Several weeks ago, a few other volunteers and I decided to explore the Botanic Gardens here in Bogotá, as part of our initial (slightly aimless and more-than-slightly lost) wanderings around the city. The Gardens are located adjacent to the Parque Simón Bólivar, one of the most visible spaces in Bogotá and a centerpiece of the city’s outdoorsy culture, as well as the largest park in the city.
Simón Bólivar is actually made up of a group of smaller parks, which combine to create the over-400-hectare space (larger than New York’s Central Park). These smaller sections include the central park, where residents can see many of Bogotá’s outdoor concerts; Parque el Salitre, an amusement park with various rides and an awesome-looking ferris wheel that I can’t wait to ride (and use as a vantage point to take pictures of the whole city, obviously); the Museo de los Niños (Children’s Museum), which I’m certain I will also love just based on the name; the Parque de los Novios, which we stumbled into accidentally while hunting for the Botanic Gardens, and which reminded me rather a lot of Boston’s very own beloved Public Gardens, albeit with fewer duck statues; an aquatics center; and what seem like a million tennis courts, basketball courts, soccer fields, running tracks and bike paths. It’s a hell of a park, is what I’m trying to say. You could spend days there (and nobody would ever find you)!
But the gardens! That was the point! As I said, the gardens are next to Simón Bólivar, on one of the major streets running into the park — but you wouldn’t know it once you’re inside. After paying the 2,700-peso (about US$1.50) entrance fee, we passed through the turnstile under the brick archway and stepped back into nature.
The park feels like a whole separate space from the rest of crowded, busy, noisy, polluted, hectic Bogotá. There are huge patches of grass just begging for someone to sit on them! There are palm trees! There are lagoons and roses and swans and vast meandering greenhouses full of tropical plants and orchids! After spending so much time on the dusty streets and sidewalks of the city, being in the Garden felt almost like an out-of-body experience.
Due to unforeseen incidences of getting lost, we arrived there much later than we intended, so we didn’t get enough time to see nearly as much of the place as we would’ve liked — for example, we never made it to the orchid exhibit. I would be disappointed about this, except that it gives me an excellent excuse to return soon, to spend a few hours basking in the sunny grass, watching birds pass overhead and forgetting that I’m not in the middle of a distant tropical paradise.
So, it’s the beginning/end of yet another week here in
sunny hailing Bogotá. Oh yeah. There are massive, intense hailstones smashing against my windows at this very moment. It’s only vaguely terrifying, really.
Hailstorms aside, though, it’s been a pretty good week. I still absolutely love the kids and (almost all) the teachers at my school. I feel like such a nerd, because I wake up in the morning and I’m actually excited to go to school, just because it’s so much fun being with all the kids. I don’t even mind waking up before 6 a.m. to do this, which is just as shocking to me as it undoubtedly is to those of you who have known me for more than a week. The thing about getting up early here, though, is that it’s not nearly as hard as it is at home. Since it’s so close to the equator, Bogotá gets about 12 hours of daylight pretty much year-round, which is glorious. It also means that the sun rises by 6 every day, so I get to walk to school in sunlight, rather than in horrible cold darkness, as it would be this time of year at home. So a point to Bogotá, there.
Which leads us to the chicken-or-egg issue of how early everything starts here. I don’t know whether it’s a result of the lovely constant daylight schedule or that it just happens to be convenient that the sidewalks are visible when everyone’s walking to work, but people get up outrageously early. The public transportation systems start running before 5 a.m., and they’re PACKED by 6:30. Like I said, my school starts at 7, but most teachers are there by 6:30 — this retroactively gives high-school me nightmares. And not only do people have to get up early just to get to work, but they need to give themselves extra time to get ready, because most Bogotanos don’t leave their houses unless they look perfect. One of the other volunteers lives with a woman who’s a cosmetologist, and she gets up at like 3 a.m. to go to women’s houses to get them ready for work. That’s right, ladies. Here in Bogotá, you’re supposed to get a blowout and your makeup done before you even head to the office. Guess I’m never going to fit in here.