With a day to myself in Largo, I decided to do some sightseeing. In the lobby of the hotel is one of those displays that has brochures from all the local tourist attractions. And you know what caught my eye?
The zoo! Specifically the Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa.
Zoos have a special meaning for me. When I got my master's degree in the biological sciences (specifically, Environmental Education), it was with an idea toward working in a zoo one day. So what happened? We ended up setting in a spot 300 miles from the nearest zoo. I haven't been to a zoo in over ten years. So despite the heart-stopping entry price ($23!!!!), I decided to go.
Well it was superb. The zoo was confusingly laid out, but that was half the charm. I only consulted the zoo map a few times to confirm I hadn't missed anything, and despite the heat and humidity, I enjoyed myself thoroughly. So pardon my excitement as I post highlights of some of the animals.
Indian rhinoceros. It's hard to imagine a more prehistoric-looking creature. The classic description of this animal looking "armored" is dead-on true. Look at the plates on that body!
And as if this wasn't cool enough, there was a baby rhino! He (or she) was gamboling about the enclosure, butting into mama and thoroughly enjoying him/herself.
I was joking to myself that I had to come all the way to Florida to see a Bald Eagle in captivity, when we see them all the time in the wild where we live.
These tortoises were enthusiastically doing exactly what it looks like they're doing.
The highlight of the zoo is its manatee recovery tank. Many manatees that have been injured in the wild come here for vet treatment and rehabilitation.
Here a zoo worker is cleaning the inside of the tank. The blue double-circle gizmo in her right hand is a suction to attach to the window to keep her from bobbing to the surface, while she cleans the glass with her left hand.
Manatees are big benign-looking creatures. It was feeding time so many were chomping leaves of lettuce.
Apparently one of the most common injuries for manatees is getting caught in boat propellers. This female had half her tail flipper ripped off. The sign said she's nearly ready to be released back into the wild, just in time for her to calve.
(This is what a regular tail looks like -- nearly circular.)
I have no idea what kind of tree this was, but it was impressively fruiting.
All over the place, I saw parasitical orchids in trees.
A collection of lawn ornaments. Whoops, sorry, these are flamingos.
Lorikeets. Staggeringly pretty birds. This was an apiary, so we were right in with them.
Flying foxes, the biggest bats in the world. Wingspan about four feet. WAY cool.
An apiary full of budgies. I'm fond of these critters, having had many as pets.
By this point a thunderstorm was looming, with some impressive thunder rolling in.
But I couldn't go without seeing one of my favorite animals, the giraffe. You know how in high school, so many girls are horse-crazy? Well, I was giraffe crazy. Absolutely gaga over 'em.
They have such beautiful eyes.
Eating some lettuce.
Majestic during some times...
...awkward during others.
They even had a skull on display.
Some more armored personnel.
I had just finished seeing all the displays when the heavens opened and it started pouring WARM rain. As I was driving away, a crack of lightning and a boom of thunder came simultaneously, so it was definitely not the time to be in the open.
After that enlightening afternoon, I figured I couldn't leave Florida without seeing the beach, so I asked directions at the hotel desk for a suitable place to visit. They directed me to Clearwater Beach.
It was, to put it mildly, impressive. Miles of pure white sand as well as miles of condos and hotels. Facing north...
...and facing south.
The water was bottle green and very clear.
Brown pelicans were everywhere.
I got off the pier and went onto the sand. It was burning hot and fine as sugar. Just gorgeous. But when I stepped into the water, I nearly fell over. It was warm! Warm as milk fresh out of the cow! I'd never stepped in (natural) water that was so warm!
I went under the pier (the only shady spot) and for many minutes just stood in that warm water, marveling that I was in Florida.
This gigantic monstrosity, I learned, is a Hyatt Regency Hotel. Cha-ching! Can you imagine what it must cost to get an ocean-view room? (Between $200 and $550 per night. I looked it up.)
There was, to my considerable surprise, a pirate ship out to sea. Well, why not?
It chugged (for make no mistake, it had engines!) up the coast a mile or so, then turned around, discharged a couple of loud cannon booms, and chugged back. Very impressive.
Sated with hot sunshine and humidity, I knew it was time to get back to the hotel before I wilted from the heat.
I stopped for dinner, and as I came out of the restaurant I noticed this billowing thunderhead towering over.
A little thunder and lightening, but nothing serious.
By the way, I don't think I've ever seen such a place for clouds that resemble things. (I've enhanced the colors to make them more visible.) This morning I noticed a lion's head...
...when I got to the beach I noticed this huge fish...
...and driving back to the hotel I noticed a catfish. Go figure.
Today was my day of play. Tomorrow is the more serious business of going on television. Yikes.