The reception event for the conference happened on Sunday at the Stockholm’s Skansen ZOO. The last time I was here we also visited the zoo, but it was during the winter, when half of the animals were hibernating or sleeping, or were not seen since it was dark at 3pm already. This time we had all the zoo for ourselves, since the event started just after the zoo closed, at around 5 pm.
The weekend, we visited, was also the weekend of the finals of the football world cup and on the sunday France was playing against Croatia right around this time. I’m saying this because when we came to the event, we were the only Europeans there, everyone else were in a bar or somewhere where they were streaming world cup. Speaking of streaming, it was weird, in whole Stockholm, we couldn’t find a big TV/Screen in the open, where they would stream the cup, this is especially weird, since Sweden did quite well at the cup. I’m confident that even Slovenia, that did not qualify for the cup, had more screens in the open than Sweden. So in the end, Vito and I ended up watching the final game on the phone (thank god for roaming in EU), surrounded by hundreds Asians, looking weirdly why two guys were screaming at the phone.
After the game finished, we had free time to go around the ZOO. The sun slowly began to set, even in Stockholm, days were much longer than in Slovenia at that time, sunset was around 9.30pm. The animals were playful and active during this time, and it was a wonderful experience, much better than my last visit during the winter.
When the sun finally went down, most of the animals went to sleep. I found an elk that was particularly interesting at that time, the sun was setting and it highlighted his puffy hair over his antlers, it looked like his outline was shining.
On Tuesday morning the only trip we had planned well in advances was about to happen. First stop was local car dealership where we rented a car. I was quite nervous driving through such a big city on the opposite side of the road for the first time, but after an hour or so I got used to it. The car had automatic transmission which helped a lot, since I didn’t have to shift with my left hand. I did however turn on the wipers couple of times instead of the turn signal.
After about an hour and half of driving we reached our destination The Australian Zoo. The zoo was first created by legendary Steve Irwin – the crocodile hunter and is now run by his family.
The ZOO is quite large, about 2 or 3 times the size of the Koala sanctuary. The whole philosophy of the zoo is that you can book private encounters with most of the animals they have. This one is to some degree more traditional zoo as they also have animals not native to Australia, like giraffes, rhinos and so on. Speaking of foreign animals the first thing we had planned after coming, was encounter with lemurs. We were very excited about it for quite some days already. ZOO keeper told us everything we needed to know on our way to the island where lemurs lived. To reach the island we had to go on a small raft and as we were closing toward the island lemurs were already running around the landing port waiting eagerly for us. We brought food for them after all.
They were soon all over us and we had a chance to take some photos while they were standing on our shoulders. Despite their look they are quite heavy and having one on shoulders ruins ones posture. 🙂
After the photo shooting we sat on a close by rock and zookeepers gave us some food that we could give them. By the looks of it they eat everything from vegetables to meat. They had great variety of food to choose from but they seemed to really like peas as they picked them out and ate them first. We had the opportunity to touch/pet them meanwhile (especially on their tail). If the kangaroo’s fur was soft before, it was nothing compared to lemurs. It is hart to describe but their fur was softer than silk. It would be perfect pillow material.
Time flew and after about half an hour it was time for us to leave. We had high expectations about this encounter even before arriving to Australia and Veronika and I both agree that it was worth it. It is simply hard to express how cool it was, all I can say is if you ever happen to be in Australia, it’s worth taking a plane just to visit this zoo and have an encounter with lemurs.
After the lemurs we had to hurry to catch the show this zoo is most famous about – the crocodile show. The show is held in the arena and they demonstrate some tricks with a bunch of birds and of course the crocodile. Surprisingly I preferred the birds part compared to crocodile. They had great variety of birds from parrots, cockatoos to enormous condor. Seriously that thing was about 3-4m over the wings. The funniest part was when they trained a cockatoo to go to a random visitor and take 5$ bill out of his hand (you can see this in the video below).
After the birds they brought out a giant crocodile which they fed and made jump a bit out of the water.
