11 December 2009

Vallarta Botanical Gardens

The Vallarta Botanical Gardens sit a 20-peso bus ride south of the city; maybe 35 minutes away. The trip took me past the two beaches I had visited and on up into the Sierra Madre Mountains.
I dressed in jungle trekking gear; long skirt, tank-top, and scarf. The first thing I noticed when I got off the bus at around 10 in the morning is that it was a bit more chilly than down by the bay. Knowing that I would be sweating within the hour, I ignored the minor discomfort.

Several other visitors were on the same bus and we headed to the entry gate where Rodolfo explained the rules and regulations, took our entry fee, and suggested we put on bug repellant.

I never carry the stuff for several reasons, one being that the stench of repellants always gives me a headache. Then there are minor annoyances such as Cutter Bug Wipes which remove the nail polish you had so carefully applied, and leave you with a sticky mess. (although my nails are not painted on this trip). Additionally, not only have I not been bitten by anything here, I haven’t seen any skeeters. I looked around as the other tourists slathered on gunk and Rodolfo explained that we were in the jungle, not in the city, and because of the rains we’ve had, the critters were out and looking for easy prey and one wouldn’t want to catch Dengue Fever. Conveniently, they had anti-bug gel for sale. I took a sniff; not bad. So I bought the rather costly tube that holds enough goop for my next 5 years in any jungle terrain.

The Gardens, a non-profit organization, opened in 2005 and are totally funded by donations. They “…are in a unique tropical dry forest ecosystem at 1,300 feet above sea level.” http://www.vallartabotanicalgardensac.org
They cover 20 acres starting at the top of a hill and running down to a small river. I’d planned on walking around for several hours but the gardens are a work in progress and at this time there seemed to be only three, smallish trails to hike on. There are, however, lovely rose gardens and agave gardens, a small orchid house and this incredible, bougainvillea covered Visitor’s Center that houses a gift shop and restaurant.

The most incredible piece of information I learned was that vanilla plant is an orchid! It is “the most labor intensive food crop in the world”, and “the world’s second most expensive spice.” (I am assuming that saffron takes first place).

the long pieces sticking out are vanilla beans

Early on in my adventure, I made friends with Domino the Dog, a young, part Sheppard female. She seemed content to follow me around. I lost track of her somewhere as I headed down the river trail. Nearing the bottom, I saw that she was now with a group of four other visitors, leading the way. We tagged along behind our tour guide who would wait patiently for us to catch up.

The river had areas deep enough to swim in, and it looked quite tame and small. I am sure that in the rainy season it gets much more powerful. Looking at the rock formations in the river I was reminded of the Sierra Nevada’s. This particular trail did not loop around so that once you reached the end, you had to double back. The last part was a bit too much slippery-rock trekking for me, so I headed back to the main Garden area.

An older gardener was working the areas along the main, wide path. I stopped to talk to him and then another two other times before I left. He told me how the small, blooming roses had been planted only six weeks ago and that they were native to Mexico. He pulled up a wee little plant and said that in six weeks it would bloom. Ah, the wonders of a tropical climate on plant growth! We talked about plant pests and in Mexico it seems to be the ants. He asked me if I had a garden and I told him I was new to the practice but thoroughly enjoyed it. I asked where there was another trail and he said I should go back to the main entrance, then up the trail that runs along a little ridge. At that point Domino the Dog showed up. The gardener told me that she just loves to walk with the visitors around the gardens.

So off I went with Domino at my side. At the entrance, I asked Rodolfo to point out the trail. From where I stood it looked like it was a five inch wide goat path. He assured me it was an easy trail and that Domino would show me the way.

A short while later I was back at the Visitor’s Center. I decided to take a peek at the gift shop and head on up to the restaurant, with its sweeping views, to have a cup of coffee.

Sitting on the outer veranda, looking out onto the gardens, the river far below, and the surrounding mountains, I figured I could live there for awhile. Absolutely breathtaking. I thought that I would have to come back at a later date and eat a meal there.

When I got back home I didn’t have any insect bites and I wasn’t sticky from DDT, and I couldn’t smell any harsh chemicals. Maybe the stuff works, or maybe there were no bugs. But at least I have a repellant that I won’t react to as if I were a mosquito.