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February 27, 2004
Don't let the casinos, the nightclubs, and the good looking people with perfect skin tone and tiny bathing suits mislead you; Puerto Rico is a vacation destination for the whole family. If you want to take a break from the standard Caribbean relaxation routine and go have a classic family day at the zoo, there is just the place right in the metropolitan area.
The Luis A. Ferre Science Park in Bayamon is a zoo, a space museum, and a great place to have a family picnic. If you are looking for a place where your kids can roam around, have some fun and even learn something along the way, this is the place to visit.
The science park is located on a rock hill on Road 167, off toll Highway 22.
From its perch, the museum offers a sprawling view of the city in all its urban chaos. But landscape appreciation of urban disarray is a thing for adults to enjoy, for kids there are plenty of rockets and monkeys!
Upon entering the park, most visitors work their way through the zoo and end their visit at the top of the hill alongside the genuine NASA rockets on display. But first things first, let's talk about the animals.
The Science Park has a good zoo collection that includes tigers, baboons and one very slow hippopotamus. The zoo grounds have winding paths that go past the animal cages and a small pond where geese and other type of awkward bird species lounge around while visitors have their lunch in gazebos around the water's edge. If you don't want to bring your own food, there is a food kiosk by the pond. Adults should not get very excited about this, the eating choices here are definitely geared to a younger age group. The menu includes such choice items as quick-bake pizza, hot dogs and pop-corn. Three standards of children's cuisine.
Zoos can be double edged swords since their maintenance has a huge effect on their young visitors. For most children, a well-kept zoo brings to reality an exotic animal world only previously available in the Discovery Channel.
On the other hand, an poorly maintained collection of animals in captivity wandering aimlessly inside their cages in lonely circles of desolation could hurl your young child into a vortex of pre-pubescent doom.
Although many of the animals appear to be sort of blue, they are well taken care of. As one caretaker explained, some animals are not sad, just indifferent.
The tigers are naturals at this indifference technique. But as any cat owner knows, felines spend more than 60 percent of their lives sleeping and wallowing in indifference, so while the tigers aren't very entertaining, their apathy is actually a good sign, they are normal!.
The only animal that is not behind bars is the hippo, which spends his days and nights soaking in a small pool of water. The hippo practices his own brand of indifference, which consists of holding his breath underwater indefinitely to the frustration of the visitors hoping to get a view of his face.
After waiting in vain for the hippo to say cheese for your instamatic camera, head over to the reliable showboaters of the zoo crowd: the monkeys.In the ape-monkey family, he science park has couple of gorillas, a few baboons and plenty of smaller monkeys with a knack for satisfying their innermost urges in public. The gorillas don't do much, as most of their day seems to be spent picking lint from their fur and other orifices and then smelling it with genuine concern and curiosity. The baboons move around more, but seem to be confused as to where to go. The real show are the small tropical monkeys, which swing incessantly from the cage bars trying to call attention to themselves.
After the monkeys, head on over to outer space.
Here there are several NASA rockets, airplanes and a space museum to keep the kids entertained. Among the genuine articles on display is the capsule from one of NASA's early space rockets. (You can take a look inside the capsule and understand why the words astronaut and claustrophobia will probably never meet in the same sentence.)
Without a doubt, the dullest spot here is the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority museum, which basically displays the history of electricity on the island, (yawn). Good luck trying to get your kids excited about this collection of electric meters.
For fans of Beat writer William Burroughs, there is one bit of a find in the electricity museum..
Those who read Burrough's Naked Lunch will remember that the writer was able to carry out his extra-legal exploits (without the distraction of a job) thanks to a monthly allowance from his family, which had acquired its wealth as a result of his grandfather's invention, the Burroughs Adding Machine.
For the three Naked Lunch fans who wandered what the Burroughs Adding Machine looked like, the PREPA museum has one of these antique calculators on display.
Outside the museum, among the planes and the capsules, the sun starts to set and the hill acquires an orange glow as the soft sunlight washes over it.
From here you can see the gray dusk settling slowly over the city, and hear ever so faintly the car horns on the avenues below, as if they were voices from another world.
Luis A. Ferre Science Park
J.A. del Rosario, a business reporter for The San Juan Star, is a remedial guitar player and an incorrigible nightcrawler. He can be contacted at: : firstname.lastname@example.org