The fateful day arrived. Echidna Boy could hardly contain his excitement.
We arrived relatively early at the zoo, and there were already long lines for tickets. Going to major tourist attractions during the week between Christmas and New Year’s is always stressful for the crowd-averse (i.e., moi), but at least it wasn’t Disneyland (*shudder*).
We had determined that Victor the Echidna was in the Children’s Zoo, right near the petting zoo. We set out, going right by the long lines for the “sky-fari” and the tour bus, and dashing past the beautiful blue macaws and the flamingos. Some of us were not especially happy with this.
We followed the signs to the echidna enclosure. And there was Victor. Curled in a ball, with only spines showing. Asleep.
Echidna Boy was ecstatic. We sat there and watched Victor for a long while, during which the only thing he did was snuffle occasionally. People would come and go, usually walking up and saying “Look at the porcupine!” Echidna Boy would quickly say “It’s not a porcupine, its an echidna!” I was chagrined, and told him it was rude to correct people.
After a while, and far too many people who couldn’t be bothered to read the large sign which said “Short-beaked Echidna” I (and the rest of our party), found ourselves saying to passers-by “It’s not a porcupine, it’s an echidna.”*
The rest of us got bored and wandered away, mostly to look at the wombat around the corner. I had been under the mistaken impression that wombats were roughly the size of housecats — instead, they’re the size of small pigs. The eldest child was driven up a wall by parents saying to their kids “Look at the piggie!” He took to saying, “It’s not a pig, it’s a wombat!”
My kids, pedants through and through.
We finally convinced the obsessive that we could come back later in the day to check on Victor, that the rest of us wanted to do something else than watch a sleeping ball of spines. Like the polar bears and pandas and gorillas, or just about anything else.
After we left the children’s zoo, our friend had the brilliant idea of calling the zoo’s office and explaining that we had a child who had come all the way from the Bay Area just to see Victor, and couldn’t someone come and wake the echidna up? A very nice keeper named Richard met us at Victor’s enclosure.
He held Victor up, and the echidna seemed none too happy about this. My kid was over the moon. He could see the face and underside. The keeper gave a short talk about echidnas (by this time other people had gathered), and asked Echidna Boy if he knew any cool facts about the animals. EB, who on a normal day can talk for hours about the stupid things, became extremely self-conscious. Finally, he stammered that echidnas have been known to live fifty-six years in captivity.
Good answer: it turns out that Victor was closing in or had surpassed the echidna longevity record. He had come to the Zoo in 1952, and had been at least 2 when he arrived, making him at least 56 this year. He is the oldest animal at the zoo. EB beamed with delight. He then got to pet Victor, at least until Victor decided he had had enough and put his spines up. EB delirously — and predictably — announced that he would never wash that hand again.
Richard put Victor back down and left. We got people washed up and had lunch and then saw the rest of the zoo, staying until it closed at five. The other big hit was the gorilla enclosure, although I had a lot of fun watching the river otters. (I skipped the pandas, even though everybody else stood in line to see them. They’re cute, but they are not the only cute animal in the world, and I didn’t feel like standing in line for half an hour.) Dinner was aimed at adults: we ate at a great Mexican restaurant in Coronado, so that some of us could window shop at the boutiques in the Hotel Del Mar. Picking up insanely decadent desserts at a dessert restaurant (the name of which escapes me) completed the evening.
The next day we headed home, relatively uneventfully. Five of the six people in our group geocache (guess which one doesn’t?) so we stopped several times along the route to find caches. I was okay with this and went along, until we hit caches located in the middle of agricultural fields in pitch blackness. Having read too many novels about serial killers, the thought of being out where no one could help us if something went wrong did not appeal to me. So I (and the middle child, who is none too keen on dark deserted fields himself) camped out at a local Starbucks while the crazy people went off with their flashlights.
A late dinner at Harris Ranch (if you’re ever there, get the pot roast, it’s out of this world), and a quick gas and coffee stop at Casa de Fruita (fortunately, we arrived there after almost everything had closed — my kids love Casa de Fruita) and we straggled in after midnight.
It was a pretty good trip, all in all. I really could do without the car breaking down and the eldest getting sick, but seeing Echidna Boy’s face when he stroked Victor sort of made it all worthwhile. It’s not often you can give a kid his dream — and have it be just as wonderful as he imagines it.
*Knowledge is contagious: A man came up with a child and said, “Look at the porcupine!” I replied, as usual, “It’s not a porcupine, it’s an echidna!” A minute later, his wife came up and said “Oh, a porcupine!” The man said to her “It’s not a porcupine, it’s an echidna!” I felt I had accomplished something.