November = Finals, Research, and 30 days left!

Today marks the 30 days left for our program in Panama and it’s so weird to think how much I am excited to go home but sad to know that I will be leaving this place and these people so soon.  I can’t believe that at the start of this blog we had 30 days counting down to our arrival and now there is only 30 days til our departure back to the beloved States. Time certainly has flown but I have learned and experienced so much in these last 9 weeks.

Here’s what we have been up to and what’s to come this week:

1. First off, last week was the School for Field Studies version of Hell Week, otherwise known to science majors as the week before finals in which the  most projects are due. We found ourselves frantically working on an MPA zoning plan, socio-ecological reflections, turtle species posters, excel “fun,” and last but not least a 10 page research paper on tourism effects in Panama. Ask us anything about the tourism effects here and we’ll oblige with “95,000” (Shout out to our favorite program adviser Marta!) literature reviews and management plans!

2. Our favorite time of year at Loma: REGISTRATION. And finally for once, things went our way. Yes, there was still stress, timing issues, and lack of internet but we made it through and Megan and I are fully registered for the Spring. I can tell you are just itching to have us back in your lives ASAP :) And speaking of itching…

3. Just thought I’d throw in their that Megan and I are still getting eaten alive by the chitras, otherwise known as sand flies. These things are way more prevalent now that the rain has increased during the wet season. Yes, the rain helps with our climate control but it does nothing to help my poor arms and legs!

4. Just because we are in Panama doesn’t mean we can’t catch the elections! No matter who you support, it is a very interesting experience witnessing the elections from abroad. Ask anyone here what my Tuesday, Nov. 6th consisted of and they’ll just laugh in your face at my obsession with electoral maps!

5. It’s finals week! Can you imagine, finals in NOVEMBER? 2/3 are done and tomorrow’s final is sure to be the easiest! No, we are not done with the semester yet either we are just making room for…

6. Directed research projects! It actually begins directly following our last exam. This class will last the rest of the semester and Megan and I are so excited about our respective projects!  Megan will be working this semester on researching the invasive species known as the red lionfish and I will be researching the socio-ecological effects of tourism on the national marine park in BDT. You will be sure to find pics of dissections and town surveys  shortly!

That’s it for life as of yet! If your still reading this blog, we want to take the time to thank you for sticking with us through the slow posts lately. As school has gotten crazy and field trips have increased, blogging time has been hard to come by. Keep in mind that as finals end and research begins our available time will increase and amazing stories will come full throttle!

Ciao!

-L

P.S. If you’d like to read more about the trip to Boquete we took awhile back that Megan mentioned in her last post here is a link to a post I wrote for the SFS News From the Field Blog equipped with more pictures and in depth stories of our week in the Chiriqui cloudforest!

http://www.fieldstudies.org/blog/?p=1168

P.P.S Enjoy a few pics from our Halloween baking extravaganza, lionfish research introduction, and our “Watching People Watching Dolphins” and Red Frog Marina and Resort field exercises!

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Aaaaaaaannnddd, we’re back!

I’m sorry! It has been so long since we have blogged (definitely my fault), but we are back! Lindsay and I have had a crazy few weeks, and I can’t wait to fill you guys in! I apologize if all of these descriptions seem to be a little short, but there is just so much to share.

We began our busy journey with a visit to a cacao plantation on the mainland. As we arrived at the Oreba Chocolate Plantation, our tour guided handed us walking sticks and we ventured into the jungle. He led us through the Ngobe village and up a mountainside indicating all the different plants that were growing. In addition to cacao plants, there were also star fruit trees, mandarin trees, rhubarb, and many others. When we arrived at the peak, there were Ngobe women grinding and roasting the cacao seeds.

We were able to try the freshly roasted seeds, which were delicious! They also ground some up, added a bit of milk and sugar, and fed us fresh chocolate. The tour was fascinating not only because I learned a lot about a type of plantation that I previously knew nothing about, but also because we were given the chance to learn and experience a different culture outside that of Bocas town. 

