Thursday 22 January 2015

WILD about Panama !

January 22nd 2015

How does one follow a story about a Monkey bite and ensuing wild emotional roller coaster ride? Well, I guess, with more stories about wildlife !!!  This time however, there won’t be any trips to the emergency room ! (And just to give you an update, Meghan is doing very well, her stiches came out a few days ago!)

Toucan in the wild

Panama is a great place to go to if you want to see interesting species of both flora and fauna alike !  Meg told me the other day that she read somewhere that there were over 100 species of animals here which live no where else on earth !  Could that be true ?  I will have to verify her sources !  All I know is that we have been enjoying catching glimpses of some of these exotic species. Animals I read about when I was a kid, never dreaming that one day I would be lucky enough to see them with my own eyes and share the experience with our children !

Life here at Shelter Bay Marina has offered us many opportunities to satisfy our curiosity. Located on the North West Shore of the Panama canal, it was built on the land which once housed the US compound; where Americans who managed the canal lived until 1999, when the canal operation was passed on to the Panamanian government.  

An Osprey with its fresh catch on Rio Chagres.

The land and the buildings (houses, church, school and even a movie theatre) have been left abandoned and in many cases have been reclaimed by nature. The Shelter Bay Marina was built on that land, in the mangroves, to provide “shelter” for boats waiting to transit through the canal. 

Our daily walk from Shelter Bay Marina

The abandoned US compound, now reclaimed by the forrest

Forgotten road, old US compound 

On many mornings the kids and I got up early, before school, to walk the abandoned paved road which loops around the old grounds , surrounded by pristine untouched forrest, no, not forrest; but a veritable jungle !  As we walk we can often hear the ever growing  calls of the howler monkeys, the sound is somewhat familiar, as it pours through the trees, getting louder and louder, it sounds like a distant pack of barking dogs. Then we look up and see a bird flying in the distance, but there is something different about this bird....what is it  ?  “I’ve never seen a head shaped like this before, a little bit disproportioned, or is he carrying a large banana  ? No wait …. It’s  a TOUCAN !! And what are all those nosy birds up there behind us ? Quick, pass me the binoculars will you ? Oh look! Parrots !"  (Parakeets actually) 

Mark and the kids walking trough the old US compound

The lovely parakeets are as colourful as they are loud !

We have also caught a fleeting glimpse of a mammal, running on all fours, across the “street”. He is very shy, and we only manage to see him from far away, but thanks to a rather large zoom lens on the camera, we are later able to identify him as a “Nyeke”  (spelling unknown) . It is sort of like a smaller version of a capybara, with a slightly elongated snout, and looking also a bit like a hare, he is very quick !

The elusive Nyeke

Nyeke on the move

As we walk further along our daily route, we pass what is left of the buildings (stone staircases really are all that are left). We find ourselves at an intersection with the familiar street signs that are were left behind when the Americans went back home:  “Kennedy Loop”.

Old street signs in the abandoned US compound

This is where we see our first howler Monkeys, up in the trees high above us. They hang, nonchalantly from their toes or tails as they watch us, watching them. One gives us a good demonstration of his howl on the first day. It is a non threatening sound, the same repetitive bark, but it must have a purpose !  Mark gives us his interpretation as he translates for us :  “Mine” “Mine” and “Mine” Hm, I guess they might be announcing their territory to the other monkeys. We enjoy listening and watching. When the monkey finally stops his calls he makes his way across the high canopy branches, finishing off with a daredevil stunt; jumping from one tree to another, a mere fifty feet above our heads.

Our first look at the howler monkey

Howler monkey just hanging in there

Howler monkeys calling his tribe mates

We saw, heard, and smelled the monkeys, for 3 days in a row

During these early morning walks, every now and then we get to marvel at the Blue Morpho Butterflies whose wings “flutter” so gracefully and seemingly in slow motion, so much so  that they look like leaves gently falling from the trees above, except that they aren’t falling. Another species of butterflies, with wings like swallows, were migrating the first week we were here and we could see them everywhere, we even had one visit us onboard Amelie, until we carefully helped it find its way out again. 

Unfortunately, my camera does not do justice to the brilliance  of the Blue Morpho Butterfly

A Giant Swallowtail on our bathroom mirror

A great little zoo 

We visited a great little “zoo”, well not really a zoo, more like a rehabilitation centre for wild animals; where animals who have been injured or abandoned 'pets' can be cared for and, when possible, released back into the jungle. It is a wonderful place, brand new, (opened a few months ago) and run by a Canadian lady and her husband. We got a 'one on one' tour and saw coatis (similar to our raccoons in Canada), capybaras, a great variety of monkeys, an ocelot (a large wild cat), hedgehogs and some really neat birds !  Sadly there were no sloths when we visited, as the three had been released back into the wilderness only a few days before (we are happy for the sloths, just bummed we didn't get to see them !)  We still hope to see one of these slow motion animals, perhaps on Gatun Lake, later on our journey across Panama. 

