Thursday, March 20, 2008

relatives and other animals

As I had hoped, we’ve been able to spend quite a bit of time with my extended maternal family since arriving in Her Majesty’s commonwealth. A fair percentage of these visits coincided delightfully with visits to zoos and nature preserves of various sorts. We went to the Werribee Zoo two weeks ago for a picnic to celebrate my cousin Matthew’s birthday. Those of you who came to our wedding will remember Matt from the ceremony – he’s the one who gave his reading in a perfect Australian accent (imagine that).

Werribee is a free-range zoo, meaning the animals wander around their spacious enclosures largely at will while zoo guides drive visitors through the park in little busses (it’s a “safari”). There are also a number of walks to and through different exhibits. The walk through the native Australian animal enclosure is particularly cool because once you go through the gate, there are no more fences. If an emu happens to bed down two feet from the path, you get to be two feet from the emu.

We went around with Matt and Julie (his girlfriend). I think my favorite animal was the beautiful strong lioness (take a look at the photos – she’s impossible to miss). She was not only wonderful but wonderfully loud as she growled impatiently for dinner. Erika, Matt and Julie all favored the meerkats. Julie was saying she and Matt usually go see them a couple times a year. She also mentioned this show called “Meerkat Manor,” which I hadn’t heard of (though Erika had). It’s a very dramatic, soap-opera style reality TV show about meerkats. In their meerkat den. Apparently it was wildly popular down here. I keep meaning to look it up on youtube.

After touring around the zoo, we settled in for dinner and a drum concert by a Ghanaian band. (The Werribee Zoo features mostly African animals, so they bring in African bands to play concerts every Sunday night. I know it’s a bit fraught, but the music was great and we had a blast.) There was delicious Ghanaian food available as well, which we very much enjoyed. Matt’s dad Peter went in for the drumming workshop. I believe he was the only person over 10 years old who did. I’m hoping he’ll agree to show off his newly developed skills at the next family barbeque. 

Peter’s photos are here.

The day before our visit Werribee, we went to my cousin Nick’s house (Nick is Matt’s older brother) to celebrate Nick’s 30th birthday. We had a big barbeque followed by the tallest mountain of chocolate covered profiteroles I’d ever seen (yum!). His friends got together and gave him a PlayStation 2. Nick was thrilled-- speechless. His wife, Tina, was speechless as well – also with delight, no doubt.

My uncle brought us to the Healesville Sanctuary last weekend to round out our zoo experience. It was a two hour drive outside the city. Once we got past the suburbs it turned into gorgeous rolling vineyards and grazing pastures. It was all a lot more developed than I remembered it being. Australia’s population is exploding, and it’s evident. The drought was also very obvious out here: everything was more brown than green.

The Sanctuary itself felt lovely and lush, which must have taken a lot of work. It was something in between a traditional zoo and an outdoor zoo: the animals lived in small, highly landscaped, caged-off outdoor enclosures. Some cages were especially large, and you could walk into them with the animals. I was glad we got there as early as we did, because the birds were awake and the other visitors sleepy. Cmoore and Toby: parrots galore, many more hangers-on than official zoo ones. Of the wild ones, laurakeets dominated, but there were also cockatoos and galas (which are big and funny and pink). Oh, and yes, we saw koalas and a kangaroo with a joey in her pouch, and a crocodile, and a frilled-necked lizard, and all the other required charismatic megafauna.

At this zoo, Erika was especially taken by the baby wombat. Not nearly so scary when she (the wombat) is ¼ sized, snoozing in her burrow, waddling excitedly and sleepily out to greet her keeper, and munching on ears of corn. Of course, the corn was dried raw on the cob and she was easily biting through the cob, so it was impossible to forget that she’s an adorable little pile of solid muscle… Wombats can be quite a pest in farming areas. They dig burrows large enough for tractors to fall into (this happens fairly regularly), stroll their way straight through strong fences, and nap in the road. When hit, they are sadly often injured, but they take even semis down with them. Semis often tip over after hitting a wombat, and are always totaled from the impact. These are seriously dense animals.

As wonderful as the animals were, the best part of the day was getting to spend time with my uncle and his partner Sue. I’ve been here long enough now that I can actually relax into my relative’s company. My whole life, time with my relatives has always been precious because of its rarity. I’m delighted to find that they are even more wonderful when you stick around.

1 comment:

hafidha sofia said...

I loved the photos - esp. of the lioness, wombat, and leopard! I had to look up Wombats because I didn't know what they looked like. What ugly creatures!!!! OMG. LOL. Glad you are getting to spend time with extended family; sometimes it's hard for me to understand how, 100 or 200 years ago, one's extended family may have been the *only* people one knew!