After this trip, we jumped straight into midterms. These, coincidentally, aligned with midterms home at PLNU. For about 4 days straight, the 13 of us students bunkered down in our classroom and studied. We got little amounts of sleep, if any, and some even slept in the classroom! Our 3 midterms were back to back for 3 days leading into our weekend. All of us were so relieved when they were over, but now I feel like I need to start studying for our finals which occur the week after next! Time sure is flying by here.

The next Monday morning, we got up bright and early to head over to Boquete. Boquete is nestled in the mountains in the province of Chiriqi. It was so beautiful there, and reminded me a lot of home. It was much cooler there than it is in Bocas del Toro and was raining most of the time. We stayed at a hostel that was really just a family’s home that they were running a hostel out of. They cooked all of our delicious meals and welcomed us in as though we were their own. While in Boquete, we were able to visit one of the University of Panama campuses. Our Environmental Policies and Socio-Economic Values professor gave a lecture on Sustainable Tourism to our class and many other Panamanian students studying multitudes of things. We ate lunch at the school and then were bussed off to Valle Escondido, a gated community of enormous houses owned by foreign celebrities (it was rumored that Antonio Banderas and Steven Segal own houses there!) As beautiful as it was, it was an extremely eerie place and was very out of the Panama element. We were also able to visit an eco-lodge called Los Queztales and went on a hike to bird watch in the jungle in the pouring rain and tour a local coffee plantation.

We then came back to Bocas del Toro and shipped off the next morning for our mid-semester break. Lindsay, myself, and a few friends of ours journeyed up to Costa Rica. We dropped two friends off at the bus stop in Puerto Viejo for their journey to San Jose and continued on our way to end up in Limon. There was a carnival there the one night we stayed and we were able to experience a little bit of the culture of Costa Rica! We sought solace the next morning in the Burger King in the city (I know, how American of us) before we went back to Puerto Viejo. We stayed in a jungle lodge that had beautiful tranquil cabinas. In Puerto Viejo, we went to the Jaguar Reserve, which is a center for injured or disabled animals to come to receive treatment to be released again into the wild. We were able to play with howler monkeys, see the red-eyed green tree frog, see a margay, and many more animals including this beautiful owl:
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VIsiting this center reminded me of what I am passionate about and all the things I want to go with my life. It was an amazing opportunity that I wouldn’t give up for the world, and am considering going back to volunteer there in the future. We were sad to leave Puerto Viejo, but were also excited to come back to the Smithsonian and hear about all of our friends’ breaks. 

We are getting back into the swing of things and are nearing finals. We are choosing our directed research projects this week, as well! It is the time to start getting things together for next semester at home, too. Lindsay and I register this week and I have requested my housing for fall. We are having a blast, but I know I, for one, am excited to go home, as well. It seems like we have so much and so litte time left at the same time. Until next time!

Ciao!

Megan

 

Paraiso for Sale: The Struggle of the Bocatoreños

As Week 4 dawns we look back on this past week’s cultural message. And honestly it’s a thought-provoking message that has truly touched my heart in the form of the documentary “Paraiso for Sale” and the inspirational words of Feliciano Santos.

But let’s recap first. This past week was dominated by the local culture here in Bocas del Toro. We spent every morning at Habla Ya Spanish School learning Spanish for 4 hours at different levels. I found myself in the A1 level, Introductory Spanish. This was a very tedious experience seeing as I have already had 4 years of Spanish in high school. But through this week I regained knowledge that I lost over the last 3 years. I was able to sincerely improve my conversational Spanish and I hope to continue growing throughout the semester even though our very short Spanish class is over.

