Novosibirsk Zoo

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Mushroom me now!

We surface from the twisted hysteria of the night late in the morning. Lari is much better than she deserves to be and is piecing together the story. Her memories centre on thinking she was going to die at any moment.
She’s busy apologising and thanking everyone when I hit the shower. She pulls me aside after I’m dressed and ready for breakfast,
“Hey thanks for that, I heard you carried me up the stairs.”
“Well, after I managed to get you in and out of that taxi I only made it to the second floor, you have Ryan to thank for getting you inside here, I was panting like a dog at the time.”
“Yeah, I remember that, it was quite strange.”
“Hey Lari”
“What?”
“Thanks for being so light, that could’ve been a lot worse.”
She smiles before saying more seriously,
“No really, thanks for looking after me.”
“Lari, you know I always look after my friends.”
We had figured out at the start of this trip that we had met over fifteen years earlier.
“You know, if it had happened a few hours later, you two probably wouldn’t have been much help.”
“You’re probably right, but you know I’m a high function drunk. It’d take an awful lot to stop me being able to help you in some way.”
“True, but the way we were all going you were getting there.”
“Yeah, it could’ve been worse, but it wasn’t….AND we have our very own Siberian angel watching over all of us”, I say, putting my hand on Vortex Yulia’s shoulder.
There’s only one thing for us to do now; get to the Travellers coffee dome and enjoy the air-conditioning, food and coffee. Lari and I leave with Ryan and Lukash to see what’s going on in the world.

 

After working my way through pasta and fruit juice I ponder ordering another when a message arrives from Don saying they’re going to head for the zoo to see the world famous liger. Feeling revived from the food and drink I tell him I’ll join them and ask him to let me know when they’re near to actually leaving the apartment. I’m used to the ways of meandering Russians and figure until they’re actually ready to walk out the door, I will be perfectly content in the coffee house. Lukash heads off to sort out some money and train tickets, and an hour later the message arrives from Don and I head to meet them. I’m just in time to catch a dance performance right outside the coffee shop. Five very beautiful women wearing bright pink skirts and minimal tops are dancing a choreographed set to some smoking samba music. It seems to be part of a wedding as I notice the bride and groom looking on happily. There is something about women dancing to this music that I find irresistible and I’m unable to move for several minutes as it progresses.

Samba fun

Hot Samba Action!

With that moment to raise my blood pressure and motivate me just a little more, I saunter into the streets of Novosibirsk to find the troublemakers at Yana’s apartment. Don and Yana are escorted by the three Serbians and Olya. Don hands me a can of beer that I greet with some enthusiasm; a cold beer right now is just want I need. Unfortunately it’s beyond warm, even hot and I spit out a mouthful onto the street. Don looks at me with distaste and continues drinking his. I look for a bin and amazingly find one to leave the nearly full beer inside. This isn’t the first time I’ve smashed into the Russian reluctance to cool drinks in summer and it won’t be the last.

A fridge anywhere maintains a steady four degrees Celsius. This makes it a heater in Russia for about half the year. In the brief respite from the cold they get, they seem to have never learned the cooling power that cold water, beer, or any other drink, holds on a hot day. We’ve already discovered that there’s no lack of hot days in the Russian summer to suffer through in sweat stained clothes enjoying the gentle sport of queuing. So, after you’ve braved the elements for that long, there is a very high chance your reward will be a bottle of water that has been sitting on the floor of a small metal room on the pavement for days if not weeks. The only thing that tops that experience is warm beer in a can stored under the same conditions. I wonder if nobody complains because they’ve never experienced the joy of a cold beer on a hot day, or are just so happy to be in summer, they just don’t care. Either way I learned quickly to ask for a cold drink in Russian; they normally let me hold it for a moment to decide if it’s really cold. I’m also never afraid to turn it down if ‘cold’ means it’s slightly lower than room temperature. Don had failed to ask and test these beers, so we did deserve to waste money; but beer is so cheap in Russia I can’t care

Kid's fun at the zoo..

