Friday, June 2, 2017

There's a Reason It's the #1 Aquarium!

It's been a while since we posted a blog, but we've been waiting for me to learn to walk.  My arches have fallen, and I've been on my rear or in CAM walking boots most of this time.  My doctor sent me to get custom orthotics made, and I even have to put them in house shoes!  When I complained about how uncomfortable they were, the guy that made the molds and gave them to me told I hadn't been walking right and that I hadn't been standing right.  He told me it would take a while to get used to being forced to stand and walk properly, and then it would be more comfortable.  My doctor backed him up.  So, I'm still having trouble walking, but I'm past the point of the "breaking in period", so off we go.

Stop one is the Georgia Aquarium.  We've driven through Atlanta many, many times.  I even chaperoned a field trip to the Coca-Cola Museum right across the plaza from it.  I love zoos and aquariums, and this is supposed to be the best.  But, the Monterey Aquarium had disappointed me, so I decided to see if Georgia would make it up.  We got early bird tickets, so we were out in the wee hours of the morning to get to Atlanta by 11:00 a.m. from Ocala, Florida.  Perfectly doable.  The folks in Atlanta know a good thing, and they certainly aren't afraid to toot their own horn

Now, to see if they can back up those claims!  Upon entry, it's well put together.  A central area with each different area of emphasis in sections surrounding the central foyer.  The central area was large and open with pathways to help direct traffic, but allowing plenty of room to meander.  Several cafes on various sides where you could sit and rest with a refreshing beverage.  Those weren't where I chose to sit and rest, though.

We (meaning I) decided to start with the top draw - The Ocean Voyager where the whale sharks and manta rays are.  When you enter the section, there are a few spots to look into the huge tank before you reach the moving sidewalk and the tunnel.  My first sight of the whale shark was when it swam over me.

Pretty awesome.  You can step off the moving sidewalk if you would like to hang out and watch just in the tunnel.  I stepped out for a little while because I could have sworn I saw a sawfish swim through, but I was looking elsewhere and only saw him out of the corner of my eye, so I just wasn't sure.  He didn't come back, though, so we went on through the tunnel.  While waiting for the touch tank, there was an announcement that the whale shark feeding was about to take place.  I decided to bypass the touch tank.  I've played with rays and guitar fish before, but I did want to watch the whale shark feeding.

Whale sharks are filter feeders, so they just filter the water around them through their mouths.  The water passes through the filter pads and back out through the gills, and the food continues down through the digestive tract.  In the aquarium, they target feed them.  The workers float in small boats at the surface and target feed each shark from small color-coded buckets of krill.  Each shark has its own bucket so the workers can track how much each has eaten.  They are growing juveniles, after all!  It was amazing to watch!

These guys and their buddies (many of whom are also pretty sizeable) have plenty of room to swim around and to grow.  This tank alone holds 6.3 million gallons of water.  The whale sharks, manta rays, guitar fish, groupers, and others seemed to have plenty of room to maneuver and swim about as they chose.  When I needed to sit and take a break, I returned to this tank watching these gentle giants.  I'm even more determined now to join them in their natural habitat around Baja California or somewhere else.  There were a couple of times in Ecuador where one would beach.  The towns people would try their best to push them back into the water, but they failed each time.  I never saw one while swimming or snorkeling off the coast of Ecuador, but I hear there are scads of them in the Gulf of California, which some say is the best place to find them.

Just so you know, I would have been content if that had been the only tank in the aquarium, but it obviously wasn't.  There were sea otters, river otters, California sea lions, dolphins, penguins, and all kinds of things.  They did have one of the best tanks of garden eels I've seen, with schools of many different types of fish in the tank with them.  Many aquariums tend to put the garden eels in a tank with maybe one type of fish (usually a wrasse) with them and with an appearance of a protective habitat, though most garden eels thrive in areas with moderate currents, more likely to bring food their way.  I was also impressed with the leafy sea dragon tank.  Much larger than what you usually see with lots of places for the little guys to hide if they want to instead of a small tank that gets covered periodically to relieve stress.  And, the mandarine fish -- Usually, they're so busy darting around, I can't get a good shot.  This was posed.  He would move just a bit and then stop for the picture.  When I started to leave, he turned to face me, as if he wasn't finished!  Here are some shots.

