Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Kure Beach and Fort Fisher Aquarium

The children woke up at the crack of dawn, of course, so I took them out of the tent and we trooped off to the bathrooms together. Then we had breakfast. And then because there was little else to do we went for a walk, which Rachel said was her favourite part of camping.

She must have had rather low expectations because we only walked around the loop of our campsite a couple of times. I could have taken them hiking I suppose, but it had rained all night, Miriam forgot to pack shoes, and I didn't want to take all three kids out in the woods by myself. Not only that but my sense of direction is, as I mentioned in yesterday's post, not all that great, which is why I only felt safe sticking to the road. The kids enjoyed it, however, and were impressed each time I led them back to the campsite.

We woke Daddy up at 8:00. He got up and ready for the day and then we started striking camp, rolling up our soggy tent (and soggy everything) in haphazard fashion, knowing we'd have to just set it all up again when we got home so it could dry out.

Miriam drew her name (and some other "words") in the dirt and wanted me to take a picture like the one I took of Rachel at the beach the day before:

And here we all are, standing where our tent had been standing moments earlier:

Our first stop of the day was the Fort Fisher aquarium. It was $6 for the kids and $8 for adults but we figured that with Andrew's birthday money we could afford a fun family field trip. The first room of the aquarium was filled with gators and other freakish reptiles.

We saw an albino alligator there. Her name is Luna and she was purchased from a farm down in Florida for $9,000 in 2009. She, along with most other albino gators in America, can trace her roots back to a nest in Louisiana where both parents had the recessive gene for albinism (and, if I remember from the sign I read at the aquarium, up to a quarter of the eggs collected from this nest held albino alligators). This nest was apparently destroyed in 2005 during Hurricane Katrina and no albino alligators have been found in the United States since then. (See this article, which is very similar to the sign I read near Luna's habitat).

This is not Luna. It's just a regular ordinary old alligator.

Benjamin loved the fish (they are much more active/shiny than the snakes and alligators were). He was all smiles and had a hard time deciding what he should be paying attention to.

Miriam liked the sea turtles. There was a sea turtle skull on display and we got to see just how big their skull is compared to their brain (which is tiny—this site says about the size of a grape, which sounds about right, while this site says "In the middle of the...[skull] an opening big enough to stick in a finger.... Inside that opening rests a brain the size of a caterpillar." Caterpillar? Really? Caterpillars come in all sorts of sizes. Just know that there is an opening in the skull that is big enough to stick an average-sized index finger or hold an average-sized run-of-the-mill variety grape (not like muscadine grapes, which I just found out are a thing because a friend brought me a jar of muscadine grape jelly)).

They had a few hands-on stations, one with horseshoe crabs, starfish, and stingrays where Rachel and Benjamin had fun getting acquainted with marine life. Miriam, however, chose to hang out by the sting rays, waving to them through the glass.

There was a big tank in the middle of the aquarium full of sharks and a couple of sea turtles in addition to several varieties of fish.

The kids were all impressed with the megalodon jaws, though they were happy to learn that magalodons haven't been around for over a million years.

We went to this interactive screen thing where you could touch a fossil and a scuba diver would come and tell you about it. Rachel touched the megalodon tooth and as the scuba diver was giving his little lecture a dinosaur (probably it was supposed to be a magalodon) swam up and gave a mighty underwater roar. Both girls screamed and ran for cover. Benjamin screamed and wet his pants. His central nervous system is still so primal that his prefrontal cortex hasn't developed an override button yet, apparently. Fortunately, he wearing a diaper.

The octopus was fascinating to watch, though it would've been even cooler if it was one of those colour-changing ones.

The "Nemo tank" was a huge hit as well. Andrew said that a tank filled with clownfish and dories is probably an obligatory exhibit in aquariums throughout the world, thanks to Disney.

There was also a hands-on exhibit with bamboo sharks and...another kind of shark that I can't remember the name of. They were both relatively harmless species of sharks (bottom-feeders not vicious predators) but it was still kind of a crazy idea to stick your hand in a tank swarming with sharks. Rachel and I were the only ones to successfully pet a shark.

