for sean’s birthday present, i surprised him with a behind-the-scenes tour at the greater vancouver zoo. the experience offered an up close encounter with either a hippo, lion, tiger, jaguar, baboon, black bear, red panda or variety of reptiles in a fun and safe environment. course, this did not mean being able to touch the animal or being in the same enclosure, as the zoo is a no contact facility. but as it’s a private tour, we would be in areas where the public is not generally allowed.
for $175 for 2 people, we would spend 45 minutes to an hour learning about our chosen animal and an opportunity to feed them a snack or treat. and the zoo team would take pictures of our encounter, so we didn’t have to and we could just focus on the experience at hand.
as sean is a huge cat lover, he chose a visit with OJ the jaguar.
we arrived at the zoo bright and early to meet with menita and her team. while we walked over to the facility, menita gave us some background information on OJ the jaguar, OJ for “our jaguar.” he’s 18 years old, born and raised in captivity. we had chosen a really great animal encounter, as he’s a very social cat and likes being around humans.
we were brought into the animalasium (their education centre), so that we could create an enrichment item for OJ, in this case, a cantaloupe stuffed with straw, jerky and cinnamon. the cantoloupe shape and the straw was to encourage OJ to paw and hunt for his treats. we headed over to OJ’s space to meet him. the team beckoned him into his secured indoor enclosure (where he sleeps when it was cold outside), so that we could go into his pen and lay down his treat. once we left the area, the indoor enclosure door was opened so that OJ can go back outside, into his pen.
no doubt he could smell us in his pen. but as much as he may have been curious about us, he seemed pretty happy with finding his yummy treat. he tore into it, a plume of cinnamon smoke being released into the air, while rolling around on the grass, as if it was catnip.
although he was a senior jaguar, he acted like a kitty cat. OJ was social and came up to us and rubbed himself on the fence. then he sat right against the fence, while we knelt down on the other side. we were so close, we could see all his teeth when he yawned. OJ is a really sweet animal and we were really glad we chose an encounter with a jaguar, instead of sean’s alternate choice, the giraffe.
here are some #DYK facts about jaguars aka panthera onca:
- the jaguar is the largest member of the cat family found in the americas
- all jaguars are spotted with rosettes, which are large open spots which ring smaller spots
- the coat may be tawny yellow colour with very visible spots or may be melanistic (the black colouration) with the spots barely visible
- as excellent swimmers, jaguars are generally found in areas near bodies of water, with dense coverage and plenty of prey species
- built for power, not speed – large jaw, lean body with muscular limbs
- hunt by pouncing on unsuspecting prey from a concealed location with a direct bite to the neck or skull
- males on average are 10-20% larger than females
- jaguars are solitary animals, as well as, territorial, except during mating season when they will seek out a female in estrus
- most active during dust and dawn, and will choose to lay in deep shade during the heat or high up in trees
- jaguars communicate through vocalization – often described as “grunts”
some conservation facts:
- jaguar numbers in the wild are continually declining due to loss of habit, poaching for fur and persecution as a predator
- they are found mostly in central and south americas, in the forest and wetlands. their lifespan in the wild is 12 years, compared to 22 years in captivity
- humans are primary predator of jaguars, often poaching illegally
- jaguars are a keystone species and their population directly affect population of other animals that share the same ecosystem
- conversation efforts thus far has been focused on increasing legislation to protect from illegal poaching
- the jaguar is classified as near threatened by IUCN (international union for conversation of nature)
after bidding OJ goodbye, we walked around the zoo to see all our favourite animal friends: arctic fox, capybaras, lemurs, african lion + lionesses, squirrel monkeys and the newest addition, the red panda!
press play for the slideshow or click here for my flickr.
happy birthday, babe!
when i tell people, i have to be clear. i am not a vegetarian, nor am i not a vegan. i eat eggs, dairy, fish and seafood. technically, that would make me a lacto-ovo-pescetarian.
the way one chooses to eat is a personal choice. i have friends and family members who are meat eaters. i am not out to convert or shun anyone. i also have friends who’ve changed their diets, either of their own accord or observing how i’ve lived my life this past decade. if i have inspired anyone to think about where their food comes from and how to be a little kinder to the earth, then that just makes me happy.
besides the health aspect of switching to a pescetarian diet, i think the reasons for my choice is pretty obvious:
animals inside out. at first, i wasn’t sure if it could handle it. i thought that i might just walk out after a few steps, a few minutes. i even asked the staff member if anyone’s ever walked out or felt ill by what they saw. and not that it alleviated my concerns, she simply said “yes, lots.”
i’m talking about the animal inside out exhibition at science world.
i’ve been to gunther von hagen’s body worlds exhibit in new york, as well as, in vancouver. although it’s disconcerting to see plastinated humans, i was able to stomach it. for the most part. but animals…. i love animals. i had to give a disclaimer to sean and for him to prepare for me to walk out at any moment.
but i stayed. and i went through the whole exhibit. although it was a bit sad, i felt the exhibit was respectful and educational, bordering on captivating and disturbing.
being sensitive of viewers, i’m not going to post pictures right on my blog. i don’t like being visually assaulted when i’m not expecting it, as i’m sure others don’t either. nothing chaps me more than content that might be disturbing popping up in all its glory, without so much as a warning on my twitter feed.
to view the pictures, click here for my flickr.
another reason i wanted to go to science world was for the red bull stratos exhibit, featuring felix baumgartner’s space suit and capsule he rode up to the edge of space, before free fall jumping 128,000 feet back to earth.
i remembered watching the world record jump online in 2012. what a nail-biter of a moment! and now i get to see the suit and capsule with my very eyes.
final mission records include:
- first person to break the speed of sound in freefall, without the protection or propulsion of a vehicle
- fastest freefall: 843.6 miles per hour
- highest exit (jump) altitude: 127,852 feet
- longest freefall distance: 119,431.1 feet
- highest manned balloon ascent: 128,177.5 feet
- largest balloon ever flown with a human aboard: 30 million cubic feet
- fastest overland speed of a manned balloon: 135.7 miles per our
- highest untethered altitude outside a vehicle
what an incredible feat for a human! how could one possibly top that in their career slash life? so inspirational just to be in the presence of what made it all possible.
for more pictures of my day at science world, click here for my flickr.
