Friday, June 13, 2008

The Ragfields in San Francisco (Day 5 and 6)

Day 5 (Thursday 12 June)
In the morning Rob got up early again for a bike ride, and since I was up already, I attempted to run in this city for the first time. I ran up to Fisherman’s Wharf and back, about 4 miles I would estimate. One of the streets I came back on had such a steep hill (it was actually Nob Hill), that the sidewalk was a staircase. It was also a little frustrating because the whole way, I would run about 30 seconds, then get stopped at a stoplight for 30 seconds.

Laura and I met for breakfast after my run. Due to some unfortunate room complications on their first night, Laura and her husband were given complimentary breakfast passes to the swanky VIP lounge for the rest of the week. The guys get breakfast at the conference, so Laura took me as her guest. Very nice, but I am way out of my league here.

After intensive research, Laura and I figured out that there was a bus (actually we found out later it was a train) that would take us directly to the San Francisco Zoo from the big bus/train/subway station just a few blocks away at Union Station. Once we figured out that the L was a train rather than a bus and that we had to go underground to catch it, it was no problem and we zoomed to the zoo.

We wandered the zoo for a good chunk of the day. First we saw some giraffes and then some gorillas and then moved on to the rest of the primates. Laura loves zoos; in fact, she used to work at a zoo, and she knows a lot about many of the animals. I try to get excited about zoos, but really they just make me very, very sad. Even good zoos are still zoos. Animals belong in the wild, not captive and stared at by bratty, spoiled children.

The zoo had an exhibit of howler monkeys which they called “Black Howler Monkeys.” They were actually Alouatta caraya, which are the black and gold howler monkeys that Martin studies in Argentina. These are beautiful, beautiful howlers. They are dichromatic; that is, females are a golden color while males are black. I don’t know why it is, but a lot of zoos have this particular species. There are 10 different species of howlers (depending on who you ask), but for some reason if a zoo has howlers it is invariably Alouatta caraya.

When we came upon the howlers, they were resting in a box at the top of their cage, so we couldn’t see them very well. From what I did see, one of the females was sitting next to the male and grooming him, then eating whatever crud she picked out of his fur. That was amazing for me, because unlike most other primates, the howlers that I study do not groom. I thought this non-grooming was characteristic of all howlers, but Martin was telling me that his species grooms all the time. I couldn’t believe it. The whole year that I watched my monkeys, I only saw them groom maybe 3 or 4 times. Once, a male grabbed a female’s foot and kind of picked at it. She looked at him in confusion for a while, eventually snapped at him, and then he stopped and just lay down next to her.

Everything was pretty tranquilo as we looked at all the different primates. Then all of a sudden we heard this really loud whooping. We surmised that it was the siamangs (a type of lesser ape), which is where we had just come from, but we ran back over there to see and sure enough they were whooping up a storm. The howlers were caged next to the siamangs and eventually all the commotion stirred them from their resting. They started vocalizing and moving around. It was actually hard to hear them what with all the commotion the siamangs were making next door. There was one male and two females. The male's howls were definitely not very loud, and they sounded quite a bit different than my howlers back in Nicaragua. But still a howl is a howl. I stood there and watched them for a long time, totally tuning out everything but the howlers. I kept thinking of Wrinkle Belly and was so glad he had spent his life in the wide open air instead of behind bars in a zoo.

Whooping siamangs

Howlers and siamangs vocalizing

The thought of WB living in a cage like this made me immeasurably sad.

We continued through the zoo, seeing lions, tigers, and bears, oh my. We also flamingos and pinguinos (penguins). In the morning when we had been walking to the zoo from the bus stop, a man leaving his apartment had randomly given us tickets to a “puffer train.” He said he was a donor to the zoo and got all these free passes every month, but he could never use them all. Random. I began to notice that strange, random things like this happened quite frequently whenever I was with Laura. Either that, or people in San Francisco are just generally very friendly, I’m not sure.

The zookeepers hand-fed each of the pings and made sure that every one of them got the proper amount of fish.

Its the lioness that hunts... today she is relaxed though.

