A Fantastic Journey: Part 5

Barro Colorado Island

By Louie Celerier

Tuesday was another early starting day, 6:00 am to be exact, in order to get to Gamboa in time for the launch to Barro Colorado, the wildlife island refuge operated by the Smithsonian Institute in the middle of Gatun Lake. EcoCircuitos was, as always, right on time.
Barro Colorado is not for the casual tourist. This is a place for the study of insect, plant and animal life. Nevertheless, I wanted to go there and satisfy my curiosity about the place. I was fully rewarded, but the trip taxed my stamina. I had expected mild climbing and mostly even ground. This was not so. Much climbing and going steeply down was involved.
Arriving at the island around 8:30 am, we faced the first climb immediately. The dock was at the bottom of a very steep hill and the main building was quite a way up this hill. The steps I climbed rivaled anything in San Francisco, or so it seemed to me. Reaching the building with my lungs about to burst, I was faced with another set of stairs inside the building to go to the top floor. There, we were given complimentary coffee and, because they felt sorry for me, they let me have two delicious carimañolas left over from the staff breakfast, at no charge. After a short break, we were ushered to a conference room for a short lecture about what we were about to do and see. Some of it was above my comprehension, but several in the group were there to study and they really understood it all and could hardly wait to get started.
We left the building and immediately we were faced with a very steep climb into the forest. After climbing for a short, but difficult, time, we stopped because a group of howler monkeys had been spotted. They started howling when they saw us, but I don’t know who was making more noise, they with their howling, or I with my wheezing. The next series of climbs were more gradual and, because the naturalists in the group were involved in bird watching and plant admiration, I was able to rest a bit. Then, I broke from the group and climbed ahead until I came to a clearing with some crude benches. I picked the best of the lot and laid down to wait for the group. Thanks to this, I was fully refreshed when they caught up with me and I had no more trouble keeping up with the group from there on. Well, I lie a bit. The climbs were not as steep from there on and, after a while, we started to come down. Two and a half hours after starting our trek, we reached the main building again.
This time we were fed an excellent Panamanian lunch. After a short rest, we were again ushered into the conference room for a bit more information and to answer any questions we may have had. By then, our main subject of conversation were the many ticks and chiggers we had picked up during our hike. It  became a game to see who could spot ticks quicker running up our clothes. By 3:30 pm it was time to catch the staff boat taking workers getting off work back to the mainland at Gamboa.
EcoCircuitos met us at the dock and took us to the big and beautiful Gamboa resort for refreshments before heading back to our hotel. We ran into some classmates there and, as much as I try, I cannot remember who they were. Please forgive me and make allowances for old age. If you read this, please remind me who you were as the suspense is killing me.
While at the resort, we had a good, but short rain shower. Something they tell me is not uncommon for Gamboa, even in dry season as it was then. We left the resort driving a bit through what is left of the town of Gamboa and photographing a beautiful Guayacan tree in full yellow bloom. I kept thinking back how interesting it might have been to grow up in Gamboa, isolated from the rest of the world and with all that bountiful nature around. Not for the weak at heart, I bet. Kids that grew up there must have wonderful memories and tales to tell.
The remaining houses in Gamboa have been refurbished and look very good, as the photos will show. I guess the folks living there are still working for the dredging division, as I believe was the case in the past. Correct me if I am wrong. The place looked very clean and neat.
Finally, we headed for our hotel in the city under a misty rain, which cleared after leaving the Gamboa area. That night I dreamed about climbing stairs and mountains.

Every Monday we publish part of Louis Celerier’s mesmerizing tale of how he rediscovered the country of his childhood. Subscribe to this blog or follow us on Facebook to make sure not to miss anything! If you also have a story you would like to share with us, or if you are interested in taking a Fantastic Journey yourself, let us know in the comments or by email at marketing@ecocircuitos.com

Did you know the Shining Honeycreeper?

The Shining Honeycreeper is a small bird in the tanager family. It is found in the tropical New World in Central America from southern Mexico to Panama and northwest Colombia. It is sometimes considered to be conspecific with the Purple Hon eycreeper, but the two species breed sympatrically in eastern Panama and northwest Colombia.

