Casey Middle School in Boulder, Colorado is an inspiring example of how to compost in a school cafeteria. With 600 students in the entire school, half of whom get what we used to call “hot lunch”, the cafeteria staff provides 300 lunches a day.
The Boulder Valley Nutrition Services department provides ~14,000 meals a day with three kitchens for the entire school district. Meals are primarily made from scratch (except rolls, flatbreads, etc.), but those items are sources locally. They attempt to have mostly organically-grown food. Milk is provided via dispensers with reusable cups. Lemon-infused water is provided as well. Cutlery is reusable as well as the plates and serving trays. Plastic bags are the only landfill trash produced.
Students are provided with guides on how to load their plates. They have to have three components on their plates according to Federal regulations. This includes ½ cup of fruit, ½ cup of vegetables, and eight ounces of milk. At Casey Middle School at least, there is always a plant forward meal offered. Posters with pictures show what a serving looks like.
In Boulder Valley, the health initiative also includes composting in the cafeteria. Composting is THE most impactful thing we can all be doing to help with carbon footprint. After students finish their meals, they go to the dish washing station where they dump any uneaten food in a bin that weighs how much food waste is going to be composted. Then, their trays, plates, cups and cutlery are washed before the next meal shift.
Daily, the bins are put into a composting dumpster that is picked up by local Boulder’s Eco-Cycle where the food waste is converted into compost that helps with carbon absorption, putting nutrients back into the soil.
The Park Hill Home Tour and Street Fair just celebrated 41 years of sharing community, entertainment, good food and access to beautiful homes in one of Denver’s Sustainable Neighborhoods. This well-established event involves people in the neighborhood opening their homes (usually between four and eight homes) as well as a street fair with up to 100 vendors, food trucks, drinks, live entertainment, as well as presentations. Consequently, the Park Hill Home Tour and Street Fair is the largest fundraiser for the Greater Park Hill Community – an organization that supports the neighborhood through a monthly local newspaper, a food pantry and farmers market as well as many other events and services.
Mindfulness about Our Community in Action
This year, I partnered with Becky Migas of B. Green Events to manage the sustainability aspects of this event. It was a beautiful, sunny day…not too hot, not too cold and not a cloud in the sky. As we set up waste stations around the parkway, 85+ vendors set up their tables and tents. Bicycle bells chimed and the gentle hum of generators for the food trucks purred.
I have been involved in this event for seven years in various capacities. For example, our home has been on the tour and I have written up descriptions of the homes along with another local writer for years. But, last year, I was invited to help with the sustainability efforts of the event and help with vendor registrations. For the first time ever, we added electronics recycling. It was an experiment and we had great participation, but it cost people money (about 50 cents a pound) and the fundraising aspect wasn’t as successful as we had hoped. But, this year we had PCs for People accepting electronic donations for little to no cost and the Cherry Creek Rotary Club helped hugely to accept all the PCs, laptops, cables, TVs and more. Last year, there was also a Sustainability Zone.
In the Zone
This year, in the Sustainability Zone, we had several vendors educating fair-goers about bees with Vine Street Farms, reducing packaging and exploring refill options with Joy Fill, how to get around town without using a car with the Northeast Transportation, getting help tuning and optimizing your bicycle with Bikes Together, how to reduce our harm to the coral reefs with Coral Reef Restoration Panama, and how to live more sustainability and lower our carbon footprint with Sustainable Three and B. Green Events. We had a “Minute to Bin It” challenge where players had to correctly put the right item in the right bin within 60 seconds, articles about our previous waste diversion projects, like East High School’s After Prom event last spring and guidance on how to reduce waste to the landfill – one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gasses.
