We had the pleasure of spending nearly 2 weeks in Panama. I will try to give you all a day by day account of what we did, our impressions and a few pictures to boot. The trip was arranged with a company called Natural Habitat Adventures
and I cannot say enough good things about how they arranged the trip. So, if you ever want to take an adventure of a lifetime, check them out!
Monday - 2/9/09
We had an early flight out of Charlotte NC so we left the house about 6:00 AM. It was really tough leaving Princess behind. We left our car at Bobby's and he took us to the airport. We met up with Pat, Anne and Susan at the gate and we all talked about the anticipation of the adventure. Anne was also bummed about having to leave Trevor, her dog behind. The flight to Miami was on time and ahead of schedule. We had a nice lunch in the airport as we waited for the flight to Panama City.
We boarded on schedule but it went downhill from there. We were about to leave the gate when a few maintenance folks got on the plane and began working on something toward the rear of the plane. It turns out that a bulkhead bolt was missing and they needed to replace it. This took about 1 hour. Not too bad. So, we taxied out to the runway and sat for a few minutes. The pilot then announced that our plane had missed a needed inspection and we would have to return to the gate. So, we did.
During our hour plus wait for the inspection to be completed it became apparent that the 2 8-9 year old children in the seats in front of us would make our flight a living hell. They did just that. Evidently their mother and what may have been there grandfather had no control over these 2 and really did not try much. I bet they went in and out of the bathroom which they were each sitting across from 5 times while we waited for the flight to take off.
We finally got the OK to take off and wouldn't you know it, just before we were to take off one of the 'evil twins' decided to lock himself in the bathroom. It caused quite a stir until he finally came out. These were terrible kids and terrible parents to boot. It was a LONG 2 hour plus flight.
After the fight in kid hell we finally landed in Panama City about 2 hours late. It took us another 1 1/2 hours to get through immigration and customs. But, good news, once we did we were greeted by our driver from the h Hotel Bristol. Wow, what a relief.
We checked in The Bristol and that ended our day.
Since we decided to come down a day early, we had a free day so Pat made arrangements to have us driven to the National Zoo. The Harpy Eagles were high on our list to see and they had them. Our driver showed up with a van about 11:00 AM and off we went. He was kind enough to give us a mini tour and told us a good bit about what we say on the way. I think the Panamanians are very proud of their country and very happy that Jimmy Carter decided to turn the Panama Canal over to them in 1999. I think it was the right thing to do also.
On our arrival at the Zoo the driver dropped us off and we decided to meet him there at the entrance at 2:00 PM so we had about 2.5 hours to spend there. There was a young lady at the front entrance of the Zoo with a baby Spider Monkey on her shoulder. It was evidently a rescued infant and she had been charged to care for it which is apparently a full time job.
Once we talked the lady's head off and made her pose with this monkey on her back (Hahaha), we bought our tickets, $1, and went in. It was pretty warm and the sun was very bight so we tried to stick to the shade. We really wanted to see the Harpy Eagle so that's the direction we headed in.
As soon as we headed down the path I noticed a huge tree and YES, I saw epiphytes!
It was a long straight stroll to the cross path that lead us to the eagle enclosure and on the was we say a number of interesting animals. It's always gives me mixed emotions about seeing animals caged up but many people would never even know they existed without zoos.
We finally made our way to the Harpy Eagles
and there was apparently just one left living. It was a young male that could not be reintroduced into the wild so they brought it to the zoo to pair with a long term female that had which had been in the zoo since the 50's I believe. She had died last year and only the male remained. Since they mate for life the female never wanted anything to do with him and there is not much chance of him ever getting a mate either.
We ended our visit with a cold drink and our driver was there to greet us right on time and we returned to the hotel.Summit Zoo Photo Album
Our kickoff dinner was to be at 7:00 PM so we had some time to relax (we thought) and settled in with a shower and a drink. But, a call soon came that informed us that we were to eat at 6:00 PM and so we had to rush downstairs and we didn't get to relax hardly at all. This was a common theme of the trip.
We met one of our guides, Rick Morales, and were told the other (we thought we only had one) would be late due to a car accident. Our other guide, Joshua Hall, soon arrived and we began what would be the first of many meals together in the coming weeks. Rick spoke better English than me and explained what we would be doing the next day as he did at the end of each day. Joshua was a very nice young man. Both were native Panamanians and while Joshua's English was not as good a Ricks it was much better than my Spanish. Joshua would become a favorite of our trip as he always kept us entertained and made us always feel at home. We turned in after the meal and prepared for our journey.
We all met downstairs at 8:00 AM for a tour of the city. Since we would not return to the Bristol we were all packed ready to go. The bus soon arrived and we were off. Once on our way Linda realized she had left her bird book at the hotel. We let Rick know and he proceeded to show us how well he knew his job as he took it in stride and made a call to have it retrieved. We would pick it up after the trip to Old Panama City.
We visited the visitor center for the ruins first and then strolled around the sixteenth century ruins. It sat right on the Pacific Coast line. Not much but walls were left. The Tower was still standing and was restored so that you could climb to the top. It was definitely the highlight.
I was excited to find a Gesneriad growing from the wall of what used to be a hospital I think. Turned out to be Kohleria tubiflora
We were given time to shop in the market but I chose to go back to the bus where I found Linda being entertained by our bus driver Eric. He told us how to make rum in 3 days and told us to keep it to ourselves.
Old Panama Photo Album
Now we were off to the part of the city called Casco Viejo, which is a french influenced part of the city. It looked very much like what I have seen in pictures of New Orleans.
We stopped at a church that had a golden alter that was apparently covered with plaster or paint to hide it from Henry Morgan as he ransacked the city. Evidently it was the only gold salvaged at that time. Not sure whether it was paint or plaster. Joshua told us plaster and the book said black paint. More study needed to clear this one up.
While inside we saw what appeared to be a crippled old man with a cane asking for money. He could hardly walk. But, as we were boarding the bus Linda pointed him bounding down the steps with the cane under his arm and he soon disappeared down the street. It was a great act though.