Last week’s afternoons were mostly filled with our Environmental Policy class which has mainly been teaching about social-ecological systems in BDT and Panama as a whole. A huge socio-ecological problem here in the archipelago is crippling tourism and land tenure issues. My heart has been pulled bidirectionally over the past few weeks as I encounter and learn about how drastically tourism has been affecting BDT. The details of how the local people have been thrust out of their homes and land with meaningless, fraudulent pieces of paper to make room for foreigners (from my country especially) to destroy the beautiful natural ecosystem have nearly broken my heart the past few days. And unfortunately even though the problem has drastically increased in BDT over the last decade, this land-grabbing issue has been occurring in all of Latin America since Christopher Columbus first discovered the isthmus.

Feliciano Santos, far left, at Capitol Hill in the United States fighting for the rights of all indigenous people.

The culmination of these teachings has been a viewing of a documentary called “Paraiso for Sale” followed by a lecture from Feliciano Santos, an indigenous Ngӧbe leader featured in the video.  The Ngӧbes are one of the largest indigenous communities in Panama and they are, or at least used to be, very prevalent throughout BDT. They are currently being tossed around because the Panamanian government refuses to acknowledge their own laws of land rights. It is a truly gut-wrenching story that I desperately hope to share it with Loma when I return spring. Until then I hope to continue to learn about all sides of the situation so that I can help to share Feliciano’s and other Bocatoreños’ efforts to save the local people from becoming the outsiders. I am so deeply thankful for the opportunity to meet Felicianos, an amazing hero for the Ngobe people. He speaks with grace and respect that most of our country lacks. I truly believe that God has placed this experience here in BDT in my life to share what I have learned, especially this story. For those of you who wish to see what has captured my heart here is the trailer and following synopsis for “Paraiso for Sale”:

What price would you pay for paradise? And who would you be willing to take it from? The pristine archipelago of Bocas del Toro, Panama attracts retirees and developers from the U.S. with its crystal-clear waters and its island culture. In PARAISO FOR SALE, filmmaker, Anayansi Prado, returns to her homeland to document the effects the fast-growing migration is having on the local community.

This engaging and revealing documentary tells the personal stories of the people who call this area home and would like to keep it that way. From an American couple who’ve invested not just in their home but in their Panamanian community to a local businessman turned political hopeful and an indigenous leader fighting for his land, the characters and stories in PARAISO FOR SALE speak to the larger global issue of communities, new and old, under siege from faceless corporations.

PARAISO FOR SALE explores issues of modern day colonialism, residential tourism, global gentrification and reverse migration, by revealing that immigration between Latin America and the US is not just a one-way street.

http://paraisoforsale.impactofilms.com/index.html

On the Brink of Week 3… Spanish and Corals!

We have finally reached Day 8 at STRI. Can you believe we have almost been in Panama for two weeks? In the past week that we have lived in Bocas we have:

  • introduced all 5 courses for the semester (here’s a link to them if you feel so inclined… http://www.fieldstudies.org/panama/semester)
  • taken our first test on Latin species names while snorkeling through mangroves in the Caribbean
  • experienced at least one painful sunburn (and in my case two!)
  • rain through the pouring tropical rain
  • hung out with a sloth in our front yard (pics below!)
  • swam with upside down and moon jellies (I was TERRIFIED)
  • relaxed at a beautiful restaurant Paki Point and on the shores of the basically uninhabited island, Cayos Zapatilla #2
  • had serious political and theological discussions with roommates
  • held our first “town hall meeting” discussing goals and culture shock

It truly has been the most exhilarating, demanding, jam-packed week I have had in all of my academic years.  And the best part is: I have 12 more exciting weeks of experiencing Panama and getting to know some amazing teachers and peers! I am so thrilled to be a part of this remarkable community that SFS has created here. I feel as if even though I can be constantly connected to life back home, I am living much simpler. It is a very humbling experience sharing day to day tasks and living spaces. I don’t think I’m quite in culture shock yet but this has definitely been the craziest and most unique encounter I have ever had the opportunity to experience. I’m sure the homesickness will come eventually but I am not too worried yet. Since we have spent countless time attending workshops at the study abroad office, I am confident in my anticipation of impending culture shock.

