I thought it was a bit of over-kill with the hovering and obsessive filling of our glasses after two sips, but Stephen found fabulous) didn't speak English as well as they could have, and I must have misunderstood something, because the next thing I knew the maitre-d was holding a live crab next to my ear! So after a bit of shock and stammering I got through to him that that particular specimen would be just fine for my dinner. I think he wanted me to touch the blasted thing, but the squirming mass of legs and unchecked claws were a bit of a hinderance. No groping of my pre-cooked dinner, thank you. Low-class probably, but hey, at least I have all my digits intact, though it probably should have been a clue that my social graces may not quite have been up to the task at hand.

When they served the fabulous concoction of legs, spices and meat, they also brought out a nut cracker too small to fit around most of the part needing cracking, chopsticks, a linen napkin and something resembling a cross between an escargot fork and a crowbar. It didn't take long for me to kindly request a fork and knife and ponder how I was going to get at the tastiness inside the shell without getting it all over the table cloth and my blouse. Stephen and I both commented that we had never before eaten crab at an establishment that did not also provide bibs. Yeah, this was going to be an experience. Soooooo, with a marked lack of grace and a bit of good ole American brashness I dived into the crab, which was possibly the best thing I had eaten in months. Just the right balance of spice and sweetness, my mouth still waters at the thought of it, though I'm sure the maitre-d still cringes at the sight of me with fingers, fork, cracker and escargot-fork-thing attacking his chef's culinary masterpiece. It got so bad that they eventually brought me a finger bowl, which was greatly appreciated, but none of the crab ended up on the tablecloth or my blouse!! (I consider that a great accomplishment, thank you) And I got as much of the meat out of the sucker as I could find--and it was worth all the work.

After tipping them well, and expressing our thanks we walked down the rest of Boat Quay (pronounced like "key") being accosted by various people wanting us to dine, dance or drink at the various clubs, bars and restaurants. We eventually landed at a little coffee shop for dessert and coffee/tea. Very tasty, though I'm sure they made the cheesecake with soy rather than real milk products. Not the first time we've come across this either. Singaporians have a heavy dose of soy in their diets that's for sure. After eating and drinking and people-watching, we decided to take the short walk back to our hotel rather than the metro, and enjoy the lovely night.

The walk was pleasantly uneventful, as only it could be in Singapore at 11:30 at night, with only the sounds of traffic and construction breaking the night silence. It still amazes me how utterly clean even the gutters are here.

So arriving back at our hotel, we hit the sack to get ready for another fun filled day.