Friday, February 8, 2008

Costa Rica 25

After lunch we returned to the office where the staff very graciously called a taxi for us to take us on to our next adventure. We were going to the Heliconia Gardens.

This was someplace that L had discovered on the internet while researching the area. It was a botanical garden located on an island in the middle of the Sarapiqui River. The internet site touted it as “home to a little-known but magnificent botanical garden that awaits visitors in search of beauty and serenity.” It was a five acre island garden, home to over 80 varieties of heliconia and ginger. What a bunch of poop. Even with all of these gorgeous flowers to look at, it was without a doubt the most boring thing we did on the whole trip. Of course, we did not know that going into it!

Our taxi eventually turned off the main road and picked its’ way along one the typical stone roads indigenous to this region. We saw the sign for the gardens and he turned down this little dirt lane which abruptly ended at the river and a small suspension bridge. Even before we got out of the taxi, we heard the dogs coming. They sounded loud and big. The driver told us to stay in the taxi, these were the guard dogs and we had to wait for the owner to come collect us. Even with my limited Spanish, I understood this. I would not have gotten out anyway. I have seen too many vicious farm dogs in my day to risk a bite. So why L got out is still a mystery to me. We yelled at him to get back in but he ignored us. I had visions of Kujo dancing through my brain as I peered out the back window of the taxi and saw three big black dogs racing across that bridge. Mouths wide open, barking and displaying large white teeth. I was terrified but L just stood there watching them approach. Lucky for him, it was all just show. They got to the taxi and turned into giant black love bugs. Maybe because they were no longer on their property, having crossed the bridge to the “mainland”. Who knows. I am just glad that they did not tear L limb from limb. Following close behind was the owner of the island and creator of the garden, Mr. Tim Ryan.

Mr. Ryan purchased this island in 1992 and has been working tirelessly ever since to fill it with every known species of heliconia known to man. And he is about the most boring person I have ever met. Like most people who have dedicated themselves to a task, he has a one track mind and that is heliconia. He even knew the Latin name for every plant on the place. Since we were the only visitors, we were going to get a first rate owner narrated tour. We asked the driver to return in an hour to pick us up. (we had not yet crossed the bridge or had much interaction with Mr. Ryan). Mr. Ryan said we would need more like three hours to tour the island properly. We compromised at 2.5 hours. The driver left, and with the dogs following placidly along, we crossed the tiny suspension bridge over the river and entered the island.

I have to admit, it was beautiful. Right in front of us, standing tall to welcome visitors, was a fantastic example of a traveling palm. We sometimes call them fan palms. They are named traveling palms because they store a tremendous amount of water in their trunks and travelers used to tap into them to get the water. And that is really all you need to know about them. But, oh no, we got our first hint of what this tour was going to be like when it took Mr. Ryan ten minutes to convey the same information I just told you in two sentences. The three of us kept stealing glances at each other and rolled our eyes, signifying that we all felt the same way. This was going to be a long 2.5 hours.

We made our way somewhat in a counter clockwise manner around the perimeter of the island. Occasionally venturing into the middle portion so yet another plant could be described in minute detail to us. The unfortunate things was that this did not have to be such a bore ass tour. It would have been much nicer if he had just made signs for each plant and let people do a self-guided tour. I quickly lost patience with this bore and mostly tuned him out. B and L pretended to listen. Under the guise of taking pictures, I lagged behind and jumped ahead whenever I could. I eventually stopped taking pictures though because he even tried to direct that! Telling me take a picture of this flower or of this plant. I eventually claimed my batteries were dead and put my camera away. I had enough pictures by now anyway.

It was deadly hot and sticky here too. Add that to the fact that we were tired from our three hour trek through the jungle and his droning on incessantly with information that we did not care about and you had three travelers quickly getting tired of the place and wishing we could leave. He kept making a promise about refreshments and beverages at the end of the tour. We kept trying to hurry him along, but it did no good. He thought he had three students in tow and treated us like that too.

Although it was a beautiful place and we kept getting glimpses of the house now and then, I would not have wanted to live there for anything. There was evidence all around of the recent high water level. We asked him about this and he said, especially during the rainy season, the river floods and totally covers the island, sometimes with as much as four feet of rushing brown water! Leaving him and his family stranded until the water recedes. What a way to live. I was surprised that most of this plants weren’t washed away. They must have really strong root systems. But I wasn’t going to ask!

We finally ended up at the guest house, where he was to prepare the refreshments and beverages, with only five minutes left before our cab was to return. So we never even got anything to drink and we were dying of thirst from the heat and humidity. (we had thoughtlessly not brought any water with us!) Finally, and with great relief, we paid our $15 each admission fee and bade him farewell. I have never been so glad to get out of a place.
Like I said, it was a pity. The place really was beautiful and definitely worth seeing. Just not with him!

We crossed the bridge and found our loyal taxi driver waiting for us and climbed in. We didn’t stop talking about this adventure until the driver pulled into our lodge and let us out.

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