Sea Life Berlin (or, Berlin, you are no Bangkok)

If you know my son, you know he loves sea creatures. He may be in an insect phase at the moment, but the underwater world is his first and deepest love.

As luck would have it, Sea Life Berlin is within walking distance of my brother-in-law’s house. I’m familiar with the Sea Life aquarium brand from our breathtaking trip to Bangkok Sea Life Ocean World last year, which was the most spectacular aquarium I’ve ever visited. Seriously, click through and look at our photos from last year. That place is amazing.

Compared to Bangkok, Berlin was just kind of…meh.

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Sure, there were some weird things…

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and some close encounters…

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and some things lurking in the deep…

…but none of the drama and majesty of the Bangkok experience.

The highlight, though, was the AquaDom, the largest freestanding cylindrical aquarium in the world. It holds a million liters of water, 1,500 fish, and is 25 meters tall.

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Photo credit: By Dellex – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7511724

More than just a huge fish tank, there is a built-in transparent elevator in the middle.

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The ride up and down takes about eight minutes and was the highlight of our visit to SeaLife Berlin

I’ll just close with this gorgeous photo from Bangkok. Perhaps if my expectations were a tad high.

Bangkok sharks

Don’t feed the wildlife

Rainy Day Distractions

As I mentioned before, a cold front moved in, bringing with it gusting winds, brisk (to us) temperatures in the 60s, and lots of rain. Lucky for us, just around the corner is a two story, 24-hour pet store! All the free rainy day entertainment you might want, close to home and under one roof!

Does your local Petco have a moray eel and a zebra shark in the front window? I didn't think so.

Does your local Petco have a moray eel and a zebra shark in the front window? I didn’t think so.

It turns out this place is pretty amazing for fish lovers.

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Row after row of aquariums

There were fancy goldfish with their brains on the outside:

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And regular goldfish with their brains on the inside:

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There were even more exotic things that I’ve never seen for sale in a regular fish store before (I feel like I’ve been in a lot of fish stores.  More than the average person at least. I’m a sucker for easy kid entertainment.), like stingrays and jellyfish.

When Hugo is older and can take care of a tank himself, maybe we'll get one of these gorgeous discus fish

When Hugo is older and can take care of a tank himself, maybe we’ll get one of these gorgeous discus fish

Hopefully it clears up soon and we can head back outside.

In the meantime, we’ll make do with tapping on the shark tank.

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The weirdest thing about these black tip reef sharks is they didn’t have any teeth. How do you go about removing a shark’s teeth? Is that normal practice for shark-keepers? What do you feed a toothless shark? So many unanswered questions…

A Day At The Kampung

Mt Merapi looms ahead of us, a perfect dark cone, partially enveloped in mist. My ears pop, proving we’re gaining altitude even though the road doesn’t appear to be going uphill.

They say the volcano is smoking 300 days a year. Every time I look at it I doubt my vision, half convinced that it’s just wisps of cloud like we see around our more familiar and benevolent volcano at home, Mt Rainier.

Mt Merapi’s last major eruption was in 2010, the year before my previous visit to the area.

Today we’re taking a day trip to a village (kampung ) in the shadow of Mt Merapi where the students are doing a brief homestay.

Looking for fish, of course

Looking for fish, of course

Except, instead of spending time with the group, Hugo decided he’d rather spend time with his new friends.

Another 3 year old who likes throwing big rocks in the water! What are the odds?!

Another 3 year old who likes throwing big rocks in the water! What are the odds?!

Notice the black volcanic dirt:

Three boys, some trucks, and a pile of dirt

Three boys, some trucks, and a pile of dirt

The highlight for Hugo was this moment:

"I touched a baby duckling!"

“I touched a baby duckling!”

This village is also the home to a gamelan, which is a set of instruments used to play traditional Javanese music.

A detail of one of the pieces of the gamelan

A detail of one of the pieces of the gamelan

There are mostly xylophones and gongs, but one person will play a hand drum to keep the beat.

Hugo grabs a mallet and gives it a go

Hugo grabs a mallet and gives it a go

The pieces range in size from a xylophone about 18 inches across to this enormous hanging gong:

This calls for a bigger mallet

This calls for a bigger mallet

If you’re interested in hearing the gamelan in action, check out this video below:

We headed back to Yogyakarta, Hugo exhausted and dirty, the best way for a toddler to end the day.

