I've been so busy lately, I haven't had time to post updates! So much has happened, but I'll try to keep it short.
Two weeks ago, I was able to make it out to Cinta Costera (the coastal strip) on the last day of Carnaval with my labmate Jaime to watch the closing parade, and that was really cool to get to see! I made friends with a guy in a crazy mask with jingle bells on his feet, and heard some cool music that was this awesome mix of Latin and jazz and something else slightly sinful that felt so Panamanian.
Last week we got two new roommates, Yenny from Columbia and Katie from Florida, and they're both really nice. On Saturday, Erin, Katie and I went out to the Biomuseo, which is this really striking building designed as a sort of landmark at the start of the Amador causeway which leads to Naos Island. The museum is loosely affiliated with STRI, and we went to listen to a talk given by Erin's lab manager on the paleoecology of the Isthmus of Panama. It was interesting to hear about and also neat to see the types of outreach they do with the community, as it was an open event to the public. After that, we joined a short tour of the architecture, only to get kicked out at closing time; (we'll have to come back and see the rest of the museum another time). So we started walking down Amador, which continues past Naos to two other islands, until we stopped for dinner at a pirate-themed restaurant near the end. It was a really pretty walk and good to finally get to see the entirety of.
This weekend was also packed. I am taking care of my PI's three rescue dogs for her this week, and Saturday was my first day of official duty. Thankfully, Katie was willing to come with me to play with doggies, because it turns out three is a lot to handle by myself! As soon as we opened the gate, the oldest one made a break for it in search of garbage to eat, and she took quite a bit of convincing to bring back. (She eventually rolled over and surrendered to belly rubs, just like my doggie at home does when she wants to be forgiven.) I'm going back to feed them twice a day this week, and will be bouncing around a lot between there, la jaula, and Naos. But it's worth it to get to snuggle their furry faces!
After feeding doggies bright and early yesterday morning, I met up with Cynthia and Jaime to take a day trip to Summit Zoo in Gamboa, which was super fun! It was my first time on a diablo rojo (aka chicken bus, according to Erin, although there were no chickens on my buses). The driver we had on the way back stopped in front of a random house and left the music blaring for about 20 minutes while he disappeared inside, before coming back and continuing on like nothing had happened, lol! The zoo was really cool to get to see too. It is a pretty big campus, but it wasn't too overcrowded with animals, and there was lots of space for people to have picnics and barbecues. I did get charged extra just for being a foreigner, but that seems common here. ("Panameno" and "estudiante" tickets were $1 while "extranjero" tickets were $5.) Apparently the zoo began as a botanical garden, so there were lots of neat tropical plants that are hard to find in other places, and all the animals there are Panamanian wildlife and mostly rescued from the illegal pet trade. They had a special museum-like exhibit with a talk about natural history and conservation in front of the Harpy eagle enclosure, which made it easy to learn about the bird's cultural significance. I''m hoping to get to go back to Gamboa another time to explore some more of the area and hear one of the STRI talks there.
Work is still going well. The data for my field experiment isn't looking super conclusive, but that was sort of expected. I am still working to improve the techniques used so that maybe down the road more studies could be done along a similar vein. I have developed a protocol that seems to be working pretty well for taking care of the barnacle larvae that we have kept in culture in the lab, so hopefully that will produce some helpful information on baseline growth rates for future students to compare to when doing experiments. When I am out in the field watering my plots, I get a lot of time to take in the scenery around me, which has been really nice. Last week, I found a live conch in a tidepool, and I also saw a heron up close! There have also been lots of vultures and hawks and tons of iguanas coming through to drink my water, and I even witnessed a mass dive feeding event of a bunch of seabirds just off the coast. (I think they were terns? It was pretty cool.) Cynthia and I also spotted a mama sloth and her baby walking along a fence to meet up with another sloth (which I assumed to be the father) while coming back from the field one day! It was the cutest moment of my life.
All this wildlife and introspective time in the field has led me to change my mind a little bit about city life. Before coming here, I always wanted to live for a period of time in the middle of a big city because it seemed exciting and full of freedom, but lately I've found that my favorite activities have been the small things that I get to do away from the bustle, like reading by the Administration building, walking down Amador, and hiking up Ancon hill. My roommates and I went to a cafe that is right down the road from la jaula for the first time last week, and it made me appreciate the comfort and convenience of coffee shops on campus at home all over again. While I do love the unpredictability of the city, I think I've realized that the freedom to come and go as I please without worrying about safety or daylight hours is more important to me than attractions or the number of people around. And while buses and taxis are not too inconvenient here, they do require money and planning, as opposed to just driving myself to the movies or walking to the store whenever I feel like it.
All that being said, I am still loving my experience here, and looking forward to more adventures before coming home next month!