We stopped close by to pick up Rick who had retrieved the book and caught up with us as we headed for the Miraflores Locks on the Panama Canal.
We arrive at the Visitor Center of the Miraflores Locks which are located on the Pacific side of the canal. We went to the top to have lunch. Another wonderful meal as we sat overlooking the locks.
As you shall see we saw many birds while in Panama. Here is the list of the ones our group saw (not all of us saw them but they were seen by someone in the group) while in Panama City
It was now time to fly to David so it was off to the airport.
It was amazing to me to see how Rick worked us through the airport. We never talked ourselves to any ticket agent. He took up our passports and came back with a boarding pass for each of us. We had the opportunity while waiting to meet a couple that had decided to arrange their own trip to Panama for some birding. The flight into Panama City had arrived late and they had to wait until the next day to catch the flight to David. On arriving at the airport to fly to David they found that the immigration agent had failed to stamp their passport so they were detained for many hours as the whole thing was sorted out. I think my head would have exploded. At that point I was very happy to have Rick work this system for me.
We boarded the plan about 1 hour late but soon made our way to David which was about a 1 hour flight. We hustled off the plan and boarded a bus to our accommodations at Hotel Del Rios in Volcan about a 40 minute drive away.
When we got to the Hotel it was apparent that the recent wind storm had done a great deal of damage to some of the gardens at the hotel. They had a butterfly house that was completely destroyed by a fallen tree which must have been 3 feet in diameter. Epiphytes were all over the ground. Unfortunately most of my pictures of this did not come out.
We had another great meal here and it looked for a while that Rick and Joshua would have to stay elsewhere as they had double booked their rooms but this turned out not to be the case. Both Rick and Joshua were from the province which is called Chiriqui. I was excited since we were to explore the cloud forest in the morning. So we decided to turn in since we were to get up early and leave about 7:00 AM.
We did not get much sleep that night has it sounded like a hurricane blowing all night long. We thought we were sure to have another one of these huge trees fall on our room during the night. Little did we know that this was normal wind for this area at night. A detail that would have been nice to know.
We ate breakfast at 6:00 AM, checked out and headed to a spot where the Resplendent Quetzal had been seen in a wild avocado tree. We had a nice view of the volcano as we headed up the mountain. The drive took about 30 minutes. The road was too rough to drive to the top so we parked and walked the rest of the way. This was private farming land so we stayed on the road. This was my first experience in a cloud forest and it was great! Everything was covered with moss, lichens, ferns and all types of epiphytes.
There was evidence of the wind as many downed bromes and orchids lay on the ground. We staked out the tree to see if we could get a glimpse of a quetzal. Sure enough, we soon saw a female and I believe an immature male. Too far to get a picture for me but I did get to see it in the scope that Rick brought. Roger did get a very nice picture though,
I explored the cloud forest a bit more by walking further up the road which lead to an opening where workers were tending a field.
It was beautiful here and I hated to leave. But, it was time for the next location, La Amistatd International Biosphere Reserve, so back on the bus for a short ride.
We arrived at a lodge where we would eat lunch once we returned from our hike. This was a beautiful hike through what looked like mature cloud forest but we were told it was not old at all and was complete deforested by a Panamanian General during the reign of Noriega. That would make it only 20 years old. Incredible! I think the hike was about 1.5 miles but it was along a slippery path and up and down so we were tired when it was complete.
After our wonderful lunch we headed to Finca Dracula
which translates to Dracula Farm. This was to be the highlight of my day and possible the trip. The house more than 1200 species of orchids here from all over the world but the majority of the collection are the orchids native to the highlands of Panama. I could have spent days here. The grounds are filled with plantings of many plants and the trees were full of epiphytic Orchids, Gesneriads, Bromeliads and ferns. We were given a guided tour of the orchid houses and I took many pictures of flower after flower. I only wish I could have taken some home but they no longer sell any orchids.
Finca Dracula Photo Album
We spent a total of about 90 minutes at Finca Dracula. Much too little. We once again boarded the bus and headed to Boquete where we would stay at the historic Panamonte Hotel for 2 days. On the way we suddenly stopped and Rick jumped from the bus and pulled what appeared to be a pepper from a tree on the side of the road. Well, it was not a pepper but the fruit of the tree that produces cashew nuts. Rick took a bite of the fruit and explained it wasn't all that good but what appeared to be the stem (it wasn't) is actually the cashew. It's poisonous until roasted but it has the classic cashew shape as you can see in the picture below.
It took about 2 hours to get to Boquette. We checked in to find complimentary champagne, cleaned up and had dinner at 7:00 PM. It was great as usual with a choice of soups and Angus Beef, Chicken or Trout. Yummmm! Another early morning was to come so we turned in for the evening.
Today, we were headed to Finca Lerida. We had breakfast at 6:30 and got on the bus about 7:00 AM. Finca Lerida.is a coffee farm located on the steep sides of a mountain. The plan was to go on a morning hike of the rain forest that surrounded the plantation and then have lunch there at Finca Lerida.We arrived at about 8:00 AM and got off the bus and loaded up into three trucks which would take us up the mountain. We had hopes to see a quetzal again but it was not to be despite the efforts of a long time employee of the farm named, Chago. The plant highlights were a number of Peperomia species including:
||Peperomia maculosa |
|Large growing Begonia
We hiked for about 2 miles up the mountain and then back down to where the trucks were parked. This cloud forest was more mature than the one we had visited the day before. It was a beautiful hike and then Rick offered for those that wanted to hike another trail back down to the house. A few of us did this and it was a very brisk hike and steep along a very narrow path. There was allot to see but not much time to take it in. Right at the beginning of the hike Chago pointed out a dead tree porcupine along the trail. Of course I had to take a picture.
