San Diego, California
Karen and I do not have kids. It was a decision we made before we were married. It is not one that we took lightly. We certainly have nothing against children. Parenting is just something neither of us found interesting. We do, however, enjoy spending time with our various nieces and nephews.
A late bloomer when it came to travel, I was in my early 20s when I went on my first flight. I was well into my 30s when I made my first flight across the Atlantic to visit another continent. Since then, Karen and I have become very fond of traveling, and we’ve made it a big part of our lives.
In an effort to pass on travel skills, and as a way to justify more journeys, we decided to take each niece and nephew to a US city of their choice the summer after their thirteenth birthday. We figured this would be a good age to learn how to negotiate airports, hotels, public transportation, etc.
Our oldest nephew, Noah, chose San Francisco as his travel city a few years ago and we had a blast experiencing the city through his eyes. His brother, Luke, turned thirteen late last year, so this year was his turn.
Like his brother, Luke is an experienced traveler having flown to Chicago a couple of times to visit family. When we asked him where he wanted to go for the “Aunt and Uncle Weekend” he never hesitated. “I want to go to the San Diego Zoo.”
There are three things that Luke enjoys most: video games, professional wrestling, and zoology. In fact, he is quite an expert in all three. All you have to do is ask him.
We arrived at the Atlanta airport on a busy Friday afternoon. After scarfing down hamburgers at the airport’s version of The Varsity, we boarded our plane for San Diego. We arrived around 4 PM Pacific and took a taxi to our hotel in the Little Italy neighborhood near the waterfront, and walked along the harbor where tall ships like the Star of India and the HMS Surprise are docked near the USS Midway, the famous WWII-era aircraft carrier. For dinner, we ate some great pizza at Filippi’s Pizza Grotto. Get there early. It can get crowded. The pizza is really good, especially if you like it extra cheesy. And who doesn’t, right.
The next day, we set out early for the zoo located a few minutes away in Balboa Park. We bought our tickets ahead of time to skip the lines, but they really weren’t that bad. I was pleasantly surprised at how well the zoo handles busy summer Saturdays.
This zoo is amazing. It is, of course, world famous, so our expectations were high and it did not disappoint. One of the many things that sets this zoo apart from others is that it is more than just an animal display. Education is a major focus here and they do it well. Additionally, it is very helpful to have your own thirteen-year-old zoologist while visiting. Here’s an example.
As we approached the cheetah exhibit, I was shocked to see a yellow Labrador retriever wearing a collar lapping up water from a small water feature. Inside with the cheetah. I remember thinking, “This is going to turn out bad. We don’t need to see what’s getting ready to happen to that dog.”
I put my arm around Luke and told Karen, “We need to get away from this. This is going to be ugly.”
Luke rolled his eyes and took me by the hand. “It’s okay, Uncle Jon. They’re buddies.”
Apparently, my expression warranted further explanation.
“When cheetahs are born, they’re paired up with a puppy to keep them calm. Otherwise, cheetahs are too nervous to live in captivity.”
This turned out to be the first of several lessons I received from Luke that day. It’s interesting how Karen and I learn as much as our young travel companions do on these trips.
If you have the opportunity, I highly recommend becoming a travel mentor. It can be very rewarding.
Thanks for reading,