Sunday, March 10, 2013

Me and the Lion Sleep Tonight

This last Friday evening through Saturday afternoon, Danny and I got the opportunity to try out the San Diego Zoo Safari Park's Roar and Snore Experience.  It was organized through work so we were there with a lot of my co-workers but also had a chance to meet some great new friends.  I'm glad we got to go and it was definitely a unique experience.

I've never been camping, but I want to say this only partly counts.  If you go to the website, you'll see a premium tent with hard wood floors, furniture, and electricity.  Danny and I were in a "Classic" tent, which has no power, a vinyl-covered dirt floor, and 4 sleeping pads.  It was very cold (for me), but the sleeping bags we brought were very warm.  Snails found their way inside every so often, but there were few bugs and it proved to be very rain proof.  It was fun and probably about as much of "roughing it" as I'm really interested in.  But the sleeping part is a very tiny part of the experience and not the reason you should go.  And you should go if you have the means.

We arrived before 5pm and were brought to a little outdoor waiting area while our luggage was taken to our tents for us.  In that waiting area, we were given a little critter encounter.  We walked up just as the sugar glider presentation was ending, but we did get to pet and see Peanut the 3-Banded Armadillo.  It was a cute way to make the wait for everyone else's arrival interesting.

At 5pm, the park closed for the day and the 60 of us (including a few other people not from my work) were divided into our 5 tour groups (by tent clusters mainly) and taken to the camp at the back of the park.  My group was called Snakes (though it somehow turned into Slytherin later in the night).  We looked at a couple of enclosures on the way and then dropped into a back area for most of the walk.  This is when we became aware of exactly how much walking would be happening... up and down steep hills in many places.  This is not an ADA-friendly experience by any stretch of the imagination and can be challenging for people who have difficulty with a lot of walking.

The camp itself consists of hillside tents, a large picnic buffet area, a fire pit area, a restroom and shower building, and a first aid building - all overlooking a valley below that was populated with giraffe, rhino, water buffalo, and antelope the entire time we were there.  That area is also part of the Africa Safari Tram tour that takes place during the day.  

First up, was dinner!  It was an outdoor buffet of hot dogs and hamburgers that included a spectacularly over-priced cash bar (where I got a $4 can of 50 cent soda... only once).  The food and some drinks like tea, coffee, and hot chocolate were included.  During dinner, all of the tour groups were mixed in this one big area.

We finished eating and had some time to explore our tents and the safari overlook before the main event of the evening - the night walking tour.  Broken back into the smaller groups, we walked through the park with a guide for a little over 2 hours and saw animals by flashlight.  It was a very weird feeling for me.  If you've ever had the opportunity to be in a major theme park after closing, it's a magical feeling of suspended time.  If you ever have the chance, do it.  It's so strange and peaceful to see a place that is normally crowded and bustling be so quiet and dark.  This tour was similar except that I had a constant awareness that I was surrounded by unseen critters, watching us from the dark that surrounded our lit walking paths.  There was rustling and strange noises, the occasional reflection from a pair of eyes in a flashlight, and frequent appearances by the hundreds of wild hares that rule the place by night.  It sounds creepy but it was actually very magical and adventurous for me.

On the tour, we had only one chance to sit (for my group it was the first stop) to see and pet Rakesh the python in a darkened outdoor theater.  We also got to visit the elephants, several large African birds, a trio of sleeping lions (that were piled against the glass), and some antelope that were the size of Clydesdale horses.  Pictures were not practical for most of this tour, but the views are actually really good.  Searching by flashlight actually gives it a sense of exploration and discovery.


After the tour, all of the groups returned to camp for smores and popcorn around the fire pit.  Sticking with tradition, I burned a marshmallow.  After some socializing and snacking, an optional second tour begin that walked along the tram tour path.  Danny and I skipped that one due to exhaustion, but I heard it was cool and I know they went close to the giraffe.  I think the normally 20 minute walk got cut a little short for rain though.  Following that tour, it was more fire pit socializing until the bar and fire pit closed at 11:30p.  That's when it was time to sleep in the tents.

The first human wake up call started on a megaphone at 6:15a.  However, we were already up because of the 5a lion roars wake up call.  It's very strange and cool waking up to the sounds of actual lions.  Izu (who makes up part of the lion pile in the picture above) has an amazing set of lungs.  Stepping outside the tent, the first thing we saw was a mother rhino and her 200 pound baby!

Since the shower facilities are few and far away, we opted to wash our faces, brush our teeth, and maintain a safe distance from other humans for the rest of the day.  For breakfast, we had another buffet, but this time it was in a covered outdoor restaurant in the park.  Breakfast was followed by a meet n greet with an adorable Chinchilla in the same facility.

Next, we split into our groups again and went on a tour through the zoo to see more daytime friends, including gorillas, meerkats, smaller birds, and fruit bats.


At the end of that tour, we were all led to our cars to pick up and pack up our luggage.  However, thanks to a hand-stamp, we could re-enter the park and stay for the rest of the day.  Many did, but we only stayed long enough to do some snacks and shopping.  I'm glad we did though.  On the way out, we stumbled into a meet n greet with a fossa (the bad guys from the movie, Madagascar).  THEY ARE SO CUTE!  And hysterical to watch.  Like a weird combination of a cat, dog, and ferret, this mongoose relative is energetic and playful.  And they waited until after we watched him do a bunch of amazing tricks before they told us he was almost completely blind (he was a rescue).  For me, he was kind of the highlight of the trip.

So that was my first camping trip and visit to the Safari Park.  I had a really good time and can't wait to go back.  Danny and I are already talking about plans for that trip in the future.