All aboard the "Puffer Train." I promise you that Laura and I weren't the only adults unaccompanied by children who rode the train.

After we had seen all the zoo had to offer, we left and boarded the L train back to Union Station. Its a direct ride, but takes something like 40 minutes to get all the way across town. We had plenty of time to plan our next course of action. We decided that we would hop on a cable car at Union Station and run up to the Trader Joe’s I had been to last night. I had seen that Trader Joe’s was selling a locally made, possibly organic (?) wine that was only $5.99. We decided that in the remaining time that we had left in San Francisco, the two of us would be able to polish off a bottle (neither of our husbands drink).

I should also mention that Laura and her husband had each bought week-long city transportation passes, but since her husband was in the conference all day, Laura had decided that the best course of action would be that I use her husband’s pass. So while traveling with Laura, I haven’t paid for any transportation. I have tried repeatedly to pay her for part of the pass or to buy her lunch or lemonade, but it has not been easy. Just about the only thing she’s conceded to was sharing a bottle of wine. The transportation pass has seriously been a huge saver for me. The cable car is $5 each way—as in, it would cost me $10 to take the cable car up to Fisherman’s Wharf and back. The city bus is only $1.50 (I realized after my Golden Gate expedition that you’re supposed to get a “transfer” ticket from the bus driver that is good for your return trip… too bad I thought it was like the cable car, where you have to buy tickets each way, and I shelled out another $1.50 for the way home!). At any rate, Laura has been super-generous, and I have really enjoyed hanging out with her. Laura’s husband works remotely and they live far away, but they are thinking of moving to C-U, and I sincerely hope they do! Otherwise, we'll just have to meet in San Francisco once a year.

By the time we managed to catch a cable car back home (it was “rush hour” by this time, and we had to wait through a couple of trolleys before being able to get a seat), the guys were done with the conference, and it was time to figure out dinner.

Rob and I opted for an Indian place near the hotel, and after we got done eating, we came back to the hotel and fell asleep.

Day 6 (Friday 13 June)
I have pretty much done nothing today. Rob and I slept in, and then I paced around trying to figure out what to do for the day. I finally decided to find something for breakfast, and then I wandered through some of the shops in Union Station and in Chinatown again. I got a few little souvenirs, including a pair of red shoes for myself (see post below). I had decided I wanted a pair of these shoes, but was thinking I should get them in black, because that would “go” with more of what I have. The girl in the store told me that I should get red, because red is good luck in China and also because I probably had several pairs of black shoes but none of red and this would be fun and different. I actually don’t have very many black shoes (or very many shoes at all), but I did decide that she was right and went with the red in the end. I have them on and cannot stop looking at them. Red was definitely the right decision.

Around noon I met Rob at the convention center, where the conference was closing down for this year. We had some lunch and then Rob left for a long bike ride up Mount Tamalpais. He said he should be home “around” 5pm. I’ll give him until 6, and then I will probably start calling all the local hospitals.

I hung out with Laura again a little bit this afternoon (we had a glass of that organic wine with some fancy chocolate) and then came back to my hotel room to blog and attempt to learn Chinese from a podcast. (A lot of people speak Chinese here). It was really difficult; maybe I should just stick to Spanish.

Rob’s got about 1 more hour before I have to start to panic. Of course, I just remembered that today is Friday the 13th, and that really doesn’t make me feel any better. I am going to go back to pacing around the hotel room in my new red shoes and hope that the Chinese lady in the shop was right about them bringing good luck.

Thanks for reading!


Anonymous said...

Loved traveling along with you and Laura ... your pictures are awesome!!!!! Zoo's always leave me a little sad, too -- but maybe the animals feel okay about being there since it allows people to come see them ... and they appear to be well cared for ... thank you for writing and i'm glad the red red red shoes are working out fine!! hugs, auntie

amypfan said...

I hope that you would not find my children bratty if you saw them at a zoo, because it really does bring them much joy. I actually agree with you on zoos being sad, but the joy that they bring Bryn makes me willing to go. Glad to hear that your trip ended up being so good after your not-so-good first day!!