10 Factors that made this a Sustainable Event
ALL vendors were required to use certified
compostable ware (cups, plates, cutlery, etc)
Vendors had to provide proof that the serving
ware was compostable. And, if it wasn’t,
they had to replace the items or leave (thankfully, everyone complied and no
one had to leave)
Waste stations were positioned all over the
event to make it EASY for attendees to deal with their waste, minimizing
contamination and littering
Volunteers were trained to sort, collect, weigh
and empty the waste bins into their appropriate wheelie bins (provided by
Neighbors provided Recycling, Compost and
Landfill bins to minimize cost and eliminate the need for expensive and
unsightly roll-away dumpsters
Educational pieces were sprinkled throughout
promotional materials (posters, programs and on the web site)
A Sustainability Zone was established and
managed providing fun and education for attendees
Electronics recycling was available for little
to no charge on the day and volunteers from the Rotary Club managed it so our
team could focus on the Sustainability Zone and waste management.
People were encouraged to walk or bike to the
event and the homes on the tour (free bicycle parking available at all homes
and the street fair)
Denver Water had their truck there to provide
water for patrons – either using their own water bottles or compostable cups
Then, the Skies Opened up…
The event was well attended and the weather held out until
the very end when we did our waste sorting and weighing (so we can report back
to the Greater Park Hill Community and have baseline numbers for future
years). As we were sorting and cleaning
up, the skies opened up in a deluge, which made it challenging, but we still
think we got accurate numbers. Once all
the numbers were in, we were proud to report an 82% diversion rate! The next morning all the recycling, compost
and trash was collected by Denver Waste Management. PBS was there the next day filming for a
documentary that will air at the end of October/early November. Neighbors who had donated their bins for the
day received their bins back empty (for the most part) AND, best of all, there
was NO waste
remaining on the parkway (something that neighbors have complained about in the
It was a satisfying experiment and provides hope for future
It’s the choices we make in our daily lives that can make
little shifts in this adventure called climate change.
Even more ways to Support Sustainability
As we learn and gradually change our habits, we can make a
difference in other, more impactful, ways too:
Support the bigger players where there is more
Support businesses and organizations that are
focusing on sustainability
Donate to non-profits like the Sierra Club,
Greenpeace, The Nature Conservancy, NRDC, and other organizations doing the
Pressure businesses to move towards more
environmentally-friendly ingredients and practices
Boycott businesses that are still doing things
that damage our environment and our health
Sign petitions and lobby
Reading blog posts like this one can help keep you
educated. You can make tweaks in your
habits. But, to make a more effective
impact, think bigger and put some of the pressure and responsibility on the companies
and organizations that have the power to make big changes towards
Disturbed and saddened by the amount of waste from last year’s East High School After Prom, East parent/Mindful Sustainability blogger and consultant, Liz Rutledge (http://www.SustainableThree.com), took on co-chairing the newly established Sustainability Committee for this year’s event.
East High School’s After Prom event is legendary*. With a $30,000 budget (all which is fundraised by the parents of the school), the Steering Committee works magic with the funds raised. Thirty plus parents transform the school with their creative designs and talents into a magical place that keeps 800+ students occupied, entertained and safe from midnight to 4:00 am after the dance has ended. Each year, the Steering Committee picks a new theme for the Prom to keep it fresh and creative. This year the theme was “Game On” and each section of the school consisted of game themes, such as Battleship, Hungry Hungry Hippo, Candyland, and the Price Is Right! They also transformed the smaller gym into a large “backyard” with a camping area, backyard games, “food trucks”, a garden and much more!
This was the first year that the Steering Committee made sustainability a priority. Liz decided to enlist the help of Becky Migas, (https://www.bgreenevents.com/) sustainable event planner and owner of B.Green Events, as a co-chair on the Sustainability Committee. And, they are pretty sure they are bonded for life after the experience.
