I wrote this entry on the 23rd, my third full day in Panama, but couldn’t post it immediately. Whenever you’re reading this, here’s a (in the end not very) brief summary of my first days in Panama.
My flight got in around 10 pm (Panama is in eastern time) on Friday the 20th, and I had little trouble getting through security, clearing customs, and meeting up with Richard, the post-doc from Cambridge who is my boss on the project. On our way to Gamboa we stopped at El Rey, a grocery store that is open late and has a surprising amount of American brands and products (Shasta soda, Milwaukee’s Best beer, and, thank God, Jiff Extra Crunchy Peanut Butter). I picked up enough food to last a few days, then settled into my new apartment in Gamboa, which I’ll write more about later.
Saturday morning I woke up at 7:30, ate breakfast (I found Malt-o-Meal bagged frosted flakes at El Rey!), and went into the rainforest with Richard to try and catch some butterflies, as our research stocks had been depleted and we needed more. We hiked ~6-7 miles, and though we found many butterflies, we didn’t see any of the species we study. We did, however, see agoutis, two toucans, and heard some howler monkeys.
When I got back to the apartment I had pizza with my flatmate and a couple other research assistants who live in the building. That night a large contingent of Gamboites rode the bus into Panama City for a free concert. The stage was at one end of the Plaza Cattedral in casco viejo, the old part of the city, and the main event was, I’m pretty sure, Tito Puente Jr, though I couldn’t really understand his banter with the crowd. The music was fun, especially the obligatory rendition of “Oye como va.” After the concert there was a massive gathering of Smithsonian researchers at an apartment in the city, and I had some delicious tequenos from a grubby little restaurant nearby before catching a ride back to Gamboa.
Sunday brought another early start, more hiking, and more unsuccessful attempts at catching butterflies (although I did make my first captures, they weren’t the right species). Once again, the wildlife made the hiking worth it, as we saw some interesting vultures and a rather large caiman. That afternoon I took a very long nap, made dinner, and then watched a movie with a few other researchers.
That brings us to today. In the morning I learned how to feed the caterpillars, then Richard and I headed to the main administration campus of the Smithsonian in Panama City. The goal was to get registered and get my ID card, but the bureaucracy at STRI is legendary and we were foiled by secretarial apathy and an extensive lunch break. Instead, we went to a mall to buy various supplies. I’m sure I’ll write more about the mall later, as it’s adjacent to the bus terminal and I’ll be spending a lot of time there. For now, I’ll just say that it is the largest mall I’ve ever been to in my life, and it has a Cinnabon but no Auntie Anne’s.
We rode the bus back to Gamboa, and I went back to my apartment to cook some dinner, as it was already late afternoon and I was starving. After eating, I walked back into my kitchen and there on the floor was a cockroach so gigantic that at first I thought it was a small mouse. He escaped, but I’ll be ready next time.
Tomorrow I’ll be waking up very early so we can drive to some new collection spots before it gets too hot. Fortunately, I bought coffee-making supplies at the mall, so I no longer have to go through mornings un-caffeinated. Hopefully we’ll have good luck with the butterflies.
On a brief blog administration note: I’m not sure how often I’ll be updating things, and I doubt that I’ll always have the time or energy to go to this post’s level of detail, but I hope you enjoy the blog. Leaving comments might make me more likely to update. And, if you have questions about certain things, ask me in the comments and I can try to answer.