Bocas del Toro and the Smithsonian Research Center

Trip Start May 12, 2009
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Trip End Sep 29, 2009


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Flag of Panama  ,
Sunday, May 31, 2009

Companeros,
Time has flown as I have been experiencing so much!
Since I wrote last, I crossed to Panama at the Sixaola border. This border is bizarre. You probably are aware that Central America is laid back, but this border is muy tranquilo! Kids wandering everywhere asking for a dollar. Whose kids are they? What side of the border do they belong on?
The border is demarcated by a river. The bridge across the river is very old and rusted through in places and shakes when a truck drives across, which I got to experience. I was ready at any moment to undo my hip belt and start swimming with my pack!
From there, I took a bus to a taxi to the docks. The water taxi whisked me out to the Bocas del Toro islands, spotting dolphins on the way. ĦQue divertido!
Bocas del Toro met my expectations. It is indeed a tourist playground. I was about ready to leave when I met a woman named Guyatria who works at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Station out there. This was the start of a very serendipitous string of events!
The next morning, I started my day with Bisquick pancakes at the hostel covered in corn syrup-based fake maple syrup. They were free for guests, and I´m cheap, okay?
That was indeed a mistake. My normal diet is what most people would consider health food. No corn syrup, partially hydrogenated oils, canned drinks, or bleached flour. This food was a shock to my system!
By the time I arrived at the reseach station, I was being washed over by waves of nausea. Guyatria introduced me to a man named Christian. I shook his hand, nodded, then hurried over to the dock to ´add organic nutrients´. Such was my day. I was pretty much useless until my body finished ridding itself of the disgusting American food.
Christian was incredibly helpful. With machete in hand, he gave me a tour of the grounds, pointing out natural remedies. He cut down a coconut, and I drank the wonderful coconut water rich in electolytes. He swiped off some lemongrass, and told me how to make a tea from it. Here, the best remedies are available with only a machete.
Note to self- buy a machete. I hear they are between 3 and 15 dollars, and border guards in Central America don´t bat an eye.
The next day, I returned the station in much better condition, refreshed after drinking only coconut water for the past day. I was able to assist in some of the ongoing experiments. It is amazing what you can talk your way into with a smile and a few intelligent things to say.
I have always has much more talent at biology than chemistry, yet never much interest in either. Yet in Costa Rica (and Panama), everyone becomes a natural biologist. It is life. There are so many living things everywhere here. Each day, I try to photograph the new types of flower I see, but give up by noon and put away the camera. There are many bird species here because any bird that migrates between the north and south Americas crosses at this very narrow point of land called Panama. In Puerto Viejo, sweeping the kitchen floor at night was a great way to find new bugs I have never seen outside of a museum before. The waters of the Mirante Bay are so rich in bacteria and micronutrients that it is important to wash cuts right away, or they will become infected. A biologist´s paradise.
The Smithsonian station hosts grad students from around the world, and has a few resident lead scientists. They are working on questions about coral, water quality, mangrove depletion, frog genetics, turtle reproduction, sea urchin habitat, and so many other topics. I shadowed a student from Canada studying poison dart frog genetics. There were 100 cages of breeding pairs and about 30 more with tadpoles. I was amused at how this was... just like biology class!
The tiny frogs- just the size of a woman´s pinkie fingernail- come in red, orange, gold, green, blue, and brown. The gene expression is very intricate though, and seems to have a lot to do with habitat. Not macro issues, like plant types or weather. The aspect of the environment that it reacts to is probably chemical, nitrogen or phosphate-related. This in turn could tell an observer quite a lot about the health of the water, earth, and air if we knew which elements controlled the frog gene expression.
Okay, enough nerdiness. As you can probably tell, I was able to get my geek fix at the research station and learn a lot.
That evening, Guyatria picked me up and I became her assistant in logging interviews. She is studying the attitudes of the indigenous tribes about land ownership. She has a very interesting story. Originally a computer science undergrad from India, she is now studying cultural anthropology at Colorado State! Quite a career switch!
Colorado... I am proud to be from Colorado. Thankfully, the other Coloradans I meet in my travels are polite and adventurous. Not every person leaves that impression. Now that I am in Boquete, a town nestled between mountains and volcanoes, what do I do? Go up!
Today I spent hiking around the base of Volcan Baru. I was rained out, and will try again tomorrow. When it is clear at the summit, you can see both the Pacific and the Carribean at the same time!
Now, I hope my stories are inspiring each of you to step out and live your dreams each day. For me, I need to get back to living my adventure!
 
Cheers,
Your True Traveler,
Lisa
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