Friday, August 27, 2010

Parc Safari Revisted

Somewhere around 1973/74, in either grade 3 or 4, I recall that our class had a field trip to Parc Safari. Back then I'm pretty sure it was called "Parc Safari African". There's very little I remember about the trip. I have a very vague image in my head of the deer park that you walk through and feed deer. I remember a red double-decker bus with all the windows replaced by mesh that we rode in through the drive-thru part of the park. It also had ropes running up the side of the bus so the baboons could climb on. I remember us all being told not to stick our fingers out through the mesh because if a baboon grabbed hold, they would never let go. I remember there being a very large picnic area. That's about it.

A few weeks ago, I won 4 tickets -- a "family pack" -- for Parc Safari. Today, we went.

I read a few reviews earlier this week and they were mostly mixed. There were comments such as "In need of upgrading" (it is in fact coming, apparently). The "food is expensive" and terrible. Half the rides either don't work or weren't operating when people went. The drive-thru part of the parc is packed and takes 3 hours to complete, when it should only take 60-70 minutes. The admission is overpriced. Some people, despite the negative comments, did say they enjoyed themselves but would not return because it was too expensive.

Thankfully, I wasn't paying, except for gas for the trip. We also brought out own food for a picnic. Oh yeh, we brought a bag of carrots and celery too to feed the animals.

It was about a 3-hour drive. It's a good thing I have a GPS because we didn't see any signage directing us to the park. Perhaps the GPS took us through the back roads near the end, but I fully expected to see a few large "Park Safari" billboards along the highways. Surprisingly, this was not the case. And they say that this place is one of the biggest tourism attractions in Quebec. Or is the the biggest? I can't recall.

We arrived at around 10:30am. During the drive up to the main gate, there were many signs asking "Do you have enough gas?" The multi-lane lineups were surprisingly short. I expected longer lines since it had already been open for 30 minutes. When it was our turn, we drove up, handed the guy our tickets, he gave us a receipt, a map and a souvenir tour book and told us there were two rules while driving through the Safari park: 1. Stay in your car, and 2. Don't feed the zebras because they bite. Too easy.

We made a quick pit-stop at the washrooms and then headed over to the Safari park after tuning our radio to the English "Parc Safari" station to listen to them talk about their animals. Sandra said she would drive so I could film and snap photos. We passed on buying boxes of food because we brought our own. It wasn't long before the traffic jams began. It wasn't because there were so many cars, it was because of human ignorance and lack of consideration for others. There are signs that say "Stay left to drive through" and "Stay right to observe", or something like that. It didn't seem to matter to anyone. They stopped in both the left and right lanes to feed animals. I read comments such as this on the review sites, so it wasn't too surprising. Now, even that would not be too bad if people would quickly feed the animal one or two carrots or whatever they had, and then move on so others can have a turn. But nooooo.... some would sit there and it was a like a fucking conveyor belt of food coming out the side of their van or sunroof. Sometimes the "whipping boys", as I like to call them, would come along and get the animals moving again.In the case of the giraffes, it was always away from us. It's like we were chasing the damned things at 5kmh through the park. While waiting to catch up to the giraffes, we were entertained by the zebras all walking past the cars looking for food. A few people did in fact feed them. Some of them reached out and pet them. An SUV with the rear hatch open had two little girls sitting back there and screamed at the top of their lungs when a zebra walked behind and poked its head in. :)

Let me explain the "whipping boys". These are young guys working at the park, each armed with a whip. They never hit the animals, but would sometimes crack the whip to get them moving, or prevent them from going in a certain direction. The park is split into gated sections and I think they're main job is to keep the animals from straying into other sections while the gates remain open during business hours. It's quite impressive seeing a small human bossing around a towering giraffe or massive deer or bison. Pretty cool.

