Vern: We arrived early in Santa Cruz and checked into a 'Residencial' - a very basic hotel with 4 firm steel hospital beds, then found some delicious salteñas and pre-sweetened black coffee from a street vendor.
The people in Santa Cruz seem better dressed, wealthier and more cosmopolitan than elsewhere and every other car is a SUV. They don't seem to work much, though, as travel agents and most retailers close their doors over lunch - taking one's own lunch break seems more important than making a sale to office workers who are on their breaks. This would not fly in the UK or US!
We decided to go to the zoo. We're not zoo people and I hadn't envisaged zoos in my future until maybe fatherhood, but we've penetrated deep into the amazon basin and splashed into the swamplands and even the local guides admit to having seen a jaguar or puma only once or twice in their fifteen or more years on the job. These awesome cats are so elusive yet so talked about that they almost seem like fairytale beasts alongside unicorns and phoenixes and we were dying to see them.
Unfortunately the Santa Cruz zoo reinforced our dislike of zoos. It is underfunded and poorly maintained and beautiful parrots, mighty birds of prey and cereal box toucans sit sadly in cages. Two highlights were: playful black monkeys who were kept on an island, imprisoned by a moat rather than a cage and the big cuddly spectacled bears with fluffy dark brown coats and white bands of colour round their eyes peeling bananas before eating them - such etiquette!
And then we found the cats. The jaguars are so beautiful (though I wouldn't be able to distinguish them from leopards) and lay quietly in their cages, one asleep on the cement, the other wrapped up in a tree. The pumas have a thick coat of short blonde hair and were more active, one especially was pacing angrily round and round in its enclosure furious to be in this situation. The pretty little Tigrillos look like house cats with leopard print and were easier to watch because their little bodies have more space to pounce around in the enclosure.
It was a discontenting day and the joy of seeing these wonderful animals is so hard to weigh up against the sadness of seeing the animals longing for their freedom. Without zoos, many more animals would be extinct, more poorly treated animals would go unrescued, we would understand our world even less and many urban children would never see wildlife. For these reasons it's important that zoos exist, but we both found it a very conflicting excursion.