Day 10 – Capybaras, and Condors and Red Pandas, oh my.

One benefit to arriving anyplace 4 hours early is you get great parking. With exactly 3 other cars in the entire lot, we selected a spot right up front that would even have some shade later in the day.

Balboa Park is so cool. The architecture is a beautiful byproduct of the 1915 Panama-California Expo, which was held to celebrate the opening of the Panama Canal – advertising the fact that San Diego was the first port of call vessels would encounter after the passage. The Spanish Colonial Revival design of most of the buildings created a look and feel that was unique to the area.

Theodore Roosevelt visited the Expo and said he felt that these “buildings of rare phenomenal taste and beauty” should be left as permanent additions to the park. Smart guy.

Although they look like stone, these structures were built of wood and plaster, with some of the detail work being sculpted from modeling clay.

The gardens here are amazing too. Everything is so lush and green, and it’s a gorgeous morning to enjoy it.

Time flies, and before we’ve walked half of the park it’s time to head back to the Zoo – because after our uber-early start there’s no way we’re missing rope drop!

I love weekday mornings in zoos. It’s quiet, the animals are more active, and the misty light creates a more natural look to the enclosures.

Our first stop will be the pandas since they’re about as popular as Enchanted Tales with Belle. Last time we were here we ended up in a line of people snaking their way past the exhibit, making it impossible to get more than a quick glance before feeling like we needed to move on. Today is different, it’s just us, the keepers, and a few other families, so we can spend all the time we want. Bai Yun is doing one of the 4 things adult pandas do (sleep, eat, poop, and…uh…boom chaka wah wah):

Of the four options, I think this is the most photogenic.

I’ve always thought pandas are the least realistic looking animals in the world. I mean seriously, tell me this doesn’t look like a human in a panda suit?

It’s not even a good panda suit, it’s all wrinkled.

Hey wait, what’s that?

Red Panda! Squeeee!!

I think they’re the cutest thing since fennec foxes. It’s also the name of a very cool noir audio drama called The Red Panda Adventures http://www.decoderringtheatre.com/shows/red-panda-adventures/ which has absolutely nothing to do with actual pandas, but every time I see a red panda I think of their name being said in the 1950’s radio style of that podcast. So you should listen to it and then every time you see a red panda you’ll hear “Join us for more adventures of the Red PANDA!!” in your mind too.

Anywhoo, continuing on our hunt for all things bear, our next stop is of the polar variety:

Love watching these guys in the water.

Meanwhile, Mike finds a new friend of the feathered variety:

And I find a bird I don’t think I’d want to get too friendly with:

 If you’ve never seen one in person, the California Condor with its 10’ wingspan is terrifying, and if the size doesn’t strike fear into your heart, those otherworldly blood-red eyes should. Seriously, every time he looked at me I felt my soul was in danger or something, although he was probably just sizing me up for dinner (“too bulky, and the skinny one will probably be stringy and tough”).

Time for a little monkeying around – wait, are these monkeys or apes? I’m sure you guys all know the difference since that’s one of the fun facts they like to talk about at Animal Kingdom.

Apparently, even monkey parents get tired of their kids’ antics. I swear she’s begging for a Mental Health Day here:

“Seriously with the poking again? I can’t take much more of this, you kids are driving me nuts.”

San Diego Zoo has some animals we’ve never seen at any other zoo. This is called a Fishing Cat, I guess they’re great swimmers:

This one was insanely quick, it was very difficult to get a good picture without blur. This would have been the perfect place for Tom with one of Josh’s speedy lenses. I do still enjoy the challenge of getting decent shots with my little point and shoot, but I’ll admit I long for a “real” camera sometimes.

Mike was wanting to get a little more up close and personal with the fauna, so we headed to the petting zoo which is always fun:

Okay, enough goats, need to find more bears.

I think we interrupted some sort of grizzly marital squabble:

“Hey baby, how ya doin’?” ………………“Don’t even TRY to make up with me!”

And after our “alarming” night, this looks like a wonderful way to spend an afternoon:

The adorable capybara has the same idea

We used to have a guinea pig as a pet, he was such a cute little guy with this grouchy old-man personality, capybaras remind me of him so much, I’d love to take one home. I’m sure they’re not all sweetness and cuddles like they appear in zoos, but they sure look like they’d be fun to have around (public service announcement, I know, wild animals suck as house pets).

It’s getting late in the day, and we’ve still got to drive to Anaheim, so we start making our way out of the park when I spy the weirdest looking bird:

Okay, you’re saying that’s not very weird it’s just some sort of hawk or eagle, but I think you might change your mind when you see this:

Yep, pretty much stopped me in my tracks too.

It’s called a Secretarybird, and not only does it look like some Frankensteinian amalgam of eagle and crane, it’s 4’ tall. So, standing next to the cage, I’m nearly eye-to-eye with this thing and wondering if I’m tired enough to hallucinate. Nope, he’s real.

And of course you’re thinking, “Good thing it’s flightless”. Uh, no, they fly.

Can you imagine seeing this thing in the air? Craaaaazy.

And with enough scary bird memories to fill my nightmares for a few nights, we make it back to the car about 4pm. We had a great day at the zoo. It never got too busy and the weather was perfect, which made it so easy to wander then stop and enjoy whatever caught our eye.

We said goodbye to San Diego and began heading north on 1-5, our timing sucked and we of course ended up in rush hour traffic. Although in this part of Southern California, rush hour probably lasts from 3 to 9pm, so there’s not much we could have done. Fortunately, things did keep moving even if it was down to 35 mph a few times.

Finally after a couple of hours we pulled into our no-tel mo-tel in Anaheim. I really went cheap here, deciding to stay at the America’s Best Value Inn because it was within walking distance of DL (no parking fees), had a fridge and microwave in the room, and was nearly half the price of anything else in the area.

Of course, there’s a reason it was so cheap. This place is HIDEOUS. Yes, I know I’ve said we’re willing to put up with some pretty bad conditions if it means we can save a bunch of money towards our next adventure, but honestly the only nice thing I can say about this place is that it didn’t have bedbugs. To give you an idea of what we were dealing with, I walked around in my white socks for about a half hour and then decided to put my shoes back on when I noticed the bottom of my socks were completely black. Not gray, not tan, tar black. Eeeeewwwwww…..

Oh well, suck it up buttercup. If you want to be a cheapskate, it’s going to bite you in the butt every so often.

On the plus side, the bed was comfortable. Or we so tired that even sleeping directly on the box springs would have felt fine. Either way, we were asleep in minutes. Tomorrow, Disneyland!!!

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