Chago was still calling the quetzal and trying to spot one but it was not to be.
||It's hard to show in a picture how beautiful it was in the forest. Everything was so green and the trees were so large. Left is a picture of the large tree ferns which were everywhere along the trail.|
When we arrived at the house at the entrance to the farm it was time for a meal put together by the owners of the farm. More great food and also some coffee produced there at Finca Lerida. Ummmm good!
Following our meal we returned to the Panamonte Hotel where we had the afternoon to explore Boquete or just relax at the Hotel. Linda and I chose the latter and decided to sit in the open bar and have a beer and some wine. Believe it or not this was the only place I was bitten by an insect on the entire trip. These were 'noseeums' but they took some nice chunks out of my arm. But, I have had worse in North Carolina.
At 4:30 PM Rick gave us a presentation on Panama history which I thought was very good. We ate supper at the hotel at 7:00 PM and then we turned in since we were to get up early and checkout and head to Bocas del Toro the next day.
The bird list for the Chirique Highlands was:
Resplendent Quetzal (several females, no adult males)
Common Tufted Flycatcher
Black-throated Green Warbler
White-naped (Yellow-throated) Brush-Finch
We had breakfast at 6:00 AM and piled on the bus at 7:00 AM for a 5 hour ride to the boats to take us to Bocas del Toro. It was a beautiful day and we had an opportunity to do some birding along the way and a few bathroom stops.During the trip we crossed over the continental divide the sign of which is seen in the picture below
We got out at the divide and stretched our legs and there were some neat plants along the roadside such as Ferns, Orchids, Selaginellas, Lycopodiums and an unknown Gesneriad. How cool it was to be able to see such diversity along the road. We piled back on the bus and headed down the mountain.
During the drive down the mountain we could see what damage heavy rains had done to the road in November. It was almost completely washed away at some points. There were crews of trucks and bulldozers at many locations just trying to keep the areas passable. Rick said nothing permanent would be done until after the Panamanian elections when a new president would be chosen.
Once down the mountain we stopped for a bathroom break and Rick said we would make a stop up the road a bit to see if we could locate a Poison Dart Frog. Music to my ears so once we stopped I had to follow. Only a few of us ventured out with Rick since it was a pretty muddy area along a stream. We followed Rick to the forest edge and he ask us to wait there. There was plenty to see and I saw some of my first shingling aroids at this location. Most likely a Monstera species. We also saw a Blue Morpho butterfly as well as many other interesting ferns and plants. Rick was gone about 15 minutes and returned with no Dart Frog. Dang! Well, we would have other chances in the coming days. So we piled back on the bus and headed toward Bocas del Toro.Hunt for Dartfrog Photo Album
We were promised a visit to a Ngobe Village where they produced raw chocolate as well as bananas and some handicrafts. We soon stopped and took off to a small villiage by the street. There were a number of small huts that the villagers lived in and produced the chocolate from the many trees on the farm. The people were very friendly and the kids were as cute as they could be. Everything was done by hand apparently and they explained through Rick how the process went. They used the chocolate for themselves to make drinks and not candy as we do. We bought a hunk of raw chocolate for $1.
Now we all headed across the road to another part of the village where we could buy some handmade handicrafts made to support the village. They had small cloth purses, bracelets, necklaces, etc made from whatever they had available. One bracelet was made from the foil found in gum similar to what Linda said she made when she was a kid. Linda bought a small handbag for a gift made from a local material. One other thing that struck me was to see in the corner an old sewing machine which is like that of my grandmother. But, this one looked brand new and was certainly being used to make the things we were buying.
After the short shopping spree, we made our way back to the bus and headed to a rendezvous with out coats to the island. Ngobe Villiage Photo Album
Once we arrived at the docks we piled all the luggage in the front of the boat, covered it with tarps and broke into 2 groups. We all got a poncho if we did not have one and took off. The water was a little rough since the wind was blowing and there was a little bit of rain. The ride was rough but only lasted about 20 minutes.Once at the cottage at Bocas del Toro we all got our rooms and stashed our things and then had lunch.
On tap now was a boat ride to Swans Cay or what they call 'Bird Island'. this proved to be a very rough ride once we got near the island. We took some snorkel gear so those who wanted could do a bit after we visited the island. We learned later they had to turn back the day before since the water was so rough. Well, it was pretty bad this time and we did allot of wave jumping on our way. Once we arrived at the island we sort of trolled around to get a good look at the birds. The highlight was the Red-billed Tropicbird. What a site to see so many birds fly around this island. I was happy to get going again as bobbing up and down in the boat was making my stomach feel a little strange.
Swan's Cay Photo Album
Now it was time for a bit of snorkeling. Those who preferred not to took one of the boats back. We anchored just outside of a small coral reef. It was overcast so the visibility was not great but it was still lots of fun and there were lots to see. Damsel fish, angels, Butterflies, Wrasses and Parrot fish. There were lots of brittle starfish on the reef as well as some very large sea cucumbers. The pictures I took with my camera in a bag were not very good but it did work.
After about 30 minutes we piled back in the boat and returned to the cottage and joined the rest. Well, it was time to get some laundry done so we piled our dirty things in a pillow case and carried them to a guy down the street who took them and said he would have them back later in the day. We relaxed a while (not long at all actually) and had a very nice dinner there on the waterfront after which Joshua fetched our complete laundry and we all turned in for the night.
We actually slept in this morning and had breakfast at about 7:30 AM. It was great as have all our meals been and we were to go to a place called Salt Creek for a hike later. Once we finished with breakfast we piled in our 2 boats and were off again. First stop was a mangrove island where we were hunting another Dart Frog, Dendrobates pumilio. Rick jumped off our boat and a few of us took off with him. Of course I had to go. So, once at the spot where they should be we began our search. I spotted the frog a few minutes later around a tree in the leaves. They were smaller than the Dart Frogs I had kept so I guess these would be described as thumbnails in the trade. This was a dark morph with a light blue belly. It took a while and Rick finally snagged one and placed him in a plastic jug top and took back to the boat for the others to see. We stayed behind so we would not lose site of where we got the frog so we could return it. I spotted a few more as we were waiting. They were fast little buggers and hard to see. Once Rick returned we found a nice contrasting leaf and placed our catch on it for some pictures.
