Thursday, October 15, 2009

Camera trapped!

Story about me in National Geographic Adventure

Photograph by Christian Ziegler

Through the canal!

When you live on Barro Colorado Island, the Panama Canal is a big part of your every day existence. You commute to and from the office through the canal. You work in the canal. You swim in the canal after hot days, and party on a raft in the canal at night.

There are also a number of canal-related activities that you do repeatedly with your visitors like visiting the canal museum and having dinner at the restaurant that overlooks the locks. I've even been down into an emptied out lock while it was under maintenance, crawled back into the tunnels that feed water into the locks, and turned the handle to open a lock and let a ship through. However, until last week, I'd never actually gone through the canal!

Friends from Maine who are sailing to New Zealand invited me to join them on their canal transit as a line handler. Every boat going through the locks is required to have a captain and four line handlers, and they were one person short!

I actually had just gotten back from a week-long workshop in Santa Barbara, but on Monday morning, I got up early and took the bus to Colon. Nothing quite like sitting on an over air conditioned bus for two with an incredibly violent movie about Central American gang members killing one another being played at full blast. I met Gram, Jo, Bill and Zach at Shelter Bay Marina, which is near the old Fort Sherman base.

When I'd seen sail boats transiting the canal in the past, I'd always wondered why people who can afford a sail boat couldn't afford decent bumpers. What was up with all those tires?!?!? Turns out they are the official gear given to you by the Canal Authority (ACP) to use while going through the locks. Guess I shouldn't have been so snotty.
We had to wait a while before our pilot arrived and we could start towards the locks:

Gram, being the responsible individual that he is, worked to get the boat ready while

the rest of us relaxed and looked around at the boats waiting to go through the canal

the containers that have been offloaded and are waiting to go across the isthmus by train

and the impressive lightening storm, followed by gorgeous rainbow!

Then, it was off to the locks when our captain and our lock-mate:

Once we got to the locks, guys threw us ropes which we used to position the boat in the lock so it didn't move around when the water started to rise. Then, up we went. No photos of any of this, as we all had our hands full. I thought it would all seems a little scarier and out of control than it actually did. Up we went, through the three different locks, and out into Lake Gatun, where we had to anchor for the night, on the sketchiest mooring ever:

Gram did some fancy foot work and Bill did some impressive maneuvering to get us tied up to this thing in the pitch dark!

Gram and slept on hammocks up on deck (no mosquitoes!) which was great until the howler monkeys went off at 4:30 a.m. The morning was not very promising:

but it eventually cleared up enough to get to enjoy a bit of Lake Gatun!

Panama is expanding the canal, building a new, larger set of locks big enough for the new post-Panamax ships, and straightening the canal to make it easier to navigate, so there is a lot of construction going on.

This peninsula will soon be gone. . .

This used to be de Lesseps Island. A couple of howler and spider monkeys were stranded out here earlier this year, sitting miserably in a the one remaining tree.

This was the last boat we passed before we got to the Pedro Miguel and Miraflores locks and out into the Pacific

Welcome to the Pacific!

and good luck on your sail to New Zealand!

Sunday, July 19, 2009


I bought a car! It's red! Yup, that's pretty much it!

Saladino is dead!

Capuchins live a really long time--up to 40 years--so it isn't all that often that an adult in one of the groups that I study dies. In fact, of the 12 animals that I collared for my dissertation, all are still alive 5 years later. However, in a continuation of my bad luck with darting and radio-collars, the photo above is all that is left of Saladino, one of the males we collared in January. We could tell on Thursday afternoon that he had stopped moving, and so knew that either his collar had fallen off or he had died. Thursday is the end of our work week, and by the time we got back to BCI on Sunday morning, this is all that was left of him.

I was pretty impressed by how quickly the jungle did its thing, but I recently learned that it isn't at all abnormal for a dead animal to be nothing but bones in a matter of hours. But a few days ago, I came across a dead howler monkey hanging in a tree, looking like it had just fallen asleep. Three of the female capuchin monkeys were alarm calling at it, and then started poking it and pulling its tail. Eventually, they moved off, but when my friend Robert went back the next morning because he wanted the skull, there was nothing left but bones. Doesn't take long. . .

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Can you find the fer de lance?

Here's  the photo of the fer de lance that was outside the dorms yesterday.  A beautiful snake!

Monday, April 13, 2009

An unwelcome guest

This morning brought more excitement than I'm generally interested in before my coffee.  It came in the form of a 1 meter fer-de-lance (Bothrops asper) sunning himself (herself?) outside my room. Fer-de-lance are highly venomous and have the reputation for being quite aggressive.  Take a look here if you want nightmares:  
I'd only ever seen one, very small one on BCI before today, which I'm generally quite thankful for. I have to say that it was beautiful (hopefully I'll have tracked down some photos of it by tomorrow--I didn't have my camera nearby).  However, it posed an interesting conundrum:  what do you do with a very dangerous animal that is hanging out in an area where people in flip-flops and bare legs are walking at all times of day?  Most places in Panama, you'd just kill it, but that seems somewhat inappropriate in a nature reserve. .  .  So, do you behead the fer-de-lance on your front steps? or try to move it, and put the unlucky person who draws the short straw at risk as they try to move it?