And other wondrous sightings in western Panama
04/04/2007 - 04/10/2007
First, some photo highlights from Costa Rica´s Osa Peninsula.
And now for Panama. During the bus ride up to Panama´s western highlands and the agricultural town of Cerro Punta, it was almost possible to imagine ourselves somewhere in the Midwest, with dairy farms and vegetable fields all around us and contented cows grazing by the roadside.
OK, so not really. The horizon-dominating Volcan Baru was rather non-Midwestern, for starters, and the bromeliads clustered in moss-covered trees were definitely something you don´t see in Minnesota. Cerro Punta is part of Panama´s breadbasket, which produces the vast majority of the country´s vegetables, rice and milk. But it´s also the gateway to two spectacular cloud forests protected within the La Amistad and Volcan Baru National Parks.
And that brings us to the strange bird. Not any bird, but one that happens to share its name with the lodge we stayed at on the edge of the forest: Los Quetzales.
Sorry Jeanne, but it had to be said. We did, in fact, see a resplendent quetzal. Three of them actually, including a close-up of a nesting male and female. This may not be noteworthy to everyone, but quetzals are almost surreal-looking birds, with turquoise feathers, an unusually long tail and a brilliant red breast. They´re incredibly beautiful, hard to spot and the subject of a long-running commentary in which Geoff and his friend Jeanne have used rather unpleasant words to describe their frustration at not seeing any on a previous trip to Costa Rica.
Actually, the sighting was only one of our many highlights in western Panama. By sheer luck, we were able to spend a night in one of the lodge´s secluded two-story cabins in the cloud forest of La Amistad National Park, surrounded by lush green and so many hummingbirds they were literally buzzing around us. The next morning, we hiked along the Quetzal Trail through Volcan Baru park to the town of Boquete. No luck with the birds this time, though we did see some spectacular scenery, trees and flowers, like this one:
Once in Boquete, we spent Easter weekend at La Montana y El Valle, a very pretty coffee estate overlooking the town and Volcan Baru. During our stay, we were spoiled rotten by Jane and Barry, the wonderfully attentive owners, with fresh flowers, roasted coffee and orange juice every morning - all of it grown on their own property. We not only had one of our very best dinners there, but also did some of our most productive birdwatching from the back porch of our bungalow, sipping Chardonnay and eating smoked salmon. Um, not exactly roughing it. But communing with nature all the same.
On Good Friday in Boquete, we also took part in a fascinating and moving procession in which several floats and portable altars were led through the streets by altar boys, drummers and a priest along a route that passed the 12 stations of the cross. Here´s one of the floats, which depicts Christ in a glass coffin guarded by angels:
We´re now in Bocas del Toro, an archipelago of islands on the Caribbean side of Panama. Apart from our first huge thunderstorm of the trip, we´ve lazed on a nearly pristine beach and had another bizarre nature sighting: a tree sloth with baby in tow moving slowly along a tree branch. What made it memorable, and sad, was the fact that it was pointed out by a group of small boys standing atop the blue-tiled tombstone of someone´s grandmother in the local cemetery, each boy trying to hit the sloth with their slingshots.
Fortunately, their aim was a bit off. Tomorrow, we go snorkeling in a national marine park - and are hoping that the wildlife there will be far less disturbed.