Eventually, we did get to feed the giraffes and it was... amazing. To be so close to these giants is indescribable. Way cool. We fed one of them a couple of carrots or celery and moved on to the next. And then next. That's consideration. Helloooo? We got stuck in more traffic jams as people in the left lane would drive ahead, pull over to the right and get the attention of the giraffes who would then walk ahead again and we'd be held back once again. We eventually moved to the left and passed them all to move on to other animals. The more potentially dangerous animals, like elephants and rhinos are all in fenced areas so you can't really feed them. There are no cats roaming around. No baboons roaming around and hopping on cars or grabbing fingers. The drive thru park, for the most part, contains fairly "harmless" animals I would say. All deer, antelope, cows, bison, gnus, ostrich, and the like. Oh ya, all of the signs identifying the animals are in French. No English anywhere on them. I realized it's in Quebec, but come on... many of the visitors at the park are from the U.S. which isn't too far. Hopefully they add English names when they upgrade the park.

So, we continued on through the park, and didn't really encounter any more major traffic jams after the giraffes. We found out that most of the animals don't like celery. Giraffes ate it and a couple of the antelope/deer-like beasties. Carrots were never refused.

There was one scary moment not far from the end of the drive. I don’t know the name of the animals (*ahem*... need English names!), but they were these tall antelope creatures. A herd of them on the road. We, and another vehicle in front of us, fed them as we drove by. All of a sudden, four or five of them near the vehicle in front got very startled or excited and bolted a little. The "whipping boy" was nearby and started doing his job.. cracking that whip to get them to move to the other side of the road. He walked to the mini van in front and spoke with them and then looked at their rear left fender. Sandra heard something about a "baby". Perhaps one of the adult beasties got suddenly protective over one of the younger ones? Then as he walked towards us, again he cracked the whip a few times as he watched them on the other side of the road, the passenger side where I was. A couple of them were looking at him and moving toward him. Sandra asked him if we could move on, and he said something in French. We can understand French, but it wasn't loud enough to fully understand. We think he said something like he was using our vehicle to prevent the animals from charging at him. A few minutes later, he moved back to the next vehicle and we continued on down the road. Pretty freaky stuff.

I'd say it took us about an hour and a half to drive through the park. We parked near the picnic area and ate our lunch before exploring the rest of the park on foot. As others had commented on review sites, a lot of the attractions (rides, stores, food places) weren't open for business. Maybe they're understaffed? Or maybe it's near the end of the prime tourist season? Who knows. The park was pretty clean and did look like they were upgrading and maintaining the different areas.

The first place we headed to was the deer park to feed the deer. We had apples slices that we didn't eat for lunch, and celery left from the Safari Parc. These deer loved celery and the apples. I think we all had fun feed them as they followed us around. Sandra didn't seem to enjoy it as much and was pretty happy when we ran out of food and moved on to see the rest of the park.

The baboons are now on their own fenced off island, surrounded by water. You walk on large wooden decks over their habitat and look down at them. The same goes for apes, bears, wolves, some unknown cat (I think it was an ocelot) and other assorted animals. It's not bad because you can get a nice unobstructed view of the animals to shoot pics. The lions and tigers section was very cool. They have clear glass or plexiglas tunnels that you walk through. One big lion was lying on TOP of it as we walked underneath him. So close. :)

We didn't bother going on any of the amusement rides. Some of them look pretty archaic. It's funny because the guy on the Parc Safari radio even commented that some of them could be "museum pieces".

Sandra and the kids popped into a few gift shops and then we stopped for some ice cream. By around 3:30pm, we were pretty much done and ready to head home. Not the best time to leave because we hit the Montreal rush hour and extra slow downs due to an accident.

All in all, we did have a pretty good day. Would I do it again? Not if I had to pay for tickets. The value of the two adult and two child tickets that I won was just under $100. I honestly don’t feel that it was worth $100. I think a family pass should cost no more than $60 max.

I never did see a red double-decker bus. The rest of the park didn't really drum up any old memories of my first visit either.

I'll post a few pics and maybe some video at a later date, after I've had time to go through it all.


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