We were now back in the boats and headed to another community located on Salt Creek. In this village a couple of brothers decided they would carve some trails in the jungle and would allow visitors to walk the trails and see the wildlife for a fee. This help with the economy of the village, protected the forest and gave us plenty to see. It was pretty humid and muddy but there were plants everywhere. I saw many Columnea growing high in the trees and lots of ferns. They had made a trail using coconuts but this proved to be pretty slippery. We went to a large tree where reportedly we might get to see a nocturnal monkey called the Western Night Monkey. We it was our lucky day and we indeed saw them. As we were preparing to leave the monkeys began to move from their hideout to a new location which is unusual. I had been taking some pictures of plants of course and when I heard they were coming out I pointed my camera toward them and Whoops! I flashed the monkeys. Bad Harry! After a quick admonishment from a fellow traveler I realized the mistake and reset the camera.
Well, I felt pretty bad about 'shinning his eyes' as Jerry Clower might say, but he/she seemed no worse for it. Now we were off to look for a Caiman and more Dart Frogs. We came to what looked like a pond where we might see the Caiman but it was not to be. But, we did see a flash of orange which turned out to be another Dendrobates pumilio morph. This one was really bright red orange with pattered legs. Same size as the other and fast. But one of the local kids had one in his hand he soon released and we got some good pictures.
Salt Creek Photo Album
So now it's time for lunch and we are late so we hightail it for the boats with no time for the local shopping experience we were expecting. We got to the dock where Livingston, our boat driver informed us we would not be getting in his boat with those muddy boots. It tosses us a sponge he has just for these occasions and everyone begins to wash the mud off their boots. We at this rate we would be there for days so I grabbed the sponge and water and set up a cleaning station to hurry things along. I don't know how many boots I washed but it was allot. But, it did get us out of there faster and hopefully before the crowd made it to our restaurant on stilks in the bay. We soon arrived to find it all but empty and they were prepared for us. We had another great lunch with beer and great food out on the water. Afterward we all had a quick bathroom break in what I would describe as an outhouse. No running water and no telling where everything ended up.
Now it was time for some more snorkeling and beach time. We once agin broke into to groups with some snorkeling and some relaxing on the beach. I chose snorkel. We went to a larger reef this time a little deeper and it had much more to see and the water was a bit clearer. I decided to only tyry movies this time so no pictures but it was fun. I prepared to get on the boat and stashed my camera in the bad in my pocket. Once I threw my fins and snorkel on the boat I double checked for my camera before heading up the ladder. Oh no! It was not there. Well, I knew it would float so I alerted Livingston and the rest and they all began to search. Livingston decided to take the boat and follow the current with one of the ladies on board to search for the floating camera. I was left to tread water for what seemed to be a long time with no fins. I had not done this in years so I was getting pretty tired. I soon looked up and got the word that they had snagged my camera and were returning. What a stroke of luck which I rewarded Livingston for. We all got back in the boat and headed for the beach to join the others.
I was tired and could taste the cold beer I would have sitting on the beach enjoying the surf. Well after a 10 minute walk to the beach, I was greeted with, "Sorry no beer". The storms of November struck again and had totally destroyed the facilities except the bathrooms. Oh well, I didn't need a beer anyway.
So, after a short stay it was time to get back so we hiked back to the boats. Just before getting to the dock, out walks a small boy with a banana leaf curled in his hand. A quick look insode revealed another Dendrobates pumilio morph. It was beautiful and this was such a handy way to display it and we gave him a few bucks for letting us look.
When we got to the docks there were some guys getting ready to do some repairs to a shack there on the dock. There was lots of clamber and talking about something and one guy had a stick poking at something. Well it turned out to be a small Boa Constrictor that was in opaque and was evidently pretty mad. These guys seemed to be afraid of it and would get close to it so I have no idea whether they thought it was poisonous or what they thought. They soon prodded it to a location away from where they were working and we got on the boats and headed to the hotel.
So, according to our itinerary we would have time to kick back and enjoy an afternoon off to do as we pleased. Well, we were late getting back and so we had about 2 hours to shower and relax by the ocean with a beer before going into town for dinner at 7:00 PM. But, I did get my beer!
For dinner our destination was what looked like a outdoor disco with a dance floor all under cover outside. We had a large table reserved. Once again the meal was wonderful and the beer was almost cold. It was great! This was the week of Carnival so many people were out in the streets apparently celebrating. They had other celebrations elsewhere but we just went back to the room and crashed for the night. Another early morning was ahead the next day when we would travel back to Panama City and catch another flight to Cana.
The birds we saw at the Bocas del Toro Archipelago were:
This was a travel day where we would fly back to Panama City and then catch a charter to Cana in the Darian National Forest. We ate our last breakfast on Bocas del Toro at 7:00 AM. Joshua and Rick along with our luggage went ahead to the airport which was a couple blocks away to get us all checked in and boarding passes. We lounged around the hotel until we got a call from Rick to head over to the airport. We all walked over and met Rick where he gave us back our passports and presented us with boarding passes. Our plane soon arrived and we were off to Panama City which was about a 1 hour flight. Once we got to Panama City we gathered all our luggage.
Before we flew to David, Rick had suggested that we divide our luggage into to separate bags. One bag we would take to David and one we would leave behind to eventually take to Cana. Well those bags we left behind were now at the airport waiting for us to make the switch. We piled the bags we had arrived with in the corner of the airport to be taken away for us to retrieve when we returned from Cana. This would prove to cause some confusion later.
Rick also tells us that Joshua will have to stay behind since there is not enough room for him on the charter plane. What a bummer! We would miss him for the next couple of days but I think he was looking forward to seeing his girlfriend while we were at Cana. Now, it was time to tally our weight of both ourselves and our luggage. Once we had a total things seemed to have hit a snag and the lady helping us at the airport with the charter said we were way over weight. So, much discussion between her and Rick and there still seemed to be an impasse. Meanwhile, the bus arrives to pick up the luggage we stowed in the corner to hold for us until we get back.
