October 29

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Jardin Botanico

Rarely in my life have I been as regularly conflicted as I am in Bogota. When friends and family ask what I think about the city,  about life here in general, finding a straightforward answer becomes impossible. I meander instead, trying to be articulate about all the perks (nanny, maid, walking distance to everything, two dozen roses for ten bucks) without diminishing the cons (stupid traffic, questionable cabs, ludicrously expensive clothes, language barrier). And to do that without sounding like a spoiled, whiny jerk is hard.

I encountered yet another warring-feelings moment when we visited the Jardin Botanico late last week. Just finding the place was a real accomplishment. Admittedly, I don’t know my way around this city, whatsoever, when it comes to driving. Hats off to my American friend, Kerri, who is out and about driving already. I’ve been inspired. Unfortunately this soaring emotional motivation couldn’t help navigate what should have been a quick thirty minute trek. I did eventually ask a man on the sidewalk by our turn-around for directions, once we realized we were close but still lost. The practiced “donde esta?” rolled off the tongue like I’d been a native speaker for years. After that however, out came my Spanish gobbledy-gook, expressions of confusion, mutual awkwardness and – somehow – eventual directions.

Because we arrived so late, time was extremely limited. Through the arepa and fresh fruit stands we walked, paying about a buck fifty for a ticket in, and then heading to the right, for the rose garden. It looked like it had been plucked straight off the hills of Tuscany and set delicately down for our Colombian enjoyment. Illustrious, romantic, a great awakening beauty:

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We then popped into the tropical greenhouse right beside it, and promptly found ourselves stuck between two middle-school tour groups. Now, I used to teach middle school, mostly 8th graders to be exact, and I’ve started to miss those kids. I really have. Their energy, innocence and joy were a daily blessing I absolutely took for granted. But… I also love this sudden free time, to walk and write and breathe. To not be constantly bombarded with off-topic questions in the middle of instruction, stacks of grading that would make a hoarder anxious, emails from frantic parents at the end of the semester, wanting to know if Alex can maybe turn in six-weeks of undone assignments by tomorrow’s cutoff?

You see, I’m conflicted. But the kids started to win me over. They had the same toothy grins, faces not yet grown enough to fit such big smiles. One little cohort kept asking Kerri about her beautiful baby, how old is she, what’s her name, where are you from? Every answer produced giggling. The boys behind me rightfully assumed my Spanish is terrible, though I understood more of their immature joking than I imagine they’d feel comfortable with. And as I surveyed these teenagers, rocking and bouncing with out-of-school bliss, I felt a wave of nostalgia for my former students, they that I loved so very much.

And then, the frazzled instructor pushed past us, up to the front of the group, yelling over their endless chatter, exhorting them to pay attention. Probably, that’s what he was saying, though I can’t say for sure. What I most certainly recognized in his purposeful walk, unkempt hair, focused expression and general air of incredible stress was my former self. Ah, the unrelenting, terrifying knowledge of being solely responsible for a gaggle of middle-schoolers, and away from the structured campus borders to boot! It’s a frightening reality to behold.

I sent up a silent prayer for the man, clearly losing the battle for class control. And I made the best of what should have been a quiet stroll through blossoming vegetation. There were some spectacular species on offer, and maybe next time my Spanish will be proficient enough to understand the placards and thus more fully appreciate what I’m seeing. The theme here is pink, with one lagoon exception:

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To fully experience the 47 acres, arrive on time. And if you’re not bursting with love for kiddies, definitely check out the park on a weekend. I haven’t decided yet when I’d like to return myself…