Sunday, July 1, 2018

Day 3- Part 3: Gamboa Resort and Sloth Rescue Center

For 3 nights we stayed at the lush Gamboa Rainforest Resort After a day of hiking, we cooled off and relaxed in the pool and enjoyed beautiful views of the rainforest and mountains around the hotel.

Our guide Claudio, knowing we had several sloth enthusiasts in our group, arranged for us to visit the Sloth Rescue Center in Gamboa near our hotel, where injured and orphaned sloths are cared for. They’re such gentle creatures whose name fits their movements ..... even turtles are faster than sloths! And look at these faces - how can you not fall in love with a sloth?

Day 3-Part 2: Barro Colorado Hike

Vincente and Luiza, research assistants for the Smithsonian, guided us on a 2-hour hike on the trails used by the Smithsonian scientists for their research projects. We learned about the different projects being conducted in the rainforest and saw several sites set up with monitoring devices and collection screens. We even saw a scientist up in the trees! The hike was very steep in some spots, but well-worth the effort. Besides the amazing diversity of plant life and fungi, we spotted howler monkeys, an agouti, poison dart frogs, and several birds, including a trogan. We heard the call of a toucan, but it flew away before we could spot it. We marveled at the enormity of the trees, especially the ones with large buttress roots. We also saw walking palms and a variety of vines. It was a first-hand experience for us to see how everything is interconnected in ecosystems.

Vincent explains the importance of this seed pod

Lots of termite nests up in the trees

Collection screens set up in a research site

Vincente explaining about the walking palm

An agouti foraging in the forest

Spotting a trogan

Huge trees with buttress roots

Many varieties of vines with interesting adaptations. This one's leaves grow flattened on the tree.

So many things to observe and learn about

Spotted a poison dart frog on some rotting vegetation- no bigger than a nickel, these frogs are very tiny.

A howl monkey announces our arrival with his low throated howl.
Quotes from Our Group:

I was amazed to learn that ants poop 10 tons/day on Barro Colorado Island! Kathy G.

I was impressed that the ant poop had 4x the nitrogen content, 6x potassium, and 16x phosphorus. I think there is tremendous potential to use this as fertilizer for plants. Luiza H.

I was fascinated by the termite nests high up in the trees with tunnels running up the trunks of the trees. Page K.

Lovisa’s research on fig trees and fig wasps touches all the other living species - plants and animals in the forest. It’s interconnected to everything else. Carol C.

Kudos to the unsung hero that anchored all the cinder blocks on the trail, making the climb merely difficult rather than impossible! Frank G.

Pay attention to your sixth sense when you are hiking through the rainforest. If you feel you’re being watched, you probably are. John B.

Day 3- Part 1: Barro Colorado Island Smithsonian Tropical Research Station

Our day began with a boat ride to Barro Colorado Island in Gatun Lake, and the most intensely studied tropical forest in the world.

This is the largest forested island in the Panama Canal waterway, and has been administered by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute since 1923. Research projects on the island are providing valuable information about sustainability, interactions within ecosystems, and how changes in climate impact fragile ecosystems locally and globally. “Barro Colorado Island is to scientists as Disney World is to kids.”

More than 13,000 scientific articles have stemmed from research projects at this facility. You can read more about the research at BC STRI and its history at:

We met our guides, Vincente and Lovisa for a slide presentation on biodiversity followed by a  hike on the BC trails to observe and learn about the biodiversity and see sites in the forest where scientists are doing research. Lovisa is a doctoral student from Germany studying the relationship between figs and the fig wasp.

                                    Vincente and Lovisa

Quotes from our group:

I was impressed that since the facility opened in 1923, over 10,000 scientific articles have been published - Caroline B.

I was struck by how difficult it must have been to construct the trails - how the structures were built and blended into the terrain. - Scott C.

We appreciated interacting with the research associates who were our guides (Vincente and Lovisa). Their presentations prepared us visually and auditorially so we knew what to look for and listen for on our hike - JIm M. And Scott C.