After the show we had a chance to visit the rest of the zoo. They had vast variety of animals, tons of crocodiles, koalas and of course the kangaroos. We also saw some giant lizards and very fun otters.
We also saw some gigantic turtles, cassowary and the most venomous snake in the world, safely behind the glass, of course.
When walking around the dingo’s enclosure we saw them attack one of the smaller lizards (who were again walking all over zoo). After the zookeepers saw that, they went in and the dingoes were running around them like dogs – expect the one who had the lizard in his mouth. He was running away from the zookeepers. After the zookeeper finally got the lizard from the dingo they took him to the animal hospital they have in front of the zoo.
Talking about walking a dog… you can actually walk a cheetah here.
In the late afternoon we had another encounter booked, this time with a native animal we did not see in nature yet – the wombat. The encounter was fun, but nothing compared to lemurs. Supposedly wombats get scared easily so we could only pet them from behind where they have some super protective ass area or something. Veronika did massaged one really nicely however, it went pancake flat on the plate of food.
Just as the last zoo this one also had two enormous enclosures full of kangaroos you could pet and feed. It was just as fun as previous day and this time I also did some posing with them. We finally saw one with baby (joey) in the pouch.
We also saw some white kangaroos.
With this we concluded our visit to the zoo, it was fun day’s trip and we did see enormous amount of animals. It’s well worth visiting.
Since we had a car, we decided not to take the highway back to Brisbane but take a longer rout that goes more inland. Sadly it was soon dark but it was an interesting experience. Couple of minutes of driving toward the mainland the road went from asphalt to gravel and soon we felt like we were in the middle of nowhere. We stopped at the top of a small hill where there was no (city/house) light for as far as the eye could see and in between there were some pointy mountains growing from nowhere.
We arrived to Brisbane couple of minutes before midnight and prepared for next day when we were living for Gold Coast.
Monday morning we took an hour bus through the Brisbane’s suburbs to the Lone Pines Koala Sanctuary. Despite it’s name it is a normal zoo, with multiple species of Australian animals.
The zoo is of moderate size, maybe a bit smaller than Ljubljana’s. The main difference compared to the standard zoos elsewhere is that you can actually take a photo with a koala or go and feed a kangaroo. Yea, that’s right, kangaroos just roam large enclosure where you can enter or leave at your leisure. Moreover you can buy some kangaroo food for couple of $ and you can actually feed them.
We saw variety of sizes of kangaroos ranging from a small ones to the ones you could look straight into their eyes when they were standing in front of you. Despite being very muscular and large, we felt quite safe around them. They were mostly chilling, I guess being fed by the tourists whole days long gets them super lazy.
We were pretty excited about petting them, one thing that surprised me the most was how soft their fur was. It looks rough and dirty where in reality it was silky soft (even with the big ones) almost like a puppy.
Besides kangaroos we also watched a bird show where they flew some owls and eagles around and told us about them. It was interesting to see them fly just few centimetres in front of us.
And to see an owl gulp up whole mouse in a couple of seconds.
After the birds we went to see a sheep show, where they used 3 dogs to bring a group of ship from one side of the park to the other. It was fun watching the dogs run around the sheep while bringing them home alone. They also looked like they had a lot of fun, guess it beats fetching a stick.
After the shows we took the opportunity to hold a koala and take a photo with it. Again just like with kangaroos it’s fur was very soft, and it was surprisingly heavy.
Besides holding it we also had an opportunity to watch in several enclosures around the zoo. However they are not very active animals and sleep more than 20 hours per day. Luckily we were just in time for the zookeepers to change their food (eucalyptus) which made them a bit more active as they climbed around to get to the food.
All over the zoo we saw hundreds of large lizards. For some reason they weren’t enclosed but were freely running around the paths trying to find some sun rays.
Again we saw some dingoes, they were just remodelling their enclosure so they were in a smaller one but still seemed pretty happy. I think they were quite tamed and used to people. I think I saw some zookeepers walking one just like a dog.
So far most of the animals we saw we also saw in nature, or at least their close relatives. They did however have a couple of animals that are a bit more exotic that we didn’t see before.