Touche, Tokay

Gek-o, gek-o, tok tok tok tok

“Quick, go get it!”

I throw open the balcony door as loudly as possible and start banging on the ceiling with a broom handle.

“It’s not…”

Gek-o, gek-o, tok tok tok 

“It’s not working!”

Our days and nights are plagued by a horrible and unseen beast.

At first I thought it might be a bird because there’s a nest in the potted tree on the balcony, but the sound is coming from above.

A frog or toad of some sort? Maybe.

Then the maid said she saw it, blue-gray with red spots, hiding in a corner of the roof of our balcony.

She told me it was called a tokex, which Google translate helpfully told me is Indonesian for tokex.

A little more digging and we figured it out: a tokay gecko, one of the largest geckos in the world.

LOOK AT ITS MENACING FACE!

Photo from Wikipedia

Photo from Wikipedia

Here are some disturbing facts about our unwanted roommate:

  • It can grow to up to 20 disgusting inches long
  • They have a creepy semi-prehensile tail
  • They have a beastly “third eye” on top of their head that can sense light
  • If you look into their ear you can see directly through their abominable head (I did not make this up)
  • They have a monstrous fold of skin which prevents them from casting a shadow (also not made up)
  • They have a vicious and  painful bite
  • American soldiers in Vietnam nicknamed it the “fuck you lizard”  for obvious reasons

And of course there is its famously loud call.

Fuck you lizard, indeed.

Gembira Loka Zoo

This morning we headed out early to check out the Gembira Loka Zoo, which is not too far from where we’re staying. In a town with very few parks or green spaces, the zoo was a refreshing change of scenery.

We got there pretty soon after it opened and almost had the place to ourselves

We got there pretty soon after it opened and almost had the place to ourselves

The zoo grounds also include a large arboretum and a lake, so it makes for a pleasant shady walk.

The lake. You can rent paddle boats, too, if just looking at the lake isn't enough for you.

The lake. You can rent paddle boats, too, if just looking at the lake isn’t enough for you.

I never thought I’d say this, but the reptiles and birds were really the highlight of the zoo. I suppose that makes sense since a lot of them are native to the region.

There were lots of opportunities for creature interactions

There were lots of opportunities for creature interactions

Hugo has been making me read him this huge book about reptiles on repeat for the last 10 days, so he was pretty excited to identify all the different things we were seeing.

This guy seems pretty nonchalant about the giant Komodo Dragon standing right behind him

This guy seems pretty nonchalant about the giant Komodo Dragon standing right behind him

The bird area had a large space where the native species were just flying around freely. I wish I had made some video so you could hear the cacophony of bird squawks and see them swooping here and there.

In the giant bird house. Did I mention that it was already a thousand degrees outside at 9 in the morning? Poor Hugo looks like he's wilting.

In the giant bird house. Did I mention that it was already a thousand degrees outside at 9 in the morning? Poor Hugo looks like he’s wilting.

This guy glared at us from his perch:

He was probably pretty mad about being awake during the day

He was probably pretty mad about being awake during the day

One of the main differences between zoos in developing countries and zoos in the US is how close you can get to the animals. This is often cool, but sometimes terrifying. I could have tapped a 15 foot crocodile on the head if I really wanted to.

This tapir trotted right up to us. Do tapirs bite? I didn't want to find out the hard way.

This tapir trotted right up to us. Do tapirs bite? I didn’t want to find out the hard way.

We also got uncomfortably close to a cassowary bird. Not familiar with the cassowary? Well, they’re huge and deadly and make the most disturbing didgeridoo sort of sound.

There was also a large playground and lots of tunnels and slides and interesting things for kids to climb on.

Overall I’d say the zoo exceeded my expectations. There were some low points (elephants in a bare dirt field), and some disappointments (small and depressing aquarium), but the reptiles and birds were fantastic, and the park itself is very well maintained.

Tickets were 20,000 rupiah each (approximately $1.55; children under 3 are free).

The zoo and park are stroller-friendly, so if your little one tends to get tired, I’d recommend that you bring one. There are ramps next to all the stairs, but be warned there are 2 very steep hills (down at the entrance, back up at the exit).

Yogyakarta Bird And Animal Market

I feel like in the US we have well-defined categories of what kinds of animals we would consider to be pets and what kinds of animals should be “wild”.

A visit to the Yogyakarta Animal Market will challenge those assumptions.

