Day 9: More Adventures at Lago Alajuela and Life Lessons on Perseverance

Back to Lago Alajuela

Today we made our way back for a second round of fieldwork at Lago Alajuela. Upon our arrival to the former Boy Scout camp, we were greeted by a small pack of barking dogs. In order to exert ownership over the property, the Alpha quickly identified OUR Alpha, and marked him in the way one might mark a fire hydrant! Luckily, our good natured leader was unfazed and led half of us fearlessly into the wild jungle to our destination, the shores of Lago Alajuela. The other half of us split off to examine a different part of the lake, led by Victor Perez.


Our goal for today was to chart out new territory, to seek out new fossil finds previously undiscovered. We were Brave Adventures! Marching through shoulder-high grasses! Traversing narrow paths on sheer cliffs! Crawling through brush! Avoiding large jungle spiders the size of our palms! Bravest of all was Michelle Barboza, who, even though her adventure resulted in injury, will not let a sprained ankle bruise her spirit! (And lets not forget the heroic actions of Victor Perez, Isaac Magallanes and Adam Wade, who made sure Michelle made it to the vans in one piece. Thanks, guys!)

The sun was out and there was little breeze, but we set out to scour the peninsulas for fossils. The star finds for our half of the group were a megalodon tooth by Katie Kriscunas, and alligator and crocodile scoots by Gretchen Miller. Our bounty may have been small, but our sense of accomplishment was full!


Back to the vans for a one hour drive to STRI for a Tupper Talk by Dr. Richard Cook, archeologist and excellent story teller. But not so fast! A fifteen minute off-road bumpy ride to the gates of the park led to the discovery that we had been locked inside! Daniel and Nestor, our trusted drivers, took it upon themselves to formulate a plan to break us out. Their plan included screwdrivers and hammers, and if all else failed, pure muscle and brawn! Luckily, an official finally showed up with the key. We composed ourselves and got back to our drive.

How do we get out of the Chagres Park?


As a math teacher, I was lucky to be included on this trip to Panama. Though I will never teach evolution or pre-isthmus ocean circulation, I still take away a valuable lesson. I’ve learned that paleontologists work hard. Sometimes the hard work pays off, and sometimes it doesn’t. Either way, they must persevere. The common core math initiative includes eight standards of practice. Practice number one states that students must, “Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them”. This is one of the hardest practices for my students. It takes effort to keep trying. To not give up. If one approach doesn’t work, to try another. To step back and reevaluate. To have the patience to start again.


This trip has put me in the position of being a learner in the field of paleontology and has given me the opportunity to relate to the experiences of my students. Coming in with no previous knowledge has tested my ability to persevere. Like my students, there have been moments out in the field, after what feels like hours of scouring for fossils with no results, I have wanted to give up. When that moment comes, I take a deep breath and try again. My appreciation for the effort of scientists, teachers, and students has grown tenfold in having this experience. For this I am thankful.


Back To It and Ready For More!

Our long day of foils and fumbles has a happy ending. We sat in the Earl S. Tupper conference center at STRI and listened Dr. Richard Cook’s talk about the depiction of animals on the pottery of native Panamanian people. We look at the beautiful pictures and he charms us with stories of his own adventures while a tropical thunder and lightening storm rumbles overhead, and our hearts are full.


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