*some content may not be suitable for some readers. viewers discretion is advised*
if i had to choose, which london museum would be my ultimate favourite? the british museum or the V+A? that’s a toughie. i enjoy them both but for different reasons. not sure if i would be able to answer. it might just depend on the mood i was in when asked.
on the one hand, the V+A is the world’s largest museum on arts and design. but on the other hand, the british museum is dedicated to human history, art and culture. but any time i’m in london, i make it my mission to visit both of them. bonus point: V+A has a cafeteria that serves cream tea!
when i first went to london in 2007 and visited the V+A’s cast courts, i was beyond wowed by the collection of europe’s famous and celebrated post-classical sculptures set in plaster cast. situated in two galleries, one could feast your eyes on michaelangelo’s david, trajan’s column, the gates of paradise at florence cathedral, the pisa cathedral pulpit, the 12C portico de la gloria from the cathedral at santiago de compostela in spain and the cast of jacopo della quercia’s great arch from the basilica of san petronio.
but then over the years, whenever i’ve re-visited the cast courts, all i could think about was that they’re just replicas. a fake fendi. and although i still think it’s impressive, it sort of lost its lustre on me. i guess i want to see the real thing.
twelve days into my trip had me feeling a little homesick for charlie. it didn’t help that sean would email me photos or tell me that charlie wanders from room to room, meowing and looking for me everyday.
which led me to the shoreditch area to get my feline fix at london cat village. the cat cafe on rivington had just recently opened and had a dozen or so kitties to enjoy. the cool thing? they have movie night wednesday where you can camp out on bean bags, enjoy some drinks and popcorn while watching movies with the cats. this week’s movie is avatar, which means i’ll be back for that. it’s the last night before i fly back to vancouver, which makes it the purr-fect thing way to close out my trip.
having sussed out reykjavik and after talking to my airbnb hosts, i felt confident to rent a car and drive the golden circle by myself. the roads were paved, the route was pretty straight forward and you can do the trip in less than a day. if i could drive the pacific coast highway from san simeon to monterey and from alhambra into los angeles, i can most certainly drive around iceland.
i booked an automatic yaris from hertz, which costs a little more than manual. as i’m a stick driver for the past 15 years, i was tempted to get a manual, but as a precaution as i’ve never driven in iceland, i erred on the side of caution and got an automatic this time.
i also opted for GPS rental and collision damage waiver, declining the theft protection waiver, sand, ash and windshield protection. reason being was that the agent told me that there is hardly any crime in iceland and although one never knows when a volcano will erupt, the chances that it’ll be on the day i rent the car are most likely slim to none. so that saved me a few bucks, but all in, it cost $140 CDN. a little pricey compared to canada, but this is iceland, so it’s to be expected. plus i was driving solo.
so off i go!
there are three primary stops on this 60 km route – the first being Þingvellir UNESCO world heritage site and national park, followed by the geothermal valley of haukadalur with geysir and strokkur and last but not least, gullfoss waterfall. plus icelandic horses! and sheep! and you know i just had to stop the car (several times) to see the horses.
- alþingi, the oldest extant parliament in the world, was established here in 930 AD
- became a world heritage site in 2004
- almannagjá is a canyon formed by continental drift between the north american and eurasian plates – in other words, it’s where the tectonic plates meet
- you can go scuba diving in the silfra ravine, the fissures between the continent
- home of the great geysir and strokkur geysers, as well as 30 smaller geysers/hot pools
- the active geothermal area only covers around 3 km sq at the surface
- the area has been active for about 10,000 years
- geysir erupts afte earthquakes, last periods 1986-1930 and 2000
- strokkur erupts anywhere from 50-130 ft into the air and is the most active, erupting approximately every 8-10 minutes
- compared to old faithful in US, which erupts every 30-100 minutes
- they’ll be a a ton of tourists around the safety rope, but it’ll give you a sense of the geyser’s height in your pictures
- known as the golden falls, the waterfall flows down a curved 3-step staircase into a crevice
- the height of the waterfall is 105 ft
- gullfoss is the most visited waterfall in iceland
- if you go on a late and sunny afternoon, you’ll see a rainbow above the falls!
- it’s likely that gullfoss was given its name because of the golden evening hue which often colours its glacier water. another theory is that the name was inspired by the rainbow which often appears when sunshine hits the water-spray thrown up by the waterfall
although the golden circle is certainly touristy, there’s a reason why visitors do this route. magnificent beauty notwithstanding, you get to see a waterfall, a geyser and UNESCO site. another plus, as a single traveler, you never have to be worried about being completely stranded or helpless – there’ll always be a car coming by.
i spent so much time at geysir, gullfoss, not to mention the numerous times i stopped for icelandic horses, that i would’ve run out of daylight driving the loop to kerið, a volcanic crater lake. a bit of a bummer, but when it comes down to it (this time), icelandic horses > crater.