Now, the lady shows back up to speak to Rick and asks, 'Where is the luggage in the corner?" Rick, as he had done before, explains to her that it was taken away since it was not to be on the flight. Eureka! This is why we were overweight. She had included an estimate of how much that luggage weighed and added it to the total. We were now set to take the charter. We sat there for a bit awaiting the plane to arrive and sure enough it did and we all boarded and took off for Cana.
This was a small twin engine plane that seated 18, I think. We headed down the coast on about a 1 hour flight. As we neared the Darian National Forest, Rick began to tell us about the area. We soon came to the mountain that we would be in the valley of and the plane swung around the mountain and then dipped down to a grass covered runway at Cana. We made it! We were greeted by the staff with wheel barrows which they loaded with our luggage and we headed for the cabins.
There was basically one large building divided into to sections with rooms and bathrooms in each. We were also greeted by a Crab Eating Fox which we would see many times in the days to come. Rick filled us in on the facilities and we all chose a room and stashed our gear. It was now lunch time and food was served by the staff at what I will call the mess hall. Well, what a spread of food and as had always been the case, it was great. They also had a board for us to mark whenever we got a soda or beer which I of course did. It was amazing that they could cook us a meal like that way out here where they only had power for 2 hours a day. Rick introduced us to our cook, Chachili (I most likely have not got this spelled correctly). He is from a village about 25 miles away. He hikes in on foot from his village when he is needed at the camp. He also brought hand made baskets with him that we would look over later. After our lunch we relaxed for a while during the hottest part of the day and would later meet for an afternoon hike at 4:00 PM.
This was to be a short hike of about a mile into the forest along one of the many trails that were available to hike. This particular trail had the remains of a locomotive that was abandoned there in the early 1900's when the mining at this location ended. The locomotive was covered with mosses, ferns and lichens as you could imagine. They had mined gold here until I guess it just became too much trouble from the insects, animals, jungle and indigenous people to stay so they abandoned everything in place and here it sat.
This is where I saw a large growing Columnea with red fuzzy flowers growing in a tree along the path. I'm not sure of the species but it was a very interesting flower. I would see this same species at other locations the next day.
We continued on into the forest until we came to a large opening where we overlooked sort of a clearing with the forest edge off in the distance. We began to hear Macaws and they soon came in an landed in the trees at the edge of the forest. These were Green and Yellow Macaws and there were lot of them. I counted 8 quickly and I think there were more. What a site to see them fly in and flash the blue on their back and then turn to flash the yellow. We stayed there for some time and then headed back to the cabins.
Dinner time at Cana was at 7:00 PM and they would sound a chime when it was ready. Of course it was on time tonight and I had a beer and the food was once again great. Chachili set out some baskets and we bought a few as gifts. They were very finely made and we would buy more the next day. After supper it was time to turn in. We had lights until about 9:30 PM at which time the generator would be turned off. We really didn't need it anyway as we used our headlamps for light and soon went to sleep anyway. It got fairly cool at night and there was a nice breeze also. We had to get up in the middle of the night and grab the small blanket we didn't think we would need.
We woke up early and got dressed to get some coffee that was ready at the mess hall. Rick offer a birding outing at 6:30 AM around the site and we took him up on that. We saw many Keel-billed Toucans in a tree on the forest edge. What a site. The abundance of birds early morning was a site to see. Breakfast was served at 7:30 AM which was great as usual. Once we finished breakfast we prepared for our morning hike. I'm not sure how long this one was but we were to go on a trail to see more of the abandoned mining equipment as well as explore one of the remaining shafts. We set out at 8:30 AM. For all of the hikes a Cana we had been told to wear long sleeve shirts and long pants. We would also tuck our pants bottoms into our socks. Linda and I treated the cloths we hiked in with insect repellent. We also taped the socks to our pants and applied a Deet based repellent to any exposed area. I think this was most likely overkill as I didn;t see any mosquitoes and I never got a tick but a few people did. It didn't seem much different than North Carolina in the summer to me and maybe better.
This was a very nice hike and fairly easy. I packed some boots to cross the stream with since Rick had said the 'bridge' had been washed away. Once we actually got there there was a log to cross on and the boots were not needed. We stopped in a clearing where the remains of an old boiler as well as waterwheel and locomotive were. Rick took this time to give us some background on the operations of the mine. It was really hard to believe that the equipment was not in even worse shape than it was since here it sat in the rainforest for 100 years. It was also hard to believe that all of this equipment had to be disassembled and brought in by pack. What a chore.
Now it was time to go visit the old mine. It was very small and only big enough for 3 people at a time so Rick went in and we took turns going in. Inside was a species of blind cricket, an Arachnid species of Amblypygi or Tailless Whip Scorpion and bats. This was the only place on the entire trip where I lost my footing. I stepped back in a hole in the cave but no damage done to me or the camera.
Plant highlights of this hike were seeing Episcia lilaciana and more of the Columnea species I had seen on the first hike. I also saw a very nice Anthurium which was most likely crystallinum. This form of Episcia was much darker than any I had grown.
We had lunch about 12:00 PM and relaxed during the hot part of the day waiting for our afternoon hike at 3:30 PM. This was a different trail than the other 2 hikes. As soon as we got in the forest, we heard a very strange sound that sounded sort of like banging 2 sticks together and a rapid pace. I had no idea what it was but Rick told us it was male Golden collared Manakin, courting a female in the area. I never saw the male but I did see the female. Here's a YouTube video of the dance.
On up the trail we came to what Rick described as the garbage heap of a Leaf Cutter Ant nest. It was basically undesirable fungus the weeded from their growing chambers. We also happened upon a toad that had coloration that made it hard to spot in the leaf litter. It was a Bufo species but I'm not sure which. Rick called it a Leaf Mimicking Toad.