Coming up on our horizon is a week devoted to learning the Spanish language. Yes, you heard me. One week to master the Spanish language. You may scoff at this as I have… but in actuality “Habla Ya”, the language school we are using, believes that this is the best way to completely immerse yourself and learn the language. Now I luckily have taken Spanish before but I am so rusty with my conversation skills that I practically failed my placement test last week. One of my main goals for this program is to vastly improve my conversational Spanish. I am thrilled to absorb the language and learn how to be comfortable when speaking to the Panamanians I encounter.

Also, forthcoming next week is our second field ID test on corals and invertebrates. Holy stress! Again we have 40+ species to identify their Latin names however this time around I swear they all look the same… I have decided to deem some of them with food names: the one with “nerds rope” ridges, the one with “fruit by the foot” arms, or the one with “potato” bulbs. It’s pretty ridiculous. So wish us luck as we study the second group of organisms! Megan has gotten our entire class hooked on Study Blue, and online flashcard website. She is currently off making this week’s list as we await the rest of our lectures today.

As always we thank each of you for your support and please keep us in your prayers as we continue this amazing journey through Panamanian culture, wildlife, and living.

Expecting to be tan, fluent, and Latin-minded by week’s end!

-L

We were so excited to see this little guy hanging on a tree right outside our rooms. You should have seen us all scrambling to grab our cameras as fast as possible!

“Panulirus argus” one of the Latin species names we were tasked to memorize this past week! (Also what my roommates and I have coined our room as, The Lobster Den)

I jumped in the water from the boat on Wednesday to see one of these guys stalking me! Scariest moment of the trip so far… Photo cred: Trevor Magee

We spent Sunday at Paki Point looking out at the water, sipping on tranditional banditos (fruit shakes), and basking in the warm sun in hammocks. Photo cred: Andrea Espinosa

We went and had lunch at one of these uninhabited islands protected as a part of the Bastimentos Marine Park. We basically never wanted to leave! Photo cred: The Internet, because no one has yet put photos up for this trip. But this truly epitomizes what we were seeing!

Lion fish, barracudas, and urchins; oh my!

Hey, all! We made it to Panama, yay! The past week has been quite a blur as we trekked around Panama City visiting all of the city’s ruins and tourist sites and are now getting into the swing of things here at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Bocas del Toro, Panama.

Lindsay and I took a red eye flight into Panama City last Monday. Unfortunately, we discovered upon arrival that the airline had lost both of my bags (which were later found, whew). We maintained our high spirits, though, as we bussed through the city to our hotel. We were able to go to lunch with a few of the staff members of the program as we were the first to arrive. The rest of the day was a flurry of naps and introductions as the rest of our group began to arrive. We spent the next day listening to guest lectures and exploring the ruins of the old city. The history and culture of the country is so rich and fascinating.

The city’s skyline. Beautiful, eh?

Our second day in Panama was my favorite of the two days. We started off with a guest lecture and then headed to the canal. Our tour guide was practically the most amazing woman I had ever met, and she had keys to the canal! We all stepped cautiously onto the locks as all the other tourists gapped at us in awe. We were able to see a few boats passing through the locks, as well! The tour concluded with learning the canal’s history and how it works. From there, we went on a hike through the Metropolitan Park. The hike brought us through the jungle to a point where we were able to look over the whole city.

On Thursday morning we woke up (at 4:00 am!) to fly from Panama City to Bocas del Toro. We had arranged for our bus driver to pick us up at 4:30, but realized at 4:45 that he had thought we meant the afternoon. The mad dash to the airport began as all of us students began to climb into taxis and leave our luggage behind to be loaded onto to the bus that was currently racing to get there. We all arrived in enough time to make our flight and boarded our tiny plane for the hour long flight. Shorty after the drink service, we hit an air pocket that caused the plane to drop unexpectedly. We watched in a flurry of screams as our drinks and snacks flew up into the air and scattered across the ceiling and floor of the plane. The weather began to clear as we flew over the islands that we would be spending the next 3 months of our lives in. We landed on the hot and humid archipelago and concluded our journey as we arrived at STRI. We were whisked away to orientations and tours as the tropical rain began to pour down.

