Yesterday I went to Haifa and I had one of the best times yet in that large coastal city! At first I stopped off at Kiryat Motzkin to interview someone for an article I am working on but before long I was back on the train headed for Downtown Haifa. When I got off the train at Mercaz HaShmona I had to walk swiftly through the light yet very cold rain to get to Paris Square, the lowest stop of the Carmelit Underground Train. When I set eyes on the little subway I immediately loved it.
For me it felt like an amusement ride, going up the mountain in a snug tunnel sitting in a retro-looking train car with luridly painted tiles decorating each stop. No expert on subways, this may have been the first time I have ridden one, I delighted myself watching the stone walls of the tunnel whip by mere inches from the window. At one point I got a little queasy as I was watching the wall but looking downward. When the tiled floor of the next stop came rushing up at me a wave of confused nausea swept through me and made me look away. As I looked away I remembered my wonderful time in Orlando, FL, at the Universal Studios Amusement Park. Eight minutes after the tiny train left Paris Square we reached the end of our ride and I rode up the escalator to find myself in earshot of my next destination – the focal point of the day, the Haifa Educational Zoo.
I purchased my ticket and entered the world of exotic animals, the joyous laughter of the security guard trying his broken English on me mixing in with the noises of the animal kingdom. It was a slow day at the zoo, winter and rain attributing to that, and I was mostly alone as I peered at the animals in their habitats. I felt like a little child, ooh-ing and aah-ing at the animals. I was fascinated at the immense size of the sleeping Bengal tiger and wished that the Nile crocodile would move some instead of dozing in the water. At one point I heard someone singing and when I got closer, and into view, I saw a zookeeper singing softly to a huge white cockatoo. The bird loved it but the man stopped when he say me and told the bird to go ahead and dance. The bird followed the man’s instructions and danced gaily on the trees inside his enclosure. Other birds didn’t seem as friendly – one large eagle owl stood still and watched me walk by, his wise head turning slowly to a point where most chiropractors would have fainted away.
One part I really enjoyed was the lemurs. I had just examined the capuchin monkeys as they leaped around and was surprised to see the lemurs adopting a sunning position. They broke away from the huddled line that kept them warm in the chilly winter breeze and began to sit with their arms spread out. Then they each did something amazing. Each one turned his head to make sure he was not blocking another lemur’s sun-rays. It was fascinating. Several minutes later I bumped into two zookeepers who were heading to the lemurs to feed them. I asked if I was allowed in and they agreed, even though the official lemur visiting hours were already over. At the gate one of them said that I was a rabbi and I told them that no, I am not a rabbi. That was interesting. Once inside, among the chipper little lemurs, I asked them if they liked there job and they said that even though they spent 90% of the time cleaning, this was the best job in the world. They looked like they meant it.
After the lemur feeding I continued alone along the path. I was amazed to watch the lions eat – they had some huge leg bone or something – especially when I heard a bone crack. The male lion looked shabbier than the two female lionesses but after four weeks of rain and mud – this January being Israel’s rainiest recorded month, who can blame him. It made me laugh because to me he looked like a sad clown with his black lips and his eyes all muddy. After the lions came a huge Syrian brown bear in a huge enclosure but he was feeling sluggish so I kept going. The wolves, Israeli wolves also known as Arabian wolves, were having a good time howling and playing with one another.
Along with the wolves there were numerous foxes and other animals found locally in Israel such as camels, ibexes, wild boars, caracals, porcupines, jackals and the rare Persian fallow deer which I saw once during a hike in Nachal Kziv. Also found in Israel, the Griffon vulture, a huge bird that some people may recognise from The Jungle Book movie. Towards the end of the path, after the reptile building which I will explain shortly, there was a humorous sight. In one habitat there were dwarf mongooses and a large desert tortoise. The mongooses sat on top of the tortoise and even took their food up, sitting on the tortoise and using its shell as a table/chair combo. It was cute. Now, the reptile building, a climate controlled structure with places for lizards and snakes including pythons, vipers, boas, anacondas and a Nile monitor lizard. I was surprised at how big the anacondas were even though the ones in the zoo were far smaller than the behemoths that exist out there.
Close to the reptile building I found the Prehistory Museum which I thought was a separate entity but it isn’t, it’s part of the zoo’s educational experience. Inside I found mostly run-of-the-mill findings from excavations such as skeletons and broken pottery pieces but there was one thing that did stand out. Some years back divers did underwater research uncovering submerged villages off the coast of Haifa and Atlit (just south of Haifa). In one place they found a freshwater well and divers entered the well to explore. This photograph shows the diver entering the well:
After leaving the zoo I made my way to the Louis Promenade, a beautiful, serene place to be alone with the fantastic view of Haifa, Haifa Bay, the Krayot, Akko, Nahariya and Rosh HaNikra off in the far distance. On clear days one is able to see Mt. Hermon in its snowy splendour. Here is a panoramic shot of the view:
As I looked down I was tracing a small dark object far below as it made its way around the little seawall and into the port. The wake was odd and I know the Israeli Navy’s submarines are docked in Haifa port so I think it may have been one of Israel’s Dolphin submarines. If it was, cool, if not, it was still cool. If I would have had a telescope or a pair of binoculars it would have been better but I think that the view from the Louis Promenade is the best I have seen in all of Israel. So here’s to Israel, the loveliest place in the world!