One thing I saw on this hike that I found very interesting was an Episcia lilaciana growing as an epiphyte on the side of a tree. This is a terrestrial species but it just goes to show that most anything will grow as an epiphyte given enough moisture.
Once we returned to the cabin I got a shower and relaxed on the deck a while before dinner. This was our 'last supper' here you might say and it was great as always. It amazed me how Chachili kept coming up with these meals. We had run out of cokes but there was plenty of beer left. So, I was happy!
Rick had set up a ultraviolet light in front of a sheet to attract insects. This would be the after dinner entertainment. We all had to put scarfs over our nose and mouth to keep from inhaling insects as we view the nights catch. I had visions of seeing huge moths and beetles but only small ones were attracted but there were some cool ones. This one I will call 'Bullwinkle'
After about 20 minutes of this we decided to call it a night and turn in. We waited for all the lights to go out for the evening and then Linda and I decided we would look at the stars since it was so clear. Well, I saw something I had not seen since I was a kid, the Milky Way. Since there was no light pollution and the sky was crystal clear it was easy to see and a what a site it was. Most kids in the US have never seen this and what a shame that is. We then called it a night. The next day we would leave Cana and fly back to Panama City to stay at the Gamboa Resort.
We got up early, about 5:30 AM and went to the mess hall to get some coffee about 6:00 AM. Rick met us and we had another early morning birding outing there at the camp. We saw toucans as well as Blue and Yellow Macaws and a Great Green Macaw. It posed for us quite a while and I know some folks got good pictures of it sitting there eating fruit from the tree. We had breakfast and the plan was to take a morning short hike before the plane arrived near 11:00 AM to take us back to Panama City.
So, off we went on a hike down one of the same trails we had taken before but this time we would take a different side trail. This hike was nice and slow and fairly uneventful. I think it was this hike where we saw a Marbled Wood Quail digging a nest beside a tree. These are very secretive birds and it was rare to see one this close. I thought I took a picture but I can't seem to find it.
As we headed back we could hear what we thought was the plane so we stepped up our pace to get back.. This turned out to be a false alarm and this was not our plane at all but another that was flying low in the area. This was a puzzle to Rick. Why would a plane be flying low out here? I guess we will never know.
We got back and as Rick expected it looked like the plane would be late so we ate lunch. We basically had a potpourri of what was left from the previous days. I had a piece of fish that was very good but I think I now know I would most likely regret eating it in the coming days. After lunch we just waited for the plane and entertained ourselves with stools around the area. Rick was on the satalite phone trying to determine when the plan would arrive.
Well, the news was not good. Although he could only hear a short discussion about the flight. It seemed that on an earlier flight someone had been sick and not made it to the bathroom before 'pooping the plane'. So, this put it way behind and it would not take off from Panama City until about 3:00 PM which would make it arrive at 4:00 PM. What a bummer this was since we were to have the afternoon to lounge around at the resort.
We made the best of it by listening to Rick give us a few tunes on the guitar and harmonica. This was great fun and we thought a real rare treat until we found this on YouTube when we returned. Rick was very kind to also give us this treat.
It was still great fun and it helped pass the time while we waited, and waited and waited. While we waited the group of birders that were at the camp before we arrived were back from their 3 day hike and camping up the mountain. They looked beat but they were all still looking for birds even as they emerged from the long hike back. We had cleared all the rooms so they could get some take a shower and get some clean cloths on. We sat and talked with them about their trip a while and Rick decided to try the phone again to determine the status of the flight. It was about 3:00 PM and we hoped to hear it was in the air. Well, good news, it took off about 5 minutes earlier so it should be here around 4:00 PM.
So, about 4:00 PM we heard the plane comping around the mountain so we all grabbed our gear and headed for the runway. We piled in the plane and had an uneventful flight back to Panama City. Cana was beautiful and not at all like I thought it would be. Linda said it was sort of like summer camp when she was a kid. We had a blast there but were ready for some more relaxing accommodations.
Once we arrived at the airport our bus arrived with the luggage we had left behind. Also, there waiting for us and had been for something like 5 hours was Joshua who had arrived at the airport when we were supposed to be there. We all piled on and headed for the Gamboa Resort. It took about 40 minutes to get there. It was a beautiful place right off the Panama Canal. We all got our rooms and were to meet at 7:00 PM for dinner in the dining area of the resort. By this time I think that fish I had was not agreeing with me but I still felt pretty good and got a shower and relaxed a while before heading down to dinner. They served a buffet which was good but in my opinion was not nearly as good as what had been cooked for us at Cana or any of the other places. But I got plenty and they did have a killer hot sauce that I ate plenty of.
Our next day would begin with breakfast and a tour of the canal by boat so we turned in and relaxed a while. But, by this time I wasn't feeling all that great and I suspect it was from the fish I ate at Cana. Of well I wasn't too sick and got to sleep anyway.
The birds we saw at Cana are as follows:
Great Green Macaw
Southern Rough-winged Swallow
Linda and I got up around 6:00 AM and had some coffee. We were relaxing on the balcony when I just remembered. It's Linda's birthday so I quickly wished her a happy birthday and I would not be the last. Linda and I went down for breakfast at about 7:00 am. It was another buffet. Good but not the authentic cooking we had been having. I was feeling better but still felt a little tired. But we were to go take a boat tour of the canal. We all piled on something like an open wooden bus, I forget what they called them. It took us to some dock where there were 2 boats waiting to take us. We took off and began to scan the coast line for birds and any other life we could see. This body of water is what is now known as Lake Gatun. Ships traversing the canal are here all the time. Large ships and we saw a few. It's hard to believe they need to widen the canal to accommodate larger ships since the ones I saw here were huge.
Our boat driver was great at spotting animals in the trees and soon showed us a 3 toed sloth in the top of a tree on the bank. I would have never spotted this but he know what to look for. Joshua gave us some history about the area as we toured the canal. Soon we would see more animals such as 2 crocodiles, a brown basillicus as well as a troop of White-faced Capuchin monkeys.
