Friday, March 14, 2008

Papiliorama Adventure

On a sunny Saturday in February, we decided to do something with our day. We did not really know what we were going to do, but among a few choices, decided to go to the Papiliorama to the north of here. We took the Intercity to Lyss, and then switched to a privately-run train to the Papiliorama stop, which is right in front of the park. With a modest admission fee of $44 for the family, we entered.

Butterfly Garden
The first stop was the Swiss Butterfly Garden. This is a geodesic structure that acts as a very effective greenhouse. It was a pretty warm Saturday in Switzerland, a recent heat-wave making everything seem like spring. Inside this butterfly garden, it was very warm and moist. The kids complained constantly. But they are at home complaining. The only time they are not complaining is when they are unconscious.

When we first got in, we noticed the room is full of plants, flowers... and after a few seconds, you notice there are zillions of little butterflies flitting around. The entrance to the room has four rules, (not in English), but at least they have enough pictures for the kids and non-German, non-Francophones to comprehend. No catching them, no stepping on the butterflies, no touching them, and no food.

I took about 75 pictures with the camera's macro-mode. It is really hard to get these photos right -- the butterfly is flitting about, the focal distance is only about a centimeter, and the lighting has to be right. Out of all of the pictures I took, only a few were suitable for publishing on the website (see the slide show above).

Also wonderful to behold was a huge pool, with some sort of monster fish, which fascinated the kids. He kept bumping on the window, with his big monster fish lips, and I kept telling the kids "I am a monster fish. I eat children!" The kids just laughed, and didn't run away screaming.

We found a butterfly that landed on a picture of a butterfly. I guess he found it to be a convincing rendition of a fellow insect. Cute.

There were a few hummingbirds zipping around the butterfly garden. One particular hummingbird was very upset about any butterflies that approached. As he sat on the branch, he would leap into the air and chase away a butterfly, then return to his perch, to pose for us. He would not let me get very close, so it took many attempts for me to get this photo above.

The Nocturama
There is a second room, about the same size as the Swiss Butterfly Garden; this room painted with a blue roof, to reduce the ambient light to about 1/1000th of the light of daytime. In this room, all sorts of nocturnal animals rummaged about doing their nocturnal deeds.

Sorry, no pictures; they expressly prohibited flash photography, and all the low light shots I took did not come out very well (very grainy). The Nocturama page boasts about "[three-toed] sloth[s], tree porcupines, night monkeys, kinkajous, ocelots, giant anacondas and many others. "

It is probably a good thing they did not go into detail about "many others." When you first get into the Nocturama, it is the same terror you get as you walk into a dark room scattered with legos on the floor. You can't see anything, so you walk very slowly. It takes about 10 minutes to start to adjust to the dark, and after 15, you are pretty much fully adjusted.

For the first ten minutes, you are admiring the cute ocelot, and trying to find the kinkajou, or marveling at the size of the monster anaconda.

Occasionally, there is this whiff of air by your head. You don't really notice. Part of the tour takes you through a very dark stone cave-like part of the path. I now have walked around this part of the park long enough to be fully-adjusted, and I know why they did not go into more detail about "and many more. "

There be bats in here! The bats are awesome creatures. It is quite clear to me that they are truly acrobats of the night. I have gained just enough dark sensitivity to realize that those whiffs by my head were bats zinging by. A different part of the path looked down on the other visitors who were in the first five minutes of the 'adjusting to the dark' phase. It is quite the experience to watch the people WHO HAVE NO CLUE.

Out of the bat cave, zing these bats at a pace that would seem to be a blur in normal light. The unknown latent sufferers of chiroptophobia completely unaware of the gravity of their position. The bats flit out of the cave at unbelievable speeds, zip by the family of four looking at the ocelots; zing by the newlyweds looking at the kinkajous, all while completely unaware that there is more to see.

Once I excitedly remarked "Wow! Bats!" Stacy decided to (quickly) return to safety -- outside of the Nocturama. Jake and I stayed in long enough to do more anthropology lessons -- people watching (one of my favorite past-times); and admire the speed and agility of the bats.

Flashbacks of Bats
I am sure my mom, reading this somewhere in Virginia, will start recalling one of her most memorable moments of my childhood. On Easter break, I was wandering around four mile run, in Arlington; where I grew up, with my friend Ward. I suppose we were about 9 or 10 years old at the time.

While enjoying a quiet afternoon of throwing rocks into the creek, or finding interesting pieces of trash in the creek-bed, busting bottles on the rocks, we decided to find entertainment in making as much noise as possible. There were huge metal flood doors that slam shut to keep a flooding four mile run from backing up into the streets of Arlington. The hinge outwards to allow street run-off to enter the creek/river. As kids, we neither cared nor knew what function these doors had. All we knew was the sound of them slamming shut was awesome.

They were big heavy doors that once lifted with every ounce of might from my developing arms, would whoosh down and meet the bottom with the most terrific klang. The pipe that the door protected was easily big enough for us to walk into, although hunched over. Once or twice, our ears not ringing yet, the crashing noise of the klang was immediately followed by this wheezy shriek. Curiosity overcame our desire to make racket, to discover a poor bat with a broken wing, lying on the floor of the monster pipe. Each time the door klanged, he was probably screaming in pain from the noise.

Without touching him, we managed to coax him into a cardboard box that we had acquired from the nearby Giant Food grocery store. Ward managed to draw the bat out with the moisture of a stick (guess the little guy was thirsty!) This was also during the time that there was a rabies scare in our area. I don't know if it was an actual scare, or if it was just one of the bogeyman stories that adults tell children to keep them in line, but the fear of rabid animals was a phobia that gripped my imagination most vividly. (I do not know where that rabies fear was during this adventure, though).

We proudly brought the prize of what we had found at the creek back home. I called my mom, who was at work, "Hey mom! Guess what! We found a bat!" After a pause of what I can now imagine my mother's imagination running wild, probably with the same images of rabid animals that I had beem filled with. "Well don't touch it!" was my mother's first response.

We called the animal shelter of Arlington, which sent a representative to come pick up the poor creature. I presume it was nursed back to health, but now as an adult, I suppose that the poor creature had slim prospects to survive.

On the subject of creepy creatures
... and back to the previous subject of the Papiliorama; they had another room called the "Arthopodarium" -- they had a few insects, a few arachnids; some quite adorable tarantulas, seen in the slide show above. Stacy did not spend much time in this room, either. One of the youngest stick-bugs managed to escape his glass display case, discovered by Joshie, and got to sit on my finger for a while.

There was a really great park and a petting zoo that the kids really enjoyed. Among the things that "the pongo plaza" boasted were swings unlike any we have seen in the US, shaped kind of like a basket, which allowed me to swing the children to obscene heights.

A pair of Swiss German girls, about 9 or 10 years old, climbed on to the swing, while Josh and Cecilia watched on in terrified horror. In German, I offered to swing them, "I won't swing you so high" I said. One of the girls responded, "Doch, GANZ HOCH!" (no way, really high please!) Not only did I swing them as high as I could, the girl started standing up on the swing to get more sway out of it. Now that is bravery.

Once they were done, Joshie and Cecilia got on-board. I swung them about half as high as the two Swiss-German girls swung. The kids never even got to the zero-G point of the swing. The two screamed like there was an axe murderer. Josh kept screaming, "Not so high!"

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