Day 33: The Cloud Forest. Sort of.

Trip Start Sep 02, 2007
Trip End Dec 25, 2007

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Flag of Panama  ,
Sunday, October 7, 2007

This was our last day in port in Panama and a shore excursion day for me. The excursion I'd signed up for was a hike up into the cloud forest, the highest elevation part of the rainforest where it was really wet and the most exotic plants grew, see some animals and take some pictures, and then hike down into a local craft market where people sold their handmade art. It was a long bus ride but my friend Liz was on the trip with me; she's a supergeek like me when it comes to Lord of the Rings and other related fantasies and we had a long fun talk about that, and also talked about a lot of more serious things in both of our lives. I hadn't really gotten to know her before this so it was a great chance to really talk, since the bus ride was like 2 hours.

Our first stop for gas, a bathroom, and to pick up our local guide-in-training, Manuel. Manuel is six years old and wants to show people around his home as a job in the future. He didn't speak much English so our original guide, Oscar, translated for him while he told us the story of the Native princess and her lover and how when she drowned in the river, she lay across the earth making the form of the mountains we were going up into and her lover jumped off after her, the arc of his leap forming a beautiful waterfall somewhere deep in those mountains. I looked out at the mountains and really could see the form of a woman's face and body, lying face up along the ridge. I should have taken a picture, but somehow didn't even think of it. The bathroom was actually in the craft market, so we got a sneak peek at what we were coming back to. I was pretty excited.

Next we went to a zoo, which was full of beautiful exotic animals intermixed with some domestic chickens, ducks, and even sheep. It was an interesting mix, to be sure. There were some incredible animals there that I had never seen, and some I still don't even know the names of. We hung out with the tapirs for a while, which oddly were each paired with a few domestic ducks for pen company. I met someone else from Australearn, and we had a good conversation while we wandered around the zoo. There were some really cool parrot enclosures, well I should say bird enclosures, because they were essentially two stories tall and had both parrots and ground-dwelling birds in them. Some of the parrots were talking a little bit, and some were just making a general racket. I watched a couple swinging in unison across the chain link, alternately gripping with their feet and their beaks. I could have watched the birds for a long time.

We visited the turtles and a pond full of goldfish, and took pictures of some really beautiful picturesque spots just scattered around the zoo that I'm pretty convinced should be on some jigsaw puzzle somewhere. There were ostriches, and some pretty cool heron-looking birds that turned out to be in a cage with a sloth. Some pretty strange cagemates in this place. The sloth was really cool; they're really cute actually. And there was a monkey that came right up to the cage to say hello and some boys who kept bringing her flowers. She ate them, of course, but they could have brought grass or something boring but they didn't, they chose flowers. Finally I couldn't resist feeding her too, and Liz and I took pictures of each other feeding the monkey. The boys were so cute with her, calling her "bonita" and talking to her the whole time. I got a great video of them giving her flowers.

Liz and I had gone all the way around the vaguely ring-shaped park and realized we'd missed the frogs, and went all the way back around. Oscar followed us; I guess we were the last ones. Turns out there was only one frog and you pretty much couldn't see him anyway. I felt really bad that we'd held up the whole excursion for that. Pretty soon we were all back on the bus and Manuel had brought a tiny iguana to show us. It was really little and really cute and incredibly green. Oscar brought it up and down the isle of the bus, we took pictures, and then we were on our way.

Ideas of the cloud forest were thwarted once again by ideas of lunch, and we stopped at a pretty little place along the road to eat. We had one fluent Spanish speaker among us, so it took us a very long time to order, compounded by the fact that what was on the menu wasn't actually what was available. I ended up with some garlic chicken thing that was REALLY good. It had those plantain chips things with it of course because everything in Panama has plantain things with it, and it had rice and beans and I ordered juice but it didn't come until everyone had already eaten. There was only one waitress there for the twenty of us plus the rest of the restaurant so I'm sure she was doing the best she could but we probably didn't get out of there in under two hours.

When we were finally on the road again, Oscar explained that of our two options for rainforest experience, one of them was a long hike back into some pools that were kind of nice to maybe swim in and one was a short walk into a waterfall that he knew we would find more interesting and would give us more time for the craft market. I think he thought the craft market was what we were all there for, but we were all there for the hike. We ended up going on the short walk of course, because that was all we had time for at this point. I asked Oscar specifically if we would see orchids; his words were "of course, you're in the rainforest there are always orchids." So we get out of the car and out on to this hike, the employees caution us about the suspension bridges and hand us all walking sticks. I'm starting to think this might be a hike after all, but it soon becomes clear that the walking sticks are a photo opportunity. There were some precarious stairs by some people's standards but not really by mine; the suspension bridges were incredible but certainly not scary. It was a nice, easy walk through some beautiful rainforest terrain, and I kept my eyes peeled for orchids.

It was probably ten minute's walk to the waterfall. It was beautiful, the walk and the waterfall both, but I've seen so many waterfalls that I was just not overwhelmed by it at all. There was this incredible blue butterfly there that was probably six inches or more across when it had its wings open. When it closed them it disappeared into the dirt because the underside of its wings was dark brown like the earth. It was really beautiful. The waterfall was nice, and someone took my picture in front of it, then I chased the butterfly around trying to get a picture and couldn't. The walk out was shorter than the walk in and just like that we were handing back our walking sticks and getting on the bus. I hadn't seen a single orchid. And believe me, I'd been really looking.

We were all sleeping on the way back, or trying to; I had a really hard time sleeping in that bus despite how tired I was and was really relieved to get back to the ship. Our arrival deadline was four o'clock; it was now almost five thirty and the ship was leaving at six. So we all rushed to get on the boat and then dispersed to dinner. I for one had dinner, shot the sunset, and went right to bed.
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randiandersen on

Re: orchids in Hilo
that sounds incredible! i'm so jealous! i'm in the rainforest for crying out loud and you're the one with the orchids! no fair! :)

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