This is a forest canopy species, but also occurs in forest edges and secondary growth. The female builds a shallow cup nest in a tree, and incubates the clutch of two eggs.
The Shining Honeycreeper is 10 cm long, weighs 11 g and has a long black decurved bill. The male is purple-blue with black wings, tail and throat, and bright yellow legs. The female has green upperparts, a greenish-blue head, buff throat and buff-streaked bluish underparts. The immature is similar to the female, but is greener on the head and breast.
For birding itineraries and day tours contact us at info@ecocircuitos.com

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45 places to go in 2012 – Panama No. 1

The New York Times
January 6, 2012

1. Panama
Go for the canal. Stay for everything else.

It’s been 12 years since Panama regained control of its canal, and the country’s economy is booming. Cranes stalk the skyline of the capital, Panama City, where high-rises sprout one after the next and immigrants arrive daily from around the world. Among those who have landed en masse in recent years are American expatriates and investors, who have banked on Panamanian real estate by building hotels and buying retirement homes. The passage of the United States-Panama free trade agreement in October is expected to accelerate this international exchange of people and dollars (the countries use the same currency).
Among the notable development projects is the Panama Canal itself, which is in the early stages of a multibillion-dollar expansion. The project will widen and deepen the existing canal and add two locks, doubling the canal’s cargo capacity. For those who want to see the waterway as it was originally designed, now is the time. The expansion is expected to be completed by 2014, the canal’s 100-year anniversary.

Other high-profile projects include the construction of three firsts: The Panamera, the first Waldorf Astoria hotel in Latin America (set to open in June 2012); the Trump Ocean Club, the region’s tallest building, which opened last summer; and Frank Gehry’s first Latin American design, the BioMuseo, a natural history museum scheduled to open in early 2013. Even Panama City’s famously dilapidated historic quarter, Casco Viejo, has been transformed. The neighborhood, a tangle of narrow streets, centuries-old houses and neo-colonial government buildings, was designated a Unesco World Heritage site in 1997 and is now a trendy arts district with galleries, coffeehouses, street musicians and some of the city’s most stylish restaurants and boutique hotels.

Across the isthmus, on Panama’s Caribbean coast, the Bocas del Toro archipelago has become a popular stop on the backpacker circuit, with snorkeling and zip lining by day and raucous night life after dark. FREDA MOON

BITS & PIECES – HISTORY OF PANAMA

Madden Dam and Lake Alajuela

By:  Luis R. Celerier
January 2012

The United States took over the task of construction of the Panama Canal on may 4, 1904, after quite a debate as to where would be the best site for this project, even after the French had already started construction in Panama. The U.S. considered five routes before deciding to continue the work the French had already begun. As you can see below, these routes included (1)through the narrowest point in Mexico, (2) through Nicaragua, (3) the French route through Panama, (4) a second route through Panama going roughly from the Gulf of San Blas to Chepo and (5), through Colombia using the Atrato River.

The French had considered several alternatives canal designs including their initial effort for a sea level canal and, later, on their second attempt, a locks canal. With greater engineering information, the U.S. abandoned the French design and proceeded with a locks design based on a large lake 85 feet above sea level. The French sea-level design suffered greatly from the large volume of excavation required and from flooding that would have occurred along the Chagres River. By constructing a dam (Gatun Dam) near the mouth of the Chagres, the combined effect of reducing excavation and mitigating flood impacts was achieved at the cost of constructing the locks.

The Panama Canal watershed is 1289 square miles drained by six major rivers of which the Chagres is the largest. Five major stream gages keep track of the flow from these rivers into Gatun Lake. These stream gage locations, shown in the map below, are: the Gatun River at CIENTO; the Boqueron River at PELUCA; the Pequeni River at CANDELARIA; the Chagres River at CHICO; the Trinidad River at EL CHORRO; and the Ciri Grande River at LOS CANONES.

