Yesterday we went to the Amaru Zoologico, the local zoo in Cuenca. Our friend Femi, from Spanish School, joined us. We were quite glad she did, because it turned out to be quite a long journey to get there. We took a half hour bus ride from where our couch surfing host lives to meet her in the city center (and it’s a 15 minute walk to the bus stop from his house). Then we took a bus with her another half hour, out of the city, to the bus stop closest to the zoo. We thought that was pretty much the end of it, but we should have known better, as many things in developing countries are not as easy as in the States. After asking directions several times, we found out we had to cross a major highway and head in one direction until we saw signs for the zoo. Easy enough, right? Except the signs here don’t always point in the actual direction you need to go!
We came upon a very steep, rutted dirt road on our right, and a sign for the zoo that seemed to point that way, so we went for it. Up, up, up we climbed, and the whole time I was thinking, “This can’t be right. A regular car without four-wheel drive could not drive up this road.” It was 600 meters in total, which is pretty long when you’re going up and you’re not really prepared for a hike. We were just about to turn around when we encountered another person, and Femi asked them in her excellent Spanish if we were headed the right way. Hooray! We were finally approaching the zoo.
In Cuenca, apparently, you have to work to see your zoo animals. Not just to get to the zoo, but once you are inside! Luckily there was only one direction to go in this zoo, so we couldn’t get lost; on the other hand, not so luckily, that direction was UP. Now just a dirt path instead of a dirt road, we hiked and climbed through the trees from exhibit to exhibit. I would not recommend this zoo for those who are not fit, unless you want to spend the entire day there, and are prepared to take lots of breaks. It makes San Diego seem like a walk in the park (a flat park, that is)!
We really enjoyed our time at the zoo. The animals are in very natural habitats for the most part, even if they are caged, and the cages and fencing give most of the animals plenty of room to roam. Some exhibits that made us chuckle at this zoo included the porcupines and white-tailed deer. We saw lots of animals we’d see in the Philly Zoo, like lions and pumas and crocodiles, as well as lots of animals we don’t see too often, like tapirs and a big rat-looking thing called a capibara. I really loved the turtle from the Galapagos Islands and the alpacas.
My absolute favorite was the monkey exhibit! I’m still not sure if these guys had somehow escaped their electric fencing or if the zoo keepers just turned the electricity off, but the various types of monkeys were clearly roaming freely and loving it. They were in the trees, searching for berries, jumping from tree trunk to tree trunk and scurrying along the fences. They even climbed on us a few times!
Last but not least, the zoo in Cuenca has some of the best views in the city. We had climbed so high, we could see the entire city easily, and it was a gorgeous, sunny day with blue skies and white puffy clouds. The builders of this zoo did a great job of making sure the animals and the visitors still felt part of the natural landscape, instead of part of a bunch of cages in the middle of the hustle and bustle of the city.
P.S. I made it extra fun for you by labeling the photos of animals in Spanish!