I enter a driveway shaded by the tangled jungle canopy. I take in a deep breath of the cool air, and feel relieved to have escaped the heavy, tropical heat. A layer of green moss blankets the trees and clings to the stone pathway. Ferns and bromeliads grow on either side and the breeze carries a sweet scent of an orchid growing high above on a tree branch. Arriving at my apprenticeship is the highlight of my day. As I walk, I take a moment to appreciate the multitude of green.
At El Jardin Botanico Las Orquideas, with childlike enthusiasm, I encounter extraordinary insects and plant life that inhabit the Amazon jungle. Every day I come across otherworldly creatures: orchids that can only be seen with a magnifying glass, grasshoppers that look like leaves, spiders that spin quadrant webs, medicinal plants that treat anything from stomach aches to preventing cancer, yellow fruit that is chewed like gum, ants that taste like lemon, transparent frogs, colonies of white starry fungi and bright blue butterflies as big as birds. Sometimes it seems as if I’ve passed through a hidden portal and arrived in another universe. What I find most astonishing is how the most unbelievable and outrageous life forms serve very logical and fundamental purposes for survival. Every plant, animal and insect are intrinsically connected and interact to maintain a balanced ecosystem.
It’s hard to imagine that just 30 years ago the thriving forest at El Jardin Botanico was nothing but a barren cow pasture. Remarkably, Omar Tello, my apprenticeship host created the forest himself. How is that possible? I wondered that myself. He spent years diligently working to replenish the nutrients in the soil. He collected and planted trees, palms, and orchids that are in danger of extinction from degraded areas of the Amazon. Over time, Omar cultivated a sanctuary that now harbors a delicate ecosystem teeming with life.
One of my favorite parts of the garden is the insect display in a one room museum. The walls are covered from the ceiling to the floor in a patchwork of photos, categorized by year, to illustrate the increasing number of insect and bird species, normally found in the primary rain forest, that have appeared in the garden. Omar explained simply, If you build a home they will come.”