Paradise in Panama
Trip Start Jan 20, 2004
187Trip End Ongoing
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My bag seems to be permanently packed these days, as I like to be ready for whatever adventure next presents itself. Thus, there was no hesitation in my voice as I accepted an invitation to accompany Shireen on another UN proposal assessment expedition - this time to the east coast. Although the country is small, travel is often slow and arduous due to the mountainous terrain, so we spent an entire day en route to Panama. Of course there were plenty of stops along the way - first for a dubious coloured but tasty liquid breakfast at the roadside, and later a rice and curry lunch packed in banana leaves, that we ate during a visit to Budurugawala
Our accommodation at the Wildlife Research and Conservation Trust Centre was just a stone’s throw from the sea, but was separated from the sea by seventy-five foot high sand dunes. In fact it was these very sand dunes that protected Panama from the 2004 tsunami, while neighbouring villages were washed away. We were up at daybreak (how agonizing for me) to set off on our daily walk with field glasses and cameras in hand. Male peacocks danced in circles, strutting their feathers while the females yawned in boredom and walked away. Moneys jumped playfully from branch to branch, while kingfishers and bee eaters swept past, creating iridescent flashes of blues and greens.
Driving north two hours, we arrived in Sammanthurai for a joint meeting with eight NGOs. Each in turn presented interesting proposals focusing on bio diversity, land degradation and climate change, all to eventually benefit the local farmers and fisher folk
While Shireen and several of the NGOs examined a potential area for mangrove replanting (the Indian Peace Keeping Force had bulldozed them all during the war, as they feared members of the LTTE might be hiding out in the dense growth), I was diverted by a group of Muslim children who thought my camera was more fun than playing in the sand. Beautiful kids!!
The highlight of the trip for me however, was the Panama Lagoon where I could easily have sat for hours and still not identified all of the interesting and unique bird life. Any non bird lovers could observe the crocodiles bathing in the noonday sun with their jaws wide open, completely oblivious to what was happening around them. Alternately, they might photograph the varied flowers of the area, including Sri Lanka’s national flower - the pale blue lotus or Nymphaea nouchal. It was later that afternoon during our drive through Yala East National Park to Kumana, that we first noticed Sri Lanka’s national bird - the Jungle Fowl. Nothing much to write home about as far as I was concerned, but we were all exhilarated to catch a glimpse of the resplendent leopard - generally seen only in the more southern Yala National Park. Sitting in the open grass for only a moment before dashing into the dense jungle growth, he definitely made our day!