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A Visit to Wonderland

A mind-blowing adventure for both adults and kids, and a must-have in your SFO itinerary!

Discover your fifth sense is this maze of darkness in the heart of San Francisco.

One of the coolest places in San Francisco is a place called The Exploratorium, formerly located in the Palace of Fine Arts and now moved to Pier 15 of the Embarcadaro, just across from the Golden Gate Bridge. Brainchild of Frank Oppenheimer (brother of J. Robert Oppenheimer, co-father of the atomic bomb), it is “a museum of science, art, and human perception”. Through tons of Try It Out experiments, exhibits and screens, the Exploratorium helps us understand the world in an entertaining and engrossing manner. Wandering through this Wonderland, you’ll see parents and teachers having as much fun as the kids they are accompanying – I was jumping around like a kid myself, especially while listening to Ladle Rat Rotten Hut  (before you click on the link, try saying it aloud and see if you can guess this famous fable).

My favourite place in the Exploratorium is The Tactile Dome. Step beyond the curtains and you enter a maze of absolute darkness – you literally can’t see your hand if you were to wave it in front of your face! Visitors are instructed that they will have to walk, crawl, tumble and fall as they make it to other end of the maze, in complete darkness. Designed by August Coppola (father of actor Nicolas Cage and brother of “Godfather” Francis Ford Coppola), it is based on the belief that human beings rely excessively on their sense of sight, hearing, taste and smell, but not enough on the fifth sense of touch. So the Dome creates an atmosphere where the first four senses are almost useless, forcing us to call into the action the inadequately used fifth sense.

Waiting with me for our spin in this maze was a happily boisterous American family, a couple of couples and a solo Englishman. I sauntered over to the black curtains when my name was called out, and had a near panic attack when I stepped inside – nothing can prepare you for the deep, seemingly unending well of darkness that greets you, and it’s easy to forget that you are just a few steps away from hundreds of happy people. Terrified, I dashed back across the curtains and spluttered at the Englishman who was regally awaiting his turn if he could accompany me inside. This is no mean feat because I usually hide my diffidence behind an air of studied indifference – and the Englishman being English was the Lord of Studied Indifference.

He was clearly taken aback but too nice to refuse, and so I took a deep breath and stepped back across the deep dark curtains to Hell with my Knight in Blue Jeans in tow. Somehow, things looked a little less black the second time around, though my Knight did let out a low whistle. Gingerly, we made our way forward, not knowing what to expect (we’d been warned about giant obstacles and deep falls remember). Slowly we got used to the dark, till we fell the ground shift beneath our feet – holding on to each other and the walls around us, we realized this was the first of the falls we had been warned about. In reality it was just a gentle slide, and soon we were giggling like kids on a Slide. We were now getting used to our surroundings, and couldn’t stop giving roars of joy as we scrambled and swam and slipped and slide through this amazing maze.

My favourite place in this remarkable maze was a tiny resting spot where a tiny shaft of light was streaming in, and all of us in the group were sitting around and grinning like idiots. And when I look back upon that moment, I can see the face of each and every person – I can see the freckles on the nose of the young girl and the bluebell eyes of her brother, I can see the glazed ivory of the young Asian woman and the shining black hair of her companion, and I can remember wanting to run my hand through his hair. And when I see their faces I also see a vivid turquoise lake, and this lake looks just like the holy Lake Yamdrok  in Tibet even though I visited it many years after my visit to the Exploratorium.

Could there really be a shimmer of light, a turquoise lake and the jet black hair in that maze of complete blackness? Of course not…Or, why not? Because Something Incredibly Wonderful Happens to you inside the Exploratorium!

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