Orquídeas Moxviquil, San Cristóbal de las Casas (or: check out the bumps on that fern!)

Just when we thought San Cris couldn’t get any hippier, good old TripAdvisor pointed us in the direction of a fairly new project on the outskirts of the town, a botanical garden known as Orquídeas Moxviquil – or, rather, fittingly, ‘OM’. Run by an eminently experienced and knowledgable chap called Cisco from California, its aim is to protect, study, and give a home to what many locals used to term ‘basura’ (rubbish) but which is actually a multitude of different orchids, bromeliads, and other plant species, many of which are completely endemic to the area. When he first came to San Cris years ago, Cisco told us he met loggers felling trees for firewood and the like, and when the trees came down, they ripped the bromeliad plants off the branches and tossed them aside, as they were no good for burning and weren’t considered valuable. Originally working in Mexico as a photographer, Cisco decided to do everything he could to learn about and protect these unique species, and Orquídeas Moxviquil was born.

The modest entry price includes a good poke around a large conservatory-type structure which looks like the younger brother of the Eden Project’s famous biomes. And when I say poke around, I mean it literally – Cisco is keen that the site isn’t thought of as a hands-off ‘museum’ sort of place, and he encouraged us to get in there, poke, stroke, sniff and touch the plants – he even gave us a magnifying glass to get up close and personal with any we particularly liked the look of. The result was that the four of us on our tour stayed in the small structure for well over an hour, and our leader’s enthusiasm rubbed off, leaving us wide-eyed and full of support for the project, which also reaches out to the local community to get them interested in and involved with their work.

Our afternoon concluded with a short hike into the forest above San Cris, and our hard work was rewarded with yet more amazing views, and a trail marked with interesting signposts and thinking points. OM currently ranks very highly on TripAdvisor, and with good reason. All too often in Latin America I have been surprised at the attitudes taken by people towards the environment and natural surroundings – a different mindset, I guess, or maybe just other priorities.  OM is an example of something sustainable and educational, without being preachy. If you are in San Cris, do pay them a visit, and get Cisco to chat to you if he’s around…I would never have expected, when told about the reproductive cycle of an orchid and asked “isn’t that wild?” that my answer would be so enthusiastically, “yes!”

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