Well, I am way overdue to add to this blog that I set up a couple weeks ago. I have done so much and am usually "muy cansada" by the end of the day, but I really don't have any excuse to let this go any longer. Unfortunately my laptop is toast, so I currently do not have any photos to add to here quite yet, but they will be coming soon!
The last couple weeks have been great... I have been out in Soberania National Park just about every day looking for the harpies. It is quite enjoyable, and every day brings new experiences, new things to see, and new 'challenges' so to say. I have developed a love-hate relationship with our ATVs. I enjoy driving them, and they are definitely necessary, but they've been through a lot and I don't think there has been one day that we've taken them out and didn't have some sort of problem with them. Faulty batteries, faulty electrical to the starter (we had to be towed back to town one day by a nice man who works at the Panama Rainforest Discovery Centre), missing bolt that held the front wheel to the frame (we managed to get back to town by holding it together with a drawstring) and today the bolts holding the frame in place of the one we were driving came loose and the chain fell off! Took a while to get it working again, and thankfully my co-volunteer Rigoberto is an "ATV-fixer extraordinare" and we were able to continue along with the day.
We are now into the dry season but for about a week and a half we had rain every day... heavy rain (more than usual for the wet season apparently), for hours on end, and yes, we still go looking for the birds in it. Along with the rain comes a very muddy Pipeline Road, and when sitting on the back of the ATV most of the splash from the muddy puddles ends up on me! I consider it good for my skin, and I'm sure there are people who pay large sums of money to get that sort of treatment done at a spa. In addition to that, and I hope this isn't too much information but I'm sure you can imagine what its like, sweating all day, I'm hoping, is good for my skin too! With all the rain, sweat and mud, I don't think its quite the spa experience most people are going for, but I'll take it. To go a step further, my co-volunteer and I were stopped to look at a White Hawk that landed in a tree over the road. The next thing it did was lifted its tail and let out a big poop that unfortunately landed right on Mark's leg... lovely! Not the experience he was hoping for but we had a good laugh. And, speaking of nice treatment, I'm starting to take advantage of the pool at the resort, very refreshing after a hot day in the jungle.
Pipeline Road itself is a bit of a thrill. On various levels... for the wildlife that you can see there, the random weather you can experience, and once you get further down the road where it is less 'maintained', the road turns into a rugged, crushed stone, partially washed out in places, with weather-worn bridges that look like they could give out if a coati walked over it. On a good day, it takes about 2 hours on the ATVs to get to the end (provided no ATV malfunctions or trees in the way), or what the end is now, as far as you can go (about 16 or 17 km). Everytime we head out to the end (one of the eagles we are tracking hangs out at the very end of the road) its like a thrill ride at an amusement park - simulator or track ride, whichever you prefer - extremely bumpy, ups and downs, big hills, narrow roads, worn bridges, weird sounds (howler monkeys like to scream when the ATVs go by), and add rain, heat and bugs to the equation and you can imagine what it may be like!
One night last week I was invited out by some STRI biologists to do a creek walk along one of the rivers that crosses Pipeline Road. Just for fun, to look for frogs and night creatures. We found a decent assortment of Glass Frogs and their clutches, various species of toads and other tree frogs, Basilisks, night fish, spiders, and heard a Crested Owl and Great Potoos.
Lately I've been heading into Panama City, for various reasons, which is also an interesting experience! Panama City is fairly easy to get around, but takes a bit of planning and figuring out where to go, and being prepared to ask, in Spanish, how to get to places. The bus into Panama City runs fairly regularly from Gamboa, costs 65 cents and takes you to the Albrook Mall terminal, a large, extremely busy (especially now that its christmas time) mall that you can find just about everything in (I've been going there to see movies, too). From the mall terminal, you can get buses to just about anywhere in Panama, and to Costa Rica as well. I find the buses themselves quite amusing... the whole fleet is called the "Diablo Rojo" or "Red Devil", and they are all refurbished and repainted old school buses. Some of them have elaborate exhaust pipes and paint jobs, and they are ALL different. I will get pictures of them soon because they are quite the sight. Taxis are cheap as well and a good way to get around the city if you don't know the bus system (which is what I am still trying to figure out!). I don't think I would attempt to drive in Panama City, especially since most of the cars you see have big dents and broken headlights.
Last weekend I went (with my roommates) to an older area of the city called Casco Viejo. Casco Viejo has some nice squares and little shops, decent food (the ice cream shop is great) and it is right on the Pacific Ocean (though not a good spot to go swimming at). On weekends there are vendors along the "Plaza de Francia" that sell their handmade jewellry and other crafts. So far I've just touched the surface of Panama City, and there are many other places to explore not too far away from Gamboa. I'm looking forward to it!