Map: US Army Corps of Engineers

When the canal operations began in 1914, it became evident that, for water management purposes, another dam was needed. And it had to be above Gatun Lake. Thus, on October 13, 1931, construction on another dam was begun up the Chagres near the location of a little town called Alajuela. The dam was named Madden, after U.S. Congressman Martin B. Madden, Chair of the House Appropriations Committee, who played an important role in support of the project. The dam would not only help control the tremendous floods of the Chagres, but also hold water in reserve for periods when traffic through the canal was at its highest point. And additional benefit was the hydroelectric power it generated for use in the operation of the canal.

Madden Dam is located 250 feet above sea level and retains 29 million cubic feet of water. It was constructed by the engineering companies of W.E. Callahan and Peterson, Shirley & Gunther of Omaha for $4,047,407 (Note 1) which was a lot less than had been estimated by the Isthmian Canal Commission. The design and construction work was under the direction of E.S. Randolph, who stayed at the job site through out its construction. The contract was signed by General Burgess, who was the Governor of the Canal Zone at the time.

Madden Dam and what is now called Alajuela Lake. Photo by Panama Canal Co.

The resulting lake was called Madden Lake for many years but, eventually, this was changed to Alajuela Lake. This lake has a perimeter of 189 miles. The dam is 930 feet long and rises 220 feet from its foundation. Up to 893 persons, divided almost evenly between the contractor and the Canal Zone government, were employed during its peak construction period. Completion of the dam was accomplished on February 5, 1935, five months ahead of schedule and was hailed as another triumph of U.S. engineering in the history of the Canal. The Canal Zone government proceeded to build a concrete paved road 12-1/2 miles long connecting the new dam to the town of Summit.

Madden Dam shortly after completion. LIFE magazine.

Madden Dam is maintained and operated by the Panama Canal Authority. This large reserve of water has lived to its expectations providing water to (1) help maintain water levels necessary to operate the canal during the dry season, (2) control flooding of the Chagres and (3) providing hydroelectric power for the area.

Sources: Dr. Alonso Roy, M.D., Escritos Historicos de Panama; Timothy Davis, Sioux Falls Travel Examiner, 5-18-10;
Some History and Hydrology of the Panama Canal, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, June 2000; http://www.industcards.com/hydro-panama.htm

NOTE 1: Dr. Roy states that the contract for the dam was $4,047,407. However, industcards gives a figure of $$10.6 million.

Amigo de Panama!

Amigo de Panamá – Friend of Panama is an online training program for international travel agents. The expertise of travel agents on Panama as a product, is the number one priority “FRIEND OF PANAMA”.

Digital training through the Panama current information, provides access to the travel agent through advanced Internet, using technology.

This new model of training consists of brochures in digital format that serve as orientation guide and travel agent at the time of offering a trip to Panama.

For more information, please click here

25 years after extreme drought on BCI

from STRI

A new article by Kenneth Feeley from Florida International University, with STRI’s Stuart J. Davies, Rolando Perez and Stephen P. Hubbell and former staff scientist Robin B. Foster (now at the Field Museum, Chicago), was recently published as the cover article of the journal Ecology (April).

The article, entitled “Directional changes in the species composition of a tropical forest”, examines changes in the composition of tree species growing on Barro Colorado Island, Panama, R,P.
Feeley and colleagues show that over the past 25 years there has been a remarkably consistent and directional pattern of increasing abundances of drought-tolerant species at the expense of more drought-insensitive tree species. The cause(s) of this change remains uncertain, but the most likely culprits are either long-term changes in climate leading to reduced water availability (i.e., increasing temperatures and reduced rainfall), or alternatively the compositional changes may be the ongoing legacy of an extreme El Nino drought that occurred in the early 1980’s.

By investigating compositional changes, scientists increase not only their understanding of the ecology of tropical forests and their responses to large-scale disturbances, but also their ability to predict how future global change will impact some of the critical services provided by ecosystems as important as those of the Panama Canal watershed.
You may obtain the article from calderom@si.edu

Biomuseo celebrates Biodiversity day in Panama

The Biomuseo design by Frank Gehry  is currently under construction on the Amador Causeway, but it is already celebrating international Biodiversity day with an outdoor fair called “El Suelo Está Vivo” (The Soil is Alive) on Sunday, May 22 from 10.00AM to 4.00PM

Location:

Old Officers Club, Amador Causeway, Panama City, Panama.

