Experimental Tropical Marine Ecology

Bocas del Toro
by -- October 11th, 2008

Day 2

After a quick continental breakfast we were on the road through rain to the Parque Natural Metropolitano.  We drove past the tidal flats (17 foot tidal range on the Pacific side there in Panama City) and through the city to the park.  Quite spectacularly, the park is an enormous swath of rainforest crowding the city.  It was made a park in 1985 and has served particularly useful for research.  Eventually we pulled up to the park gate to find….no one there to let us in.

“Dont panic” admonished Humberto, our fearless leader, “We just need to go find them.”

So we drove back to the Visitor´s center and the driver discussed the matter with the people there.  Then we drove back to the gate and someone appeared out of the bushes to swing open the gate and permit us to continue the excursion.  A short walk brought us to an ordinary construction crane 47 meters high…..lodged in the middle of the rain forest.  Yours truly connected the cables to the personel box, and after the guide arrived, we crowded, six at a time, into the little cage and were hoisted 160 feet up into the canopy.  We were rewarded with expansive views of the rain forest, Panama City, an iguana, a sloth, and termite nests.  Then we waited, bored, while the other groups went.

Cheap lunch at Niko´s where those w/out spanish had some interesting experiences ordering in a very confusing restaurant, then off to the first ever airport to completely offset its carbon emissions from operations and all its flights.  After customs searched every single bag, we waited a bit before packing into a little old plane which took us, bumping and diving, an hour´s ride to the Caribbean side of Panama and near the northern border where Bocas del Toro lies on Isla Colon just off the mainland.  The descent proved rather painful on the ears, especially for those of us with severe congestion who thought our heads were going to explode at the pressure differential.

5 minute ride through town got us to the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) by 5pm.  The students have been installed in 4 dorm rooms with bunk beds (and so far as I know, no hot water) and the professors are languishing in a little cottage on the water (not sure if they have hot water, but probably).  Took a quick tour of the facilities: great lab space, beautiful dock on the crystal clear water which stretches out towards the mountains of the mainland.  There´s also a pond next to the lab where STRI keeps crocodiles as “pets.”  Nothing like a pet that will eat your leg.  Good thing they keep them enclose……oh wait they dont.  Some nice ladies from a nearby hotel brought us dinner (rice, beans, salad, beef, fish, cake, and pineapple-cherry-red 40 ice cream).

The last course of business was to take a walk on the beach in search of our research subjects: crabs.  We mounted headlamps on our domes and pranced about the sandy beach across the road, splashing in the water and catching ghost crabs, blue crabs, gecarcinus, and cardisoma.  A few of the land crabs were laden with eggs which we brought back to the lab to examine under a microscope…almost hatched.

It´s really humid here but the scenery is gorgeous despite the cloudy day.  We can hear the nightlife in town from a mile away where they are celebrating their Columbus Day Eve.  Can´t wait for tomorrow morning´s snorkel on the reef.

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