Today we travel. Destination: Panama City. To screen the insect collection of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. I am not exactly excited about being in a city, but a change of environment might do well. In the morning we pack, do the laundry (great facility at STRI, will be missed in less remote areas) and Danny screens a few hundreds of insects. Sarah tries to catch up with triaging and labelling all collections we will take with us as they still need screening. We also go netting near the crocodiles and enjoy our (for now last) plentiful lunch (will be missed in less remote areas as well). Packing our clothes (for a stay in the city and hopefully a weekend of pure relaxation on the Islands of San Blas) is quite a task and our strategies differ greatly.
Plenty of tubes with plenty of insects, to screen.
Nodding off on the Panama canal
After napping on the boat ride we are back at the dock of Gamboa where a taxi driver awaits us with Spanish his only language. Though he completely panics and stops off in the middle of the street when I dare to ask “Do you know the address where to bring us to?”, he does manage to get us to our hostel in Ancon, a neighborhood of Panama City.
The hosts seem friendly and show us around in the house. Due to a double booking, we are assigned a dorm room with 2 bunk beds which is privately for us. We are paying dorm tariff and don’t bother too much. However, a transparent sheet covering half of the width of the window is the degree of privacy we get, as well as an open window between our room and another dorm. There is a gap between the door and the floor in which one could easily slide a foot. This is going to be a romantic stay! We have a little office space though, with a view on trees.
Office with a view (ignore the cage-look alike)
In one of the (needless to say: shared) bathrooms there is a window with a curtain behind which another dorm room is to be found. I hope the guests there aren’t too curious about what’s behind their curtain. I smell cigarettes and the trash bins (including used toilet paper; toilets aren’t capable of digesting it) aren’t cleaned out for a few days (it’s 35 degrees). I really don’t mind getting dirty in the garden or the forest, but this kind of human dirtiness I absolutely dislike. Who doesn’t? For air conditioning we need to go ask the hosts downstairs to turn it on. Towels cost 2 dollars each and drinking water is to be bought as well (in little plastic bottles only). The walls are covered with policies and tariffs. We feel very welcome …
Probably not very wise to pull out the camera – quickly, Danny!
On our walk to “the city” we realize we look way too much like tourists. It is just so obvious. A little worried we walk along “Avenida Central” searching for a bank (closed) and food (as cheap as possible). We don’t feel safe and are even being warned by local people. It’s a bizar neighborhood, people are selling fruit and vegetables, cheap clothes, accessory and things one never really needs. There is loud music, people shout and comment. Our 8 lessons of Spanish were very good but clearly not enough to feel comfortable in situations like this. Vendors are watching films on overly large tv screens with an overly high volume, probably in an effort to compete against the neighbour’s volume.
For 5 dollars (for the 2 of us) we find a meal that tastes okay. A few hours later, intestinal flora object. So far our attempts to act as locals. Once we are back at our lovely hostel, we have some time to relax. In the hammock on the terrace on the top of the hostel house I read a book. The breeze feels so good, I can finally cool down from the tropical humidity and hard work on the island. I also enjoy the trees surrounding the hostel and thus preventing an absolute perfect view on the skyline of Panama City, which I find monstrously modern.
I don’t miss the heat production on Barro Colorado Island, but to be honest, I’d like to go back already. We had nature in all its glory. We suffered extremely but that’s what I’d prefer above the constant hum of traffic and noisy urbanity. I miss the peculiar sounds of the howler monkeys that silenced us and made us fantasize about the topics of their conversations. Now we are left with the barking of stray dogs who are snooping in the trash or sleeping in the heat, near the verge of dehydration. I miss the songs of the crickets and the tiny frog on the endless stairs to our house or the dining hall. I miss the constant discovery of flowers, birds and insects among the giant trees in the forest. I’d rather be afraid of a snake than that I wander in a foreign city, fearing people whose language I barely speak and who could rob me from stuff I actually don’t truly need. Honestly, I want to go back to the research island (already, we are here in the city for almost a week!). Quite some thoughts for an instant in a hammock.