When we told the manager of the centre about Meghan’s recent misadventure with the Spider monkey, she gently presented her to a baby of the same species. He had lost his mother (we think she was hit by a car) and had been taken in a few months before. He was swaddled in a blanket and very, very sweet. I was told it was ok to pet him on his head and so I did and then Meghan followed suit. It was very therapeutic to be around this little one and to make our “peace” with spider monkeys in this way. 

A Tiny Squirrel Monkey

Geoffrey's Tamarin, 

Meghan meets a baby spider monkey with the help of our Canadian Host.

Rio Chagres Hike : 

Together with our friends from SV Perry, we entered the dense jungle along side Rio Chagres. We didn’t see any monkeys, jaguars or sloths. This time the focus was on the more elusive, less cuddly, creatures such as scorpions, spiders, and caterpillars. We even heard the scurrying of a small lizard which they call the “Jesus Christ” Lizard, called this way because he runs so fast across the streams with his large feet that it looks like he is walking on water !  I managed to capture one with my zoom lens ! 

A scorpion 

Cool little caterpillar

The Jesus Christ Lizard who walks on water

S/V Perry entering Rio Chagres

The City of Colon: 

One cruiser who has lived here for a few years told us that, compared to Cartagena Colombia which is full of culture, historical buildings and beautiful architecture, Panama is more like the “Wild West”…. complete with ruins of historical forts (Portebello and San Fernando- which we thoroughly enjoyed visiting by the way) and a lot of wilderness all around !  We have been advised to be very careful when in the city of Colon, and not to walk around on our own as it can be dangerous. Panama city which is on the Pacific side, ( and which we have visited twice since our arrival) however is quite safe. It is a large and modern city with a very interesting skyline!  

While in Panama City a few days ago, and by necessity, we found the mall, which, I am sure could rival the largest malls of Florida. Walking through All Brooke Mall in search of prescription sunglasses and other items on our list, we felt like we had been transported back home and back to a world of modern commodities and every comfort we could imagine or even dream of. We only spent one day in the big city, having rented a car specifically in order to pick up our replacement outboard engine. Oh, did I forget to mention that our outboard engine was stolen in Colombia ?  Yes, that’s TWO now, in the space of 3 months !!! This time the thieves were pretty daring as they grabbed the outboard off the dinghy which had been hoisted up 6 feet along side the boat, and with Mark sleeping in the cockpit a few feet away ! I guess they really, really wanted that engine !  But that was back in early December and we are so over that now ! What was I talking about?  Oh yes, so we bought a new outboard engine to replace the old new outboard. We also bought a lock !  

The Panama Canal 

We are scheduled to cross the Canal on Sunday the 25th. That is only two days away ! There is lots to do. Everyboat needs to have enough linesmen (linespeople) onboard and an advisor to help with the process. Boats, large and small, cross the canal through the three sets of locks (one set on the Atlantic side and two closer to the Pacific)  and stopping at Gatun Lake for the night half way through. It takes about a day and a half to get from the Atlantic to the Pacific in this way.You are expected to feed (and house) your linesmen and so I will be making a big pot of spagetti bolognese to feed everyone on board and making sure everyone has a clean sheets to sleep on. 

When you are on a “small” boat like ours, you will probably be rafted to one or two other boats to go through the locks.The canal is wide enough for three sailboats side by side. You may be given an outside spot (ie alongside one of the towering walls) or an inside spot (ie between two other boats). We will not know until Sunday where our spot will be. We have rented lines ( you need very long lines) and tires for bumpers. We have our linesmen 'lined up' and we should be going in sometime Sunday evening. There are live webcams available, but I am told that a few of them might be out of order right now, but the Panama Canal has a link if you ever  want to have a look: It is impressive to watch some of the larger cargo ships go through. They take up the entire space in the locks ! We are excited to be going through this historical landmark (the canal turns 101 years old this year!) and to learn all about its history as we go. Of course we will share all this with you once we are on the other side ! 

Dog sleeping in Portebello

Colourful City Buses (retired school buses from USA which have been artfully decorated)

The Famed "Black Jesus" of Portebello


Mark walking along the wall of Portebello

Vultures in the morning garbage near the Marina 

What's left of the American Compound near Shelter Bay Marina 

Fort San Fernando

1 comment:

  1. Can you say Panamanian 5 times really fast? ;-)

    The branch the Osprey is on looks like another animal itself.

    Capybara ... yes, that comparison TOTALLY clears up what a Nyeke is :-) .... ummm ... what's a Capybara?

    Toucans and parrots! Ah mannnnnn ... that alone sucked me in. Seriously fabulous to see them in their natural environment not a zoo! That's so wonderful!

    Aweeee, Mark speaks monkey! That does not surprise me ;-)

    Ft San Fernando drew me in (the photo). In fact all of these photos were exquisite and entice one to contemplate the adventures available at Panama. I had no idea. Your photos are beautiful!

    The Panama crossing sounds so extraordinary as well! I hope you can capture many photos of the amazingness of going from Atlantic to Pacific. I'm relieved and excited that you & Meg were able to stay so the 4 of you together could make the journey.

    Looking forward to the next delightful blog and to monitoring the live webcams.

    Love from up north on another beautiful above zero day xoxo