Day 39: Something Beautiful

Trip Start Sep 02, 2007
Trip End Dec 25, 2007

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Saturday, October 13, 2007

Stephanie and I took the early shuttle to the central park and went looking for a phone café to call our families and a taxi. It was wonderful to talk to Mom and Dad and Stephanie had a chance to call her parents too but it was forty cents a minute to call the UK so she didn't get to talk long. When I finished my 40 minute call I'd had no idea she'd been waiting so long; I thought she'd been talking. We tried to call the taxi company the Port Agent recommended but three times there was no answer, so we left the café and hailed a cab ourselves. The driver was really nice and said he knew where Jardín Botanico was but that it would cost six dollars to get there. He was clearly more worried about that price than we were, and we got in the cab and were off. He asked me if I liked the music and where we were from. I really did like the music; the music the real people were playing was so much better than the music you could hear streaming out of the clubs in these cities. I wish I could have found some music to buy that I could guarantee would actually be a cd of music when I got it home and not something else or a blank or scratched to pieces. You just never know in some of these little roadside stands.

We drove for about half an hour, and I really wanted to be able to talk to the driver but I didn't have any more words. We got way out of the city, past the airport and out of the industrialized part, and the driver started to look worried and finally pulled over to ask directions. The guy knew right where to go and pointed us right to it, and when we got there after a few repeated attempts I understood that the driver was offering to come pick us up later. We finally arranged to have him come back "a la una, aquí (here at one o'clock)" and pick us up. We paid and the girl at the check-in began giving us a guided tour. I think she was bored; there was not another person in the place besides me and Stephanie. Unfortunately neither of us understood enough of what she was saying and Stephanie had to stop her not two minutes in and tell her we didn't have enough Spanish. She looked crushed, but went to get our change. I felt bad that we couldn't put her to work a little bit. She had led us to the orchids first, but we decided to go around the loop and come back to the orchids and turned towards the only other building in the park.

It turned out to be an information exhibition, all in Spanish unfortunately, but we didn't want to read anyway we wanted to look at pretty stuff. There was a macaw in a cage right outside the door to the information building and we hung out with him for a while. He evidently thought we would have food for him and was rather indignant that we didn't, but he did seem to like me and hung out by our side of the cage for a quite a while jabbering away in a strange mixture of macaw and Spanish until he got sick of my apparent lack of handouts and went away to sulk in the other corner and Stephanie and I went on around the building.

We saw orchids growing on some of the trees outside of the orchid enclosure, and of course those were the most beautiful and the hardest to get at. There were birds flying around but of course I couldn't get pictures of any of them. The flowers were amazing and I couldn't get enough pictures. There were animals, too, some chickens and pheasants that absolutely fascinated Stephanie but I couldn't get too excited about. There was a baby monkey in the cage with the pheasants, though, and him I found much more interesting. He was just about the cutest thing I'd ever seen, with big sad eyes and a stare that would freeze you. I wanted to go up to the cage but it was away from the path and I wasn't sure I could. Then the girl from the entrance kiosk came by with a treat for him and stood there talking to him for a while. He talked to her, too, and when she left after a few minutes he make a huge racket, screaming and whimpering with sounds that were hauntingly human. I didn't have any food for him, but I went up to the cage anyway.

He came right over to see if I had anything, and when I didn't, he just sat there near my side of the cage. Stephanie left to go hang out with the domestic ducks. I put my fingers up to the cage and he put his hand around my finger, very much like a small child would do when crossing the street or walking through a crowd. Then his other hand came through the cage and he held on to my finger with both hands, just sitting there and looking at me. His sad eyes bored into mine and I just looked back at him, not knowing what to do or say except that I could not leave. He struck me as such a tragic character, in my hopeless-romantic thinking-in-prose sort of way. He didn't say a word and neither could I; while Stephanie hung out with the ducks I stood there helplessly holding the hand of a baby monkey in a dirty cage that wanted nothing more than silent company.