The tanks were conducive to the animals' needs, yet easy for visitors to view without having to squeeze into small, tight spaces.  Nobody stopped me when walking to exhibits to have me sample their wares and take a coupon for my next trip to the market, and the space was used for animal habitats, not stationary displays and televisions so you could see what was going on in the exhibit if you couldn't get to a viewing spot.  The Georgia Aquarium puts the Monterey Aquarium to shame.  It also skyrocketed to the top of my list of best aquariums, which was most recently headed by the Newport Aquarium in Newport, Kentucky, just outside Cincinnati, Ohio.

After leaving the aquarium, we headed to Alabama to spend some time with a dear friend.  She took us to have some really good German food.  Sorry.  I couldn't wait.  Sooooo good.

This was Bruce's favorite part!

While Bruce was hanging out in the hotel, Barb and I found a little park with a creek.  Noticing no signs warning us to stay out, we decided to dip our toes in.  It was an awesome feeling!  The water was cool on that hot day.  A couple of frogs weren't really impressed with us, though.  Next time, I think I'll bring my water shoes, though.  Those rocks were pretty sharp!

A lovely park with a refreshing creek with two crazy ladies wading in it!  Life just doesn't get any better!

Meanwhile, in Tennessee -- Meet Pete!  He's gonna be a daddy soon, and he perches on the racks of this truck or high in other trees so he can keep an eye out, making sure nothing messes with the mama of those little peababies.

The peahen (whose name just evades me) decided to lay her eggs in the bed of this pickup truck, which won't be moving anytime soon.  I got the best shots I could, but the last thing I wanted was for her to feel threatened and have either her or Pete or both let me know just how unwelcome I was!

Since we were there, we had every intention of going to the Portland, Tennessee Strawberry Festival.  It's held on a Saturday in May every year, and we just happened to be there for that Saturday.  Remember at the top, I said the doctor said I didn't know how to walk?  Well, I proved it that day.  We got up and checked out of our hotel, deciding we'd spend a few hours at the Strawberry Festival, and maybe have some strawberry shortcake or strawberry pie for lunch before travelin' on down the road.  No such luck!  We got out of the car and started walking to Main Street, where it was shut down for the festival.  We got on the sidewalk, and I swear Bruce pushed me!  I'm not sure how he managed to do it since he was actually in front of me, but that's what had to happen because the next thing I know, I'm laying face down on the sidewalk!

You know that Facebook meme that's going around about knowing whether you're old based on the way people react when you fall?  I'm old!  I'm apparently older than old!  One lady actually started digging through her handbag for ointments and bandaids!  My new filtered water cup got scratched up in the fall.  I got some scratches on my fingers.  I got a bruise on the side of my leg just above my ankle.  The biggest brunt was my knee.  It doesn't look so bad, but it hurt like hell, and some of those spots were really deep!  If I was younger, I probably would have been able to push through it.  But, Bruce was having none of it.  If I couldn't stand up and walk properly, apparently I didn't need to have any strawberry shortcake or strawberry pie!  He marched my butt back to the car (meaning he almost literally carried me), and drove me to the nearest store where he could find a bandage big enough to cover it.  Then, he stood in the parking lot while I stuck my leg out in the car and cleaned my knee, point triple antibiotic on it, and taped a large dressing on it.  He finished it off by handing me a giant Reese's Cup.  Doesn't make up for the strawberry shortcake I was looking forward to, though!

That put me back on my rear again for a period of time.  But it didn't stop me from crashing Mother's Day with some friends and family in Tennessee before heading to Mississippi.

After a couple of days we were on our way again.  Biloxi, Mississippi was the next destination.  We got there a little early for checking into our rooms, so I sat down for a little while.  Sixty cents later, and --

As you can see, I bet big! (snicker, snicker!)  I actually spent most of my time there coaxing the birds up so I could try to take their pictures.  This was the best I got.  Holding the camera in one hand and a little bit of bread with the other.  None of them would come in to take it.  Surprisingly, they didn't even catch it when I threw it to them!  The one in the back was looking at it, though.

Of course, we had to make a trip to Darwell's!  No trip to the Biloxi area is complete without it!  One of the most unique things about Biloxi is the tree carvings in the median down Beach Boulevard (Hwy 90).  When Hurricane Katrina came through, there was a huge amount of damage, including all of the trees that used to line that median.  Instead of cutting them all down, the city commissioned three chainsaw and wood artists to turn the dead trees into works of art.  And, boy, did they ever!  These are some really awesome sculptures, with quite a bit of detail.  Some are small, but some are huge and multifaceted.  Here are just a few of them.

This will be our last circle back to Florida for a while.  It's getting entirely too hot here, so the next trip out will be another one-way journey!  And hopefully, I'll have learned to walk by then!