15 August 2011

Pairi Daiza, a wildlife park

Luckily for me, the weekend that I get to spend in Belgium is a long one so I have been spending this Monday as a tourist. I went to a wildlife park, it was only a 20 minute train ride away, but I missed the train that I intended to take! It was humid and I got all hot and sticky trying to make it there on time and missed it by 30 seconds! The doors locked just as I reached them. So I went back into the station and brought my ticket, to find out that on a positive note the train ride is included in the price of a ticket, so you might as well take the train instead of driving or whatever other option you may have considered. Also I finally found somebody that could inform me of opening hours and learnt that the park was open till 7 so I wasn't too worried about having to take a later train. Only when I arrived it turned out I had dropped my ticket without even realising! Luckily somebody came running after me with it. I felt very silly. Another reason to feel silly - I left my sunscreen in Ireland, no shops are open here on a Sunday or public holiday, and the sun had finally come out. So I am not only exhausted with sore feet (and aching calf muscles from all the stairs I had to climb yesterday!) but I am also a  little sunburnt. How gutting is that?!

But to the point. The first thing that I came across on getting through the gates was the petting zoo. Which I figured out easily enough despite all signage and maps not being in English. For some reason a couple of sheep seemed to think it was OK to be standing inside the trough while snacking.

First impressions of the park were good, aside from the smell, on account of all the animals! There were a lot of gardens, it seemed to really be mostly garden and forest with animals thrown in for good measure. After a lot of walking I got to a high point so could take a picture across the park. Some bits are old historical buildings, I think the place used to be a monastery of some sort. Then there are themed gardens and restaurants, like there's an Indian bit and a Chinese bit and some others.

I think that in almost every zoo that you go too, no matter where, you will find meerkats. But these ones were exceptionally cute, all asleep in a huddle.

Then there were otters that were begging people for food. This one would not go in the water for some reason. They make the funniest noises, sort of like a cat, but more squeaks and squeals. I doubt that people were supposed to be feeding them crackers though.

I found some giraffes that were behaving a little oddly. I think they were in love. I hope that is what it was, otherwise their behaviour was extra-strange. There was a lot of nuzzling, playing footsie, and drinking each other's urine. Of course, it was a lot cuter after they stopped with that last one and just stuck to more PG behaviour.

There was an island with lemurs. I'm not sure if the lemurs were always loose or only at certain times, with the keepers around, but for the time that I was there at least they were all out clambering over people. It started with food - the keepers handed out sultanas and the lemurs just leaped straight for you. There were baby ones too. They did not seem to notice that we were people and not trees, so you would be standing there and suddenly feel a lemur using your back as a jumping platform. After the sultanas were gone one of the little ones had a go at my finger, but it was gentle enough. Their fur was very warm and fuzzy, I think every child there probably wanted to take one home.

By this stage I was getting terribly tired and hot and thirsty. The tourism guides suggest setting an entire day aside for this place, but I don't know how people have that sort of stamina. Maybe if it was a bit cooler, but after all that walking my feet were killing me. Plus I have been to many zoos, so am not generally too phased at missing out on a few animals. I couldn't find everything that the map suggested was there on account of it being all in French and German. Not that the map was actually much of a good one anyway, and appeared to be quite out of date. Either that or they just don't bother to list what enclosures and animals are actually there. And as is always the case when I am at a zoo, it was half under construction. So on my way out I came across the tropical enclosures and had a look at those. They were not much more hot and humid than the air outside, which was good. There were flowers, cacti and birds, on of which was very colourful and I spent a long time trying to take a photo of it.

I decided to skip the aquarium seeing as they don't usually impress me that much. I hope I didn't miss anything spectacular. But generally it usually seems that perhaps the animals in aquariums don't have enough space and would rather not be enclosed. And I was tired. So I walked on by that and checked out the last of the bird-cages. What would you know but they had some kea! Which for some reason seemed to be digging a hole. They don't give boots and tyres and stuff to destroy like the aviarys in NZ do - over here I don't think they realise that kea actually do that. In Vienna that had some at the university and I was chatting to the guy in charge of the research - he was surprised to know that they actually will rip cars to pieces in the wild! You'd think they would know these things, seeing as they study them.

So to end the day, they also had some big Australian birds so here is a blue macaw having a taste of a log. I only spent about 3 hours at the park and am absolutely shattered! The heat is probably largely to blame for that though. I wish it wasn't much too early to go to sleep. Back to work tomorrow, another four days to get my results sorted. Then another weekend to see what Belgium has to offer. Then back to sunny Ireland!

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