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A Day at the Izmir Zoo - and an Earthquake

Updated: Mar 23

Chipp and his meerkat friends at the Izmir Wildlife Park
Chipp and his meerkat friends at the Izmir Wildlife Park

The Izmir Zoo

Izmir has a zoo. More precisely, Izmir has a wildlife park. You never know what you’re going to get at these places - some are just wildly depressing. We rolled the dice and spent an afternoon there. In addition to being an absolutely awesome park, our afternoon excursion saved us some earthquake-related terror. But, earthquake or not, if you’re in Izmir, this is a great way to spend a day.

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The Wrong Bus Stop

We already wrote about it, but it warrants another mention - Izmir absolutely embraces its seaside locale. And, that means ferries play a central role in public transit. To get to the zoo, we needed to A) cross the bay on a ferry, and B) catch a bus from the ferry terminal. Seems straightforward enough.

Izmir's bay - prime spot for municipal ferries
Izmir's bay - prime spot for municipal ferries

Turns out, Chipp can’t read a bus schedule. From our Alsancak apartment, we were a couple blocks away from a ferry station. From said ferry station, we could go to one of two neighborhoods on the north side of Izmir’s bay - Bostanli or Karsiyaka (pronounced Kar-shee-yaka).

Geographically, the zoo’s about 20 minutes to the west, Bostanli is in the middle, and Karsiyaka on the east side. Looking at a bus schedule (albeit in Turkish), Chipp was pretty sure that he could “take a shortcut,” and pick up the bus at a stop in Bostanli instead of Karsiyaka, where the route actually started.

Fast forward to a Turk-lish interaction with a bus driver, and it was pretty obvious that we couldn’t get the bus to the zoo from our ferry station of choice. Well, you win some, you lose some. Phrased differently, Chipp rolled the dice and came away looking like a big dummy. Uber it is! Fortunately, with the dollar at all time highs against the Turkish lira, this audible didn’t hurt too much - more of a punch to the pride than the wallet.

Exploring the Izmir Wildlife Park

Jenna's new favorites - capybaras!
Jenna's new favorites - capybaras!

It may seem like semantics, but we learned there’s a formal difference between a zoo and a wildlife park. The former is certainly less cumbersome to write and say, and zoos primarily exist to serve the audience. Wildlife parks definitely cater to their human visitors, as well, but they have a different ultimate purpose. Simply put, wildlife parks focus on ecological protection and education, aptly reflected in the Izmir one’s mission:

[...] To create safe havens as well as highlighting environmental consciousness and the threatened ecological assets, making sure that the people of Izmir love [...] nature and animals more and more and contributing to create a habitable city atmosphere.

Yes, the English version of this mission shows some Google Translate-esque hints, but the spirit translated into reality. At a lot of zoos, it’s hard to ignore a generally depressing feeling. Animals just seem so, well, caged.

No, the camel is not dead - just napping
No, the camel is not dead - just napping

To be clear, the animals in Izmir were also secured in their respective enclosures (wouldn’t want Mr. and Mrs. Lion freely strolling around the park). But, there were two key differences: 1) Size - relatively speaking, the animals here had massive areas, giving them plenty of space to move; 2) Reason why - these animals aren’t captured or bred solely for entertainment’s sake. Instead, if there, it’s for one of two reasons - to help injured animals recover enough to be released back into the wild, or to provide protection for endangered species.

Walking around, we were pleasantly surprised. Actually, that’s an understatement - it was awesome. Not only did we get to see tons of different animals, but the enclosures for all the endangered species also included bios of the individual animals. Seems kind of silly to write now, but these backgrounds personalized things for us, making it feel like we actually knew the animals.

Case in point: the park had a family (mom, dad, and two “little” ones) of Asian elephants - an endangered species since 1986. The dad, Winner, only had one tusk. Without bios, we’d have assumed that the missing one was cut off by poachers - or something bad like that. Not at all. According to his bio, Winner’s an “extremely playful elephant” who accidentally broke off his own tusk playing in the park - adorable, but not too bright. Apparently, the park keepers use a somewhat ironic naming convention…

Jenna and Winner the Elephant - notice his missing right tusk...
Jenna and Winner the Elephant - notice his missing right tusk...

“Is the Platform Shaking?” - the Izmir 2020 Earthquake

Continuing our trip around the park, we found ourselves on a raised platform watching a big herd of antelopes. Leaning against the railing, we paused and looked at each other - is the platform shaking? All of a sudden, we felt like we were standing on the rolling deck of a ship. For a couple seconds, we did think it was the platform.

But, looking out at the antelopes running off in alarm, it dawned on us: we were in the middle of an earthquake. In retrospect, the shaking probably lasted around 20 seconds. At the time, it felt like an eternity - and we were in the relative safety of a wide-open park. It would’ve been downright terrifying to experience in our eighth-floor apartment.