For children from 2 to 99 years old will have many fun activities with which you will learn how you can support the natural cycles of nutrient recycling:

The secret life of ants
Take advantage of the recent rioting that scientists have discovered the Smithsonian about these extraordinary insects.

The worms that make soil
The Boys in the Chinese-Panamanian School will show us the work they do with composting worms.

Painted with colors of nature
… Literally. We use flowers, leaves and seeds instead of crayons.

Tales of bugs
With the storytellers of the Panamanian Red storytellers in our beloved Corotú.

Organic market
Where you all kinds of organic products: soaps, herbs, ointments, vegetables, ginger candy, chocolate, pastries, eggs and fertilizer from regions as Zapayal (Darien), Cuculo (Los Santos), the waggish (Veraguas). Darien will also have crafts Tuira region and Jaque.

What is all this fuss of organic?
If you do not know what all the fuss with the organic, do not miss our talks about where you explain how it relates to our biodiversity.

Have we broken the cornucopia? What is wrong with the way we produce food. – José Manuel Pérez (UNDP).
Time: 11:00 am and 2:00 pm

Organic, sustainable and local. – Eylon Israel (Coriander Red).
Time: 1:00 pm

The Museum
Finally, take the opportunity to visit Biomuseo construction, a unique opportunity to work in this class, and participate in our presentations to find out what you’ll find inside.  Even Brad Pitt and Al Gore are some personalities that already visited, what you are waiting for?

Biomuseo is the first building design by Frank Gehry in Latin America.

For more information:  http://www.biomuseopanama.org/

How the Isthmus of Panama changed the world

From STRI – Smithsonian Tropical Reserach Institute web.

The earth is not a solid or static mass. It is composed of segments — tectonic plates— that cover a shifting mantle. These plates have different movements. They crash into each other and separate, they slide and sink and emerge, forming mountain ranges such as the Andes and Rocky Mountains, oceans, major earthquakes and volcanoes, and bridges like the one that joins North and South America.

Before a large audience that far surpassed the capacity of the Tupper Center Auditorium of the Smithsonian in Panama, STRI geologist Anthony G. Coates explained how, twenty million years ago, the Isthmus of Panama began to emerge through the clashing and sliding of tectonic plates. Before this, Central America as we know it today was part of a volcanic peninsula, far from its current location.

With the emergence of the Isthmus of Panama, the planet experienced changes resulting in the current world order. For three million years, Panama has separated the oceans and joined two continents. It promoted the exchange of species between the Americas, enabling Amazonian fauna to colonize areas as far north as Mexico and creating the abundant tropical biodiversity we have today. It is responsible for the extensive development of coral reefs, initiated a new global ocean circulation pattern, contributed to the glaciation of the northern hemisphere, and changed the climate of the tropics. Because of the Isthmus, the winds that cross the Gulf Stream are warmed and Europe is spared from freezing over in the winter. It is even possible that the ancestors of the human race came down out of the trees because of climate change in Africa which was also a product of the emergence of the Isthmus.

Using videos, geological maps of the earth’s plates, sections of fossil sequences and rock-dating techniques, Coates amazed the public and students present with his description of how Panama’s geological past was reconstructed, as part of the celebrations commemorating a Century of Smithsonian Science in Panama, on Wednesday, April 27. The next Centennial talk, by Hermógenes Fernández-Marín, will be be held on May 25.

Stop Over Program in Panama

Tourism Authority of Panama teamed with Copa Airlines to launch a “Stop Over” program that provides Copa Airlines passengers in transit to other destinations the opportunities to stop in Panama City to get to know a bit of this amazing country. You can hike the Soberania National Park, visit the Old Quarters, explore the Panama Canal Museum and Miraflores locks, kayak the Panama Canal or just relax at one of the beautiful hotels that Panama offers. For more information contact your travel agency or info@ecocircuitos.com
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