OK, on to the unabridged version now. I'm illustrating it with pics I've googled up.
So. I didn't get out of the apt until afternoon, feeling the need to do my Friday chores so I wouldn't have to come home to them Sunday night, so after bidding my sweet kitties adieu, I was pretty tired by the time I started driving that day, but it was so good to get south of Richmond where the pine trees start taking over the scenery from the winter-gray trees. And yay for cruise control, without which I don't think I could do such a long drive anymore with my back, and for cd's--I listened to more Kate Bush this trip than anyone else, but that's probably not a first for me.
I only got as far as Florence, South Carolina that evening, instead of the extra hour or so to Columbia. The heated indoor pool at the Econolodge almost made up for the slanty bed, the noisy kids, and the trains--almost. Then on a rainy Saturday morning, I headed on to Columbia, where Riverbanks Zoo was really easy to find.
The zoo is really prettily landscaped with tropical foliage, which is such a very welcome sight in January. You have to drive a couple hours further south before tropical foliage starts sprouting independently, so the zoo was much greener than the area around it. It's a pretty small zoo, so it was just a short walk to the Koala Knockabout.
The koala habitat was much nicer and conducive for easy koala viewing than I had hoped. It's an indoor enclosure, and if you look at this pic, the area where you can stand viewing is to the left, carpeted with a bench you can park on. The barrier between the koala habitats and the viewer is about 3 feet high; above that it's all open. They have lots of windows to the outside, a flock of rainbow lorries through one of them for people to interact with--so plenty for the koalas to view. It's a really comfortable space. I could move in there--I could! It wasn't very crowded due to the rainy weather, so I happily got plenty of alone time to enjoy viewing.
Last year, when abandonada graciously took me to see the koala at the LA Zoo, we were only able to glimpse a patch of gray koala fur from a well-hid koala. These two in SC did have room where they could move away from easy viewing, but kindly stayed nearer the viewers. Killarney was in the left room and Lottie in the right, and they practically tag-teamed which would sit at the closest spot to the viewers in their respective rooms--Killarney for the first part of the afternoon and Lottie for the latter. Though the staff sometimes trade off who is on webcam, I think I've only viewed Lottie since I've been watching the last 3 months.
Lottie is a real beauty with a rich woolly gray coat that shades down to mottled white on her bottom and a very sweet face, though she wasn't completely visible until late in the afternoon. Killarney is a little smaller--about the size of large cat, though with a larger head than a cat in proportion. Her fur is a little more mottled with brown, and her nose is mottled with pink and has a little bump on it, so you can tell the two apart when in close range.
When they're sitting at the closest branches, you are only about 5 feet away from them. OMG, those satellite dish ears move everywhere! From the back, they look like a pear with Mickey Mouse ears stuck on top--their outline from behind just kills me. It was a treat to study the pretty patterns in their ticked fur. I learned later from an aide that their body fur feels like wool, with the shorter hairs on their forehead and around their ears being more silky, like on a cat or dog.
They were awake more of the afternoon than I had hoped, and both did some good branch leaping when their dinner came. I found Killarney to be particularly responsive. Sensibly, she totally ignored all the assholes making loud obnoxious noises at her, but looked fixedly at me a few times with her weighing brown eyes when I called her quietly--yay! Of course, I thought she was Lottie at first because they had switched the sides they were on, so she was probably wondering why the idiot human was calling her Lottie and was also considering how fun it would be to bite and scratch me, because that's Killarney's personality. I did notice that the other koala, who was resting behind one of her bouquets of eucalyptus for the first part of the afternoon, was looking over at me when I called to who I thought was Lottie with a look that on retrospect said, "Heeeeeeeyyyy, waaaaait!!!! *I'm* Looooottie! Me! Heeey! Feh. Idiot." When the aide came in to bring new eucalyptus, she showed me which was which, as well as information on their differing tempers. And I thought on webcam that the eucalyptus leaves differed--I learned that they do indeed give them 3 different varieties of eucalyptus.