And we also saw the strangest of all the animals – the platypus.
All in all we had a great day. We spent most of the time among kangaroos which were most fun to interact with and saw a couple of quite exotic animals for an European. However just next day we had a plan to visit something we knew since day one of our planning we will visit (hint: another zoo).
Next day – Monday morning, Veronika and I embarked on our first adventure in Hong Kong alone, without Maggie or Jean. We decided to go to the amusement park called Ocean Park. Well it’s not exactly amusement park (alone) it’s a mixture of rides and a zoo. The idea is that they attract people with attractions and with the money they can take better care of the animals there.
After a bit of searching we took a bus to the park. The park is enormous it’s almost like 2 parks combined into one, and the location is quite good. Half of the park is situated near a sea level the other half is on a hill and you can take a lift or an underground tunnel ride to get to the top.
Well what is the first animal you think of when you say China? Panda!! Yea the first animal we saw were pandas. It looked almost unreal, they look so cuddly and nice. I later learned I had an honour of seeing the oldest panda in the world – around 43 years old.
Alongside “normal” pandas they also had red panda, which looks even cuter. I can definitely see myself having one as a pet. Would look so cool walking it around like a dog here in Slovenia :D.
The park was really nicely decorated and landscaped, sometimes you even got a feeling you are in the middle of the jungle. After pandas we went to see a sea lion show. After it we took underground ride to get to the upper plateau, where more of the amusement rides were located.
When you think of Hong Kong, you think of hot tropical weather, so what we saw next was a really surprise to us – Penguins. We entered one of the largest aquariums in the world, spanning multiple storeys, containing hundreds of aquariums with thousands of fishes – from sharks to small tropical fishes and of course some big sea mammals like seals, sea cows etc. It was also quite cold at least in the area of the penguins where they actually had snow / ice on the ground. You could actually borrow a jacket, but we as true Europeans used to cold didn’t bother. 😉
It was fun watching penguins as they were playing around jumping on the ice and swimming in water. The floor were made from glass so you could see them swimming beneath. We soon left the penguins to see some artic foxes and then shivering with cold left the building.
After that we went to see a show with dolphins in an arena nearby. As Europeans we really stood out in the crowd in the city and especially here. We quickly got used to people looking at us but here it actually paid off to be different. They chose us to be part of the show with the seals, we got a special seats in the front row and then when seals came we “made” them do some tricks and took photos with them. After the seals they did some tricks with dolphins. I think this was the first time I saw dolphins, they were quite big and jumped what must have been 3-4m high out of the water.
Later in the afternoon we spent more time on the rides, it was quite fun a lot of rides and because they were high on the plateau, they used the height to enhance the rides, which then took you few hundred meters above sea and over the cliffs.
All in all the park was really great and worth the time and money. We returned home to the island late in the evening where we had lunch in a local restaurant on the island and where I yet again ordered something extremely spicy that I couldn’t eat at all.
Early next morning we left hotel to get to the smallest airport I’ve ever been and took an hour long flight to Cebu. As soon as we left the airport we were swarmed by taxi drivers fighting over who will drive us to the hotel. It was still early in the morning so we had few spare hours before we could check in in the hotel. We decided to go to the “Zoo” at the edge of the city. The taxi driver took us on about an hour long ride to the zoo, through the city, where he told us few things about the city and the life there. The city is really big, second biggest in Philippines – around 1M people. And if Boracay was scary at first, it was nothing compared to Cebu.
