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Panama, 2013

We escaped the Montreal winter briefly, with a little jaunt down to Panama to visit some old friends, relax on the beach, and do some bird watching. It was a great trip, although the traffic in Panama City is phenomenally bad!

The "original" photos linked to in this set are reduced size, in fact, so contact me if you want a true original.
Panama City
These shots are all pretty much from Casco Viejo, which is the old part of the city and the tourist center. We actually did a lot of walking around in other parts of the city, but they were not so scenic, and often I wouldn't have felt safe taking out my camera, so no photos. (Speaking of safety, at one point we got a bit lost and off the beaten track, and the police actually showed up and told us we were in a dangerous area, and gave us a ride to a safer spot!) Casco Viejo got bombed by the U.S. when we were ousting Noriega, according to Panamanians I talked to, and there are still lots of bombed-out buildings there, as in the second photo, but they are rebuilding like mad; the whole city is under construction everywhere, but especially there.
These three photos are of the church and convent of Santo Domingo, a very old building in Panama City. It burned down in 1737 and again in 1756, and was not rebuilt. The famous "flat arch" shown in the third photo stood until 2003, when it finally collapsed; it was then rebuilt from the original bricks. Remarkably, it is a work of pure masonry, with no internal beam (or at least it was; I don't know about their reconstruction of it). According to legend, the existence of the flat arch played a role in the decision to build the Canal through Panama instead of Nicaragua, because it proved that earthquakes are rare in the Isthmus.
Kuna Yala
The Comarca de Kuna Yala is a region of Panama inhabited and run by the indigenous people of the region, the Kuna. It has hundreds of little islands in an archipelago along the Caribbean coast of Panama, and we stayed on one, Kuanidup Grande. It was a great experience – sun, white sand, palm trees, and relaxation. The Kuna travel between the islands in canoes and sailboats (when not using motorboats). They would catch fish and seafood every day from the waters around our island, and that's what we'd eat for lunch and dinner. Highly recommended (and Kuanidup Grande is particularly nice because it has flush toilets that go into a septic tank; other islands typically dispose of their waste directly into the ocean, which makes the swimming not so attractive!).
A trip to another island to visit a real Kuna village. We didn't see much of how they lived, except for a very enthusiastic basketball game they were playing when we arrived. The Kuna make traditional textile artworks called molas, and they make these and sell them to tourists. We bought several and got photos of them with their makers. The last two photos here are from the drive back across the Isthmus to Panama City, a very scenic drive; if you go to the Kuna Yala, go by 4x4 with a tour company, don't fly (our trip there was arranged by Lam Tours, who were competent and professional).
Barro Colorado Island
Barro Colorado Island is something of a pilgrimage site for biologists, who refer to it simply as BCI. The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) is based there, and the island has a rich history of important research in tropical ecology and evolution. We visited there on a day trip and got a tour around by a biologist friend who works there. Lots of wildlife, and beautiful views from a canopy tower. And the food in the STRI cafeteria is remarkably good!
Pipeline Road
We stayed a couple of days in the middle of the Isthmus, in Gamboa (at Ivan's B&B, which mostly caters to birders and arranges local trips and tours, recommended). We went for a day of birdwatching with a local guide named Jenn Sinasac (who I cannot recommend too highly, she had an encyclopedic knowledge of the local birds and was friendly, professional, and enthusiastic; check out her blog too). Pipeline Road is a world-famous spot for birding, and indeed, although I'm a rank amateur at birding, I saw an astounding variety of birds in just a couple of hours. I got decent photos of only a handful of them.

Tentative identifications in these photos, in order: (1) Wattled Jacanas, (2) Yellow-crowned Euphonia, (3) Red-crowned Woodpecker, (4) Scarlet-rumped Cacique, (5) White-tipped Dove, (6) White-necked Puffbird, (7) Cocoa Woodcreeper, (8) wasps, (9) a hummingbird nest, (10) dragonfly, (11) butterfly, (12) flowers, (13) flower, (14) Crimson-backed Tanager, (15) variegated squirrel, (16) Rusty-margined Flycatchers, (17) Tropical Kingbird, (18) Chestnut-mandibled Toucan (wow), (19) Masked Tityra, (20) sloth, (21) flowers, (22) Red-legged Honeycreepers (male on top, female on bottom), (23) Tropical Kingbird, and (24) Southern Rough-winged Swallow. But we saw many, many more!
Miraflores Locks
One day we went for a quick visit to Miraflores Locks, one of the locks along the Panama Canal that change the height of the ships passing through the canal. This is necessary because the center of the canal is not at sea level. You can stand on an elevated viewing platform and watch the whole process from beginning to end. These cute little tug-engines at the bow and stern of the ships keep them precisely aligned in the canal, while huge pumps and gates manage the water levels. It's remarkable to see such enormous ships, filled to the top with cargo, getting lifted upward before your eyes! They have a nice museum exhibit about the history and future of the canal, too.

These images copyright © 2013 Ben Haller. All rights reserved.