Friday, January 24, 2014

Travel Journal: Puerto Vallarta: Jan. 11-18: Day Trip 2: The Botanical Garden

One morning I woke up and stepped out on our balcony with my morning cup of coffee to watch the sunrise and survey the tree tops.
I let out a yelp: Two iguanas were perched on a palm front in front of our room!
Bernie had gone out earlier and I hoped like mad that the lizards would still be there when he came back!

Happy, happy iguana.
And they made such a cute couple.
When Bernie got back I told him to go take a look out from our balcony.
He yelped too.
Said seeing the two iguanas just made his day.
Well, the iguanas may have made plans for their day already, but so had we.

The Vallarta Botanical Gardens were on my "must see" list.
The garden was somewhere up in the mountains.
Bernie got someone to write down the name of the town up there and got very general directions to go through town and follow the road up.
We are so adventurous.
Most folks just signed up for a tour or caught a bus there.
As it turned out a bus seems to go there every five minutes from what we saw passing us on the way there.
Aw shucks...we just like rambling around together in our own car on our own schedule.

I will go see a botanical garden any time, any place.
I had no idea if this garden would be "meh" or "Wowser!"
It wasn't a Butchard gardens, or a Longwood garden but it was pretty darn good, especially since it was only funded and begun eight years ago.
Scenes like the photo above alone would have made it worth the drive.

Mid January, and all the locals were wearing ski jackets and coats in the (for them) chilly 70 degree mornings.
Still the flowers were blooming beautifully and I was happy just wearing a tee shirt and cotton crop pants.

I came to realize that I am a sucker for blooming vines that drape like curtains over patio covers.

Looking in or looking out...either way the dangling flowers looks spectacular.

The on going trend of having color everywhere in Mexico was supported here too.
Financial donations to the garden allowed for personalized tiles to be mounted on benches.
(Sappy grandparents declaring forever their love for their grandkids seemed to be a predictable tile subject matter.)

A few titles commemorated wedding special anniversaries and dearly departed as well.
Reading tiles on the stair treads made climbing a few stairs quite fun.

The garden had a two story gift shop and garden which I peeked around at while we waited for our garden tour to begin. 
I was amazed to look down into the natural jungle and see colorful tropical birds fighting at a fruit slice bird feeder.
Bernie had to call around a few times to round me up for the starting tour.

Here's our tour guide Paul, who grew up in Long Beach California, and who has lived in Mexico since marrying a Mexican woman.
They both love gardens so he volunteers to lead tours here in English.
He shared that they LOVE living in Mexico and escape to Alaska to work in lodges there during the summer in order to make extra $$$.
Talk about having the best of both worlds.

And so the tour began...

A raised pond outside the building sported water lilies.

I was snapping photos madly as Paul gave the history of the garden.
This is my absolute favorite photo.
It is going to be blown up to 36in by 24in for over my fireplace asap.
Dreamy isn't it?
This view would work too.
(Which one would you pick?)

Paul explained that the bougainvillea was brought into Mexico by explores.
The deep reddish pink bougainvillea is the naturally growing variety; all the other colors we were to see were purchased hybrids.
I was astonished to learn that the pinks and whites in the scene above were actually all from the same plant that blooms white then changes to pink as the blossom ages.

Absolutely gorgeous!
And there were scads of butterflies flitting through the flowers too.
I grew up with plenty of bougainvillea growing my San Diego neighborhood.
The sound of the papery spent blossoms scrapping softly as they blew around in a light breeze is a happy memory.
Most guys have less happy memories of having to sweep up the masses of fallen flowers or worse, prune a fallen over vine that defends itself with inch long needle like thorns!

The vines were creating a veil around the open gift shop spaces.

Personally I think a red, white and blue flag would have suited the scene better.
(We often saw Mexican flags being flown next to Canadian flags.  How had I missed that Mexico and Canada have had a "thing" going on? It was like learning that your two best friends are having an affair behind your back!)

New white blossoms with just a tiny touch of pink.

Paul did a lot of talking about the agave plants which are used to make Tequila,
Since I had taken a three week drive around Mexico back in 1973, I had seen agave fields and seen the tequila factories in person and already knew all about the plant.

There were lots of varieties...

I think it would be fun to do a series of framed agave photos....

I also thought it was quite clever to put rock specimens on display and tuck various varieties in them to grow.

Don't the flowers on the tips look like flying fairies?

The geometry of plants, even palms, really stood out to me.

Paul explained this palm was unique because it self cleaned and left a smooth trunk.
The shadow line documented fallen palm fronds.

Prickly pear cactus with new growth.
Paul talked about how the pads are used in cooking as are the plum shaped fruit.

Our happy little middle aged tour group.

The cobbled walk ways were shady and lush.
I would have even enjoyed seeing the garden in a rain storm.

A star of the garden was a Giant Strangle Fig.

It is a huge tree.

The limbs grow in a twisted manners.

This tree is also called a "Tourist Tree" because the skin turns red and peels....hee hee.

I've peeled like that in the past.
Never again...I slather sunscreen, wear long sleeves and seek shade obsessively.

A vanilla orchid climbed up one of the tourist trees.
I had always wondered as a kid why our vanilla ice cream box always had a picture of an orchid on it.
Now I know: Vanilla, the second rarest "spice" in the world came from the orchid that grew in only one place where only one variety of bee could pollinate the flower.
Supplies were limited due to that special bee need.
It wasn't until centuries later that hand pollination was discovered and vanilla orchids could be grown elsewhere.

Anthuriums grew all over the garden and in lots of different colors.
(Florists used to call them "Baby Boy Flowers" for obvious reasons.
Bernie hunted down one for me after I had my son; we gave an anthurium plant to our dil after she had a boy too.
Hmmm...that plant has lots of blooms still.)

