Thursday, September 20, 2012

Haller Park

             After our rowing escapades (See Previous Post), Jacob and I headed up to Nyali to meet Safiya, University Counseling Guru and fellow teaching fellow. Safiya hails from Atlanta, Georgia and has also been here for a year already. I work very closely with her on University Counseling stuff and we have become a force to be reckoned with when it come to proofreading personal statements and, more recently, schmoozing with University representatives. We met in a café called Cafesserie, which I will be writing about in more detail later.
            From there we headed to Haller Park. In the 1950’s, the area the park now encompasses was an in hospitable hole in the ground. It was a quarry for the Bamburi Cement Company which mined the area to its full potential; upon seeing what they had left behind they decided to rehabilitate the area and hired a man named Rene Haller, hence the name of the park. In the 1970’s Haller planted a number of trees in the area that were able to adapt to the harsh environment and were able to pave the way for other organisms to adapt to the area. Today, the park is 1480 acres of lush vegetation that acts as a park and somewhat of a zoo. As the Bamburi mining company’s activity expands, so does the footprint of the park.
            We made our way into the park, paid the entry fee, and set down a light blanket to relax on for a few hours before the animal feeding times began. Jacob had baked and brought a fantastic looking ginger cake to the gathering that we were all looking forward to enjoying.
            Our nestling place just happened to be in a clearing that was also home to a cohort of monkeys: the males had robin’s egg blue testicles and the females had inch long nipples that stuck straight out of their chests. Nature is fascinating. They were used to humans being in close contact with them as the park is a highly visited place so they had no problem with us being there and frolicked within feet of our blanket. We were enjoying the shade and a good read when I looked to my left and saw a strange creature about the size of a weasel with brown striped fur making a bee-line towards us. Safiya jumped up and shouted “That’s the mongoose! Watch out!” Apparently last year, while visiting the park, the same mongoose had bitten a volunteer at the Academy, requiring him to rush to the hospital to get a rabies shot. Yikes.
            We cleared out and let the beast snoop around a little bit but soon enough he had discovered Jacob’s bag, and with it, the cake. With a ferocious snarl and a quick snap of the head, the mongoose tore through the tin foil and began ravaging the succulent cake beneath. An employee of the park ran up and delivered a few sharp kicks to the overzealous creature, but it maintained its assault on the cake. A few more blows later and the mongoose scurried off towards the trees. But soon enough it was back for more. I waved my foot at it in a semi-threatening gesture and it bared its sharp, ivory white fangs at me and bit my rubber sole. Being the cowards we apperently are, we gathered up our things and relocated far away from the pugnacious rodent.
            We resettled near a large sculpture of a whale made entirely out of recycled flip-flops and to our pleasant surprise discovered a giant tortoise! It was a rather large reptile and was probably twice my size if I had curled up into a ball. We were told it was still “young” in that it was only about 100 years old, a tortoise teenager. Jacob took a special liking to the lumbering animal and, as it was a much less obtrusive guest than the mongoose, we stuck around. About twelve of the giant tortoises roam the park freely and guests are allowed to touch and feed them.
            We quickly discovered a strange characteristic of this fascinating being: when stroking its neck, where one might imagine its chin to be, the tortoise would slowly lift itself from its resting position on the ground as if doing a painfully slow pushup. It seemed completely unfazed by the motion and it would keep chewing away at the grass it had in its mouth and looking around slowly from its new vantage point. Once the scratching stopped, it would lower itself back down with a squeaking sound like a screen door creaking closed. It would perform this strange feat whenever prompted. I guess to get the age of 100 you have to be in pretty good shape anyways, so I don’t know why I was surprised by its pushup ability
            After spending some good, quality time with the tortoise, we headed off to the giraffe habitat during their feeding time. As we strode up, we saw a crowd gathered around the fence of the enclosure with their hands splayed out in front of them. The giraffes were striding quickly towards the peoples’ outstretched hands. Turns out, there is a man who sells pellets for feeding the animals for 50 KSH, about 60 cents. Guests are allowed to feel these elegant creatures by hand!
            Naturally, I bought two bags. Safiya and Jacob had already visited the park and fed the giraffes, so they were less enthused than I, but the didn’t turn down the free pellets and had a go as well. Safiya claimed to have kissed a giraffe the last time around, so I, of course, had to attempt to recreate the feat.
            Giraffes have insanely long tongues that are surprisingly dexterous, as I soon found out. I went through one bag of feed testing the abilities of the animals. The larger ones often overpowered the smaller ones in order to get closer to the food. They could stick their tongues out about a foot and hold it there and twist the end around to grab, actually grab, things from your hand. It was amazing.
            So I put a pellet in my mouth, a long one so it jutted out and caught the attention of the giraffe. I slowly moved the food in my hand closer and closer to my face until the feed in my hand ran out. It reached out its long, purple tongue and licked the entire right side of my face, from forehead to chin, before nabbing the pellet right out of my mouth. I wiped the giraffe slobber off of my face and cheered. Mission accomplished. Gross for sure, but a story for the grandkids.
            There were two other feeding sessions (one for the hippos and water buffalo and one for the Crocodiles!) but both were less exciting and visitor inclusive as the giraffe one (obviously for the best as I wouldn’t want a crocodile grabbing food out of my mouth). I have pictures and videos that are pretty fantastic, so I will post those below.
            Also, on a randomish side note, my junior year at Bowdoin, one of my best friends, Tina Curtin, recommened I read Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood. I enjoyed the novel but never really figured out what an Oryx was, or a Crake for that matter. Well, Haller Park has its own Oryx population. I now know what they are, and what they look like; they are beautiful deer-like animals that have great noble antlers and faces that look as if they have been painted for war. Lots of pictures below!

The Entrance

Walking Tree

The large Whale made of flip-flops

Side angle!

Our Primate companions


Safiya and Jacob and Friends

Don't disturb the animals

Look at that tail, it's about three times the length of his body!

Is that not the ugliest bird you have ever seen?

A wild mongoose appears!

Chase used zipped backed pack... it's not very effective

I call this one "Mongoose Aftermath"

The Tortoise

Foot close up

Jacob and his new friend


I think it likes me

Safyia, that giraffe is really going for it


Best shot of the tongue I was able to get

What a strange looking beast

Jacob and Safiya

Water Buffalo

Ok, humor me for a second. In Return of the Jedi, the guards at Jabba the Hutt's Palace on Tatooine look kind of like this hippo, right? I think I am going through Star Wars withdrawl.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, anyone?

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