Monday, May 10, 2010

San Diego Animal Park - Dec 2009

San Diego Animal Park is owned by the San Diego Zoo. It differs from traditional zoos in design. There are very few bars or cages here. Its a lot of wide open spaces where the animals can run semi-free in large natural habitats. For people who love photographing animals but hate the cages that ruin the photos - this is the place to be. My favorite places at the park were the Cheetah display and the Elephant display. The cheetahs had a fairly small habitat, but they posed beautifully and I could have stood there for half a day taking fantastic photos. The elephants on site were rescued from a kill-off from a preserve in Africa. Although they were on protected land previously, they were still fairly wild, so I imagine they appreciate the enormous habitat that was designed for them. They are also breeding like bunnies which (very difficult in captivity) tells me they are very happy here. I couldn't believe the number of baby elephants!

One of the other interesting activites was the African safari tram which takes you through a huge free-range area of herbivores. Giraffes, rhinos, antelope and a dozen other critters I can't remember the names of. I road the tram twice so I could get photos on both sides.

Also took a ride on the giant balloon which gives a very beautiful aerial view of the park. Although...for future reference, I highly suggest you skip the balloon on windy days. On the way down, the wind picked up quite a bit and we all got a little motion sickness.

San Diego Zoo - Dec 2009

The San Diego Zoo is a treat to anyone who enjoys zoos, animals, incredible landscaping or has any interest in sciences. They are a world ranked zoo, but they are also a world ranked botanical garden and stress education through out the park. If you have a favorite, they are sure to have a beautiful place for you to sit and watch. The zoo is huge. I struggled to see it all in one trip and was almost successful (but not quite). I highly suggest for anyone going, you need to plan 2 days to do it comfortably. One day is just not enough.

Even in December, there were plenty of babies at the zoo. The panda pictured is fairly young - and they had a week old infant that you could view via monitor. There was a 2 day old giraffe that is just adorable. A pair of New Guinea Singing Dogs had three puppies that I wanted to roll around with (except that whole - they really are wild animals thing). The San Diego Zoo has a very successful breeding program for the California Condor and were - in large part- responsible for the successful population in the wild. Because they are being released, they have no human contact (except for the momma condor hand puppets) but there were plenty of adults that weren't able to survive in the wild for viewing. I arrived just in time to watch them eat lunch.

Have I mentioned how much I love my camera...

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Solomons Castle

About an hour away from where I live, in the middle of no-mans land, is a place that stands out among the mondane residence across Florida. Howard, the designer and builder of Solomons Castle has mastered 20+ trades and he utilizes them as an artist and sculpture. He built his castle, he made all the doors and windows (all windows are stained glass), and most of the castle is filled with his work. He lives with his wife in a very small portion of it. The place is incredible and the diverse nature of the work is fascinating and inspiring.

Bok Tower Gardens Oct 2009

Bok Gardens is this beautiful botanical gardens in central Florida that has a large bell tower as its centerpiece. I'd heard interesting things about it and since I'm now unemployed, I thought I'd try it out. The opportunities to take incredible photographs are around every corner - the place is gorgeous. The tower alone is a work of art. Its made from sandstone & marble (I think) and the ornaments at the

top are hand carved. The front door has 26 individual pictures into the gold material (can't remember what it was). My personal favorite was the iron works (having seen how those are made in Memphis, it makes me that much more appreciative of the work that went into it. Its surounded by a moat, there is a pond, flowers, swans, and just all kinds of cool things. It's also at an oddly high point (possibly the highest point in Florida) and the views are fantastic. Scattered around the grounds are some individual sculptures. Worth the effort if you are into pretty pictures, or gardens in general.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Costa Rica October 2009

We did 7 days in Costa Rica this year. We spent 3 days in the Tortugeuro Canals, 1 day at Arenol indulging in one of the hot springs, and 1 day doing a variety of fun smaller activities. 2 days were spent at my dentists, so I didn't take pictures there - however my dentist was hot enough to get a full page spread. Preferably naked. But I'll throw you a couple of pictures on here so you can live vicariously through me ;)
Our excursioned picked us up at our Guest House in San Jose and drove us to the boat for Tortuguero. On the way, we stopped at a Banana factory and Tropical Garden. Both were very interesting experiences.

This is a live rhino beetle that this gentlemen keeps around to entertain the tourists. As scary as it looks, it moves as fast as a koala bear and seems pretty harmless. I still didn't touch it.

After we picked up our first boat, we enjoyed a very leasurely ride into the canals. One of the farmers keeps a herd of water buffalo and they just kind of hang out in the river.

The Tortuguero Canals are now a National Park. It is a primary breeding ground for turtles and a large natural environment for a number of other creatures to survive in. It was Green Turtle season while we were there but due to the sensitive nature of these creatures, photography isn't permitted while they are laying eggs. The flashes are disturbing (its at night) and they are very vulnerable out of water, so the'd turn back around and hit the sea if they knew we were peaking at them. There are no cars and everyone gets around by boat. We spent 3 days exploring the canals by boat, exploring the small town of Tortuguero, and did one small hiking trail on our way back to civilization.

We stayed in small cabins within the National Park.

This is Gabriel. He was our guide for most of the three days. He was yummy.
We spent a bit of time on the beach. During the daytime it was less exciting, as the turtles come up on the beach at night, and most of the time the hatchlings arrive at night also. We were lucky enough to see every phase of the process, from the female pulling herself up the beach, to hatchlings popping up through the sand and crawl to the beach. In the pictures below, you can see what appears to be ATV tracks in the sand, but these are actually turtle tracks. The adults femals range about 500lbs and it is a huge effort for them to crawl up the beach, dig the hole, lay 100+ eggs, burry them, then work her way back to the sea. Its an amazing thing to watch. Tortuguero is one of the main laying grounds and the beach was covered in tracks and nests. The middle picture is what a nest looks like. The 4th picture shows hatchling footprints on the way to the sea - although you have to enlarge the picture to see it.

The rides throught the canals were full of interesting things. We had spider monkeys, howler monkeys, caymen, iguanas, JC lizards, birds of every size and color, and beautiful scenery. The only 'town' in the area was Tortuguero and it didn't look like much from the water, but it had everything a person (or tourist) would need.

On the third day in Tortuguero, we took a hike through a very interesting part of the forest. Here we saw a baby crocodile (although the picture doesn't really show you its only about 24 inches long), more monkeys, a python squeezing his dinner (look to the left for a lizard claw), eyelash viper, vine snake and taranchula. It was a fascinating walk.

Arenol Volcano
Arenol is usually a very spectacular volcano, but heavy cloud cover prevented a decent viewing of it. However, the hot springs were still hot, and they were beautiful.

On our final day of touristing, we went to Poas Volcano, a Butterfly Farm, Hummingbird Farm, coffee plantations and saw some fantastic scenery. I also think everyone should have a baby anteater, because seriously, I think this is the cutest thing I've ever seen.

Isn't this the coolest bathroom you've ever seen?