Yesterday, we snorkeled through some corals and mangroves in the area to get a better look at the organisms we are studying. Being a beginner snorkeler, I was a little worried about snorkeling through the shallow waters I knew were coming. I was doing alright until I found myself floating over a very shallow region that was jam-packed with tiny sea urchins right below me. The water was not deep enough for even the bending of a leg, so I doggie-paddled my way through while trying to tell myself to not freak out. I was fascinated and absolutely terrified at the same time! I made it out to deeper waters only to find giant urchins that had spines that were almost a foot long. We actually found a group of these ones spawning and were able to witness this amazing experience. We were able to see many other organisms such as barracuda, sting rays, starfish, and anemones. Shortly after, while swimming back to the boat, I was stung by a jellyfish! Luckily it was small and didn’t do much damage and the stinging feeling passed within a few minutes.

The past few days have been amazingly full of lectures, snorkeling, getting to know each other, laughing, and applying lots and lots of DEET. I have too many bug bites to count, Lindsay is sunburnt to a crisp, and we are both out of our comfort zone in a new place with new people. We are learning so much and are so excited to be here. Thank you for your support and prayers and we continue to grow and learn!

Ciao!

-M

Yellow fever, anxiety, CVs, and faith… T-minus 30 days!

So here we are… the 30 day countdown to our tropical adventure has begun!

And let me tell you right now, I have never felt less prepared. Sure we have purchased countless items on our packing list, endured yellow fever vaccinations -that took forever, stung, and bruised for a week-, and recently acquired the Lonely Planet Panama… But in all honestly it is simply ludicrous to think that in a months’ time we will be leaving on a jet plane to paradise. I may be mentally ready for this new experience but physically and emotionally there is still much to do.

As Megan and I sat in our dorm room on the eve of our 30 day countdown, we found ourselves enjoying The Lorax -A movie about overcoming the evils of consumerism in cartoon form? Trust me, many tears were shed!- and writing our CVs for our research permits in Bocas. We recently found out that we will be staying in a different research facility than we originally anticipated, and to be quite honest it is beautiful! (Here is a link to their facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/BocasResearchStation) So this new facility is sponsored by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and they are apparently very thorough about who researches under their name.  So with only two days notice before it was due we sat down to write our own personal CV. Now I don’t know about you but I definitely had to Google that one :) For those of you as unintelligent as I am, a CV stands for “curriculum vitae” and it is basically a glorified resume. You may have thought to yourself that we could have just copied and pasted our resumes given our unfortunate short notice but did I also mention that it needed to be written IN SPANISH? Needless to say Megan and I both found out the hard way that this semester is going to be tough. Our Spanish sucks. Or at least mine does… Great… like I said before, ONE MORE THING I feel unprepared about.

But you know what I realized as I sat in the hallway late last night writing this up? That no matter what happens in the next month; I fervently believe that this trip of discovery is all a part of God’s precious plan for my life. And even though I feel stuck in a rut in this place between preparing and proceeding if I just keep in mind the reason why I chose this place as my adventure, I will persevere. This opportunity means so much to me and when I chose Panama out of the vast amount of doors in front of me I felt such a peace that it was the right one. God had a freaking flashing neon sign saying “Pick Me” over it! -Not really but if anyone wants to hear the actual story of hearing God’s booming voice in my life, please do not hesitate to ask :) 

All in all, the only words to describe my emotions right now are anxiously -typical- and ardently waiting for this beautiful wonder God has specifically planned out for me. And I can’t begin to describe feeling any more ready to partake in that!

Viviendo la vida día a día!

-L

Photo cred: Ellen Reid, SFS

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