The Holiest of All Holidays

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Tybeesunrise

Sunrise on Tybee Island, Georgia

The holiest of all holidays are those
Kept by ourselves in silence and apart;
The secret anniversaries of the heart,
When the full river of feeling overflows;–
The happy days unclouded to their close;
The sudden joys that out of darkness start
As flames from ashes; swift desires that dart
Like swallows singing down each wind that blows!
White as the gleam of a receding sail,
White as a cloud that floats and fades in air,
White as the whitest lily on a stream,
These tender memories are;–a fairy tale
Of some enchanted land we know not where,
But lovely as a landscape in a dream.

~~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
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Parque Nacional Soberanía

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Soberaniavic

Looking for birds along the Pipeline Road . . .

We were supposed to head to Parque Nacional Soberanía the day after we exhausted ourselves hiking at  Parque Natural Metropolitano and then walking to Casco Viejo. Fortunately, we had to postpone our trip by a day because it was raining so hard. It gave us some much needed time to rest and we enjoyed an excellent meal of sushi and maracuyá sangria.

The next morning, we were up early and on our way to Soberanía with our guide, Miguel Ibarra (@nature_guide_panama on Instagram of Panama Road Trip Adventures. I highly recommend him!), one of the most accessible tropical rainforests in Panamá.

We hiked down the Pipeline Road, mostly in search of birds as the park is home to 525 species and holds the Guinness World Record for most species sighted in a day–nearly 400. I was lucky enough to be the first to spot a southern mealy amazon parrot perched high in a tree.

Soberaniamealyparrot

While one of the largest amazonian parrots at 15-17 inches length, the mealy parrot is rarely spotted except when flying.

I was fortunate enough to be able to grab a photo through Miguel’s telescope. My husband, Frank, was lucky enough to grab a shot of this anteater crossing the Pipeline Road:

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This anteater is one of 105 species of mammals in the park.

We also saw agoutis, caiman, and heard howler monkeys, among other things. But what I found truly interesting was the termites, which are essential to the rainforest biome.

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Miguel exposed part of the “termite highway” to show us the activity beneath.

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The “highway” runs the length of the tree.

Recent research has discovered that termites are actually modified roaches with the oldest fossils being found in the Lower Cretaceous period (145-99 million years ago!), which makes them the oldest social animals currently alive. Who knew?

These Central American termites is the second largest species in richness but less researched than the termites of Africa and Europe. In the rainforests, termites build large mounds, usually on trees. These termites are particularly adept at breaking down the cellulose from dead wood in the soil because they have the highest gut Ph in the world at more than 12. This makes it possible for the termites to explore the thick humus layers under tropical rainforest canopies. We also got to see the unique relationship between bees and ants, which nest near each other.

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This Psychotria elata is a plant native to Central and South America, which is slowly disappearing due to deforestation.

This striking flower is not actually a flower but bracts, or modified leaves. Tiny, star-shaped flowers will eventually grow from the center of the red leaves. The plant is also known as Hot Lips, Mick Jagger Lips, or, as Miguel updated it, Angelina Jolie Lips.

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Group photo with Miguel, Frank and myself, and our daughter, Griffin.

Did I say that we also saw lots of toucans and hummingbirds? Butterflies, frogs, and caterpillars? A dead caiman with a basilisk or Jesus lizard (because it can walk on water) resting on its exposed belly? A live caiman carrying a plastic grocery bag full of intestines?

We decided that day that if we just saw one unexpected thing (three that morning) each time we went out, it would be enough. Dayenu.

Casco Viejo

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A car left behind on the sea wall that borders the Cinta Costera. Casco Viejo can be seen across the bay in the center of the photo.

After wearing ourselves out hiking every trail in the Parque Natural Metropolitano, we decided to walk the Cinta Costera, a more than five mile linear park along the bay, to Casco Viejo, the second oldest city of Panama. The first, Panama Viejo, was destroyed by the pirate Henry Morgan in 1671. Casco Viejo was the main city in Panama until 1904 when the construction started on the canal and people began to move eastward.

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This frog sculpture is among the art that can be seen along the Cinta Costera.

 

We were starving and on the verge of heat exhaustion by the time we arrived so our first stop was an air-conditioned restaurant. We chose a Peruvian restaurant where we could try out the sea bass ceviche (wonderful) and I had a Peruvian seafood stew. Then we took a little time to explore the old town.

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A yet-to-be-restored building near the Plaza de Independencia.

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A statue of Mary and Jesus in the Catedral Metropolitano.

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One of the many stray cats that inhabit Casco Viejo.

Parque Natural Metropolitano

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Our first full day in Panama, we headed out early to hike in the Parque Natural Metropolitano. This more than 650-acre park protects vast expanses of tropical semideciduous forest within the Panama City limits. More than 250 bird species have been spotted here, and animals such as agouti, sloth, and tití monkeys can be seen as well as lots and lots of leafcutter ants.

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Getting to know the semideciduous tropical forest.

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So many new (to me) and interesting plants.

I found the history of the park interesting, as well. Not only was it the site of an important battle when the US invaded to oust Manuel Noriega (ironic considering he was in the employ of the United States for years), but it was also used during WWII as a testing and assembly plant for aircraft engines. You can still see many of the concrete structures slowly being subsumed by the forest.

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Sign when you reach the top of the hill.

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View of Panama City and Bay

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Another view of the city.

Costa Rica

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A red eye tree frog perches atop a bird of paradise.

Frank and I spent the past several weeks in Central America. The first two weeks were spent in Heredia, Costa Rica, where we attended the Tico Lingo language school and immersed ourselves in español for two weeks and six to eight hours a day.

We took advantage of the one weekend we had to tour the La Paz Waterfall Gardens where I met the tree frog. I also had the luck of seeing several butterflies emerging from their chrysalises:

CostaRicaButterfly

Because we were there during the rainy season, most of the day was spent in the rain. The advantage to that is that it made the fern-like trees of the rainforest seem otherworldly and almost primeval:

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Our first week of Spanish class was in an outdoor classroom. Fortunately, Heredia is at a high enough elevation (3,770 feet/1,150 meters) that the temperatures range from a low of 58º Fahrenheit/14.4º Celsius to a high of 80º Fahrenheit/26.6º Celsius the entire year. There’s no need for air conditioning or heating! Just make sure you bring an umbrella, particularly if you are going to be there between May and October.

CostaRicaticolingo

Next week: A change in elevation and climate as we head to Panama.

New Life After Death

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Guyon8

I no longer feel trapped
And no longer languor;
Nothing bothers me here
Because my heart
Is delivered from sadness
And pain.

Death was both my life
And the Foundation:
Seductive is the tyranny
Who torments,
Yet the soul can burst into honesty
In a moment.

I’m out of myself:
Happy place!
I found what I love;
And my love,
Although the most extreme,
Will not turn back.

~~Madame Guyon

(tr: Rev. Nancy C. James)