Outside the aquarium was a lovely playground that the children enjoyed, in spite of the constant drizzle.

There were also a few outdoor exhibits. The storm surge exhibit was mind boggling. In 1955

I think it was Hurricane Connie in 1955 that brought a storm surge of seventeen feet to Fort Fisher (we couldn't quite get that sign in the picture). Hurricane Fran in 1996 did quite a bit of damage to Durham, though I don't think the water was as high in Durham as it was in Fort Fisher (twelve feet).

The kids all loved this statue of a gigantic frog:

We tried long and hard to spot an alligator at the bird viewing pond, but didn't see any. They're pretty good lurkers though so it's possible we saw one without knowing we saw one. But I'm pretty sure we didn't see any, though we did spot plenty of turtles.

By the time we left the aquarium the weather had cleared up quite nicely—just in time for us to go to the beach!

We stopped at the beach just off of Fort Fisher, so I suppose we were at Kure Beach, which was rather perplexing because neither of us had any idea how to say its name. We debated it all morning before I finally asked an employee at the aquarium and even she wasn't quite sure.

The beach is named after a Danish seaman—Hans Anderson Kure—who first farmed the area. His name is technically pronounced "KYUR-ee" though many locals pronounce it just like curry, the food. The woman I spoke with at the aquarium said she's even heard people calling it "kur" or "cure."

It's a conundrum for sure. Trying to read signs was a nightmare. We didn't know how to pronounce Kure Cure or Kure Keys or anything.

Also, I wonder if the good people of Kure Beach know about Kure Kure Takora (Gimme, Gimme Octopus). If Kure Beach doesn't already have a theme song, perhaps they'll adapt this one.

Despite the ambiguity of the pronunciation of the place, Kure Beach was fantastic. The stormy clouds were an unusual backdrop, at least as far as our beach experiences go, and the water was still warm enough to be enjoyable, at least as far as Andrew and I were concerned. Miriam, naturally, stayed as close to the dunes as possible.

Rachel was so worried about rip currents that she couldn't get in the water. That was my fault, I'm afraid. They had signs up on the boardwalk informing beach goers about the dangers of rip currents, how to recognize them, how to avoid them, how to get out of them, and so forth. I thought I'd just review those safety rules with Rachel—because knowing is half the battle, right?—but instead of empowering her this newfound knowledge crippled her.

She's not an incredibly strong swimmer, so perhaps it's for the best. But still, there weren't any (strong) rip tides out there! The water was full of people...and pelicans. No kidding—I was out there body surfing with a flock of pelicans. It was awesome!

Anyway, Andrew and I spent most of our time on the beach with the kids rather than in the ocean because we just couldn't get any of the kids into the water. It was a lovely day for just sitting on the sand as well, I suppose.

The tide was out so far that it was quite a trek from the water's edge to where our stuff was set up—on the dry sand, which is the only type of sand Miriam will set foot on.

Rachel and Andrew like to build "crazy castles" right by the tide.

I felt a little torn between two groups of people. I spent most of my time with Miriam and a little bit of my time standing near Rachel and Andrew—I had to stand so that I could still keep an eye on the little ones.

Benjamin eventually started making his way down to the water.

He played the role of Destructive Force for this Crazy Sandcastle because the tide simply wasn't doing its job (seeing as it was receding rather than crashing into the castle):

By the time Andrew and Rachel were finished with their Crazy Sandcastle it was nearly six feet long. The ocean simply refused to crush it this day.

Just down the beach from us was a man playing fetch with his dog in the waves. Benjamin was absolutely fascinated by this and started drifting closer and closer to this spectacle. (And cue a million photos of my little boy on the beach...)

He really wants to get to that puppy...

But is a little distrustful of those waves coming up to lick his heels...

Again, those hands are not being held out to me. They're being held out to the puppy.

We never did make it all the way to the dog. I corralled Benjamin back in to where Miriam was playing. Then Andrew came up to watch the little ones while I took Rachel out for some boogie boarding.

This is us pretending to surf. We have no idea how to surf. Obviously.

