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How to See the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium

February 9, 2007

This is the last in a series of two posts about vacation opportunities, or simply attractive respites, in T-town, USA. It is the last because I am simply out of ideas and the energy to continue my quest for places in T-town that are not simply ugly and/or dangerous.

My friend McBrooke and her two children were my companions for the PDZA expedition. McBrooke’s elder child and I share an affinity for tigers.

First of all, to get the most out of your Pt. Defiance Zoo and Aquarium excursion, you need to get in the gate. At this I was not initially successful. I had purchased a ticket. I didn’t understand why the nice lady at the ticket booth told me I would get in on McBrooke’s ticket, even though I bought my own. So of course I had no way to know that she meant what she said. But to “get in on McBrooke’s ticket,” I would have had to shove McBrooke, with her stroller and children, through the gate, and run in on their heels before the gate closed and the red light and the “Excess Admission” sign came on. This, I was unwilling to do. Instead, I looked confused and pitiful at the nice lady in the ticket booth, who issued me a “Re-Entry” pass. This admitted me without further incident. We were in the gate.

A visitor with a stroller and children in tow, or with a walking stick such as I use to tame hills and pavement under my spine and knees, should select attractions near the touchy entrance gate, and that is what we did. First, we went to the famous aquarium.

The initial problem with the aquarium was that strollers are not permitted, which meant that McBrooke had to carry her 20-pound younger child the whole time we were in there. We were in there longer than we intended to be, because we were wandering around lost, unable to retrace our steps through the dark labyrinth to the entrance where we’d left the stroller.

Everything in Pt. Defiance Park is a loop, designed to take the visitor out of his way and never return to the point of entry again; the aquarium follows the rule. We saluted the sharks and seahorses, and decided it was time to see the tigers. One so dislikes to say in front of children, who have expressed an understandable wish to be somewhere else, that they are lost. So, finding an exit that was not secured, we went outside to get our bearings, and trekked back up the hill, McBrooke still carrying her younger child, and retrieved the stroller. We were very determined from that point on never again to part with the stroller.

On the pictorial, unscaled map of the Zoo and Aquarium, it is apparent that the South Asian Forest, with its tigers, bamboo garden, and waterfall, is right next to the Aquarium. However this does not comport with reality. It is next to it, in the sense that California is next to Arizona, but that isn’t very meaningful if you are in San Francisco. Between the Aquarium and the South Asian Forest, there is little to see except tapirs. I’m actually partial to tapirs, as it happens, having enjoyed their cameo role in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The “bamboo garden” is tamed back from the pavement and the visitor has no opportunity to experience the incredible serenity of being surrounded by tall, green, rustling bamboo in a shimmering glade. My front lawn is bamboo, and you can stand in the midst of these graceful green stalks and feel remote from the street. But the bamboo in the zoo is rigidly ornamental; it puts in a mere appearance.

We did get to see the female Sumatran tiger, majestically surveying her moat. A volunteer told me these tigers love to swim. I was entranced by her face, the size of her paws, and her composure. My dominion-bent cat assumes the same commanding position as the tiger, reclining with his forearms spread, head very assured and alert. I had looked forward to some sort of impressive waterfall; this one was rather disappointingly small. It looked as though it could be maintained by a plumber. By then we were all tired and decided to trek up the hill one more time to the cafe for refreshments before heading home.

The cafe was unimpressive, unclean, and expensive. We had our refreshments and began to head back from what had been a pleasant excursion all in all.

You guessed it: we couldn’t figure out how to leave through the exit gate….

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