From decoration preparation to event night to clean up and everything in between, there are a lot of event planning components that go into the EHS After Prom. The parents begin preparing the decorations months prior to Prom night. They spend countless hours researching on Pinterest and working in a dusty strip mall basement to make the perfect transformative space for their kids and their friends. In the end, the students’ faces when they see their school in a different way is thanks enough! The Decoration Committee Co-Chairs, Lizzie Mara Treat and Sam Robinson, were the leading charge for their space captains using repurposed materials from past After Proms. In fact, the entire committee repurposed 80% of decorations from previous years! The other 20% that were not used were then donated to local neighbors, other high schools, RAFT, Art Garage or ARC.
During the planning process, Liz and Becky worked with the different committees, especially decorations and food to help them devise a plan to divert as much as waste from the landfill as possible. They were able to provide the Food Committee with compostable items such as cups, plates, napkins and more, which were provided by World Centric (http://www.worldcentric.org) / EP Distribution (https://epdcolorado.com/). They even had compostable champagne glasses, thanks to SelfEco (https://selfeco.com/), for the Hippo Lounge desserts! This was the first time incorporating compostable items into the event and parents and students alike seemed to love the concept!
However, after a few conversations, Liz and Becky realized that the Decoration Committee had spent SO much time on their spaces that the Sustainability team needed to also create an “atmosphere” with their waste stations (compost, recycle and landfill). So they created the game “Think, Thank, Dunk” where the kids had to stop and think before they dunked their “trash” into the bins. The amazing referee parents/volunteers were there to stop and then assist the students with their choices. The kids were AMAZED when they learned most items were compostable! It was a great opportunity to provide some education to them about compostable cups, plates, spoons, etc, especially for many who have never used those materials previously.
Finally, water stations were provided all throughout the school with 5 gallon water jugs, provided at a discounted price from Rocky Mountain Bottled Water (https://www.rmbw.com/), that were labeled with Monopoly Water Works signage. (Plus, all the cups were compostable)! Last year, the students wasted hundreds of half drunk water bottles and this year the After Prom saved over 1,000 water bottles from being used and going to the landfill.
All and all, it was a HUGE success!
The EHS AP Final Numbers
The After Prom diverted over 900 lbs of compost and delivered it to Eco-Cycle in Boulder, CO to be properly composted in an industrial composter. (https://www.ecocycle.org/). While dropping off the compost, Liz exclaimed, “It’s not as gross as you think!”
Once again, this year, approximately 80% of decorations from this year were either recycled, donated, or placed into EHS AP storage to be reused for next year’s After Prom.
PLUS a large carload full of decorations from this year were donated to George Washington High School for their prom the next weekend.
While a lot of lessons were learned by all, the sustainability initiatives put in place by Liz, Becky and the whole Steering Committee made a large impact for one small event. Sustainability is already set in place by the already established Steering Committed for next year. Parent volunteers will be needed again, but with many of the kinks worked out, it should be even more fun to save the planet.
*This year, East’s After Prom was featured on Denver’s Channel 4 news channel!:
The official definition of “Composting” sounds, well, pretty gross.
According to Dictionary.com, composting is:
a mixture of various decaying organic substances, as dead leaves or manure, used for fertilizing soil. A composition; compound.
verb (used with object)
to use in compost; make compost of:to compost manure and kitchen scraps.to apply compost to (soil).
verb (used without object)
to make compost:Shredded leaves will compost easily.“
But, here’s what I’ll tell you…Mother Nature has her way. Naturally, bio-degradables break down, get eaten, processed and regurgitated as amazingly nutrient-rich stuff.
If you compost, your contribution to the landfill will decrease DRAMATICALLY. And, thanks to city-wide composting programs like the one in Denver, it’s super easy. If you don’t have such services, perhaps you can ask your landlord or apartment complex to set up a small tumbler composter – reducing the impact space-wise and reducing nasty smells, waste to the landfill and more!’
A fellow green thumb contributed this fantastic guide to composting if you want to get started. Check out Kevin Rodrigues’ article on How to make your own Compost.
