Monday, April 30, 2012

Being a tourist ain't half bad

I must have been seven when I first felt ashamed of the stereotype that people from the U.S.—tourists especially—are loud, ignorant, and rude. On school/choir/family trips I took to France and England in following years, I probably seemed stiff and shy because I was working so hard not to make a faux pas. I think I was more comfortable in France because I was proud of how good my French had become after years of class. Someone nearly fluent in a language they don't speak at home can't possibly be considered apathetic of other countries, right?

In that sense, Panamá sometimes strays outside of my comfort zone. Before coming here, I couldn't imagine living in a country (as an adult) without speaking the language. Every time I met someone in the U.S. who spoke Spanish and little else, I'd think about how isolated they must feel sometimes and that I simply must learn to speak their language. Nothing makes me feel more like I fit into the negative stereotypes for Americans than the fact that I don't speak Spanish. There's only so much I've been able to learn in 3 months given that all our classes are conducted in English.

Throwing all those worries aside, there's a reason people travel with cameras around their necks and only enough of the local tongue to stumble through purchasing souvenirs. It's FUN, and visiting a country is the fastest way to educate yourself. So, when the only fluent speaker of Spanish decided not to join the other students in the city to rent bikes at the Causeway this afternoon, I thought: what the hell. Today, we're truly tourists. We're not from here, our knowledge of the language is limited, and we're going into the city to do touristy things. So, I put on the "Balboa" tank I bought in Bocas del Toro, donned my white sunglasses, and stuck a pack of gum for later in the back pocket of my shorts. Sure enough, we had trouble finding taxi drivers who only slightly overcharged us, we had to ask questions of strangers a couple times, and we had as much fun as tourists seem to!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Last fall in Biochemistry, we had to use "iClicker" remotes to answer multiple-choice questions that showed we were present and understanding the material. Instead of being required to buy one, each student put down a deposit of twenty bucks to be able to use one for the semester. Imagine my dismay when I opened my pencil case in Panama and found my clicker still inside, unreturned! One brief email exchange later, I was reassured that I could return the clicker in May for a refund. However, since I spent spring break in Costa Rica with my parents, I entrusted them with the task of returning the clicker when we all parted ways yesterday morning. Below are some selected photos of the clicker's journey through Panama and Costa Rica protected by a plastic bag:

Sunrise over Gamboa

At a mangrove

Going to Barro Colorado Island

View from Arenal Observatory Lodge of the volcano

One of many beautiful designs made for us at The Common Cup

In all likelihood few biochemistry students remove clickers from their backpacks outdoors, but a rogue ecologist knows how to show some metal and plastic a good time.

Monday, March 12, 2012

This is one of the songs that will remind me of my time in Panama the most, but it's Puerto Rican. Probably a cultural fail on my part, but I love this song. Perfect to listen to in a car or at a beach!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Carnaval at Penonomé!

Our tropical biology course is now over, but two weekends back our TA negotiated giving us Saturday off so we could have more time to participate in Carnaval! Saturday morning, we stopped at a Sears-like 3-story supermarket. We were supposed to buy beds to sleep in because we weren't sure about the nature of our sleeping situation for the night, but instead we simply bought drinks and snacks. Here is an excerpt of an email about the experience that I sent to my eating club: "I was searching for champagne with the one other chick in the group who also speaks next to no Spanish, and we knew we were in the right place because we'd found sparkling cider and sparkling wine, but so far no champagne.

"Then, as I was scanning the bottom shelf at the end of an aisle, I spotted the word 'ANDRE.' The relief I felt was like seeing an old friend while on a hunt for the correct train in the subway station of an unfamiliar city; my dear friend Andre appeared unexpectedly and showed me exactly where to find the champagne we so desperately craved. We purchased a bottle for his troubles, plus a bottle of strawberry champagne from another company."

Next, we went to a lovely semi-natural pool. DM and I explored the creek aways downriver before returning to swim and take some great pictures with the group. Later, we went to a beach where we rented a little thatched roof that had 2 hammocks underneath. I read a little bit more of Absolute Beginners until a resort-promoting man came by and I eventually left. He decided I looked "smart and serious," which seems to be the only opinion of me a Panamanian ever offers! In this case, I think I looked so because I was focusing on trying to understand what he was saying in Spanish without participating too much in the conversation.

Later, we had dinner at some place in Penonomé that JL highly recommended, and I ate garlic chicken. I'm trying to eat as much garlic as possible, operating under the unproven theory that mosquitos will stay away if I build up enough garlic in my system. Later, we went to an eight-dollar outdoor concert. We had beds to sleep in, albeit only 2 for 5 girls!

The next morning we re-donned our almost-dry bathing suits and headed to Carnaval. The line was long and culminated in a thorough search of our persons for weapons, but admission was free and the streets were packed. On the Sunday of carnaval in Panamá, people throw water on anyone they see outside. If you find yourself drying off and want water thrown at you, raise your arms and shout "A-gua! A-gua!" I really enjoyed the music and joy of everyone around. Although if we'd been in Panama City for Carnaval, it would have been a disaster since we had enough trouble sticking together in that crowd as it was! At home, we returned to our projects in earnest. 

LC, me, and YL are soaked and happy at Carnaval!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Wonder, and Panama.

In his famous study conducted at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama and published in 1982, Terry Erwin estimated the existence of 30 million arthropod species on Earth—a factor of twenty greater than the working estimate at the time. His article on the subject is criminally short.

As of last year, scientists know of over 1.2 million eukaryotic species out of a predicted 8.7 million ± 1.3 million. Yes, these figures are the inspiration for the title of this blog, although I expect that fewer than half of my posts will have anything to do with biology. I hope to write in this blog of the wonder I find in many places, including but not limited to the talents and humor of others, the beauty of text, and the magic of stories.

For three weeks now, I have been studying with a semester abroad program at the aforementioned STRI. Panama is amazing, and I am far too lucky to be here. This will be a blog of my infatuation with Panama; I will either fall more deeply in love with this place or one day move on.