The monkeys are on an island they call Monkey Island and were released there. I will have to get the details on this as I just can't remember. There was already another boat and to Joshua's dismay they were feeding the monkeys and this was agitating them to the point of actually hoping on the canvas tops of the boat. Joshua said they have problems with the monkeys biting tourist and this is mainly because they feed them. He also said most guides no longer feed the monkeys and he was visibly irritated at the site of just that happening. There is evidently only one female and all of her male progeny. There was a small baby and no one yet knows whether it's a male or female.
This was a very interesting tour of the Canal but it was time to go have lunch. Once at the docks we piled into the shuttle and took of for Los Lagartos Resturant right on the river. Out front was a Embera woman and a small child with a table of handicrafts set up for sale. She had baskets, carved palm nuts and bracelets for sale. I bought a few things as gifts and had a heck of a time getting the right amount of money to her.
But I got it figured out and went on in to eat. Lunch was served in a dining area under a canopy right on the water. What a view and some even got a little birding in while we waited for our meal. The food was great and the beer cold. We finished and since it was Linda's birthday, we decided to go back to the ladies table and pick out a bracelet. I think they were $15 and all I had was a $20. I handed her the bill and she smiled and stuffed it in her 'wallet', actually her dress top. She was not too good at understanding the amounts of bills and making change. I should have just left it at that but for some reason I thought I would try and clear it up. I motioned that I was due some change and she smiled again reached into her wallet and pulled out a $10 and handed it to me. Hummmm, what now? I found someone with 2 5's and gave them the 10. I then handed her a $5 and smile and we were set. Now it was time to pile back on the shuttle to get back to the resort.
At 4:00 PM we all met to go take the Aerial Tram. Joshua decided for Linda's birthday he would give us and 2 others of Linda's choosing a personal tour. Well we felt very privileged and Linda decided to take Anne and Pat with us, the ones responsible for getting us to take this trip in the first place. Once we arrived it was apparent as it had been before that Joshua knew everyone here. Each tram car held 6 people total but we had 4 plus Joshua. He told us all about the area as we road along the tops of the trees. What a site and so quiet you could hear yourself think. It as a very smooth ride to the top where we got out for a short hike up to the tower that sat on the mountain top. We would have a very nice view of the surrounding area so we climbed up I don't know how many flights to get to the top. Joshua was nice enough to pose with Linda and I to mark the occasion.
Joshua also filled us in as to why the bathrooms that were evident at the bottom of the tower. It seems that after they installed them they found that snakes, spiders, scorpions and assorted other house guest would make their way through the plumbing to the facilities and would surprise anyone sitting down for a needed relief. This shut them down for good.
Now we were back down the stairs and into the car for the return trip down the mountain. Linda really enjoyed this tour and especially having Joshua as our personal guide. Once we got back to the resort we were told to meet for dinner at 7:00 PM. We went back to the room but on the way Joshua presented Linda with a special gift he had secured while we were in Cana. It was a small statue of 2 frogs sitting by a stump drinking some type of potion and becoming drunk from it. This is a Panamanian tale of some sort that I will have to dig out to explain.
Dinner was once again the buffet they served at the resort. It was delicious if not authentic. When Linda returned from filling her plate she found a birthday card sitting at her place. What a nice touch. It was signed by all of our travel buddies and I also got Rick and Joshua to sign it. After we finished the meal we were filled in on what would happen the next day and then Rick said he had one more thing to tell us. Well, out popped a birthday cake and the group burst out in song. What a great ending to a great day! Wait, we had one more thing on tap for the evening. We met at about 7:30 PM for a night walk around the grounds of the resort. We were to take a shuttle for this tour but Rick said they would be crammed and we would most likely have a better time just hiking on our own so we took off with our headlamps and night scopes (Ac tally only Pat had one of these).
Soon we came upon some capibarras near the trail. They were a distance from us so I could not get a good picture but we could see them. We did not see much else until we came upon a turtle that was sitting next to a concrete drainage ditch. Once we startled it, the turtle slid into the ditch and many in the group were afraid it would not be able to get out. So, Rick and Joshua, using sticks and Susan's walking stick, managed to get the turtle out and send it on it's way unhurt. The rest of the walk was uneventful and we returned to our room to get some much needed rest before our next day's activities.Friday, 2/20/09
This was our last day of activities. Today we were to go to the Smithsonian research island of Barro Colorado. Rick had told us more than once we had to be down stairs ready to go at 6:30 AM so we could catch the boat. He told us it would not wait one minute for us if we were late. So, everyone heeded his warning and showed up ready to got on time. We boarded the shuttle and headed for the docks where the boat would leave from. I think it took about 20 minutes. Once we arrived we met 2 young scientist that worked on the island and would give us a tour once we got there. We also found out thet they had arranged a special boat to take us and so it turned out they would not leave without us after all. We waited for about 30 minutes before boarding the boat. Joshua and Rick went ahead on the large boat. But as soon as it left, a young lady showed up to catch the boat and now we could see what happens if you are late. No trip to Barro Colorado. She was crushed.
Once we arrived at the Island we broke up into 2 groups. We would hike 2 separate trails. Meet up at the top of the trails where they met and then head down the trail we had not taken up. This was to take us about 2 hours I think. Our guides name was Guillermo.His area of expertise was insects. So we were to get a great deal of detailed information on insect life at the island. He was fascinating. The trail took us straight up the mountain. It was steep at times and it was hot and very humid. The trails were made by burying concrete blocks at intervals so they can be used as stepping stones. This worked well and I could see how it would be invaluable in the rainy season. Joshua was on the hike with our group and helped Guillermo many times with correct bird and tree names as well as give us information about them.
Boy, Linda and I were thirsty and we wished we had brought more than one bottle of water. This would prove to be a mistake on our part. We would stop every once and a while and hear about some interesting tidbit of information from our guide. He showed us a trail camera used to take shots of animals that roamed the area at night and day. We also learned that these old film cameras were time consuming to keep film in and had been updated to a new digital model he would show us a little later. He was tasked with tending the cameras for a US scientist that had been studying this island for more than 20 years. We were to meet her later.