We arrive at the bus stop and Don and I immediately look to the pavement shop parked next to it. The idea of beer looms large in our minds and we ask Yana how long the bus will be. She thinks it won’t be much longer and we hold off our beer purchase for a while. I’m chatting with the Serbians when Don appears holding a white paper bag of some description that appears to exactly match the shape of a bottle of beer.
“What’s that about?” I ask with an eyebrow raised.
“I’m sooooo Russian right now!”, he tells me proudly and poses with the bottle for a moment before continuing, “I mean drinking beer at a bus stop that even has a shop for you is brilliant.”
“And what about the bag?”
Apparently you can get these paper bags to cover the bottle to make it legal to drink in public!”
“How do you know that exactly?”
He doesn’t answer, but Yana is grinning evilly behind him.
“So Yana, can I get one too?”, I ask directly.
She puts her hand out for money and talks to the shopkeeper for me. A nice cold beer wrapped in this paper bag is passed back and I enjoy the flavour of the cool liquid washing over my tongue.
“So what’s the story with these bags?”, I ask Yana, examining the pictures and writing on it.
“You’re meant to use them in public, especially around children. It makes it legal if you have the bag.”
“What possible difference does a white paper bag make?”, I wonder aloud, “I mean kids aren’t stupid, they’ll know it’s alcohol.”
She shrugs and says,
“You can get them most places you can buy beer.”
“Are we going to be able to drink inside the zoo?”
“I’m not sure, but probably not. There are kids there.”
We have plenty of time to finish our beers happily before the bus arrives.

 

A Siberian Tiger in Siberia...

Hot Toucan Action

Hot Eagle Action

The opening section of the zoo is wonderfully strange. After crossing a large courtyard area, you’re greeted by a row of dinosaur exhibits, complete with cavemen hanging around and a small log ride for little children passing through one of them. We idly drift past them, snapping photos and arrive at the aviaries soon enough. I’m happy to find some Australian parrots on display, this time with the right names. I’m much happier to find a pair of Toucans in a large cage. These birds have the most colourful and amazing beaks and this is the first time I remember seeing them in real life. We pass a number of lynxes, a kind of cat I’ve always been fascinated with because of the long tufts of hair that rise from the points of their ears. I notice one eating the raw meat that the keepers have just left for them. For the next few hours we stroll lazily through different areas, constantly splitting up into many groups and coming back together only to divide again. There are polar bears, tigers, white tigers, otters, lions and, of course, the liger.

Hot Lynx Action

It looks like a female lion, but has faint tiger stripes in its fur. I watch it pacing up and down inside a cage that’s far too small to hold an animal like this. The whole zoo seems to be a reminder of how all zoos were fifty or a hundred years ago. They use small cages, made to fit more animals into the zoo for the hordes of people to come and view the strange beasts first hand. Since then the idea of looking after the animals and giving them a habitat like their natural one has grown and evolved a lot. Many animals in the zoo have plenty of space, but the big cats suffer here. However, the brown bear seems to be suffering the most. His sad eyes look mournfully out across the faces of the people gathered to stare. I’ve never seen a brown bear that close before, so maybe I’m misunderstanding it, but the feeling I got from him was a lonely, desperate sadness without relief.

Our fears about drinking beer inside seem unfounded as other people in pairs and groups are wandering around with bottles in hand – with no sign of a paper bag. There are also shops placed every five hundred metres around the zoo pathways that sell different food and cold beers. I’m guessing you’re meant to sit down there and finish it, but nobody seems to be doing that. The zoo is very large and you have to keep moving to have any chance of seeing everything. The beer also keeps us warm on a fairly overcast day and Yana is enjoying the odd sip as we pass them around. Near each of the shops are small areas dedicated to children’s entertainment too. This comes primarily in the form of little pedal cars they can zoom around in, in the open space next to each of the shops.

Being a Tiger is hard work...

We all slowly gather together again near the entrance and somehow I end up talking, in Russian, to a middle aged couple. I’m struggling, but manage to explain where I’m from, how long I’ve been in Russia, where I’ve been and why I’m here. In return I discover they often come here on summer weekends to enjoy seeing the animals and watching the kids play around the zoo too. Even as we’re standing talking, we’re all watching a line of kids taking turns getting photographs sitting on top of a huge fibreglass mammoth. The three of us turn to look at another exhibit and I continue to watch Don and the Serbians join the queue and get photos of themselves on the mammoth. This becomes the longest single conversation I have in Russian during my stay. Around the time that I’ve exhausted everything I can probably say meaningfully, Yana appears to see what’s going on. I’m relieved as she starts chatting with them too, but I’m amazed they really did understand everything I said. For some reason, talking Russian to complete strangers was easier than talking to any of my hosts. It’s something I do on the inter-city trains, but feel too shy with the people I’m staying with. I know it’s stupid; the only way you can learn to speak is to make all those mistakes a dozen times and learn from them. Buoyed up by this experience I’m very happy for quite a while, feeling like I might actually have learned a new skill.

Yana advertising beer...

A beautiful moment

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