It was the second entirely silent interaction I've had on this trip and both are certainly up there in the 3 or 4 most powerful. I stood there for fifteen minutes before I knew I had to drag myself away before I decided to adopt the baby and bury the guilt I felt at leaving him there. It was absolute helplessness, for both of us; he was stuck in a cage with a family of pheasants and I had no power to get him out or into any better situation. I finally just had to bite down on the tears and pull my hand away.

The baby could feel that I was pulling away, and he just let go of my finger one hand at a time and sat there, still silent, and watched as I forced myself to turn away and keep walking. He never made a sound, not a single cry or even a whimper. His silence broke my heart; I walked away almost wishing I had never walked up to that cage. I knew that he'd known I was just wandering by and couldn't stay. I didn't speak Spanish and wasn't wearing a uniform and didn't bring him food - I couldn't be anything but a tourist. Of course he knew, but did it make it better or worse for him to know that? I still don't know if it makes it better or worse for me.

Stephanie didn't understand; she couldn't - I just followed her for a few minutes, trying to reconcile in my mind what I'd just done and what I was doing now. We went up to a little snack bar and bought water, but couldn't stay because Stephanie was being eaten alive by mosquitoes, so we walked and drank our water and looked at more flowers and wandered around the park some more. We found the butterfly garden, which was absolutely beautiful and full of both flowers and butterflies in amazing numbers and colors. Of course you go in thinking you'll get lots of pretty pictures of butterflies and then the darn things won't hold still long enough for you to get any pictures at all. The good news is I got a few decent shots... don't worry Dad I won't forget to post them this time! I wanted to stay and hang out with the butterflies all afternoon but Stephanie was bored and I didn't have the patience to wait for the picture for too much longer, so we moved on.

We finally made it back to the orchid garden, which turned out to be some sort of orchid project, but we were right behind a school group that had suddenly turned the silent gardens into a buzz of youthful activity. Fortunately their chatter fell away as they descended the hill into the area nearer the monkey's cage and the butterfly area, and we were able to enjoy the orchids in peace. Of course my camera battery took that moment to die, but I managed a few nice shots even though I still hadn't been able to find the close-up setting on my new camera. The smell in there was the best part, though. You could smell the orchids from several feet away, and once inside the scent of flowers fairly dominated the air until it almost filled you up from the inside out. I remember commenting to Stephanie that no matter what you did, you could take a picture of flowers or a video of animals or even an audio recording of a song or a conversation, but nothing you can do can record the smell of flowers.

We were about half an hour ahead of our taxi driver but we were tired and didn't want to walk anymore, Stephanie was still being chewed up by mosquitoes and my camera was out of batteries. Our driver was early anyway, and for another six bucks took us right back to the central park where he had picked us up. There was a Hare Krishna restaurant there that Lindsay had recommended for cheap vegetarian food (Stephanie is vegetarian), and it didn't take much to find it. They seemed to have one meal a day, and a menu with a few specialties on it that they could make if you ordered it. There were a few people in the restaurant, and every person in the place had ordered the Hare Krishna lunch, the main plate for the day. That's what we ordered - for $1.20. It wasn't half bad, in fact I enjoyed it; it was simple but tasty and clearly healthier than what we were eating on the ship. It was a vegetable curry thing, with some bread and vegetables and creamy soup of something-or-other that was pretty darn good for not knowing what was in it. The dessert was nasty though. Some grainy brown-sugar mush thing that didn't taste good at all. And I didn't drink the juice thing because we were worried about the water in it.

After lunch we hunted down the Post Office, which wasn't hard because Lindsay had told me exactly where it was and we took all the right turns and actually found it, plus Stephanie had been there the day before and just needed a little reminding. We got there easily and I bought some postcards from a little kiosk outside it, and then we went to go in and it had closed fifteen minutes earlier. So... we went back to the ship to try to get something done; of course I didn't but I did go to bed early if that counts for anything!
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