A garden statuary tribute to Alexander von Humboldt, who was an amazing adventurer and botanist.
A movie about his life would be awesome, although I could do without some of the modern speculations of his personal life.
(Hollywood would adore him more for it...)

This branch is about as thick as a pencil and the root-let like growth is actually an orchid plant hitching a ride.
Wish I could of seen it in bloom.

Now shouldn't this be the plant called a Christmas cactus instead of the pink blooming things we all have growing back home?

Our guide was giving a great lecture about orchids in the garden's orchid house.
I was busy sniffing the orchids; not all orchids are scented but the ones that are can make me swoon with joy.

The garden has just received a grant to build an orchid propagation house.
Might be worth a return visit to see it after it is built.

Humboldt was criticized for his passionate writing about plants while writing little or nothing about the indigenous people near the plants he found.
I can understand that...plants are so varied and beautiful and they never gripe about having their picture taken and posted!

This plant, with violet stem and branch and turquoise flower grew in long chains from the top of the green house, dangling in mid air.
Paul said the blossoms are as hard as ceramic and look unreal.
I thought even the buds looked unreal!

Flowers and leaf patterns...can't get enough!

Towards the end of the tour we walked past this guy who was chatting with a visitor.
Paul let us know this was Mr. Price.
Mr. Price and his mother came to Mexico from Savannah Georgia to build this garden.
Savannah has amazing gardens; I guess they just wanted to have the space and opportunity to do a tropical botanical garden nearly from scratch.

They certainly were creating a Paradise.

Oh if only Adam and Eve had not sinned and we were still in the original Garden of Eden.
As the tour ended I headed to the rest rooms.


and Eve were just outside the Men's and Lady's rooms.
(Hope I didn't shock anyone.  If you are going to long to be in the Garden of Eden, you just have to eventually get used to the pre-fallen state dress code.)

It was lunch time so we decided to stay for lunch, which was served upstairs above the gift shop.

It. was. the. BEST.!!!

We looked down on a crystal clear river winding down in the canyon.

Humming birds zipped around and lit next to us just out of reach.

They fought as hummers always do, even though there were many feeders.

I love that I caught a photo so one could see through the wing feathers.

Down in the jungle area the tropical birds were fighting too.

Flickers with yellow or red head crowns vied for space next to the feisty yellow and black birds.

We were anything but feisty, especially after we got our red hibiscus ice tea and mojitos with peeled sugar cane swizzle sticks.

I sucked mine down and asked for a refill.
The minty lime confection was so cooling.
Bernie drank half of his and announced he could no longer feel his legs.
I wonder if they accidently gave his drink two shots while skipping mine?
Hard to tell...I think I tasted some rum in mine.

We ordered and a guy came over to mix up a special guacamole mixture.

It involved a red pepper roasted whole, onion, limes, cilantro, salt and I don't recall what else but it was fun to watch it get made.
Even more fun to eat it!

While this was being made the couple at the next table began to chat with us.
Turns out the husband was the son of the famous Erma's restaurant in Houston Texas where Bernie had eaten many times.
It was an instant "old home" week as he too had grown up in So Cal.
They left before we had finished eating and astonished us by secretly paying out tab.
Nice trip to Houston (which happens in Bernie's business) he will be looking the guy up and/or telling Erma about our chance meeting.
(He really wanted to buy some of those hewn rock mixing bowls...they are hard to find, very expensive and really, really heavy. Hope he lucky and found some!)

I ordered shrimp tacos.
They were the absolute best shrimp tacos I have ever eaten.
The shrimp were the size of chicken drumsticks.
If I am ever in PV again I absolutely WILL drive back up to the garden just for lunch.
And I might just do that every day too.

The blue corn tortillas were awesome.
Best I have ever eaten too.

The atmosphere...
Best ever Mexican restaurant.
Outdoor dining overlooking the jungle and a river, the air warm and flower scented.
Why on earth did I ever leave???

The hanging glass hearts should have been a clue that I was falling in love with the place.

Eventually we reluctantly walked back downstairs and through the blooming curtains.

We wanted to walk the trail down to the river.
(Lord know we sure needed to burn off a few calories by then.)

It really was jungle.

And the path really was steep.
No jaguars were seen however.

A sign at the trail end said swimming was OK.
I was pretty hot and sweaty from the climb and was tempted to dive right in.
Next time I will bring a swim suit and do exactly that.

The hike back up was on a more straight trail with steps and flowers.

Lots and lots of butterflies flitted about as we hiked.

A look up at the restaurant balcony where we had just had lunch.

Bernie looks awed doesn't he?

Back in the courtyard...we made the trek back safely.

Our car was parked up the garden driveway.
There were still lots of botanical beauty to see. 

Rock walls had moss and baby orchids embedded.

Light and texture stunned me in every direction I looked.

A free range rooster was standing next to our car.

He and the Mrs. made a cute couple.
(I suspect that all Mexican chickens are "free range".)

The drive down from the mountains and along the coast was spectacular.

A private residence hung on the cliff overlooking the ocean.
Don't you love that tiny pool and lacy iron work?

Next time I want to spend more time exploring the rocky shores.

Look at that turquoise water!

My hometown is La Jolla, so this place caught my eye.

While there are loads of resorts along the sandy beaches in PV, I wouldn't mind staying at some of the resorts up in the mountains over looking the coast.

The beach was still only a short walk away.

The city in the distance.

Another Mexico-Canada flag scene.
I really don't recall seeing any Mexican flags cozied up with American flags.

When we finally got back to our room we looked outside to see if the iguanas were still there and what they had been doing all day.
Apparently the littler (female?) iguana had turned to face the other way sometime during the day.
That was it.
And I thought cats were lazy!