Panama Day 6: Cultural Experiences

20150725_085910(1)After an exciting day of collecting and an evening of delicious ceviche at the Mercado Pescado, we were all set for a day of cultural experiences. While I love collecting and experiencing science, I was looking forward to a day of local perspectives and linking what I had already seen and learned with new places and ideas.

We left the hotel at 8:15 on our way to the Canopy Crane, a STRI operated high-rise view of the rainforest. While we weren’t able to go up in the crane, we spent about an hour and a half hiking around the Metropolitan Park. The park was packed with a beautiful array of insects; a paper hornet nest and a juvenile hemipteran that looked like a jade dime were particularly interesting. On our hike back to the vans, a few of us managed to see a few small toucans in the trees, completing another of my goals for this trip!

A little after 10am we left the forest and headed towards Punta Culebra, an island near Panama City that partially serves as natural sanctuary where we would learn more about Panama’s natural and cultural history.  The Smithsonian facility at Punta Culebra was incredible. Filled with wild sloths and iguanas, we got wonderfully close to one sloth and saw several others from a distance. The island also had extensive exhibits and signage that taught us about the native flora and fauna.  Complete with a touch pool featuring native echinoderms and a turtle tank, the island even had a small air conditioned room filled with terraria of poison dart frogs, leaf mimic frogs, and tree frogs.

20150725_154648(1)Afterwards, we feasted on a delicious lunch of seafood and other Panamanian cuisine before heading to the Miraflores Locks of the Panama Canal. Before coming to Panama, I had read that the Canal was one of the engineering wonders of the world. Coming close to the system of locks made the gravity of this–being a wonder–truly tangible. I was surprised by the viewing theatre near the locks, but after considering it, it makes sense: the Canal is the lifeblood for Panama. Of course it would have a tourist arena similar to something a Floridian like myself would expect to see at Sea World. By far the highlight of this stop was watching one of the massive tankers move through the locks. I couldn’t believe the engineering behind the canal; watching thousands and thousands of tons of ship precisely moving through such a tiny passage was truly impressive.

The canal’s visitor center also had an informative museum with four floors of exhibits on the construction of the canal, the natural history around the canal, the operations of the canal, and the commerce that passes through it.  My favorite floor by far was the second, which discussed the animals and plants important to the area. The bottom floor even had a fossil rhinoceros tooth, something that reminded me of our own days in the field!

Finally, we finished our day at Casco Viejo, the older part of Panama City where native peoples sell souvenirs such as Molas, a type of stitched artwork, and good food abounds. After walking the market, we sought out refreshments and food,  finishing our day at The Fish Market, a food truck that operates out of an abandoned building with no roof that is little more than a foundation and four walls. While there, I ate some of the best fish tacos I have ever had (already a personal favorite food), and enjoyed the company of my fellow scientists and scientists in training.

Overall, our day was incredibly enriching. I now feel that I have a decent handle on both our host country’s natural history and its cultural priorities. I can only hope that the next week holds as many exciting escapades (and perhaps a few more fish tacos)!

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