If you're in the market for a messenger owl, this little guy is more of a Pigwidgen than a Hedwig

If you’re in the market for a messenger owl, this little guy is more of a Pigwidgen than a Hedwig

There are a lot of birds for sale.

It seemed like there were a thousand of these little brown ones

It seemed like there were a thousand of these little brown ones

Some familiar (pigeons, parakeets), some more exotic.

Is there anything more exotic than a hot pink baby chick?

Is there anything more exotic than a hot pink baby chick?

And lots of beautiful cages.

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There is a fish section, which you know was Hugo’s favorite part.

Baby koi

Baby koi

Jars of colorful bettas

Jars of colorful bettas

There were kittens and puppies and bunnies to pet.

And if you venture to the back part, sometimes you see some monkeys.

Did you know that monkeys like to eat carrots?

Did you know that monkeys like to eat carrots?

Last time I came here, there were two baby monkeys that looked very sad and probably should not have been separated from their mothers. These seemed healthy and calm.

This market leaves me with mixed feelings. Seeing fish in aquariums or many kinds of birds in cages don’t seem unusual, but monkeys, squirrels, bats, and owls are the kinds of things I’d rather see in trees.

Bangkok Sea Life Ocean World

We spent the morning at

Bangkok Sea Life Ocean World!

Bangkok Sea Life Ocean World!

Which is pretty much Hugo’s idea of heaven.

Relaxing in the jelly room

Relaxing in the jelly room

We bought tickets online ahead of time and arrived right when it opened.

Don't feed the wildlife

Don’t feed the wildlife

We ended up having the whole place to ourselves for awhile.

He will name all of these fish for you if you're willing to listen

He will name all of these fish for you if you’re willing to listen

Special bonus: kids under 3 are free! And Hugo won’t be 3 for two whole days!

We climbed in the tank!

We climbed in the tank!

If you’re interested in aquariums, I highly recommend this one. It’s enormous and truly world class. It comes with a world class admission price, too, but is worth it for the sea life obsessed.

Racing the fishes

Racing the fishes

Definitely aim to arrive early and miss the crowds of school children being led around by obnoxiously loud guides with bullhorns.

Oh, and don’t let the giant moray eels bite you on the way to the gift shop!

This may be the least flattering photo that I've ever purposefully posted on the internet

This may be the least flattering photo that I’ve ever purposefully posted on the internet

Chiang Mai Night Safari

Last night we went to the Chiang Mai Night Safari, and if ever there was a place which achieved the perfect combination of spectacle, danger, and kitsch that I have come to expect from and Asian theme park, this is it.

Ostentations statuary? Check.

Giant light up plastic animals? Check.

Eardrum shattering sound system? Check.

Dangerous wildlife wandering about, uncaged and uncomfortably close? Check.

Dancing women (who might actually be men?), dressed to represent each ASEAN member nation? Check.

Laser light and water show? Check.

The Night Safari is a combination zoo/theme park/resort. There are things to do there during the day, but the more popular option is to go at night. It is both as amazing and as awful as you think it’s going to be.

Feed a starving baby goat!

Feed a starving baby goat!

The main attraction is the tram ride which takes you – in complete darkness – through two separate open habitat animal enclosures.

Hugo conquers his fear of elephants

Hugo conquers his fear of elephants

For the more dangerous animals, there is a large trench that protects you from attack. For the less dangerous animals, you’re on your own!

Zebras are jerks

Zebras are jerks

Our driver warned us repeatedly that the zebras have very sharp teeth and may bite our fingers off, but she didn’t warn us that the zebra will stick its face in your lap looking for hidden food.

The giraffes were more dignified, but they have terrible halitosis

The giraffes were more dignified, but they have terrible halitosis

There were some rare animals, like these rhinos:

The driver told us that rhinos were endangered because their horns are used in love potions, but forgot to mention that the love potions don't work

The driver told us that rhinos were endangered because their horns are used in love potions, but forgot to mention that the love potions don’t work

There were lions, tigers, bears, and hyenas all around us! I am not convinced the depth of the trench was enough to stop a truly determined Siberian tiger from reaching the tram, but I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt since we made it out in one piece. After the tram ride, you are invited to enjoy the shows put on in the courtyard. There was some kind of cowboy/roping demonstration, fire eating, a tiger show, and the aforementioned dancing ASEAN countries. The night was closed out by a laser light/water fountain spectacular.