Friday, January 22, 2016

Weeks 2/3!

I am finally starting to get settled in! A lot has happened in the last two weeks, but I am finding myself more comfortable with my surroundings as more time goes by.

Last week I went with Max and Loraine (my neighbors) and my roommate Erin on a walk up to the top of Ancon Hill. It was beautiful and great to get a better view of the city and surrounding area! They told me that the Ancon area has the same name as the first ship that traveled through the Canal, the SS Ancon. Apparently they named each ship that entered from both sides of the canal after local landmarks, Ancon for the Pacific side and Cristobal for the Atlantic side.  Along the hike up, we watched for sloths and monkeys, because rumor has it a group of monkeys goes through there from time to time. We didn't find any of them, but we did spot a single sloth way up high in a tree off the path. We also made friends with a big group of toucans! I learned they usually hang out in small groups or pairs and call back and forth to each other, and their call sort of sounds like a frog croaking. At the top of the hill there is a Panamanian flag, and you can see the whole city and the canal locks. It was absolutely beautiful!

I tried to go back this weekend to get some more pictures, but I somehow missed the turn onto the path that I was supposed to take and ended up in a residential community (which was still pretty!). I got in a bit of trouble though when I went to take a picture of a row of palm trees that were all missing their tops. A police car was that was driving by as I snapped the picture stopped and called me over. They asked if I was an American and what I was doing there, and then told me that I couldn't take pictures of people's houses and that I would have to delete the photo. I didn't realize that there was a house in the background, and I think they may have been worried about someone taking photos in order to come back later and rob the place! They were very nice though, and sent me on my way once I deleted the picture.

I've also done some exploring in an attempt to locate the post office. I was given general directions by multiple people and had the location on google maps, but the app wouldn't give me an explicit route, and I was weary of having my phone out the entire way to track my progress in case it could make me a target for thieves. Making matters worse, many streets here aren't labeled with street signs, so most people give directions by land marks. I was told to go towards Ancon hill, but then go down hill when it splits, and then keep going until I see the biggest staircase of my entire life, go down it, and continue down the street lined with palms. Of course, now that I have found it, these directions make perfect sense, but at the time, they seemed rather ambiguous. I ended up going down the wrong hill through a small park and ending up on the wrong side of a highway. However, eventually I was able to make my way over to a safe corner to cross the street and up the "street lined with palms" to the post office. By this point it was about 5:30pm and they were closed, but I was still proud of myself for finding it. I was also very sweaty. When turned to begin the walk back, I discovered the Canal Administration building directly opposite with what were indeed the longest set of stairs of my entire life! It's a very pretty building and all the other buildings along the little patch of grass in front of it are also government buildings, making the area relatively safe. Many people were running up and down the stairs (I was in awe, as I was rather worn out just by walking from my dorm!), and some were sitting near a monument in front that provided shade. I have decided that this will be an ideal spot for me to relax with a good book on slow weekends.

Work has also been going well. At the start of last week I still hadn't ironed out all the details or gotten all the supplies I would need to start my project, so I spent some time in the field helping Dr. Altieri with his other projects. That was very interesting for me to see, because his work is basically pure ecology and all about leaving everything as it is and simply observing minute changes over time. I spent quite a few hours in the sun scraping barnacles and oysters off of cages that were protecting his plots from predators with a screwdriver, and it was oddly satisfying work. I also managed to get some great pictures of all the neat sea life that accumulated in the more protected areas--all kinds of super colorful sponges, flatworms, crabs, urchins, and snails! Later in the week I had the chance to meet with both Dr. Collin and Dr. Altieri to pin down the details of my barnacle experiment on the effects of rainfall on larvae recruitment, and yesterday I officially set up all my plates in the field to start collecting. Today I started watering, getting rather wet myself in the process! In addition, I presented my previous work at OSU on the functions of reproductive hormone receptors in corals and sea anemones to the rest of my lab, and that lead to some further brainstorming of small side projects I could do related to key concepts from that project, either looking at snail or barnacle reproductive cycles and the variables that affect their timing. I am excited to start planning something smaller on the side that I will have more say over the details of. It will be nice to have the freedom to conduct my own in-lab experiment--that's my comfort zone!

