Sunday, March 11, 2012

San Diego - Day Three

Today we just couldn’t stomach the youth hostel feel of the included hotel breakfast. It isn’t that it was bad but we are used to a little better. So off we went to The Broken Yolk, which we had seen on Food Network or Travel Channel at some point as really good breakfast food in San Diego. Suffice to say, damage was done and it was delicious. I had the French toast with scrambled egg on the side and it was wonderful, just perfect, and it lasted me well through lunch time at the Safari Park, which was an added bonus. Plus cheap…OJ plus entrée was $15. Very nice. We grabbed an iced coffee at a nearby Starbucks (thank you Starbucks app for “Find a Store” functionality!) and off we went, at the mercy of my GPS Guy, to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

We had another gorgeous day here, bright blue sky and bright sun and at 9:00 a.m. already 60+ degrees. Smartly for once I really covered up with sunblock just so I would not suffer needlessly with a burn. The Safari Park is unforgiving in terms of shade. Seriously, once you’re out there, you’re out there…there’s no hiding from the sun. It got sufficiently warm that I was glad I brought shorts and was comfortable most of the day.

The way the park is set up is that there are a few large areas, like for Africa and Asia, that you can see from viewpoints within the park but the animals are quite a ways off (like rhinos and giraffes) and you can’t get closer on foot. Then there are some enclosures where the animals are moderately close (like gorillas and lions) and some enclosures where the animals are between way off and moderately close but hard to find (like tigers). So at no point are you ever really close like you might be at a zoo. I mention this only because it is obvious that this is not really meant for little kids, who surprisingly, are being forced into strollers and pushed through a park for a day where they can see very little that they might enjoy.

We headed straight for the lions, as I am a big fan of the big cats. It was no surprise that they were sound asleep. They had two females and a male and all were out cold already that early. I would also find the cheetahs asleep as well as most of the gorillas. But if there is one thing I’ve learned in all my following animals, it is that they are not predictable and you can’t count on them for anything. Whatever happens, happens. We also walked a ways to find the tiger enclosure, and the one tiger we could see was so far off, it was even hard to see him with the zoom on my camera. Again, I’m happy at his living conditions, but disappointed a bit as a fan of the cats.

Anyway, there is an African Tram that is included with the price of admission, which will take you around some of the nearer parts of the Africa area so you might reach the further edges of the areas you cannot reach on foot. That was pretty cool. It is obvious that the animals are in a very natural and very spacious environment here that at least attempts to more closely replicate their natural habitat and living conditions, minus any pairings that might lead to some sort of predator-victim type situation. That would not be good for business, I wouldn’t think. I enjoyed the tram well enough, but did wish for a bit more up close and personal like we had at the zoo. The Caravan Safari that we did was just that.

For a somewhat steep extra fee, we climbed on to the back of a safari truck with 12 others and went with our guide right out into the middle of the Asian and African areas of the park. This was very exclusive access only for those crazy enough to pay for it. The safari went off road and thrust us right into the animal world. The big draws though were the chance to feed giraffes and rhinos. One of the first stops was in the midst of a group of giraffes. The guide called to a few of them and showed them a bucket of acacia leaves. One by one, each of us went to the back of the truck and got to hand feed the leaves to the giraffe. Its big purple tongue would wrap around my fingers as I fed it leaves and its beautiful, long-lashed eyes looked right at me. I had no idea how tall a giraffe is until I was standing at the back of the truck and it STILL towered over me! They are just such gorgeous creatures, I’m sure I have never properly appreciated them until now. Very cool.

Jeanne, our guide, was very passionate about conservation and the park, but also the rhinos. She was so passionate that she managed to inject a little of that into each of us. We spent quite a bit of time with the rhinos, and she called to them as well and we hand fed them slices of apple. Today wasn’t nearly as messy as yesterday, I think because we got to throw it into their open mouth rather than push it into their upper lip like we did at the zoo. It was pretty neat though. And Jeanne seemed to know all the stories and “dirt” on the rhinos, like which female mated with a male when she first saw him and who is pregnant now and who is grouchy and who isn’t. It seems to be just like with any animal, I suppose.

Along our way, we saw some territory disputes both within and between species. One between a buffalo and wildebeest early this morning was very dramatic. Others between smaller deer were more persistent but not as dramatic. There were some signs of mating behavior, with males chasing females. With all this going on, this must really be a neat place to work. Yes, I’m jealous.

After two hours of roaming about with the animals up close and personal, we were ready for a quick snack. It was already 2:30 and we were about safari-ed out. We got a quick bite to eat in the park and then hit the road again. We decided to stop at a vineyard, Orfila, that we saw on the way to the safari park. For $10 the winery let us pick six of their wines to taste. Surprisingly, I fell for two whites and none of their reds, which is very unlike me. Unfortunately they cannot ship to my home state, so I bought one bottle of the white and will hope for the best with it in my luggage on my way home.

The drive back to San Diego was quick and painless and we got here in time to make a quick shopping stop at Hard Rock Café and have a margarita at a nearby bar. Our reservation tonight was at Bandar, a Persian restaurant in the Gaslamp District. The restaurant was pretty nice overall. I was unsure what to expect never having had Persian food before. We had hummus as an appetizer which was ok. My entrée was fabulous though. It was 8 large chunks of chicken that had been marinated in some citrus, it seems, and served with black cherry rice. It was really very good. I followed it up with a sinful triple fudge cake. Woo.

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