PCP-PIRE intern Justy Alicea ready to be lifted to the jungle canopy.
PCP-PIRE intern Justy Alicea ready to be lifted to the jungle canopy.

…Aaand we’re back!

After over a week in Panama, we are back in Gainesville, a little tanner and a little wiser. We learned a great deal on this trip and had a great time along the way. We were up at sunrise, worked as giant freighters passed up and down the canal all day and got to know Panama City and each other a little better.

We traveled all day Saturday, but we officially started the trip off on Sunday with a tour of the jungle canopy, where we saw iguanas,  monkeys and sloths, the group favorite. They were incredibly cute. We all wholeheartedly agreed we needed sloths in our lives. We then went to Punta Culebra, where we were able to get up close with local starfish, sea turtles, pelicans and rays.

The week itself was all work. We woke up and got ready to meet at 630 for breakfast, piled into a taxi van to the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) by 7, gathered equipment and field trucks, and drove to the canal. We were out in the field by 9. We’d spend all day digging, taking lunch around 12 and back at it until 3. Then we’d all jump back in the trucks covered in dirt and sweat and drive back to STRI to drop off our equipment, jump back in the taxi van, and be back at the hotel by 430. We’d all go shower and meet back up by 630 for dinner, where we’d go as a big group or break off into smaller groups depending on food preferences.  We hung out together after dinner and then be in bed in time to do it all over again the next day.

We found a lot of really nice fossils throughout the various localities we worked, from plants to sharks to horses and rhinos. It was intense, often heavy work. By noon the temperature was in the 80s-90s and if there was no breeze or cloud cover along the canal, fatigue set in quick. I almost learned the hard way that not even water is enough for dealing with that kind of heat and we kept electrolytic drinks handy at all times.

We ended the trip with a visit to the newly opened BioMuseo on Friday and a walk around the old Spanish ruins of Casco Viejo on Saturday. The small, modern museum was great. Highly interactive, artistic and informative, the museum had some well designed halls. The “Panama-rama” and the great biotic interchange halls were especially impressive and they left a sense of wonder and drama about the impact of this thin stretch of land connecting 2 continents on the world. It perfectly summed up the mark this trip left on all of us.