One of the best things about being jet lagged, is that all of a sudden I know what it feels like to be a morning person. Stephen, of course, is super pleased by this.
So on Monday, we were quite literally up with the birds and decided that a it would be fun to go and watch the sunrise over the Pacific Ocean - Panama City being one of the few places in the Western Hemisphere where that's possible.
As it was, we didn't quite see it come up over the Pacific, because part of downtown was in the way. But it was still quite beautiful in its own way, with the buildings silhouetted against the lightening sky and seeing the dawn rays reflected off other surfaces.
Then back to the hotel for breakfast and getting ready to head off to our next base - Canopy Lodge in El Valle.
The driver from the Lodge picked us up mid-morning and then it was off on a drive through the countryside to reach El Valle. While we love seeing cities, it was a very interesting contrast the drive through the countryside and see quite literally how the other half live.
First though, we got to drive over the famous Bridge of the Americas, this time it was clear and provided us the first proper view of the canal itself. Suitably busy with plenty of shipping at various stages of loading, unloading, departing and arriving. A bit of a taste of what is to come later in the week.
Then through the countryside proper. There were quite a few villages and fair sized towns, some obviously quite prosperous, others less so. Building materials were obviously different than what we were used to (what with the rampant termites and very high humidity), but still I have a sneaking suspicion that the Gini coefficient is rather high. It was rather incongruous to see luxury oceanside villas advertised on billboards situated above what looked to be just one stage above a slum.
The countryside, however, was still beautiful and transitioned several times from standard tropical, to somewhat seemingly arid and deciduous and back to montane forests before we dipped back into the tropical valley where the lodge is housed.
The lodge might as well be a slice of heaven. Set back from the main road and designed in a very open, airy way with plenty of places to view the local wildlife.
The front of the main "living areas"
One of the viewing areas - overlooking the feeders (or as I misheard originally, the "cheater" area)
One of the banks of rooms - each with its own balcony.
And we arrived just in time for lunch. The first taste of what would be many lovely meals - nothing complex or contrived, but very wholesome, seasonal food cooked simply and served family style. After lunch we had a little bit to take it easy and were told someone would be with us around 3. So we unpacked quickly and headed back to the "cheater" area to watch the birds - we kept this eggcorn because it was totally cheating. So many beautiful birds in very close proximity to the viewing area.
See? Totally cheating.
Promptly at 3pm, a guide introduced himself and told us that he would be taking us out for our first birding walk! I had been fully expecting to have the afternoon "off", but this was quite a treat to hear we would be started on the wildlife viewing right away.
So we quickly dashed to the room to get booted, camera-ed and ready to go. Excited for what we might see. Our guide for the day (and indeed for the rest of our stay) was the lovely Eliecer. A better guide for a pair of complete newbies couldn't be imagined - he was very patient and did a great job of explaining exactly which direction we needed to be looking when. And our first day yielded some wonderful first viewings.
Before we were even out of the grounds, he had already pointed out a pair of basilisk lizards sunning themselves by the stream.
Walking down the road a little bit, spotting lots of birds here and there (many of which sadly I did not get good pictures of, but Stephen will soon do a recap of some of those), then up in the top of a tree, was our first sighting of a sloth!! A real live sloth!!
In motion no less!
Although not for very long.
After, we headed back into the waterfall area to see what we could see, crossing bridges over the waterfalls.
And then, Elicier quietly told us to look to the left, having set us his scope while we were ogling the waterfall. . .through it we saw an owl!
A mottled owl to be exact.
After exploring the waterfall area a little longer, he took us a bit further up the mountain to an area where he knew a certain kind of bird, tended to be - motmots. And we got to see two of the four resident in the area!
Before we knew it, it was starting to grow dark and then started to rain, so back to the lodge we headed, giving our new ponchos their first outing as well. Like most rain storms in the tropics, it went from sprinkles to all out downpour in a few minutes. Fortunately, we didn't have far to go.
Then Eliecer handed us our official Canopy Lodge checklist and walked us through officially marking off the birds and animals we'd seen. We were very grateful at this point for Eliecier's good memory because in all our excitement we hadn't really taken any notes while out. This was something we would start doing, though, just to help ground some of the birds in our memory.
After another tasty meal and getting to know some of the other guests (all quite serious birders), we were rather more tired than we realised and so made it an early bedtime. Our cabin was well apportioned with screened windows and doors allowing for the sweet night breeze to keep things cool.
It was at this point we realised that there is no such thing as quiet in the tropical evenings. Between the steady rush of the stream to the chirping of frogs, birds and insects, it took a little getting used to before we finally drifted off.