I awoke at 8am, once again to a dull and dismally wet morning, but this didn't seem to discourage me, for today I had a visit to the Oregon Zoo to look forward to. It's been years- literally- since I've set foot in one, and although I wasn't expecting the whole experience to be any different from my childhood recollections, I was still looking forward to seeing how America does the whole 'zoo' thing. A short walk through Washington Park would lead me there. I had thought about taking the small forest train, but it didn't seem to be running. It was certainly more humid today than it has been recently, which didn't make hiking inclinations any easier, and for once I welcomed a nice Alaskan subzero breeze.
If every zoo in America is like Oregon Zoo, then I'm very impressed. It's been a fantastic day, and to think that for the last few days I've been less than a few miles away from some of the most incredible and some of the most endangered animals on this planet. The structure of the zoo, for a geographer, is an interesting one too. Animals are grouped by continent and the enclosures are shaped moreover into the shape of that particular continent. What's more, in such a small space, there's such a diverse array of both popular and remarkably abnormal species here. I can't possibly go through each and every one, so I've decided to pick my top favourite five.
At the very pinnacle of my zoo experience today, it has to be the bears. It's funny; for three months in Alaska, they were a day to day occupational hazard, things to avoid, things to be weary of. Today, despite the fact they were in an enclosure, I still couldn't believe that they were within ten feet of me. Although I didn't see a Grizzly (that would have been the cherry on the cake) I did, as it happens, see a fairly large black bear; much bigger than the one I had seen on the train that day in Alaska. Aswell as the black bear, was the Herculean nine foot high Polar Bear. Glad I didn't come across one of those in Alaska! A child, part of a school group I reckoned, asked her teacher, "Do they eat meat?" I felt like telling her that they can (and have) eaten humans.
From the ferocious black and polar bears, came a exhibit where ironically you could actually get close to the animals. On the map, it was described as 'The Farm' and indeed, it was a little bit like one. A disused tractor stood outside, and scattered by the light breeze were untidy piles of straw. It was like being back in Norfolk! Inside a wooden farmyard, in one single enclosure, were quite a few goats, all varying slightly. They all seemed to think my arrival meant feeding time, and that I was the special visiting zoo ranger for the day!
The countryside essence of the farmyard soon faded into one of aromatic spice, as I left the goats to await the official ranger and made my way to the 'Africa' enclosure. It was probably the most diverse section of the park, with animals ranging from the small 'blink-and-you-miss-it' bat and scorpian to the Zebra, the Giraffe and the Hippo. As I made my way round, I couldn't help but wonder if these native African animals were cold in just 50 degrees F, just as Californians would feel cold in Alaska and Canada. They seemed content enough; the Giraffes munched on grass stashed high up on a fence, the Zebras idled around their enclosure, and the Hippos took intermittent dips into the rather small pool of water they had been provided with. One of the Hippos yawned, and by momentarily seeing the size of its teeth, I decided that a visit to Africa could never be a solitary one!
Although there wasn't any 'tiger walk' where one could travel above the enclosures and obtain bird's eye view shots of the animals, some exhibits did have a small see-through dome. I must admit being 18 years old (and soon to be 19) I felt a little outgrown for these interactive opportunities, but it did get me a great shot.
Ok, so it may have not taught me anything about Portland's culture, but it's nice to do these things sometimes; especially on a rainy day like today. Tomorrow is my last day in Portland, so a very busy day as I conclude my sightseeing here, and then Eugene awaits. From what I've been told aswell, Eugene should be a very interesting experience indeed!