Friday, January 21, 2011

Costa Rica/Panama, Part IV


Friday, January 14

We must have moored somewhere on Lake Gatun overnight; when we woke in the morning, we were cruising again over the smooth waters of this expansive inland waterway...

... toward our destination, the Barrio Colorado Island and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute based there.

Originally just another hilltop, BCI was created when the waters rose after the construction of the Chagres River dam as a part of the Panama Canal. As our daily briefing noted, “Its small area (a total of 1500 hectares) and new island condition made it a natural choice for a laboratory, important in studying both tropical ecology and biogeography.” To give us a fuller sense of the work being done there, we were offered a lecture by one of the senior staff scientists. I should have taken notes, but memory tells me that his lecture was largely about biodiversity and the interdependence of species. It was, believe me, utterly fascinating.

After, breakfast, then, we dropped anchor in the sheltered harbor and made our final excursion aboard the Zodiaks to the research center’s dock. We were greeted there by the open jaws of a small crocodile...

... perched comfortably in the sunshine atop a buoy just across from the pier. Following instructions (long pants, tucked into socks at the beginning of tick and chigger season!) and the now familiar drill of slipping out of our life vests, we met our guide—a charming young woman whom I presumed to be a graduate student...

She led us up the hill past the complex of research buildings...

offices and dormitories to the start of the “Fausto” trail...

... the hardier of the two hikes being offered that day.

There was much of interest along the trail...

... a beautiful hollow tree, looking up...


It was all made all the more interesting, as usual, by our local guide and by Jose, one of our own tour guides and the photography expert of the expedition—a great bird spotter. New to me was the aguti, a rodent about the size of a large guinea pig, apparently abundant on this island. We saw quite a number of them scurrying around in the undergrowth, but I was only able to get a picture at the very end of the hike, when one was kind enough to pose for me in a nice patch of sunlight.

Returning to the Sea Lion, we set sail again across Lake Gatun, now distinctly yellow with silt...

... (looks brown here; it was mellow yellow--see croc pic, above) toward the second set of locks leading down to the Caribbean.


Unlike the previous evening, it was still broad daylight when we reached the locks, so we were offered the spectacle of the whole procedure in a different light. We found ourselves in line behind the massive Indiana Highway...

... a Panamax car carrier from Kobe, Japan, whose bulk left only inches on either side and whose towering height effectively blocked our view of the way ahead. Still, it was once again a fascinating experience to watch our progress through the locks...



... and into the waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

We docked, at the end of our voyage, in Colon, and it felt strange to be back in a busy industrial environment.

We were sad, that evening, to have to say goodbye to new friends. Sitting down to feast at the traditional “Captain’s Dinner,” we had the opportunity to raise a toast to our fellow travelers, as well as to the staff and crew who had done such a great job in guiding us and taking care of our needs. Still, knowing that we had to take a very early bus ride back to the airport in Panama City, we made an early night of it to be ready for the long trip home.

Saturday, January 15

Sleep came hard. We were up and about at 4:30 AM, even earlier than necessary for our 5:30 bus departure. Bags parked outside our cabin door, we had time for a leisurely cup of coffee and a snack breakfast before heading down the gangplank and out onto the dock.

It was a long drive, mostly through darkness until we reached the outskirts of Panama City at daybreak. The skyscrapers glittered regally in the distance as we drove through crowded streets past rickety roadside stands and clustered shacks in hectic, sauve-qui-peut traffic, past lines of working people waiting for the brightly painted buses or besieging the food stalls, past billboards advertising everything from beer to underwear and luxury automobiles, past decaying industrial buildings and brand new shopping centers. Humanity, in other words, at work…

Arriving at the airport in good time for our Miami-bound flight, we bought another cup of coffee and waited for our boarding announcement. The rest—the arrival in Miami, the US customs, more security checks, the crowded airport restaurant at lunch time, the flight back to Los Angeles with an overworked, hastily heedless crew—all this is best forgotten. There were too many good things to remember, including a much enhanced sense of the incredible beauty and diversity of our planet--as well as its infinitely delicate balance and its vulnerability.

And it was good, finally, as always, to be back home.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

welcome home, looks like a greet trip

Duckie said...

Wow you are so adventurous!
Tres cool

CHI SPHERE said...

Thanks for the virtual tour during the last few entries!

eva kolosvary-stupler said...

It was a great pleasure to follow your trip day by day, especially for people like us who are young in our heart and desires, but whose bodies can't take any more such a strenious adventure.
Our last trip was in 2003 to the unforgettable Galapagos Islands, before my multiple back surgeries.
I discovered some birds,sea-lions,huge turtles and others you photographed also living on the Galapagos Islands too.
Welcome back Ellie and Peter!

Christopher said...

Costa Rica and Panama are perfect for couples, because it's certainly the paradise.
Also, I've been to a hotel in Uruguay which is really great to relax.