Experimental Tropical Marine Ecology

1st Day in Panama
by -- March 13th, 2013

Hello from Panama!

All of us are here at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Bocas del Toro in Panama and we’re SO excited about it!

We flew into Panama City on the 1st day, and spent the night there before continuing on with our journey. We were exhausted after our travels, but as we drove into town our mounting excitement kept us awake: only some of us speak spanish, but everyone’s noses were pressed against the windows as we tried to translate every spanish sign we say!!

Despite the late hour, restaurants were still open so we walked a few minutes from our hotel to a local restaurant, where many of us tried new meals, like Panamanian Sancocho. We were only able to have 4 hours of sleep before our 4.30am wake up call to get on the next flight. However, even for such a  brief stay, the hotel was incredible. It was a Hilton, and we were staying in what felt like mini-apartments: each room had a kitchen, laundry machines, 2 beds, and granite showers!!

At 5.00 am we all gathered, still slightly blearly eyed, and left to catch our flight to Bocas del Toro! We left  the city just as the sun was rising, and landed one hour later on an island that can be closest described as Paradise!

The setting here is absolutely beautiful! We are surrounded by rain forests, mountains, and sandy beaches, and other islands.

When we landed it was deliciously warm, and the rain felt like we were in a warm shower. We hopped in a cab and made our way over to the Smithsonian Institute just in time for breakfast!  After just a short break to put on sun-screen and change into our jungle-proof clothing (which included wide-brimmed hats, green linen trousers, and the most bizarre sartorial montages ever seen not on a catwalk) we were in a boat and racing towards a neighboring island; Isla Bastimento. Within the first few minutes we saw three sloths!

Along the journey through the rain forest to the beach to collect hermit crabs we saw a red spotted dart frog.

Our guide picked it up with his bare hands! We also saw a spider monkey and hundreds of thousands of leaf-cutter ants. The rain forest ended at the beach, and the walk along the beach was beautiful. There was fine sand and blue waves. It was at this point I think some of us regretted our ‘sensible’ clothes. I know a lot of us just wanted to run and have a paddle!!

  The guide broke a coconut for us to try raw, and it was delicious!

Once we reached our destination, we set about collecting the land hermit crabs, which were to be the subjects in our experiments. About half an hour, and over 160 crabs later, the humidity was rather overpowering and we felt we had enough. We received a brief lecture on crab adaptations, and then headed back home to the Smithsonian for lunch!



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