This week, Sustainable Three will be setting up composting at Newport Street Retreat in Denver (home of Sustainable Three). Now that they have raised garden beds, thanks to Denver Boy Scout Troop 62, they will have beautiful vegetation growing to help support their Dinner Church on Thursdays. Who knows what this will grow into, but they will need a composting system for peelings, leaves and other garden waste. That will, in turn, become nourishment that will go back into the garden.
Watch for my blog series on composting in the coming weeks!
After a good night’s sleep in our room at Meson de Leyendas, we ate a lovely buffet breakfast in the patio area of the hotel restaurant again. Fresh papaya, pineapple, yogurt, granola (with all the toppings), waffles, coffee and fresh squeezed juices hit the spot before another day of driving. From Valle de Bravo, we drove in the van back towards Mexico City with a stop at La Cabana del Oso (a roadside restaurant) for a lunch of Seta mushroom soup and squash blossom quesadillas. The soup was soothing on a wonky belly. 🙂
Back in the van after lunch, we were off again and stopped
in Toluca to visit the Jardin Botanico Cosmovitral (the
botanical gardens inside a building with the most incredible stained glass art
installation I’ve ever seen in that style).
Designed and created by Leopoldo Flores (1934-2016), this museum of sorts houses stained
glass windows all the way around the building as well as across the
ceiling. And, in themed sections all
around the indoor botanical gardens are flora from all around the world,
including an Asian Zen garden and cacti from the local area. The stained glass tells the story of
Humankind’s journey – and the battle of darkness and light, good and evil. Birds are represented in the glass – the wise
owl and the eagle (a strong symbol of pride in Mexico).
It was a great place to take a moment, take a breath, and
enjoy the morphing colors as the sun penetrated the stained glass creating
varying palettes on the plants.
Constellations speckled along the ceiling blend with the other designs
leading to the large installation at the far end of a man and a woman. The spiral between them is representing our
galaxy – a pattern echoed in the woman’s womb.
has a bit of a London vibe – except for the largest “mural” in the world living
on the exterior walls of the residents houses on the hill. It’s definitely worth a visit.
Our second morning in Valle de Bravo, we got up again at 7:00 and went out to the patio for a quick buffet breakfast at 8:30.
We were back on the bus and headed to Piedra Herrada Butterfly Reserve. My Horse was named Colorado (coincidentally, as I’m from there) and his handler was Pablo…a hard working man who did his very best to motivate the horse up the steep hill.
This area of the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere was more like what I expected from seeing the documentary. Thousands and thousands of butterflies clustered in the trees in a most magical way.
One of our guides, Carlos, is a Biology graduate student who provided us these great links to more details about the flora and fauna in the Valle de Bravo region:
Our next morning was Valentine’s Day and we were headed to the butterfly sanctuary.
When my children were little and taking Music Together classes and watching “Dora the Explorer”, I heard this folk tale about a butterfly, “La Mariposa”, in which animals enamored by the butterfly would say “Mariposa, Mariposa, will you marry me?” (There’s a bilingual children’s book you can check out that tells the story HERE if you’re interested). That sing-songy phrase was in my mind as we headed to see the butterflies.
We got up at 7:00 and then were out in the patio area of the restaurant by 8:00a.m. for a buffet breakfast of fruit, granola, fresh squeezed juices, fresh hot coffee, and waffles. By 9:00, we were boarded in the bus and on our way to the Monarch Butterfly Reserve.
It took about an hour and a half to reach the reserve. Once there, we paid to pee and then were assigned our horses. My horse for the day was named “Rosito” and his handler was Francisco. The handlers lead the horses up a two mile trail (going up a few hundred metres) to a clearing where we saw thousands of monarch butterflies fluttering around. Trotting along the rocky, dirt path, we were in a flow of orange and black flitting.
Our guides said they had never seen so many just flying around like that. After a lovely, long rest enjoying the Monarchs, we remounted our horses and continued up the mountain to a trail where we dismounted our horses and hiked down and over to a most amazing viewing spot.
