I am in a small room, in the Southwestern corner of the CTPA (Center for Tropical Paleontology and Archeology) of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. It is about 9:30 in the morning, fairly early by all accounts, although it is fairly late compared to the 6 am morning necessitated for entering the field.
I woke at 7 today, as I fell out of unremembered dreams. I sleep on the bottom of a twin sized bunk bed, which my room mate and I pushed against the corner of the room, so that it lies between the windows. It wouldn’t be quite true to say that they let in a breeze, but when a storm begins one gravitates towards the screens to feel the touch of cooler air that reigns without.
The apartment is all windows, more or less. Wooden shutters fall in line after a series of screen, both of which one can open and close at leisure. We have the windows open always. Two rooms, connected by a communal bathroom, occupy the farthest edge of the apartment. The living and dining room blend into one another, as per open space design. Our furniture consists of two brown couches, a long mat of woven straw, and a wrought iron table with a matching set of chairs. The kitchen is snuggled in beside the dining area, separated by an island and overhead bookshelves. Having pulled our resources, and that of what has been left behind by past interns, our shelves are happily stocked with: novels and non-fiction readings; bananagrams and various card games; an assortment of snorkel gear; speakers and unclaimed cables; and four different bottles of drinks.
We have spent the better part of the past few days scrubbing down the inside of the refrigerator, our odd paring of dishes, the floors, and the unmentionable findings of the bathroom. It is summer in the tropics, and thus mold and mildew grow on everything if not cleaned and cared for right away.
Be that as it may, I am enchanted with my new home – both in regards to the apartment and the city itself. I have only been in Panama for a few days – less than three, actually – but I will provide my impressions thus far.
The world is humid and hot, as is to be expected of the tropics, but the words mean nothing against the feel of the air, thick as sweat, flowing over ones body and the sun, caught by the air, wrapped around ones arms and legs. The landscape, though urban, is marked with the attenuated touch of the tropics. In the eyes of another, the buildings may look old and run down, but such is the mark of the tropics – the climate eats away at the buildings, covers them in moss and greens, crumbles. The flora and fauna are the textbook ideals of a rainforest. Broad leafy trees overhead, birds of every color and size, animal calls from every direction – the land is never silent. I quickly learned that the squirrel of South America is an agouti – a rabbit sized rodent that looks like a miniature caybara. Sloths are indeed abundant, and yesterday on my hike to the top of Cerro Ancon, a walk up a hill to the natural preserve, I finally saw my first sloth and had an appropriate first sloth freakout yelpy dance.
Still to come is a visit to a few islands, field stations in the Caribbean, three weeks of camping on the peninsula, and a canopy crane among other things. Until then…