Today was an unexpected treat in so many ways. Because we were camping so close to Gail, she had invited us over for dinner. And because Laurie asked if we were going to see the pandas, we were heading to the zoo. We’re not really zoo people anymore, but the chance to see the baby panda tickled Eliza’s fancy, so off we went.
The Smithsonian National Zoo, opened in 1889, is 163 acres built into a hill, and we were fortunate that we ended up parking at one of the top lots. The zoo itself is free, but the parking is $22. (No, there wasn’t any other parking close by, and the metro didn’t get close enough. You can even buy your spot online before you go! ) It was a pretty drive through the trees and the first time I’d ever visited by car. When I lived here before, we hiked to it!
We walked onto the grounds, and immediately asked where the pandas were. The employee pointed right, so we went right, and after walking for 10 minutes, asked another employee, who made us go back to where we had come from and go LEFT. Ah, really? We could have printed out a map before, or paid $12 for one there. Which do you think we did? If you guessed neither, you are right. You should know that about us by now.
We finally found the panda area, but the baby was nowhere to be seen. Her parents, father Tian Tian and mother Mei Xiang, were both inside eating, but the cub was out of sight. We decided to go see the rest of the zoo and come back later.
The zoo itself is very well done. Huge exhibits with plenty of space for the animals, wide paved walking paths for the tourists, tons of information to learn, and lots of trees. They didn’t have the water misters on, luckily, because it was cold in the shade. The gift shop had tons of cute stuff, but we just couldn’t figure out where a stuffed panda would go. We went outside to walk more and stumbled on Kiko, an adult male oranganutan, as he was crossing on the O Line. This is how the zoo describes it:
“The Orangutan Transport System, or O Line, consists of eight 50-foot-high towers connected by plastic-coated, steel cables. At the lowest point, the cables are about 40 feet off the ground. The entire distance of the O Line is about 490 feet. Tower 1 is in the outdoor orangutan yard at the Great Ape House. Tower 8 is in the outdoor orangutan yard at Think Tank. The towers in between are outside the confines of the animal yards, and the O Line crosses Olmsted Walk twice. Patterned paver sections on Olmsted Walk alert visitors to the orangutans crossing overhead. A third crossing is highlighted in front of Think Tank.”
It was so cool! He was swinging his way from one section that he hangs out in to where they spend most of their time. We followed him for the last 30 feet, along with about 100 other tourists. Everyone was jockeying for position for a photo, so I wasn’t able to get a good one. He climbed down the tower to the ground in about 5 seconds and the whole thing reminded me of watching my brother Jeff climb trees. And I’m sure he would have loved trying the O line. A zoo employee says they never fall off of it.
After seeing the other apes and elephants, watching the lion cubs play, and bypassing the butterflies who like to land on my head, Eliza and Nate and I walked back to see what the pandas were doing. We were so lucky! Mei Xiang and her cub Bao Bao were outside. Born August 23rd, Bao Bao was the only surviving twin, and she is adored by her little fans and studied continually by the scientists. “Bao Bao” means treasure in Chinese, and she certainly is one. She was hanging on a limb a little way above her mother, and while her mother was trying to eat, Bao Bao was pawing her and wouldn’t leave her alone. The mom next to me agreed when I said that that’s exactly what little kids do – never leave their mothers alone when they are eating – and it got a good chuckle from the crowd. Finally, Mei Xiang had had enough, and she whacked Bao Bao lightly, then pulled her down off the limb. There were at least 100 of us, packed in, watching with delight. I was happy to see I wasn’t the only one video-taping it, but it didn’t come out that well. We wanted to show Dan what he missed while he relaxed!
We headed back home to swim, rest, and journal for a few hours, then drove to Jim and Gail’s home. Less than 2 miles away! A friend I adore is right around the corner! I was so excited. Jim opened the door, and time stood still. Really, he looks exactly the same as 29 years ago, and it was such a pleasure to introduce him to Dan, Eliza and Nate. Jim had also worked in Senator Hatfield’s office, and they had started dating when she left that office. The rest is history. They just celebrated their 28th wedding anniversary by visiting intriguing places around D.C. for 7 straight days. What a great idea! Why wasn’t I invited?
Anyway, in to their beautiful house we tromp and I never wanted to leave. Their 4 kids are basically moved out for college, so why can’t I move in? You think I’m kidding. Dinner was superb, and I think we ate all of their ice cream for dessert! Then Gail took the kids upstairs and let them play Guitar Hero, so the adults had time to talk. It was so fun to catch up on 29 years and so fun to see such good people together. God has truly blessed them in their lives. It took all my strength to walk out the door later. Truly an evening to remember.