It seems I’m always running an event or two behind on the blog – and this isn’t even counting the fact I’m still meaning to write up the second half of the Baja Haha from November 2011. Manana… But, not that long ago we went to the Vallarta Zoo. It was a bit of an undertaking, as it took three buses to get there, along with some directions from a stranger on the the street (which weren’t quite accurate, but we worked it out). And the last leg was about half a mile of walking up a dirt road. Honestly, if you weren’t looking for this zoo it would be pretty hard to stumble across. But it can be reached using public buses from La Cruz with a bit of determination and a pocket full of pesos.
While most of the zoo isn’t up to the standards of the zoos back home, and one row of exhibits bordered on downright sad, there is one huge difference at this zoo. When you buy your ticket, you can also buy a bag of food to feed the animals. It included carrots, bread, peanuts, pellets and corn, and a list of what food to feed to which animals, as well as how to feed it. Probably best not to try to hand feed an animal that should be tossed food to.
Overall the fun of feeding the animals made up for the conditions of the zoo. The roughest exhibit for me was a few Manx cats in a roughly 5’x10′ enclosure fronted with a dirty glass panel. Even though Manx cats don’t have tails, that just didn’t seem to justify removing them from the human contact most cats seem to enjoy. Although we now have something to threaten Minion with when he misbehaves: having seen cats at a zoo. So despite the animals not being housed in large exhibits with topography similar to their natural habitat, they were often shockingly close, and because they knew you might feed them, rather intent on interacting with you. At times they downright begged for food.
We were able to hand feed monkeys, birds, a giraffe, zebras, dromedaries, rabbits, guinea pigs, as well as toss food to wolves and hippos. The interaction with the animals was exciting, if not a tad scary at times. But we managed to keep all our fingers and weren’t even nipped by any of the animals we were feeding.
Oh, and one other thing you can do at this zoo? Pay an extra 100 pesos to pet one of four animals, which included two baby tigers and two monkeys. I’m man enough to admit, the monkeys actually kinda freaked me out a bit, even if they were tiny. And the tiger just had a way higher coolness factor. So it was pretty much a no brainier. A 3 and a half month old tiger is surprisingly big, and in Mexico you can’t assume something is safe just because they let you do it. So while I appreciate their take on personal responsibility (sorry to any personal injury attorneys reading this) I didn’t approach this experience without a tad bit of apprehension. One tiger was asleep, and one was pacing around, so we figured since one was already awake we would both take turns petting that one. It was, however, a little frisky. Jenn went first and all was well, but when I took my turn the tiger of undetermined gender and therefore hard to describe with personal pronouns, somehow found the phone in my pocket and latched on to it. I was suddenly very glad I had something in my pocket. I was able to free the phone and pet it a bit, but this was a playful tiger that wanted to put its mouth on things such as my arm, and its claws in things such as my shirt. Jenn and I each took another turn petting it and despite some faint scratch marks on her arm, and a tiny puncture on mine, we played with a freaking tiger! Immensely cool. Oh and did I mention baby tigers have huge paws, and we got to pet one!
With both of us riding an emotional high, we worked our way back to La Cruz, substituting a long walk for one of the bus rides. We missed happy hour, and were both pretty wiped out from the all the walking and the excrement, but happy to have an experience we both won’t soon forget.