January 16, 2013, San Andrés, Colombia
Our favourite attraction on San Andrés to date is the Botanical Gardens (el Jardín Botánico de la Universidad Nacional de Colombia). The garden has only been open for three years, so some of the plants are still small, and the garden itself is not huge — but the whole experience has been brilliantly designed. We opted for a guided tour. We were with a Spanish speaking group; however, the local guide moved between Spanish and English fluently; I really don’t know how he did it, quite amazing. [Also, fun for us to hear the Spanish version too — we got a free language lesson with the price of admission.]
The others on the tour were tourists from Bogotá. One avuncular man came across as charming and also very intelligent — we could see that he loved to chat with people and would have really enjoyed chatting with us and vice versa. I expect his written English was quite passable but I was embarrassed that I couldn’t understand his English pronunciation. We gave up after a few awkward tries. I do wish I had learned more Spanish before this trip.
The garden and thus the tour were divided into three parts.
Part one was a lesson in plant evolution. Five triangular plots showcased plants ranging from the most primitive (ferns) with no flower and proper seeds to the highly evolved and beautiful orchids and bromeliads.
This vine fascinated me. (Sorry I can’t remember the name.) As it grows up, the leaves grow larger, and conversely, the leaves shrink as they grow down — quite remarkable and quite consistent. See two photos below.
Part two highlighted plants with different uses: fruits, medicines, woody (for example, teak, which grows well here), ornamental, industrial. Our guide had grown up on the island and his first hand experience with some of the plants made his talk even more engaging. He showed us the plant that his mother had used to cure his childhood asthma and the variety of orange that his great-grandmother eats everyday, claiming it is the secret of her long life (still lucid at 103 years).
In the industrial plant section, I was inordinately thrilled to see a little Jatropha plant, having heard references to it for years. Jatropha produces a seed that is very high in oil and that is being grown for biodiesel.
Part three was a simple stroll through the forest — this was natural forest as it had always been. It made for a lovely conclusion to a good tour.