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My son, Haven, knows that scheduling a trip to the zoo is always a welcome choice, especially in Peru, where he lives with his family, and most certainly in one of the remote provinces we were visiting, in this case, Pucallpa, which the zoo was named after. To get there, we had to take some of the 3-wheeled motorcycle cabs. Peru can handle 10-times the amount of a similar U.S. city because these little babies don't take up much room, and they pack themselves together so closely, I kept thinking the wheels were going to hit. First we bounced through the city streets then along a wet dirt road through the jungle to front of the zoo where lots of other 3-wheel motorcycle cabs were letting off zoo visitors. Must be a popular place, I thought.
The zoo was familiarly rustic, with carnivores in tiny enclosures, and way too many birds. The most interesting creatures were the the marching line of leaf-cutter ants on the sidewalk. There wasn't much new, and we've even been in jungle downpours at zoos before too, but the “Parque Natural” did offer one attraction that was so bizarre as to be noteworthy; a open swinging bridge over an alligator pit.
Nobody ever falls into alligator pits in the movies but that doesn’t mean the alligators wouldn’t eat you in real life. While I was contemplating why Peruvians would want to cross an unsteady suspension bridge with rusted-through cable webbing, our free-ranging 2-year old grandson, Felix, ran right out onto the thing. He was small enough that he could pass right through the gaps. In the second it took me to catch up, Felix was looking over the side, his hips synchronized with the bridge’s swinging, into the maw of a large alligator, patiently waiting in the moat 3-meters below, following Felix with his eyes. Breaking into cold panic, I snatched Felix up.
My wife, Gwynne, then walked out onto the bridge. She saw me clutching her grandson tightly, alarm etching her face as she looked around to find out why.
“Oh my God!” she exclaimed.
Just beyond the moat, on land, were three smaller alligators strategically placed for hapless 2-year olds. It was real Indiana Jones stuff, but we went across anyway, though keeping a tight hold on Felix.
At the other side, Haven said, “There’s no sign saying not to feed the alligators like there is on the other enclosures. Let the implications of that sink in...”
“Saves money,” I suggested.
“Do you get you entry fee back if you don’t come out?” Gwynne asked, suspiciously.
No other people crossed that bridge while we were there but we did see several families tentatively standing at the top of the steps taking selfies.
We, of course, went across the bridge several times just to show how it's done, but after that we headed out of the place into a dilapidated children's carnival there in the middle of the jungle. None of the rides looked safe, if they even worked, but compared to open air alligator pits, we let Felix do whatever he wanted. At least we got a family picture with the threadbare props in the photo booth.
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