The butterflies, clinging like barnacles on the tall, old growth forest trees blended in in perfect camouflage, while others fluttered around, some seeking water in the river below and some seeking nectar in the salvia.
We can help the monarchs with their survival, growth, migration
and breeding by planting milkweed, tithonia,
brush. Here are 10 suggestions of
flora to plant to help and attract butterflies:
The journey to the Vanilla plantation was about a five hour drive, so the return was about the same. We drove back to Veracruz and stayed in the Hotel Deligencias again. Dinner was in the hotel restaurant and we all enjoyed recapping our time with Jorge, Mike and Jesus and sipping margaritas. Then it was off to bed as early as we could stand it because the alarm was going off at 4:00a.m.
Packed up and ready to leave the hotel by 5:15a.m. (not morning, btw), the eleven of us were driven by Jesus to Veracruz airport and then escorted in by Jorge. We checked our bags and then settled in to have some breakfast (and coffee!!) at a restaurant in the airport since we had two plus hours until our flight departed.
When I booked my AeroMexico flight, I chose the Carbon Offset option, especially since Mexico City’s air quality is, albeit better than it used to be, still is not particularly good. They have committed to reducing their carbon footprint by participating in the MexicO2 program, whose goal is to reduce carbon emissions by 50% by 2050.
To improve air quality, Mexico City instituted “No Drive Days” where people can’t drive on different days based on the color of their license plate. People got around it by buying a second car….
But then they added the last number of your license plates. Anyone can drive on Sundays. Bus transportation is pretty decent and there is a subway that is the most used public transportation system. For safety, the first two cars are for women, children, disabled and elderly (Because there used to be a lot of muggings). Also, electric taxis and bicycle taxis Speed cameras – hidden so everyone drives carefully. 🙂
We boarded the plane to Mexico City at 7:55a.m. and, after a smooth and very quick flight, during which we saw the (active) Popocatepetl volcano (see cover photo), we landed around 9:00a.m. In Mexico City, we were greeted by our new guides, Reuben Encalada (Dopamina Travel) and Carlos Solis. They took us to get cash (pesos) and use the banos and then to our new transportation for the next few days – another 18-passenger van.
Landing in Mexico City, I couldn’t help but notice the
smog. I had heard that the air pollution
in Mexico City was bad, but I had no idea – it’s like Denver on it’s worst high
ozone day – times 10. Many of us started
coughing upon arrival and the lack of air quality was noticeable right away.
Thankfully, we didn’t linger and, once packed up, we drove out to a town called Metepec for lunch and a bit of sight-seeing. Part of our lunch break was exploring an artisan village of sorts (Centro de Exposicion y Venta Artesanal) where many artisans made pieces of art – many themed with the Tree of Life or Dia de Los Muertos.
On Day 3 of our Reefs to Rockies exploration of Mexico, we toured a vanilla plantation in Guiterrez Zamor (about a four hour drive north of Veracruz). A lovely señora, Sylvia (with our guide Jorge’s translation), explained in loving detail how the vanilla plants are grown, harvested, beans processed and sold.
When we arrived in our 18 person van, we unloaded and walked up a steep walkway past beautiful murals and cypress trees stretching towards the heavy, grey sky. The vanilla plantation was founded by “finca” (estate boss) Orlando Gaya who immigrated to Mexico from Italy in 1873. Since then, the plantation has been operated with organic quality and purity as the highest priorities.
When we visited the orchid museum in Coatepec, we learned that vanilla is an orchid (which means “testicles” because of the shape of the bulbs). The two vanilla orchid plants grown at the Orlando Gaya Vanilla Plantation are Planifolia and Pompona. Planifolia’s flavor is a bit bitter, but the aroma is like chocolate. Whereas Pompona smells like prunes and tastes sweet. Vanilla likes to grow on two types of trees: Phichoco with its red seed pods (which we saw at the botanical gardens outside Coatepec) and the pequeena (a.k.a. Mexican bamboo). They can also grow on coconut trees (or Erythrina lanceolata) Sylvia described the vanilla plants as the “princesses” and the trees they like to grow up as the “princes”. They have a very mindful, symbiotic relationship in which the female vanilla plant nurtures the protective male trees.
vanilla plants are very sensitive and will actually switch genders if they are
exposed to too much stress.
