Tuesday, July 09, 2013

San Diego: Part I

Bright blue skies, a light misty fog rolling in from the ocean, the 3pm sun on its way down in to the Pacific.

This was the sight that greeted us as we drove in to San Diego on the I-5. Amma, Appaji, Swadesh, Pranav and I were on our 4th of July weekend road-trip. We had started driving the previous night and stopped for a night cap midway at Bakersfield. The traffic between LA to SD had first been bad and then slow in bursts. Nevertheless we made it by mid-afternoon and headed straight for food.

Hand Carved Wood Bar

Casa Guadalajara, set at the corner of old town San Diego, was a treat to the senses. Vibrant colors, enticing aroma and a happy vibe welcomed us. As for the food -- Appaji (our dad) proclaimed it to be the best Mexican food he had had till date. And none of us could disagree. Pranav was thrilled watching the little sparrows flit from table to table picking crumbs, chirping in delight (I guess?). The sparrows brought back memories of Bangalore in the 80s and early 90s, before the pollution and the noise and the incessant citi-fication drove out all the happy chirpy birds.

After a sumptuous meal, we spent the rest of the afternoon strolling through old town San Diego, exploring the colourful shops selling interesting wares from spicy tamarind candy (Kannada speaking readers, remember kuttundi?) to intricately patterned colourful tiles. A drunk-donkey-in-cowboy-boots wine bottle holder was my favourite of the lot!

We stayed with Harsha & Suhasini, who were wonderful hosts. The comfort and flexibility of a home was especially convenient given we had a precocious 18 month old with us.

The San Diego Zoo Safari Park was our destination the next day. If you are fascinated by wild animals, you will love this place. It is home to over 2600 animals representing more than 300 species. Set in the San Pasqual Valley area of San Diego, the Safari Park is spread across 1800 acres. It is the most spacious zoo I have ever seen or heard of, with animals enclosed in what are called "free-range" enclosures.

Wild animals are best off in the wild. Yes. Yet, zoos are not evil places. Neither are they for frivolous entertainment. They are necessary for conservation and education. The Safari Park has the world's largest veterinary hospital. The park often adopts animals that are in danger of being killed either due to over-population or illness and rehabilitates them in zoos and parks across the United States and sometimes internationally. Its efforts in conservation are among the best in the world. The recovery of the California Condor from the brink of impending extinction is probably the park's most famous conservation effort so far.

Humans are prone to not care if they are not connected to something directly. Zoos, safari parks, game reserves and national parks all play an important role in connecting wildlife to human beings. Yes, for some this is just entertainment, a distraction for their kids, etc. But for many this experience could inspire a dream a passion which otherwise might not have been possible. I view the animals in these zoos and parks as ambassadors of their counterparts in the wild. They inspire an awe for mother nature and concern for the conservation of her creations. The magnitude of this concern in each visitor might vary, but collectively there is enough created to sustain such efforts. Whether they are sufficient, probably not. But they are a step in the right direction and could inspire more such eventually to the point where conservation becomes integral to our lives.

While we enjoyed every bit of the Safari Park - from the towering Giraffes to the massive rhinos - our best time was spent at the elephants' enclosure. Elephants being Pranav's favourite animal, we reached there with enough time to spare in the evening, when the sun was heading down to the western horizon, a cool breeze was playing and we still had energy left to enjoy watching the massive beasts.

There must have been some 12 to 15 elephants in all. But the best of the lot was a baby elephant, probably the youngest, definitely the naughtiest. S/he was rolling in the dirt, sneaking between mama's legs, blowing mud on her cousins and playing just like Pranav does. At one point she looked like she was trying to do a somersault, head to the ground, front knees bent and bum raised up. She playfully butted heads with her cousins, one of whom joined the game, and sneaked up on her as she feigned sleep and tried to pull her up with his trunk! To which the little one jumped up and chased him away pushing with her head and trunk. They could have been a human toddler and a younger sibling playing around in the park. It was fantastic! The most heart warming animal encounter I have ever witnessed including on television! Unfortunately the camera battery ran out and we werent able to capture this on camera.

All in all we had a great time. The lions had all fallen asleep together right next to the glass wall at one end of the enclosure, so we got to see them real up close (the picture doesnt do justice to the view, but you get the idea). The tram ride was good enough to get a great view of the giraffes, rhinos, zebras, wildebeest, bison and all varieties of deer found in the African Savannahs.

The bird show was great. The cheetah run was splendid. After the run Amara the cheetah decided to sit right in front of us in the shade to savour her meaty-treat. Literally 5 feet away with no mesh, no glass, no nothing to block the view! We got to see her reach from 0-60 in under 4 seconds twice. Neat or what!!

Here are a few more pictures.

Pranav couldnt hug Amara, so he made do with her counterpart at the souvenier store.

Here is how Swadesh and I match up to an adult gorilla.

Pranav went bonkers for the hot-air balloon. For a good one hour he kept pointing at it saying baal baal. Here he is with amma & appaji watching it rise up in to the air...or rather making ajji-tata watch the balloon and use their distraction to grab amma's glasses!

And this is Swadesh and me in front of the park map at the entrance.

San Diego travels to be continued....