Rachel was so reluctant to go into the water that I had to drag her out there.

She rode one wave before calling it quits. I spent a little while longer out there before coming back to play with the kids in the sand.

Rachel wanted to be buried, but not all the way (because she didn't want to get too much sand in her swimming suit, wise girl). Miriam and I made a large mound over her legs and decided it looked a bit like an alligator, so that's what we turned it into. It was pretty fun! Miriam collected white shells to use for claws and teeth while I made the reptilian scales.

Here are way too many pictures of Rachel being eaten by a sand alligator:

We did our best to rescue her!

Then Andrew went out to catch a few waves while I sat with the kids.

Benjamin decided to practice his surfer's stance while there was a spare boogie board. Just to warn you, he's too cute so I'm about to post too many pictures of him once again...

The girls, meanwhile, went to work making baby alligators in the sand.

Andrew came back to convince Rachel to join him in the water.

She just pretended not to hear/understand while she continued sculpting her sand creations.

Here is a castle of Miriam's that she was pretty proud of:

And here's Benjamin taking a little beach nap:

And here's our entire family, including moping, moaning Myrtle Rachel (who spent most of the time at the beach crying—because she wanted to swim but didn't want to swim):

Since we were right by Fort Fisher (as in we could see the monument at the "headquarters" of the fort from where we were swimming on the beach) we were talking about earthen fort and beach erosion and ship wrecks (we'd learned about a famous shipwreck at the aquarium that killed a confederate spy) and our trip to South Carolina came up but neither Andrew or I could remember the name of the fort at Charleston—the one where the Civil War began.

"You mean Fort Sumter!" Rachel said.

We had to laugh at her ability to recall that tidbit of information when both our brains were failing us. I suppose we shouldn't have been so surprised, however, since last year in kindergarten she proudly informed her class that F is for Fort Sumter.

Since Rachel was rather gloomy and Benjamin woke up from his nap grumpy and Miriam's always eager to leave the beach and Andrew didn't want to drive home in the dark, we decided to call it a day and proceeded to pack up the car. Our goal was to have everything packed up by 4:30 and we made it, right on the dot! That's probably the first time that has ever happened. Unfortunately, the rest of our journey home did not proceed as smoothly.

Benjamin slept through our dinner stop but was startled awake by Miriam at the very end (which caused him to wet his pants again). Instead of falling back asleep he fussed for an hour or so while Rachel fed him snacks, before he entered full-on screaming mode. We made an emergency nursing stop, but even that didn't improve Benjamin's mood. He started screaming again the minute we put him back in his carseat.

Finally, we told the girls we were going to pause their show (they were watching The Jungle Book) so that we could try the Little People DVD we have. The girls didn't mind pausing The Jungle Book because they couldn't hear what was going on, anyway. Benjamin was screaming far too loudly.

I don't think either Benjamin or Miriam have ever watched our Little People DVD because Rachel used to watch it almost daily when we lived in Egypt and we'd grown a little sick of it. But it seems to be a magical show. It would always calm Rachel down (which is why we watched it so often) and Benjamin also quieted down the minute the theme song came on. He screamed again during the five-minute clip, but stopped to listen to the closing music and to the opening music of the next clip, and then he'd scream during the five-minute show, but stop to listen to the music again. There are six five-minute shows on this DVD. We went through the DVD twice. Benjamin was calm by the time we got home.

Apparently we need a CD of the theme song that we can just play over and over again for our kids when they're upset because they all were mesmerized by it (even Rachel—and she's six).

Despite having not watched/listened to this DVD for at least three years, Andrew and I could almost quote it word for word (which is why we probably stopped watching it). It was much more pleasant to listen to than Benjamin screaming, however, so we didn't mind it searing itself further into our brains.

It was a good, full weekend. We stumbled into the house, still sandy and soggy, and plopped the kids in the tub before ushering the off to bed. We're just now recovering from all the unpacking and laundry and so forth...


  1. I have never heard of this Little People show before. My age is showing.

  2. Looks like a fun trip although I'm sad Rachel didn't allow herself to enjoy the water this time!