sleep was good. the joints in my legs still ached a bit but there was no pain in my feet, which was the thing that was bothering me the most. i picked up my gear, got dressed, and went downstairs to wait for amanda to get ready. i finished the last of my leftover pizza for breakfast. amanda came downstairs and told me how arrow chewed up a pair of her summer shoes last night. the weather today was nicer but a bit cold and windy. i wanted to bring another jacket but hoped the day would warm up eventually.
today i'd be visiting the national zoo, which was close enough to walk to. from my maps it seemed like a simple matter of cutting across rock creek park via klingle road to get to connecticut avenue. i was on klinge for a little bit the path was blocked by a chain-linked fence and concrete barricades. i didn't know what it meant, maybe just no car traffic, so i hopped over the fence and continued. further along the road i could see why they closed it: large chunks had been washed away, sunken into the ground, left in disrepair. apart from the poor road condition there were a few fallen trees down on the road as well. i thought about turning back but it'd mean a longer walk, and according to maps at least, if i kept on going i'd eventually get to the zoo. the area seemed abandoned, and i kept my eyes opened for homeless squatters. at one point i walked underneath a large archway bridge. nearby was a pool of water with the eerie sounds of spring peppers calling in unison. i could see buildings up on the hills, so i knew at least civilization was nearby. i continued walking for an unusually long time, onto a woodsy trail, before crawling through another chain-linked fence to arrive at some quiet suburb. where the hell am i? it was only later that i discovered i'd just traversed an abandoned road. apparently there's some controversy over klingle road between those who want to re-open the road for traffic and those who want to make it into a pedestrian-only path.
i continued down klingle street until i couldn't go any further. behind some trees and a parking lot in front of me i could see a large church (turned out to be the national cathedral). realizing i was nowhere near connecticut avenue, i turned back down cathedral ave, walking by some really beautiful suburban houses. i was so happy when i finally found the zoo, after walking 3x longer than if i'd just taken the long way. it was still early though, around 9am, and i had to the whole day to see all the animals.
the zoo actually opens its doors before any of the buildings are opened, so it possible to see all the outdoor animals first. this makes me want to live in DC, right next to the zoo; imagine taking a morning jog and seeing tigers and cheetahs and pandas! a lot of the them were out, enjoying the weather and the peaceful silence, before all the visitors would arrive later during the day. the first animals i saw were the cheetahs, one of my favorite large cats (my other favorite are tigers). then i saw the oryx, followed by the maned wolves (you could smell the wolves before you saw them). when i wasn't watching the zoo animals, i was listening to the spring birds singing, from song sparrows to cardinals.
most of the early visitors like myself made a beeline to the panda enclosure, where the pandas were feeding on their favorite (and only) food, bamboo. i saw the baby panda tai shan, no longer so small, but still about the size of a large chow chow dog. he was with his mother, playing with his food instead of eating it. next i went to the small mammal house, where they had it opened early as a treat. the golden lion tamarins and the giant elephant shrew were two of my favorites.
amazonia is one of the best exhibits in the zoo. walking around the indoor tropical jungle gave me deja vu of the jungles in costa rica and southeast asia. live birds and monkeys circled around in the canopy. i spent a long time just chasing them around with my telephoto lens. afterwards i went to go have lunch at the mare restaurant.
despite my awful track record with gibbons (a naughty gibbon stole my glasses in saigon), i still love these long-armed lesser apes. not as much as i love langurs though, which are my favorite simians. i feel blessed to have seen gibbons out in the wild, in their native habit, when i visited the khao yai national park in thailand last year. i was surprised to find two different species of gibbons sharing the same large enclosure. later i saw them conspiring, on the ground, seemingly talking with the gibbons in the other cage.
on my way to the birdhouse i saw another black squirrel digging in the dirt to find some buried nut. this squirrel looked weird, like it had white spots, almost like a skunk. it was only later i realized the white areas were actually bare batches of fur from possible mange. it's not like all DC squirrels are black because i did see some normal squirrels, but there's definitely a significant population of them with melanism. later i saw a third black squirrel, this time without the mange.
once more, a great workout for the telephoto lens. with my old nikon-monocular setup i could never achieve such clarity. the species of birds at the zoo was simply amazing, each one more colorful and amazing than the next. it's like they searched the world for the most beautiful birds and brought them back. most of them i've never seen before.
when i came into the outdoor birdhouse enclosure (the flight exhibit), a blue magpie swooped down as i came in. i thought this was strange until i saw the sign: apparently this particular magpie had been stealing things from people, and was probably swooping down to see if i had anything it could take. i watched as it did this for everyone who came into the enclosure. in the pool i saw mandarin ducks, one of the most beautiful ducks in the world. the first and only time i've seen them in the wild was back in tokyo, in the shinjuku park, where i spotted a few hiding underneath some shrubbery in a pond.
originally i thought i'd just spend a few hours at the zoo and then go back to the mall and maybe visit the national gallery. what i didn't expect was to be at the zoo almost the entire day. of all the zoos i've ever visited, this is the only one where i didn't feel like the animals were being abused. cages were clean, the animals look healthy, and the few times i saw them getting fed, even the food looked delicious. the zoo is also a great place to play around with a telephoto lens. photos that'd be normally hard or impossible to get with a regular camera is quite easy with a telephoto camera.
i walked to the woodley park zoo station and eventually did go back to the mall. the national gallery was already closed by then, but the national archives was still opened. confession: before i left for DC i was watching that nicholas cage movie, national treasure. i didn't finish watching the film but at least i got to the part where they stole the declaration of independence (you know, the with the secret treasure map on the back written in invisible ink). ever since then, i wanted to see the real constitution and the declaration of independence.
having seen the real documents, i wasn't very impressed. they seemed faded, like somebody wrote it in pencil then erased it. the parts i could read were only impressive in that they had nice calligraphy. the content itself is actually quite boring and hard to follow; 18th century english might as well be japanese. i wouldn't recommend going, although the rotunda that houses the articles was sort of impressive. i slowly walked to the nearest metro station (my feet, by that point, were killing me again) and took the subway back up to dupont circle. i got in touch with amanda and we decided to meet in adams morgan on 18th street. we had dinner at the diner restaurant. i had the salmon sandwich with horse radish dressing along with a vanilla shake. amanda got a veggy burger but had to send it back because it felt uncooked when she probed it with her finger. when it came back from the kitchen it seemed much the same. later we decided to walk home, where amanda showed me the rat park. i didn't know what she was doing, but when she stomped her feet, i saw at least 5 rats scurrying away into the night.