Experimental Tropical Marine Ecology

Nice Little Vacation Spot They Got Here
by -- October 17th, 2008

Nothing you did today is as cool as what we did today.

This morning dawned with a hangover.  Everyone woke with a collective groan after we bought all the Panama brand beer at the bar the last night.  Not to be deterred, we stumbled to breakfast and shook our heads at each other, before working through the food.  We were still at the dock by 9am for our morning snorkel.  We visited a close reef that was pretty shallow.  Upon anchoring, we all sat and looked at each other, no one quite willing to muster up the effort necessary to fall backwards into the water.  However, I remembered and took to heart one of the universal truths I have discovered after living and working in the Caribbean: all your life’s problems and worries dissolve in salt water.

So I fell back into the water and plugged in my snorkel.  Within 10 seconds, I discovered that I should have shaved…my mask wouldn’t hold a decent seal over my 3 day beard.  But I felt way better in the water, relaxed, and suspended.  The reef was decent and things started with a bang to rival the nurse shark.  I’m usually the unobservant loser who never finds anything cool and has to follow other people around to see the good stuff, but today I was the first to discover what can only be described as The Most Awesome Fish Ever.  It was about a foot long with mottled brown camouflage, similar to that of a scorpionfish.  However, this fish had WINGS.  And this fish had LEGS.  I swear I am not making this up.  On its underbelly, about 3-4 crustacean-esque legs protruded on each side which it used to pull itself along the bottom.  Start off with that picture: fish that looks like a fish in body (slightly big in the head) and crawls on the bottom with legs when it feels like it.  Then add wings.  These were huge pectoral fins that had a small blip in the front and then dipped back towards the body before extending far outward, at least six inches in length, similar to an inverted butterfly wing.  These wings were usually closed up like a folded fan, but sometimes, if you got too close, it opened the fan wings wide to their full extent, exhibiting brilliant blue colors that were the decoration of these fans and made us all gasp with delight.  Truly a stunning creature.

I also heard someone saw a lobster which will need its own permanent personal bodyguard of two divers armed with spearguns if it is to survive very long before a fisherman scoops it up.

Next stop was the beach with waves on nearby Isla Bastimientos.  The sun parted the veil of clouds and shown down with exuberance just as we took off for the beach from the reef.  This time, watching the swell roll in led many of us to barely wait for the anchor to be set before splashing in towards the beach.  We dumped towels, books, bug spray on the beach and then most of us donned our fins and headed back into the waves.  I was racing to get in, fearing to lose a single wave.  The sets were pretty decent for bodysurfing, fairly frequent and probably chest to head height in the best spots.  Really wished I’d had my surfboard.  Some folks laid out on the beach to catch rays and nap and enjoy the beauty of the spot if they could ignore the bugs.  Most people were playing in the waves and gorgeous water.  I was hell-bent on surfing every wave.  Hard to beat a stunning, empty Panamanian beach with brilliant sunshine, warm water, and a head high break to surf.  And just think, we’re getting 2 credits on the transcript for this.

It was hard to leave the beach for lunch, but I suppose it had to be done.  Hot sauce ran out at lunch.  Woe is us!  There was general opposition to my desire to return to the beach, so instead we slowly took our siesta, packed up a bit in the lab and then got back in the boats to return the crabs to the collection point.  That done, we finally attained an object which the whole party had been thirsting for all week, since the plane flight in: The Cosmic Crab Cafe.  Don’t ask me why, but upon seeing the huge sign advertising this establishment to all plane passengers on the way in, the group fixed its collective will on visiting it.  We pulled up to the dock of the cafe which had little gazebos all along it, each with a table and chairs facing the channel and the town of Bocas across the water.  Beautiful spot, very tasty drinks and food, utterly abysmal service.  Let me say that again because I don’t want to underemphasize it.  Abysmal, tortuous, and terrible.  I’m used to island time.  Things are slow in the Caribbean.  I like that.  But waiting 20 min for a beer and 35 min for a mixed drink is outrageous.  Conch fritters took about an hour.  Good thing the view was so nice and they had amusements in cages like parrots, toucans, and that cool little crazy rodent ferret-lemur-monkey animal called a chiqueciabsiki or some ridiculous thing that’s always sticking its tongue out at you.  I think most people got there order after 2 hrs except Humberto who had to leave early to fill out forms (STRI loves forms).  Don’t worry, Jackie drank his mojito.

We got back for dinner…a mishmash of good Panamanian stuff for our final night here.  A number of us took of to town to get some final souvenirs.  We had some super rich Panamanian chocolate…really good, but almost too intense.  Couldn’t find the legendary hot sauce in town, must try tomorrow in Panama City.

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