November 12, 2011: Jardín Botánico

I awoke to a cloudy and unscheduled day. I couldn’t decide between staying in and curling up with my book, or heading to Viña del Mar to visit the botanical garden (the only item on my List of Stuff to Do in Chile that might be good for a cloudier day). So I flipped a coin, and the coin said: Jardín Botánico. So I listened.

I walked to the seaside to catch a micro. As I boarded, I asked the driver if this bus would go to the botanical garden; he assured me it did. As we entered Viña, I kept a keen eye out for botanical garden signs. When I spotted one, I asked the driver if this was where I should disembark. Oh, no, it’s further on. Ten minutes later, he told me: this is the stop! He instructed me to backtrack up the hill until I spotted an overpass, and then I’d be there.

Roadside weeds: rather nice colors.

After twenty minutes of walking, I finally reached the overpass (located right next to a bus stop that my micro had passed. I must stop trusting bus drivers). I queried a passerby about the botanical garden; she told me it was down a side road, and that I should be careful, because there was no sidewalk: I’d have to walk in the road, and people tend to speed recklessly around the curves.

I walked down the side road. And walked. And walked, dodging closely-passing cars all the while. Despite the peril, I enjoyed it: it was a scenic rural road, overgrown with flowering wildflowers and acacia trees. The scent of unfamiliar trees is an extraordinary thing.

Acacia leaves and pods.
Vibrant wildflowers (alstroemeria?).

After an hour and a half of walking, when I was starting to get a bit grumpy, I finally reached the entrance of the botanical garden. All told, it took me 2.5 hours to get there, instead of the 40 minutes it should have taken. Oy!

This cactus looks like a large aquatic creature, paddling through the air. No?

The botanical garden was large and lovely, although not quite what I was expecting. From my experience with U.S. (and South African) botanical gardens, I thought there would be collections of rare and exotic plants with abundant signs listing the plants’ scientific names. Instead, it was more like a large park — although they expect people to drive from one section to the next, instead of walk. It had a display of cacti and agave, and a French-style rose garden, and a lagoon. Within a few minutes of wandering around and hugging cacti, I decided that the long walk had been worthwhile.

Heart-bushes. Awww.
Small pond, complete with turtle statue.
Schinus latifolius MOLLE. Yes, I get irrationally excited whenever I encounter species/cultivars called "molle."

I kept seeing signs for something called Canopy, so I ambled down another long road to investigate. It turned out to be a fully-equipped high ropes course, set up in a stand of eucalyptus. I lurked on the edge for a while, worrying about the cost and the challenge of being taught the instructions in Spanish. Finally, I persuaded myself to inquire about the circuitos — after all, when else will I have the chance to do a Chilean high ropes course? I selected Circuito Cóndor, which was 17m/55ft off the ground, with a variety of obstacles set up between 14 platforms, as well as 3 tirolesas (ziplines).

A few of the platforms and obstacles.

My instructor fitted me with a harness, and then led me up a ladder to the first platform. I was equipped with two locking carabiners, one marked with red tape and the other with green. Every platform had a cable secured around the tree (marked red), as well as several green-marked cables between that tree and adjacent trees (either overhanging an obstacle or serving as a zipline). The procedure is to attach the red carabiner to the red security cable, to attach the green carabiner to the green going-places cable, to detach the red carabiner from the security cable, and then, supported by the green, to scramble over to the next tree. Rinse and repeat.

Circuito Cóndor started with a zipline, followed by a series of easy obstacles: gallop across a wiggly wooden bridge, climb the side of a rope net, walk across a short tightrope. Then, another zipline — this time, the person manning the zipline set the cable bouncing as I sped down it, which was fantastic. The next obstacles were much harder: a series of wild swings which I had to snake around, a loose, clanking log ladder, an extra-long tightrope. The circuito concluded with a giant zipline, by which I bounced and whooped my way to the final platform.

Somebody crossing a bridge made out of rope-loops. (Just pretend that's me.)

Exhausted but delighted, I headed back to the entrance of the botanical garden, grabbed a snack, and then asked the staff about micros. They instructed me to walk down the road (rather than back the way I had come, thank gods). In a mere five minutes, I had boarded an idling direct bus to Valpo. I cozied down in my seat, and gazed at the ocean and hills as they sped by.

Malvaceae something-or-another.

I took a large number of photos today (I blame the bountiful plants); you can look at a broader selection of today’s photos here on my Flickr.

Once I got home, I bolted a junky dinner of potato balls and chicken, and then headed back al centro for a party with some classmates and some Chileans. Sufficiently fun, but — bad little introvert creature that I am — I much prefer the tranquility of nature and the solitude of the Canopy.

I pass by this newsstand every day; it always seemed perfectly ordinary. Tonight, for the first time, I noticed that it has a disco ball on its roof. Oh Chile.

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