There Is Something Unusual About This Zoo

Although it can be difficult to find vegetarian fare while traveling, and although it can be frustrating trying to find a high-quality traveling shoe that doesn’t incorporate leather, it is usually the very opposite of difficult to avoid a zoo while traveling.

But that was before I went to Santander.

I climbed a high hill on a peninsula, with a beach on either side and a palace before me. One beach was sandy and calm, and the other was rocky and choppy. Here’s the view to the right:

Palacio Magdaleno on a hill over the beach in Santander

This is the sandy beach below the palace on the hill.

And here’s the view to the left:

Playa Camello in Santander: flowers overlook an inlet littered with diagonally jutting rocks.

This is Playa Camello, and further on is Playa Sardinero, where I got hazelnut-flavored ice-cream from Regma and walked barefoot along the shore.

So I plopped down by the flowers and had a picnic of pintxos and fresh fruit, listening to the waves crash against the rocks.

Finished with my picnic, I went for a walk around the peninsula, making my way along the shores and before the grounds of the palace. Immediately I found myself facing a giant crag surrounded by a dried-up moat filled with black, white, and spotted ducks. The moat was lined with gated-up arches, and it looked like the perfect spot for a bear. It was only then that I realized I was in an old zoo; the zoo was just part of the path around the peninsula, open-air and free to the public.

It seemed the zoo was closed, and I was even a bit disappointed. I could see the long shore of Sardinero Beach curving off to the right behind me and the great sea going on without end to the other side. I thought that I should like to live on that giant crag myself.

And then I saw the penguins.

They were sleeping, piled on top of each other like dirty dead seagulls. They did not look shiny or goofy or remotely like the mafia. They looked sleepy and bird-y and bored. They were depressing, so I hurried on.

And long story short: this zoo did nothing to make me feel better about zoos. You would feel pretty bad about zoos, too, if you were there. You would probably not even take your children, who are too young to think about the ethics of zoos. This is because you would not feel like explaining the concept of death. You would have to do this because all of the animals looked dead.

How would you caption these pictures?

A limp form dangles from a stone sloop, half in the water and half out of the water.

A limp form droops over the side of a stony slope, half in the water and half out of the water.

A white seal with a spotted stomach floats through the water belly-up.

A white seal with a black-speckled stomach floats by belly-up.

A group of sea lions lay covered in dirt at the bottom of a dry pit.

A group of sea lions lay covered in dirt at the bottom of a dry, sandy pit.

All joking aside, the animals were fine. You just had to wait for it.

Mr. Seal sits up dapper and studly in the Santander sunshine.

Mr. Stud sits pretty in the Santander sunshine.

In the end, I appreciated this opportunity to see dozing mammals in a zoo by the sea. If there had been water in the pit, I couldn’t have laughed to see Mr. Stud walking on 4 fins in a revolting-yet-fascinating limp-hop only to head-butt another seal and plop down again on his side, reaching one fin high into the sky as if to air out his swampy armpits.

If not for exhibitions like these, what are zoos for?!

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3 thoughts on “There Is Something Unusual About This Zoo

  1. yes, zoos can be depressing, watching animals pace endlessly, but here and there you see one with a sense of humor making the best of living in a foreign land.

    • The book “Life of Pi” also made me feel a bit better about zoos. It pointed out, “Would you rather live in a small apartment in the city near food you don’t have to kill for and medical assistance, or in the jungle or great plains of Africa, where if you are injured you will probably die from exposure or be eaten?” When you put it that way…

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