Panama (part 1)

During our final week at ICADS, we talked so much about how we only had a few more days to get through until our trip to Panama. Well, the day finally arrived when we packed up our things, said goodbye to our wonderful families in Curridabat, Costa Rica, and left at zero dark thirty for a small, remote airport. After filling out our paperwork to head to a new country, we loaded our plane barely big enough for all 10 of us, 2 pilots and 3 other people, and with no discussion of buckling seatbelts, turning off electronics, or safety talks, we headed down the runway.

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Let me tell you- Costa Rica is an incredible country when you’re on the ground but when you are in the air, you get a better sense of how beautiful the whole thing is. How lucky we are to be here. Though we reveled in the hundreds of variations of green, when we saw that blue, glistening water of the ocean around Panama, we could not have been more ready to jump out!

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We landed on a tiny airstrip, just off the water and after a 5 minute bus ride to our hotel, disembarked. We had finally arrived in Bocas del Toro, Panama. Unfortunately, my (and several others’) bag couldn’t come by air and so I was stuck with the same pair of comfy clothes all day, good for travel but not so conducive for jumping into the water off of the restaurant of our hotel. Instead, I settled for taking a nap in a hammock over the water. Actually two naps!

Our time in Bocas town was great and we were all ready for some time to relax. We were able to spend time by ourselves, skype our families when the internet worked and experience some of the coolest things in life. Our first full day was spent sleeping in past 8am, eating a delicious breakfast, swimming off of our hotel, venturing into town for some lunch and then relaxing at one of the most remote beaches to which I have ever been.

We took a cab after lunch and headed to Playa de Estrella, or Star Beach, for some much needed beach time. After driving on some not-so-great roads, our driver suddenly put the car in reverse and went back about 50 feet. It was only then that I saw what I had missed the first time: a beautiful, young male sloth!! I have recently realized that I have an unhealthy obsession and fascination with sloths. As soon as I saw him, I jumped out of the car and got down on my hands and knees for some up-close and personal bonding time. Luckily, it was all captured on film! J (Thanks, Izzy!)

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This moment is for sure in the top 10 coolest things/major events in my life. After spending a good 10-15 minutes on the ground, I was convinced to get up out of the middle of the road, get back into the vehicle and continue on to the beach. Let me tell you, it was worth it.

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The beach was so beautiful and we were the only ones there. I also had another life experience there: getting stung by a jellyfish. Although I never saw it, I definitely felt it. I didn’t pay it much attention while we were there mostly because I didn’t want to get out of the water. I also didn’t realize what a substantial sting it was. It was only after I got out of the shower and put on new clothes that I noticed how bad it was. After consulting with several people, including both of my professors and other professionals, they all agreed that it had been a jellyfish. And, here I am nearly 2 weeks later and I still have the giant mark from its stingers. I’m just hoping for a really cool scar! J

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That night after a delicious dinner in Bocas Town, the owner of the hotel took us and about 10 other people out on the boat to see one of the coolest things I have ever seen. This also goes in my top 10 experiences of my life. Bioluminescence. According to Wikipedia, “Bioluminescence is the production and emission of light by a living organism. Bioluminescence occurs widely in marine vertebrates and invertebrates, as well as in some fungi, microorganisms and terrestrial invertebrates. Bioluminescence is a form of chemiluminescence where light energy is released by a chemical reaction. Fireflies, anglerfish, and other creatures produce the chemicals luciferin (a pigment) and luciferase (an enzyme). The luciferin reacts with oxygen to create light.”  I wish that I had gotten pictures but even so, I am not convinced that they would have captured that moment properly. My camera is pretty cool but it’s not that cool! Here are so pictures I pulled of google just to give you a bit of an idea….

 I was admittedly apprehensive to jump into the dark water but after the first person jumped in and was in awe, I had to. I threw on my snorkel and barely had enough time to take off my cover-up. WOW. Just thinking back to that initial moment I can’t help but to smile. Picture this: you dive off of a boat into water as dark as the moonless sky, open your eyes and the wake from your body lights up like the stars. As you dive deeper, you look back to the surface and the area that has been disturbed by your movements is flashing like thousands of fireflies dancing in the depths of the ocean.

I wished that moment could last forever but unfortunately, I needed to breathe (darn) and so came back to the surface, gasping and trying to explain what happened while my friends all did the same. After some time, we loaded back into the boat and drove over to the shallow reefs where the whole thing was lighting up. What an incredible moment. I hope to be able to do that again sometime.

The next day, we met our new professor who would be with us for the next week and a half. I knew she was going to be great when she jumped right in the water with us and was down to hang out. We chilled around our hotel and did some light exploration of the various marine life below us. That was only the beginning of what was to come!

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