Prior to this, Jenna had felt some minor tremors during her California time. Chipp had been in one earthquake - also fortunately outside when it hit - while training in Quantico, Virginia. But, neither of us had felt anything like this. We’d eventually find out the quake hit just off the coast of Izmir, coming in at a USGS-measured 7.0 magnitude - serious.

When the shaking finally stopped, we were still in disbelief. Did that really just happen? And, being outside the city - without any tall structures near us - we couldn’t see any immediate impact (minus the still-clearly-spooked antelopes). But, in situations full of unknowns like this, you automatically assume the worst (probably some sort of psychological term for this phenomenon).

Earthquake Traffic and a “Bus Race”

Our phones’ map apps gave us the clearest sense of the quake’s effects. We eventually found a part of the park with cell service - another reality that exacerbated worst-case-scenario thoughts. Looking at the roads throughout Izmir, it looked like the entire map was painted red with stand-still traffic.

We had little to no baseline for what traffic should look like, so we figured the back-ups showing on the map were all quake-related. Once again, lacking a clearer picture, we assumed roads would be cracked, bridges down, buildings collapsed, etc.

Lacking a better alternative, we hopped on the bus back into the city (fortunately the park was the beginning of the route back, sparing Chipp the embarrassment of another time-table SNAFU). For the first 10 minutes driving sideroads back towards the city, things went smoothly. Then, we stopped. On a narrow road along the coast, we waited 5 minutes. 10 minutes. 30 minutes. The bus wasn’t moving.

In what’s probably a lingering effect of his military service, Chipp feels anxious not being able to take action in a situation like this. As the ridiculous Marine saying goes, the 70% solution violently executed now is better than the 100% solution executed too late. Or, in the infamous words of Bill O’Reilly, “F*** it, we’ll do it live!”

These action-oriented philosophies meant getting off the bus and walking. From our traffic jam, it was about four miles back to the ferry station - certainly not 50 miles, but also not right next door. So, to the bus driver’s chagrin, we asked to get off in the middle of the road and started walking.

A beautiful Izmir trail - discovered as a result of a questionable decision
A beautiful Izmir trail - discovered as a result of a questionable decision

Naturally, after about 100 yards walking up the shoulder, the bus started moving behind us. But, the die had been cast (read: it had become a matter of pride for Chipp). We were going to beat that bus back to the ferry station, come hell or high water.

For the next hour-ish, we power walked along the same route the bus was taking. Clearly visible over the smaller cars, we (Chipp) kept an eye on the bus’s progress. It would leapfrog ahead of us, stop, we’d pass it, and that cycle would repeat.

With sore hips and feet, we arrived at the ferry before the bus - by about two minutes. Victory?

Taking Stock

During our forced march / race back into the city, we had an opportunity to take stock of things. While traffic was backed up everywhere we looked, we didn’t see noticeable damage from the earthquake - definitely a good sign.

After taking the ferry across the bay to our neighborhood, we started picking up on more indicators. Sidewalks had cracked, and falling debris from the sides of buildings littered the streets. Fortunately, though, the buildings were still there.

Up in our eighth-floor apartment, the place had obviously felt the quake. Pictures had fallen from the wall. A sculpture had tipped from a bookshelf, cracking on the floor. A pot of water we’d left on the counter had slid to the floor, spilling throughout the kitchen. And, the water was now turned off in the place. Still not sure whether that was a municipal decision, or if the earthquake had actually damaged pipes throughout the city.

Things definitely could’ve been worse for our place. But, from what had happened, we were both thrilled not to have been inside when it hit.

Being There vs. Watching the News

Taking a step back, being in Izmir provided an inside view of how crisis reporting works. Let’s begin with this, though: we are absolutely not belittling the tragic nature of this earthquake. Over 100 people died, and even more were displaced from their homes when tsunamis hit some coastal areas. That’s awful, any way you spin it.

But, watching the international news coverage of the event, you’d think the entire city had been wiped from the map. A few apartment buildings completely collapsed during the quake. And, the still and video footage from one of these buildings played on a loop - at least in the overseas press coverage. Watching these reports, you could reasonably conclude that every building in Izmir had collapsed. Case in point: Jenna’s aunt in Belarus called, extremely worried: “Where are you staying? Have they built shelters in a stadium?” Nope, still in our apartment.

For us, walking around over the next few days, we didn’t see a single building that had collapsed.

Bottom line, it was a strange experience to find ourselves in the middle of a real-world example of media sensationalism. The truth of this earthquake was horrible enough. Why exaggerate it? The people of Izmir were dealt a terrible blow, and they came together as a community to address the earthquake’s impact. Is that not compelling enough?

Obviously, that’s a naive perspective.


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sergei kaliberda
sergei kaliberda
Feb 12, 2021

God bless you all

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