I have also gotten closer to my roommates here. Last weekend, Erin and I went to a free Jazz festival that was super neat! I didn't realize that jazz would have such a big influence here, but there was quite a turn out. We heard a big band from Detroit play alongside a Panamanian keyboardist and vocalist who sang in Spanish. During the show, they gave out lots of scholarships for local kids to come learn jazz at camps and high schools in the US. There were also a few stands selling crafts displaying lots of beautiful beadwork, woven masks, and tiny flutes!

I haven't decided yet how I will be spending all of this weekend. Tomorrow my roommates and some of their coworkers might go to a tapas place that has flamenco shows, so that should be fun! I would  also like to get into the city more and perhaps do some shopping or find a museum to visit. Or I may have some work to do still in order to plan out my new project ideas. Either way it should be good! More updates to come later! :)

Panama City from the top of Ancon Hill

Great view of the locks!

                "Towards Ancon Hill" and "Protect the animals"                    The flag at the top of the hill!

The Canal Administration building (and its infamous steps)

                                                  Some colorful sponges and a dead puffer fish found in the field!

             Three weeks of mud, blood, and sweat on the notebook.                         First watering day!

Erin and I at the Panama Jazz Festival :)

Friday, January 8, 2016

Week 1!

I've made it to Panama! And so far I am loving it!

I arrived in Panama City on Saturday evening, excited to meet three unknown roommates in my Smithsonian dorm. However, when I got there, no one was there, although there was evidence of roommates! I spent the next morning trying to build up the courage to go outside on my own and explore some of my surroundings, since I had assumed someone would be there to show me around my first few days. Luckily, as soon as I timidly stepped a few dozen feet away from la jaula, (the local name for my dorm building--it means "the cage" because of the bars on the windows for security, but it is actually pretty safe and cozy!), I ran in to the couple that I had sat next to on the plane the day before! It turns out the husband, Max, works at the Smithsonian too and they also live at la jaula. He and his wife have been incredibly kind to me, helping me figure out the STRI shuttle and navigate the slightly chaotic bus system to the grocery store and mall. I went with them to Albrook a few days ago, which is the largest mall in Latin America and is two bus stops away from my dorm. It has an entire grocery store inside it and a bus terminal attached to it. It's so big that the entrances have cute little animal names like tiger and rhino so you can remember what door you came in!

I have also seen tons of wildlife in the seven days I've been here. The first morning I woke up to a tamarin monkey in a tree right outside my window, and I have since seen giant iguanas, geckos, agoutis, toucans, and tons of other birds I have yet to be able to identify. I also saw three sloths yesterday in trees near my field site! I had told my lab assistant that I really wanted to see a sloth, and she told everyone else to help me find one while she took me the long way around to introduce me to the site, and before long an education worker was waving us over to three all cozied up near each other! It seems like most of the animals here are not nearly as afraid of people as the wildlife I am used to at home, which is great for getting a closer view.

My lab is also in a really beautiful place! The shuttle in to work goes over a causeway that was built with left over material from when they built the Panama Canal, and you can see all the ships coming and going from the canal all the time! My lab facility is on Naos Island, which only takes about 15 minutes to reach from my dorm. I haven't met my PI yet because she's away at a conference, but everyone else in my lab is very friendly, even if we don't always understand each other! :) Although I am still waiting on my PI to return to hash out more details, for now it sounds like my project will be looking at the effects of rainfall on the ability of barnacles to settle and stick to rocks in the intertidal zone, possibly using sprinklers to create artificial rainfall. I will get to spend lots of time in the field at Punta Culebra, which is a short walk away and also gorgeous. It is used by the Smithsonian for education so sometimes groups with kids come through and watch people working. From the patch of rocky beach I will be working at, I have a clear view of Panama City and the Bridge of the Americas connecting North and South America. I absolutely love it and I wish I could just hang out there for hours, but I guess if I'm doing field work I couldn't have a better place to do it!

Hopefully by next week I will meet my PI and have a more concrete research plan. I might also go in to the city with my roommates (two of them showed up after a few days! Still waiting on the third!) to check out a jazz club this weekend. Or maybe I'll stay in and finally unpack. I've been too busy marveling at everything outside.

More updates to come!

 Goodbye Portland, hello Panama!
 I wanted to take a classic shoes and carpet pic, but I sat down first and then got too lazy to stand back up...

 A neighboring door at la jaula

 Lots of vultures!

 The view on the ride in to work

 Panama Ciy, seen from Naos Island

 These guys are all over Punta Culebra.

 Heading down to the field!

 This is Amigo. He protects my room from bugs. We're buds.