As we walked further along the path, we saw the shade houses where these plants are painstakingly nurtured and tended. These plants have become extremely high maintenance over time and must be hand pollinated one flower at a time. The tenders use a thin bamboo stick to spread pollen from one bloom to the next and it takes about a month to hand pollinate 6,000 plants. They say that these vanilla plants have become “lazy”. The hope with some of the experimental plantings at this vanilla plantation is to make these precious plants more resilient. Interns are working to assist in this process.
vanilla orchid, once planted, takes 2 ½-3 years to produce flowers. Then, once pollinated, the flowers take nine
months to produce the vanilla pods/beans.
Only the healthiest are harvested and as the workers find fungus, worms
or other disease, those plants are sterilized to prevent the spread of the
The newer 19 to 25-year-old workers at the vanilla plantation get on-the-job-training as they are taught to pollinate, investigate, nurture, pick, inspect, separate, process and package the vanilla pods. Separation happens along a long conveyor belt and the pods are divided into hierba “grass”, pezon “nipple”, quebrados “broken”, and entero “complete”. The less perfect ones are used for ice cream and other vanilla products where appearance is not as important. Every step along the way, they are making sure it is a good, disease, pest and chemical-free product.
picked and separated, the beans are dried on mesh racks, put in a sort of
“sauna” for three days, then dried further over the course of six months in a
large room, regularly inspected, wrapped in blankets and kept safe. Once they are perfectly ready, they are
divided yet again by level of quality and processed into bags of seeds, powder,
pods, etc. and “vaulted” in stainless steel boxes behind cages, in a building
with bars on the windows and electrified wires.
Finally, the vanilla is inspected in a laboratory for a final
inspection. At US$5/vanilla bean, we can
now understand why they take such painstaking care to protect them.
touring the processing facility, we were given a sample of a drink made with
equal parts vanilla liquor and sweetened condensed milk (and ice) called beso
totonaca (from the name of the Beso Totonaca Kingdom).
you would expect, our tour ended in the gift shop where they sell many vanilla
products (extract, beans, candles, ice cream and a liquor (Xanat is a brand
they sell here)).
A good Mindfulness practice includes gratitude so it is good to acknowledge and thank the vanilla and its tenders for the patient process which it goes through to arrive in our chocolate chip cookies, cakes, coffees, ice cream and more.
Our exploring Mexico Reefs to Rockies, “In Search of Coffee, Vanilla, and Monarch Butterflies”, journey continued with an authentic (and delicious!) breakfast at the recently renovated and restored Hacienda Zimpizahua after we checked out of our hotel, Casa Real de Café. The weather was a beautiful, warm and sunny treat. We enjoyed dining al fresco and family style in the courtyard. Breakfast included sopes with frijoles, green or red chile, and queso, chicharones, huevos, bread, corn torillas, chorizo, fresh squeezed orange juice and delicious, local coffee from the nearby plantation.
The hacienda was formerly owned by the “Finca” (landowner/boss) who ran a coffee plantation. A still functioning water wheel provides nostalgia from the grand days of the Mexican coffee industry. As we followed the red tile paths around the property, we were led by our guide, Jorge, to the patio where the coffee beans used to be spread out and dried in the hot Mexican sun. Borderline slave workers would spread the beans in a single layer for drying over hot concrete and then scramble to collect it back if rain clouds rolled in. The process is more slightly efficient now, but the glamour of the coffee industry has faded as the price of coffee beans has plummeted to 3 Pesos/Kilo (~US$0.32 / pound).