Day 2- Part 4: Panama Canal

The trip to the Panama Canal at the Miraflores Lock was amazing. They have a visitor center and an observation deck where you can watch huge ships transiting the canal- an ideal view of one of mankind's most remarkable engineering wonders and good dose of the "E" in our STEM Expedition. Seeing the ships transit from the observation deck on land is much better in terms of the "big picture" than seeing it from the deck of a ship. We watched a huge ship enter the lock, guided by the "mules", vehicles on tracks that are "roped" to the ships. While we were there, we saw 2 ships go through the lock. Each takes about 30 minutes to lower/lift a ship in a lock 54 feet. Some of the large container ships pay $1 million to go through the canal. We watched a huge container ship approach thinking, "There is another $1 million dollars for Panama." The canal contributes significantly to the economy of Panama, not just in transit fees but all the other businesses that spring off the canal.

One of the most impressive aspects of the canal is how it is surrounded by undeveloped rain forest. The Canal depends on the rainforests and their surrounding watersheds for the water and thus they are protected by the Panamanian government.

Huge container ship approaching

Looking down into the lock

"Mules" on the tracks guiding the ship into the lock

Getting ready to lower the ship 

Made it through!

Here comes another one

We had a scrumptious lunch buffet on the 4th floor observation deck of the Miraflores Lock Visitor Center. It was our first time tasting Panama's delicious ceviche made from lime, red onion, cilantro, fish, shrimp, squid, and baby octopi.

Day 2- Part 3: The Biomuseo

The Biomuseo is a new one of a kind museum that recently opened in Panama City.  Designed by world renowned architect, Frank Gehry, the building itself is designed to tell the story of how the Isthmus of Panama rose from the sea uniting North and South America.

 The focus of the museum is biodiversity – all the vast variety of living organisms and biological systems on Earth. It includes diversity at many levels, from genes within species, to the species that have that make up ecosystems, to the ecosystems that together compose the global biosphere.

The museum displays are impressive and a major theme is the Great Interchange, the movement of species from South America into North America and vice versa, how they have changed through evolution, and how Panama continues to serve as a bridge between the continents today.

We were so privileged to have Dr. George Angehr give us a private tour of the Biomuseo. He is a staff scientist with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and the author of the Birds of Panama.  He was instrumental in designing many of the exhibits at the museum.We are looking forward to birding with him tomorrow.

 On the way out of the museum we caught a glimpse of the beautiful skyline of Panama City.

          Looking at the skyline of Panama City from the Biomuseo

Day 2- Part 2: The Owl Whisperer

After our visit with teachers at the Brader School, Principal Ileana Cote had a special surprise for us. She took us to her home, which has a sanctuary for injured or orphaned owls. Ileana has had a personal passion and interest in owls since a child, which led her to develop this sanctuary at her home to care for owls and release them back into the wild. She has up to 40 owls at a time with aviaries in her yard as well as special owl rooms in her home where the young owls are separated from older owls. She is considered an expert on owls and gives presentations to educate the public about owls.  It was such a privilege for us to be invited into her home to experience her joy and passion for these beautiful birds.

                          One of Ileana's beloved owls

                                 One of the owl's being cared for ny Ileana, the "Owl Whisperer".

                                               One of the "owl rooms" in the sanctuary at Ileana's house.

                                         Turns out Carol and I met Ileana through Project 2061 back in the late 1990's!

Day 2- Part 1: Visit to a Panamanian School

We started our day with a visit to the Brader School in Panama City. Brader is an innovative and prestigious K-12 private school led by an extraordinary, energetic, science-loving principal, Ileana Cotes (Most families send their children to private schools in Panama). We were warmly greeted by Ileana and given a tour of the school, starting with their butterfly garden which they had just finished.

  The teachers presented several projects they have done with their students. They are very into project based learning and use of technology. One elementary teacher shared her interdisciplinary project where the students had to design a sustainable school to scale and produce the model with a 3D printer. It was quite impressive! These students will be future designers of Leeds Platinum schools for sure!

We saw several of the classrooms and were pleased to see that students are engaged in issues of global significance, such as climate change. Science classes are taught in English up until 9th grade.

We enjoyed watching the students at recess in the courtyard where children are just like children everywhere! It was a wonderful opportunity to share ideas with the teachers and we found out that Page and Carol previously met Ileana through Project 2061 when Ileana led a Project 2061 Benchmarks for Science Literacy team from Panama. It’s a small world! Stay tuned for more postings. We are a bit behind due to internet access and exhaustion after a long day of exploring the wonders of Panama!