Experimental Tropical Marine Ecology

Bienvenidos a Bocas del Toro!
by -- October 10th, 2011

It’s nice living being a student studying in Panama – if you keep your feet up.

What a cool building!

Despite a few injuries while snorkeling (I’m currently sporting about 15 prongs from a sea urchin – or “erizo del mar” – in my foot, and a handful of the other students have been stung by jellyfish), we’re having the most fun imaginable while learning at the same time.

Oh hey, little guy!

Our first day was spent in Panama City, where we met Theo, a tour guide who showed us some of the prettiest views of the city. A bustling metropolis, it’s impressive that a short 10 minute drive will put you in the rainforest, where you can see “night monkeys,” as Theo called them. Hanging out in the bamboo, Theo baited them out with a lime. He said they spend most of the day there, hiding from predatory creatures.

After a quick jaunt around the city, we headed to the airport. This airport was different than the one we flew into… and quite, well, interesting! At this much smaller airport, there is only one metal detector. Your checked baggage is searched by hand. Your airline tickets are written out by hand – no printer here! We saw signs warning us not to bring liquids on the plane… but forgetting that I had my water bottle full of water, I went through security anyway. No worries!

We survived, thank goodness...

Apparently the plane laws are a bit looser in this neck of the woods! After crossing my fingers as hard as possible, we landed safely in Bocas del Toro. There, we were greeted by a slew of Panamanians, and a bunch of wild dogs. It was about as authentic as you can get! A baseball team played next to the runway. I must say, there’s something about walking out from a plane straight onto the runway which is pretty exciting.

Today, we swam at a sandy beach, as well as explored some coral. Several type of fish and about 100 starfish later, we’re falling in love with Panama.

Thank goodness for underwater cameras! Especially ones with awesome HD video (thanks Mom!).

And the food? Amazing. Despite our group’s many personal food allergies (lactose intolerant, allergic to pineapples and mangoes, can’t eat red meat, can’t eat eggs…), the STRI cook has been a great sport and cooked up some amazing food. If only we could take the recipes home with us (now that I think about it I should probably look into that…). Our dorms are pretty nice. We’re in bunkbeds, and have a mouse friend who we’ve named Timothy. Someday we’ll actually find him instead of just his excrement.

Currently in the lab, we’re melting holes into plastic test tubes, which we’ll then fill with hermit crab bait (algae, fish, crab, snail and a control). I think people are having too much fun burning the holes!

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