On we hiked and drank water to keep us cool. Near the top we came upon a troop of Spider Monkeys and this was considered a real treat. They were high in the trees and very annoyed at us being in their territory. Guillermo pointed out a large tree which is from the same genus as the Baobab trees in Africa. He said on this island was the largest tree of this species in the world and we would see it later during the hike. We got to the top and some much needed rest while we waited for the other group to meet us.
Both Linda and I were very thirsty and we only had about 1/2 bottle of water left but we should be about 1/2 done with the hike right? Well that's what we thought and this turned out not to be the case. Soon we saw Rick come up the trail and we told him about seeing the Spider Monkeys and this seemed to excite him so he took off down the trail. The rest of his group showed us and continued down the trail we just came up. But we went in another direction from where they appear from. Turns out we were taking a side trip to see the digital camera he was tending and had told us of. On the way we found a Bullet Ants nest and when he disturbed them I say something that looked like a large spider among the ants. It soon disappeared so I couldn't get a picture. Guillermo told us that this species of Arachnid had been found in symbiosis with all bullet ant nest but they had not determined the benefit of either species to the other. Cool stuff!
Well, we arrived at the camera and he filled us in on it's operation and said it could be left for almost a month to take pictures which is far less than the film camera we had seen earlier. He was quite proud of having the honor to tend these cameras for his firend and apparently one of his mentors, the lady scientist we would meet later.
So, it was now time to head back down the trail to see the 'Big Tree' which was the species of Baobab he had mentioned. Once. we arrived at the tree we could see why it was the largest of it's kind. It was huge. It had large buttress roots and all of us holding hands only spanned the width of the massive base. What a site to see. The was also a species of bat that clung to it's bark. So now it was time to head back and I thought we were close to returning to the trail we would take back down the mountain. We weren't and after a fairly long hike we arrived at where we had met Rick and the other group earlier. Linda and I had a sip of water left and both of us as well as everyone else were quite tired. But, we pushed on and as we had been doing stopping along the way to hear some info on what we saw on the way.
This hike down the mountain seemed to take forever and by the time we arrived at the facilities below we were dehydrated, very hot and wanted something to drink. We headed straight for where we would eat. Well, Linda and I were really about too tired to eat and all we wanted to do was drink anything we could get our hands on. The other group had been there for some time and were fresh and had even had time to see a movie. We all looked like hell. All I could do is just taste the food but it was good but I wanted WATER! We rested there a while and finished our meal and then went to see some presentations. I was exhausted and I could just barely keep my eyes open. I think they took this as a sign of disinterest and both guides had somewhat of a disagreement as to what to do next and what presentation to show. I was disinterested, I was tired! After the presentations we all made a bathroom stop and were to go to the gift shop on the island. Well Linda and took one look at all the stairs we would have to climb and decided we were fine with not shopping and would stay there in the air conditioning while the others shopped. Joshua stayed behind with us.
So after about 1 hour the group all came back together and we headed for the boat ride back to the docks to return to the resort. Once I got back to the room I had a beer which made me feel a bit better as well as had a shower which helped allot. But, I still did not feel all that spunky at this point. Linda was tired but felt pretty good. We met at 7:00 PM for our farewell meal which would officially end our trip.
This dinner was special and was not to be a buffet. The beer and wine were on Nathab. Too bad I really didn't feel like drinking much but I did have a cold beer. I'm just going to say that I'm not much into fancy meals and this was one of them. It was made to look good and it did. But, as Rick pointed out there was no rice and beans, no plantains not any of the Panamanian food we had while we were on this trip. So, I would have rated this meal as the worst we had but it was by no means bad food. I just didn't feel much like eating and only picked at mine. We all toasted our trip and Roger gave us a taste of some of the fabulous pictures he had taken on our trip. We passed around list for addresses and emails to be used to keep in touch after our trip. It was now time to check out and return to the room and get ready for our return home the next day.
While it was sort of sad to see the adventure end, it was also exciting to be returning home after so long away. We had to leave the hotel at about 6:00 AM to get to the airport in time to get checked in for our 8:40 flight back to Miami. So, we went to bed early.Saturday, 2/21/09
Those of us leaving on the early flight all met in the lobby to be taken to the airport. Joshua went with us to make sure we would get there without any problems. It was about a 45 minute drive to the airport. Once there we said our goodbyes to Joshua and grabbed our luggage to get checked in for the flight. This all went without a hitch and we were soon standing at the gate with what looked like a huge crowd waiting to board the plan. Well although this seemed to take forever before we got boarded we did and took off right on time. This flight to MIami was fortunately not like the one from Miami to Panama City. Not kids from hell and this time it was smooth and on time. Once in Miami we were herded in the direction of trams to take us to immigration and customs. Since we were US citizens all we needed to do is get through customs,
Well, customs was a snap and would have gone off without a hitch if I had not checked the box on my declaration form saying I was bring in stuff to resale. The agent was kind enough to listen to my mistake and correct it and send us on our way. Now, get our bags checked and we're done. Well, no one even looked at my bags much less search them. I could have brought all kinds of things back with me. But, I didn't know what it would be like so I had nothing at all. We were soon herded out to the airport lobby. Now, just about 5 hours before our flight to Charlotte and home.
We ate some lunch and I called Bobby to let him know we made it to Miami. The news was not good. While I had been away my last remaining aunt or uncle had passed away. What a shock and boy did it put a damper on the thrill of returning home Our flight back to Charlotte was uneventful and on time. We arrived in Charlotte and went to the pickup area and were soon picked up by Bobby. We picked up our car and gave him our thanks for all he did to get us to and from the airport and we headed back to Wingate to see how Princess fared while we were gone.
As we pulled in there she was peering out the sun room window wagging the stump she has for a tail. When we got to the door I thought she was going to shake herself in two. She was almost as happy to see us as we were to see that she was fine and happy and glad to see us return. The trip was a success!The End