With three children ages 5, 2 and 4 months at the time, planning our previous summer vacation was one that took a lot of time, energy and research. Our original plan for this summer was to visit Nags Head, NC. We've never been to the east coast. Since I've been reading every Nicholas Sparks book, I am convinced North Carolina is the most beautiful state in the country. Some friends of our recommended Nags Head as being family friendly, un-touristy, beautiful and peaceful. Plus, my mother-in-law is a flight attendant which means we fly for free. So, we were set.
That was until I started looking at beach front rental houses and condos. Although they weren't ridiculously expensive, it was more than what we were planning to spend. Prior to making any reservations, some unexpected costs arose forcing us to down scale our vacation plans. We could have made the stretch, but it just didn't seem as enjoyable especially with a new born baby.
We finally decided to stay in state and take in some of the great things Missouri has to offer. Chris' grandma, "Grandma Betty", lives in Long Lane located somewhere between Buffalo and Lebanon. She welcomed us with open arms. Some great attractions and Branson are only an hour or less away from her house. One of the exhibits we considered adding to our agenda was the Exotic Animal Paradise in Strafford. Chris and I drove to the front gates of the "paradise" last year on our return to St. Louis from a wedding in Oklahoma. The prices seemed high, and it seemed unexciting to drive for 5 miles to look at animals in our own car. Especially since we've been to the St. Louis Zoo and Grant's Farm numerous times. Both which are extraordinary. The "paradise" just didn't seem to compare.
After talking with Grandma Betty, she encouraged us to check it out, at least for the kids. Plus she had heard rumors that this was the last summer it would be open. We took her advice since you just don't argue with Grandma Betty. This is a woman who can cut a wasp in half with kitchen shears.
I cannot even begin to explain the sure joy, adrenaline pumping, scare the poop out of you in a good way we experienced. Our vacation was in July. Even now, the kids talk about it on a WEEKLY basis. It is easily the most exhilarating family function we've had to date. The animals are tame, but that is easy to forget given their erotic behavior. The teenager at the gate told us we could keep the windows down and the sliding doors on both sides of the van open. He cautioned, though, to be alert. We were all like, "yeah, whatever. Seriously, what could happen."
Oh. My. Gosh. The animals were literally trying to climb in our car. One of the bulls stole the entire bag of food out of Alex's hand. He screamed in pure amusement. While looking out of the right van door at a deer lounging peacefully under a shade tree, another deer snuck up behind me through the other door and huffed causing my hair to stand up on my neck, scream and I think I even peed my pants. Just a little. Grace fed a llama out of the palm of her hand and freaked out when it licked her. And the ostrich. I've never seen Chris so scared in his life. But in a good way. He screamed like a school girl. The entire five mile journey was filled with one thrill after another.
Sadly, the rumor Grandma Betty shared with us, is true. Two weeks ago the park closed, and the animals are being auctioned off. This is so bittersweet for me. I'm disappointed that we will never be able to enjoy this time again. But, I'm thrilled that we captured the moment while we had the chance.
Tomorrow, I'll post some of the pictures from the Exotic Animal Paradise. I guarantee this will be a memory that will not fade for a long time.