The grounds of the Hacienda Zimpizahua is as beautiful as a botanical garden with orchids, air plants, a koi pond and poinsettias sprinkled throughout. From a balcony, we had a crystal clear view of Pico de Orizaba, the 19,000’ high dormant volcano. Along the road to and from what was the main reason for the road (the Hacienda), we witnessed bee hives, coffee plants (some covered with banana leaves to protect them from the recent unseasonable cold), roaming dogs and a workers strike protesting the recent developers infiltrating the region with no consideration for the landowners’ rights.
A quick drive down the road
brought us back to where we had the cooking class the previous night…a local
coffee plantation. We learned all about
how coffee is grown, how if it is not local to the region, it doesn’t thrive as
well as the local varietal, when it blooms and when the beans are red, ripe and
ready to harvest. Jorge again translated
for us all about the different processes and how they affect the flavors. We learned about the worms and fungi that
contaminate the coffee beans causing them to be rejected by these dedicated
coffee growers. The best roasted coffee
beans are a matte brown, but not super dark, not shiny and have a marzipan colored
line in the middle indicating the oils are still in the bean. (If the beans are shiny, all the oils have
already been released along with most of the flavors).
Our coffee guide emphasized how we must be Mindful about deforestation and climate change…factors that will affect whether or not we can enjoy really good coffee in the future. Coffee plants grow best in dappled sun light with a canopy above and biodiversity all around. Coffee plantations provide homes for a plethora of flora and fauna as well as homes for hundreds of bird species.
Our coffee plantation tour
concluded with an elaborate tasting where we explored the delicate, intricate
flavors of the coffee either as a shot of espresso, a cappuccino, a latte, or
straight out of the sifon (siphon – a
process where a hot halogen light bulb heats a round flask of water and then an
open topped funnel of sorts suctions the water through a filter up through the
coffee grounds and then, as it cools, the coffee sifts back through to the
flask ready for drinking at the perfect temperature for tasting once it’s
poured in a cool, ceramic cup. Flavors
of hazelnut, chocolate, vanilla and caramel swirled on our palates. Alex (the baristo) also produced some
impressive latte art. Three pounds of
this strictly pure and meticulously grown and processed coffee later, we were
on our way…although I’m not sure how I’m getting it home!
After we had our fill of Arabica, we went to a local restaurant and I ate a lunch of the local smoked trout, rice, vegetables and brown beer. It was one of our group members’ birthday and we all sang “Buon Cumpleanos” to her and, after giggling at the relighting candles, stuffed ourselves on vanilla and prune cake (with buttercream frosting).
Our final tour of the day was of the Inecol (Instituto de Ecologia AC) Botanic Gardens. Given that this is a tour organized by the Denver Botanic Gardens, it only made sense that we would check out the local botanic gardens, chock full of tropical flora and bird life. But, the surprise was our botanic gardens’ guide, Phil, from Great Britain. Despite living in Mexico for 23 years, he still has a thick British accent…which was lovely. 🙂
By far the coolest feature of this botanic gardens was their collection of Cycadas (Cycad) – these are sturdy, fern-like plants that were around on our planet Earth at the same time as the dinosaurs, but are still around today. One of their specimens is 1500 years old. They reproduce with seeds (two types: female and male) and need to be planted close together. Other impressive stars of the show were the huge cinnamon tree (cinnamomum zeylanicum), the Camellia Sinensis tree (where all black tree comes from in various forms of aging), the wild bee hives in all sorts of shapes and sizes and the Mexican bamboo.
The day ended with a four hour long drive north along Highway 180 (a two-lane road that stretches from Texas to Cancun, Quintana Roo) and our final arrival in Guiterrez Zamora, where we stayed in Hotel Santa Lucia after dinner in a town along the way – equipped with the state police packing automatic weapons and wearing bullet proof vests. (We felt very safe).