Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Nagasaki Road Trip Part 3: A Little Bit of Monkey Business...


Note from the Blogger: I highly recommend that you read the Nagasaki posts in order. There are references that build on each other and you may not get the full effect of my attempts at humor otherwise. Click here for the previous post.

While I love to eat, and just about anything “American” is appreciated by those of us overseas, except the crime, my highlight of the Sasebo/Nagasaki Veteran’s Day trip was not the navy base, the Dunkin Donuts or the Chilis Presidente Margarita (although I think the margarita was a close second.) No, the highlight of the trip for me was Bio Park, a zoo where you can interact with nearly everything furry, feathery or crabby. Of course, we were traveling, so I was already interacting with a crab... my spouse, who does not like to travel. And yes, oddly enough, his astrological sign is Cancer. Go figure. But I was looking forward to furry and feathery, too. I was not disappointed.

I had not heard of Bio Park until Saturday night when the spouse and I happened to chat up a sailor working a second job as a bar manager at the Sasebo base arcade/adult-beverage-oasis-for-weary parental-travelers. We actually wanted to ask him about the base dress code (or lack there of… my grisly 17-year Marine was about to have a vein in his forehead pop after seeing some of the sailors’ attire in the restaurants on base. While I can usually laugh stuff like that off, wearing sweat pants and a wife beater undershirt as your buddy wears baggy pants that would show his butt crack if he wasn’t wearing gray boxer briefs, in a pizza restaurant got more of a snort than a laugh from me. And I’m not allowed to wear a shirt that shows too much of my back in MCAS Iwakuni establishments?!? Something's not quite right here. But, I digress….) but we ended up finding out about Bio Park, which was really a lot more productive than the other conversation would have been.

Since our big plans for Sunday were to eat at Chilis for dinner… again… and that was about it, we penciled in Bio Park. The forecast said rain, and we almost didn’t take the 45-minute drive to the park, but I am glad we did – the weather held out for us. A good thing since 85% of the park is completely outdoors. The other 15 percent is a tiny insectarium and domed botanical garden. For your reference, Google maps on the iPhone took us right there from Sasebo and the park’s English website is here.

Greeting you out from is an alpaca and these two parrots, one of which attempted to say hello when I kept repeating the word. Of course, it probably spoke Japanese, but I couldn't get Google Translate to put "Polly want a cracker?" into Japanese for me. Siri wasn't having it.

The park is designed to be a complete wandering loop through the different attractions. Just follow the path and you'll end up at the front gate again in a couple of hours. Being Americans, we followed the loop to get the gist the first time, then sped through the loop the second time, hurdling over large groups of school children (not too hard, even for Xan. The Japanese are fairly small people) to see the things we wanted to check out again. These are some of the things I found interesting:

I loved the domed gardens. There were orchids in nearly every color - absolutely gorgeous. But it was a bit humid.

I don't think I have ever seen a pineapple growing before... it's a spiky bush. Who knew?

I don't remember what this flower is, but it was not as dangerous as it looks.

 There were two flying foxes, literally hanging out in the gardens. I could have touched them, but the sign with an icon of a bleeding finger with some hiragana written below it made me think otherwise. But they were really cool to see... they were about the size of house cats. But with wings.

The gardens also had two caged armadillos. I've only seen a handful of them alive, mostly n zoos or on the University of West Florida campus. The rest have been road kill.

There were a few different types of butterflies, and they were simply beautiful.

As you may have read in one of the aquarium posts, my oldest son, Will, is really in to learning about fish right now. So, thank goodness there were some really ugly ones there for him to learn more about.

Next up was feeding the world's largest guinea pigs: the capybaras. This was the only animal enclosure where you could interact with animals that had a zookeeper in it. And I think it was more for the animals' safety than ours. The Japanese kindergarteners were not hesitant to poke or prod the animals roughly. Fortunately, my kids showed better manners, or I would have had to poke and prod them with bamboo shoots. And just FYI, in each pen it costs 100 yen (about $1) for animal feed. And it takes the animals about 10 seconds to eat it. So, take lots of 100 yen coins and be really fast with your camera.

For many animals in the park, fences are merely a suggestion. More like fun obstacles to climb on.

Seriously, if this tapir had gotten close to our fenced-off walkway, we could have pet it.

There were brightly-colored crabs all over the park... and not a beach to be found.
I don't know who was watch who more warily. Xan was nervous because this brave flamingo was a tall as he was, so he made his brother stand closer to it.

The nocturnal kanaroos really didn't find us at all interesting. They didn't even seem to notice that we were petting them.

 I think Rodney's favorite were the hippos... a months-old baby was playing with her mom and Rodney didn't want to leave the entertainment.

When zoo keepers are serious about keeping you in an enclosure, plexiglass is used. When they want people to pay 100 yen to feed you a tablespoon of rabbit food, they but in bubblegum machines full of rabbit foot and make a clever crack in the plexiglass that you look cute begging in front of.

My favorite enclosure was the lemur and squirrel monkey enclosure. These guys are not shy, although there were only a few lemurs and several dozen monkeys. I even managed to make friends with a couple of the monkeys despite the fact I ran out of food. While they are kind to people, they often had loud arguments, skirmishes and chases among themselves. It's a little startling at first, but since we spent a total of about an hour with them (this was the reason we looped the park twice) you get used to it once you realize none of their antics are directed at well-behaved people. If you are not well-behaved, and you poke them, pinch them or anything else that Japanese school kids seemed to like to try, they swat back at you and run away, never to return to your shoulder again. My kids did not have this problem:

Neither did I:

The spouse refused to touch the monkeys the first time we visited the enclosure. After the kids made fun of him for being a chicken, and I told him he'd never have to do it again if he did it once and I got a photo of it, he finally grabbed some monkey food and grudgingly let the monkeys jump on him:

As you can see, Rodney did manage to settle down and make peace with the monkeys. And with our road trip as a whole, which included that second dinner at Chili's and a smooth drive home. There may be hope for him yet. ;) And so I lay this three-part blog post to rest.

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