Traffic was all over the place, lots of motorbikes, people, tricycles, cars, driving all over the place where road rules were more of a guidance than an actual rules. After about an hour (I’m not sure if our taxi driver took the shortest path 🙁 ) we have reached the zoo, or something like that. Entrance fee was around 0.5€ per person, and we got a private guide to take us through the zoo. To our surprise, we could actually touch and take photos with some of the animals, which was pretty cool. On the other hand, the animals had such poor cages it was quite sad to see them there, I hope they are going to get better care in the future…
After the zoo the taxi drove us to the hotel, near city center. The hotel was quite far away from the water, besides I don’t think it’s possible to swim anywhere near Cebu city, because of pollution from such a big city. Because of this, I think, the hotel was more of a business type and even though it was from famous western chain we got the best room in the hotel for as little as 35€/night. And what a room it was, it was the nicest hotel I’ve ever been too. The room was almost bigger than our apartment in Ljubljana, around 40m2, with enormous bed and flat screen TV. But that’s not even the best part, the best part was enormous bathroom with shower and a bathtub with integrated TV in the mirror in front of the tub. That’s right, we had another TV in the bathroom. 😀 Since hotel was far away from sea, we had a pool on the rooftop.
After setting in our rooms we took a walk around the area, which in retrospect probably wasn’t the best idea, luckily nothing bad happened. Despite being in what I think was near city centre it was much different than what you expect in European cities. There was trash everywhere, in front of stores there were guards with shotguns (I’m not kidding). There was a particular situation that I found especially strange. While we were walking down really big (4 lane) street, there was big pile of rubble in the middle of the sidewalk, blocking the path so we had to actually go on the road and walk around it. Despite having zebra crossings, it was almost like playing a game to cross the street, no car slowed down let alone stopped when they saw us going over. We had to walk all over the street: up, down, left and right to get away from the cars and to cross the street. Well despite described, it wasn’t that bad. Streets were quite full of people, who were selling food at stalls or walking around. On few points we were swarmed by local kids, trying to beg some money off of us. We even went to a local store where we bought like 7 t-shirts for 3€ (all shirts combined). The strange thing was, that the shirts actually weren’t bad, the material felt quite good and I’m sure if I bought the same shirt here in Slovenia it would have cost around 15€ each.
In the afternoon we went to an enormous shopping mall with more than 700 shops. To my surprise the prices there weren’t much cheaper than in Europe. After getting through small portion of the mall we went to eat some weird Philippines’s fish dish, which too no one’s surprise I didn’t like. After returning to the hotel we went for a quick dive in the pool and then to bed.
Really really early next morning (4AM) we had a trip arranged to the south of the island, where we would swim with the sharks. To our surprises when we came down in front of the hotel a driver was already waiting for us, and too even greater surprises the car was actually quite good. After sitting into a car I turned to get my seatbelt fastened and as soon as I did that Veronika was already sleeping beside me. I’m not sure how that’s even possible, she fell asleep in less than half a minute, I wish I could do that, but for some reason I can’t sleep on public (and private I guess) transports. On the bright side, because I couldn’t sleep I was able to watch scenery outside the windows. On our 4 hour drive to the south, we almost had 10 car accidents, 2 times we almost hit a motorbike, driving in the dark without a light, and for some reason (maybe because it was may the 1st) we almost run over 3 marching band, who were marching in total darkness in the middle of the road.
After arriving to the Oslob, the town in the south where the sharks were, another guide was already waiting for us (and by us I mean only me and Veronika). She took us to breakfast and told us some instruction for shark diving. Soon after we were in the boat with 2 Filipinos, driving the boat for few hundred meters off the shore, where sharks were. And there we saw them, whale sharks – the largest fish in the world.
We jumped in the water and sharks swum around us. They were enormous, the tail alone was taller than me, or at least it seemed like that, because of magnifying effect of underwater goggles. We gave a camera to the Filipino on the boat and he took some photos of us. I’m mentioning this, because he held his breath underwater for what must have been 5 minutes. While I had to get up to the surface 3 times, and I can last more than 1 minute without air, he was still down under, taking photos of us. We weren’t allowed to touch the sharks, for their protection, and as they weren’t afraid of us, we actually had to swim away from them quite fast not to get in their way.
After about an hour we returned to the shore where a driver took us to a nearby waterfall and later lunch. In the afternoon we returned to our hotel. We went for a short walk around the area again, to buy some souvenirs and soon after retreated to a dinner in our hotel. We had a really nice dinner there, with surprisingly nice dessert.
Next morning, again in the middle of the night, we had to leave for the airport where we had a plane back to Hong Kong.