Enter the botanical garden. The biggest indoor tropical garden in the world. My little chance to visit the jungle without leaving the UK. Should I cover myself with Deet? Do I take my machete along?
I park my bike next to the wheelchair collection point. I think I don’t need my machete, glad I left it home. It’s very good that the disabled are able to enter such an experience as well. And elderly couples, families which lots of kids, bags and push buggies, or dogs. They are all there. As are ‘organic’ students with long unwashed beards and dedicated staff members that make sure you don’t get lost or go somewhere you’re not supposed to be.
As expected it’s hot and moist inside the impressive dome. Filled with huge palm trees, beautiful flowers and here and there little birds. You can hear a waterfall in the distance. Squeezing my eyes a bit and taking a deep breathe I can envision the long flight and succeeding endless drive in a 4×4 that took me to this little piece of paradise.
“Mummy, can I have an ice cream, it’s hot in here!” A little girl runs screaming across the small bridge over the mangrove. She can’t fall in the water because there is a safety barrier. The whole 40 min walk footpath is set up with barriers.
Let’s go up, to enjoy the green view. It takes some time to get there. Not because it’s far, but the elderly man in front of me is walking very, very slowly, looking around, not aware of the rest of us behind him. He is in his own jungle. I am glad he’s having fun. I am in no hurry. I mean, look at this beautiful pink and yellow flowers. And the woman in front of it with her huge canon camera almost touching the flowers to make the perfect picture. Or the man next to her trying to do the same with his iPad.
I feel adventurous. I follow the signs to the steep staircase to the viewing platform. . I can see it in the distance above me at the top of the dome. Less people here. I climb up, until I reach a closed portal with a sign: ‘Viewing platform closed due to high temperatures’. Really?
The one way staircase down has a sign informing people that the steps are of different sizes. On the bridge over the water is a sign that says that the foam on the water isn’t a bad thing. And I am informed that if I tweet my pic to a hashtag I might win a computer. Fire exits are everywhere as I am notified of by the signs in between the signs that tell you where you are, the signs that tell you what you see, and the signs that tell you where to go to next. And the sign reminding me to make a donation!
Exit the dome. Toilets, shops and a huge canteen, since adventure makes you hungry and wanting you to spend money. I have a coffee and a blueberry muffin. I sit down and look around. I love the effort, the care, the plants, the educational aspect, all of its philosophy. But I just can’t get over the feeling that it is not right. A jungle that is not a jungle.
Our lives are safeguarded to the bone. We are entertained and guided from start to end. Well fed and hydrated, directed, educated, explained, protected from any harm. There is no room to get lost and find your way again; to leap over an edge and feel you must be very careful not to fall over; to watch and wonder and learn by seeing, touching, trying, hurting yourself, failing; to spend time alone sitting down and glare into the soul of a flower or a tree, or come to terms with an animal. Are these people visiting the dome living? Do they know they exist, do they feel alive?
Is this our Garden of Eden? I just can’t help but wonder: Is there a cooled dome in Ecuador or Botswana showing people the cultivated designed nature of western life and the genetic modified food we eat from cans that come from factories, with traces of real life? I think the indigenous would laugh at us in wonder…