Lottie is sweet tempered, as is Mirai, who I didn't see because the poor thing is now dying of lymphoma and they were keeping him in back. But they would do all the photo ops with SC officials with Lottie or Mirai, not our little fighting Killarney. The staff switches off keeping one of them in back as well so they have quieter periods of time, though Mirai will be staying in back now until he dies--so sad. Here's a pretty, but sad pic I found that I think is of Lottie--it does look like her--with the joey she had with Mirai in 2004 that later died. At one point in the afternoon, a zoo aide brought a little girl in to pet Lottie, lucky little kid. If I were living in Columbia I would so be a zoo volunteer to get that opportunity.
I think the cutest thing the koalas did, and that the many pics I took can't catch, was done by Lottie, and it's something I've seen on webcam, but not in this detail. While waiting for her dinner to be brought, Lottie would sit upright against a branch with her front paws folded, look impatiently from side to side, purse her lips, and let out a big old puff of a sigh. It was silent, but you could see her sides heaving. Just like a human. She did that a number of times when waiting. <3 And Killarney was impressive in folding all four paws together. And I just love how they navigate with their butts forward and plop themselves down in the middle of their fresh eucalyptus bouquets once they're brought.
And while viewing, I met another visitor who was even *more hardcore* than me! She not only had a koala covered cell phone with her, but she had a gorgeous tattoo of three koalas on the small of her back--really pretty--I was impressed! And all I had was a stuffed koala wearing a Ringer's T-shirt with a
I also talked with a couple of the zoo aides, who were all very friendly. One of them--she was so cute and I think I tripped her gaydar as she did mine--told me they are looking into artificial insemination for the koalas if one of them didn't go into heat and conceive before Mirai dies. They apparently go into heat every 35 days, so that probably accounts for the time I saw Lottie on webcam doing impressive hyperactive laps around her room a couple weeks ago.
So I really had a wonderful time soaking up toxic levels of cuteness all afternoon. I also saw the three tiger cubs they have with their mom, some hilarious fruit bats that really lived up to why one says "crazy as a fruit bat", a leeeetle elegant fishing cat--though sadly in much too small a habitat I think, tree kangaroos (I never knew about them!--cute!), a sloth, and pretty African squirrels with black backs, white bellies, and rust red stripes on their sides. And I scored various koala souvenirs in the gift shop.
After the zoo closed I headed back up I-95 to spend the night in Chapel Hill, calling my old friend Cathy in Fayetteville along the way to see if she could come up to Chapel Hill tomorrow, which she could--yay! And then, yay for the wonderful king sized bed with a window looking out on pine trees I got in the Red Roof Inn in Chapel Hill--happy back. Sunday morning I drove down Franklin Street to check out what's new and what's the same, then out through Carrboro to the edge of the countryside to check out if my old trailer park where I lived for 5 years was still there--it was. The area is all still gorgeous and I felt really homesick for it.
Then I went to have a waffle breakfast at my fav diner, Elmo's, in Carr Mill Mall, and was reminded of why I wanted to leave when I lived there. Oh, Elmo's is still great, but I looked around the room and realized every fucking person in there was white. Every.single.one the whole time I was there. I thought things might have changed a little since I lived there 12 years ago, but apparently they haven't. So I got reacquainted with the good and the bad; it all balanced out.
Then I met my wonderful Cathy, who I haven't seen in a few years, but is just the same, at the Carr Mill Mall, and much chattering ensued. Well, more Cathy chattering, but Cathy chattering is always good chattering. We caught up on what we're doing--she's leading tours and teaching classes to kids at the botanical gardens and pretty happy about it, what her spouse is up to, commiserated about family stuff, glowed about our pets, admired each others brightly colored adventure mobiles, ate enchiladas at the Armadillo Grill, and shopped a little. It was a very good time. We both decided we need to stay more in touch.
Then I headed home, arriving at 1 am to be greeted by my fuzzy housemates--always a happy homecoming. This was a very good adventure all around.