This trip took place from February 17th through February 22nd, 2017.
Day 2, Houston Zoo: We tried to sleep-in after the late night but James got us up at 7:30am. It could have been worse; Carter woke Val up around 4:30am so she was, understandably, more tired. Our morning was fairly relaxed as a result. Someone put Sesame Street on and we just hung out. Side note: Did you know that Cookie Monster has his own separate series of shorts called Smart Cookies where he teams up with various characters that are anthropomorphic cookies? They solve crimes committed by a chef of some kind and Cookie Monster has to be told to focus as he is tempted to eat his cookie teammates. The plan for the day was to go to the Houston Zoo; a plan that, although delayed, finally got underway around noon.
With two children of car-seat age we ended up taking two cars in order to fit both car-seats and four adults comfortably. Dave drove James and me. The zoo was a twenty-minute drive on 610 and 288. We passed by NRG Stadium, home of the Houston Texans and recent host of Super Bowl LI. Right next to it is the old Astrodome. Word on the street is that there is a group of preservationists trying to save it from destruction (and replacement by a series of parking lots). Parking was horrendous at the Houston Zoo on this busy Saturday but Dave found an open spot right away. Val, Beth, and Carter were less fortunate so we ended up waiting at the front entrance for a couple of minutes while they patrolled the various lots.
It was a beautiful 84 degrees and partly cloudy. I had applied liberal amounts of sunscreen to protect my Winter-Minnesotan skin. James was wearing a blanket to protect him from the sun until the covered stroller arrived with Beth. Once we were all reunited, Val and Dave got us all into the zoo with their membership pass. Their level of membership lets them bring up to six people at a time. They go to the zoo regularly so Carter was clearly in charge as we were on his turf. He knew exactly where he wanted to go at all times (apparently, three-year olds can be quite opinionated). We headed quickly towards the elephants but I lagged behind briefly to stop and see the red pandas and meerkats (one of my favorites). There wasn’t much time to linger by the elephants either as we were off to see other exhibits like the komodo dragons, lemurs, and turtles. Val and Carter went off on a walk somewhere while the rest of us waited in line for pizza at a café. They also sold baked mac and cheese which was delicious if not the best choice for a hot day.
Our shaded table was gobbled up before the last of us had even stood up to walk away. Carter next led his team of adventurers towards the carousel where Dave bought two tickets and took him aboard for a few spins riding a penguin (one of the many animals represented on the ride). We continued South past the zebras, ostriches, rhinos, and Carter’s other favorite animal (besides the elephants), the giraffes. The Houston Zoo has a program where you can pay a couple dollars to feed the giraffes lettuce, which Val, Dave, and Carter have done many times (but not on this occasion). They are magnificent creatures.
At this point Carter decided he was meant to push James in the stroller. It took us a bit longer to get around with this arrangement. An adult still had to hold on to the stroller as Carter liked to hang from the handle causing the stroller to tilt backwards. We went to see the chimps, apes, and gorillas next. I was surprised to see that many of these primates are older than I am (their oldest gorilla, Binti, is 41 years old)! It was nap time for many of them and also our little one. It doesn’t really matter what time you visit the zoo (any zoo); the animals really do like to sleep. The chimps weren’t exactly active when we arrived but they were awake at least. They were sitting calmly and staring at us behind the glass until all at once they headed back to a large tree in the middle of their habitat. I joked that it must be shift change (because I’m hilarious). Carter enjoyed watching one of the gorillas rolling around and I saw him blowing raspberries in response.
James woke up and requested politely that he be fed so we found a table off to the side while Val and Dave took Carter to play in a kiddie area with African drums and huts. When they rejoined us they had mango ice cream. Carter was pretty possessive but we all got to try it sneakily when he was distracted. It’s not my favorite ice cream flavor but it was tasty and refreshing. Our time at the zoo was winding down so we rushed past the anteaters, tapirs, ankole cattle, and antelopes (one of which was a cute baby). The bears were all asleep (and who could blame them?) but the lions and tigers were pretty active. Dave told me that the male lion had sadly died in the last year so the three females were carrying on alone for the time being. The tiger was pacing at the edge of his enclosure and staring down several small children on the other side of the glass.
The last animals we saw were the pair of sea lions and then it was time to head to the cars and home. The rest of Hermann Park where the zoo is located was buzzing with activity. Dave took a popular exit and we got stuck in a long line of slowly moving traffic. We watched a kids movie that I forget (because we watched several on the trip). It may have been Cars. We definitely watched Cars at some point, I just can’t remember if it was after the zoo.
For dinner I suggested a place I had seen on a list of the best affordable restaurants in Houston. It was a taco place called Torchy’s Tacos; a popular restaurant that Val had tried previously. Dave entered our order online and the two of us drove to pick it up. Parking in that neighborhood was at a premium but we happened upon a spot right out front of Torchy’s. There was a long line out the front door which was encouraging. It is usually wise to follow the locals when it comes to choosing where to eat! You can check out Torchy’s menu if you want to become hungry rather quickly. Each taco isn’t very big so we ordered three each. I had the Ranch Hand (grilled beef with scrambled eggs and shredded cheese), the Trailer Park (fried chicken, green chiles, pico, lettuce, and poblano sauce which I ‘made trashy’ by subbing in extra queso for the lettuce) and the Mr. Orange (blackened salmon with grilled corn and black bean relish, queso fresco, cilantro, and avocado salsa). Everything was delicious but the Mr. Orange was my favorite of the three. I forget who had what but the others also tried the Brushfire (jerk chicken, jalapenos, mango), the Democrat (shredded beef, avocado, queso fresco, cilantro, onions, and lime), and the Dirty Sanchez (scrambled eggs, fried poblano chile, guacamole, carrots, and cheese).
James enjoyed some ‘tummy time’ that soon became ‘cousin tummy time’. Eventually the kiddos went to bed and the adults watched Doctor Strange. Beth and I hadn’t seen it yet and crossing it off the list brought us up to date with Marvel movies. It was a good introduction to a new superhero (played by the ever talented Benedict Cumberbatch) as well as an introduction to the mystical side of the marvel universe. It was funny, psychedelic, and, at times, dark. Having seen the movie before, Val fell asleep on the couch and kicked me in her sleep. End of day two.