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.


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