Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Panama!

Helen had been thinking about what to do for her big birthday for some time.   She settled on a trip to the Caribbean, moving from island to island, taking in for example Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola, St Lucia, if possible.

We soon discovered however that something like this isn't possible from the UK.  For starters if your trip involves Cuba any connection would have to be to and from the UK, which is nuts.  Similarly links across the Caribbean are informal, certainly the agents in the UK can't book any flight connections.

We looked and looked but were really struggling.  At one point we were booked on a birding tour of Jamaica, but couldn't get flights to connect us to anywhere else, in or out, other than via London or the USA.  Another option was to go to a different part of Central America and then connect from there to a Caribbean Island and this started to look more doable, especially with Copa Airlines in Panama expanding in-step with the expansion of the airport as more and more people look to connect between South America and the rest of the world without going via North America, something which has suddenly become more urgent it seems.

So cutting a long story a little shorter, we decided on our longest trip yet, first to Panama and then to the Dominican Republic (DR).   Mostly under our own steam but joining a birding tour into Darien in Panama and booking a birding-centric tour of the DR.

We planned our holiday using the field guide to the birds of Panama and the where to watch birds in Panama books, both of which are in need of an update, the 'where to' somewhat urgently it turns out.

The flight to Panama took us via Miami, no direct flights yet exist and our previous experiences of connecting via Madrid (see Costa Rica and Antarctica) meant that did't appeal at all.

So connect we did, burning nearly all of our three hour connection time waiting in line at immigration.

Anyway we did eventually board our flight with a healthy four minutes to spare before it shut and then on to Panama City where we arrived and checked in to our airport hotel.

The next morning we picked up our hire car (I hate renting cars in Central America!) and were persuaded to take the full insurance package, sat nav, etc.  We then drove to our first stop, the Metropolitan Park.   We didn't go straight there as the SatNav was at best unreliable and the streets are very poorly signposted but we did eventually piece it together sufficiently to arrive, de-car and start exploring.

This is a view of Panama City taken from with the park:


The park is remarkable being a literal oasis of rainforest on the edge of a bustling metropolis.  We loved it.   It's reasonable to get in, $10 for two tourists, the trails are well marked and it's full of birds, even mid-morning when we arrived.

It's also full of critters as you would expect of a rainforest:


The near 100% humidity and air temperature of over 30c were a shock to our Scottish acclimatised systems, so we carried lots of water.  It was still a struggle though as Helen still had bronchitis and sinusitis and I had the heavy 'Christmas' cold that had laid our extended family low.

We did enjoy what we saw though including the handsome Lineated Woodpecker:


Red-crowned Woodpecker:


Squirrel Cuckoo:


Tropical Kingbird:


A female Variable Seedeater:


Orange-chinned Parakeet:



At one point we were trying to track a bird through the understory, it was behaving like a flycatcher.   A group approach consisting of a local bird guide and three tourists who looked even less suited to the forest than we were feeling.   The guide helpfully identified the bird as the endemic Yellow-Green Tyrannulet:


We were very pleased to have added this national speciality to our list on the first day.

From the park we headed to our hotel, the Radisson Summit and checked in for a pretty long (by our standards) stay in the centre of the canal area of Panama.  On the way we stopped to look round our car, thinking we'd burst a tyre but it was just the really poor quality of the road and in fact everything was fine!

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