Planes, boats, and sorta kinda automobiles


’Getting there actually is part of the fun. If you’re a Crazy Birder, that is.’

Our chigger bites from our Guyana trip hadn’t even healed when we were off again, this time to Western Panama. (See ‘Nope. We didn’t drink the Kool-Aid’ and ‘Up in the air, Junior Birdman’ for hair-raising Guyanian adventures involving hitchhiking bugs and bullet ants.)

The first Panamanian Plane. De-icing outside, pre-birding inside

A few years ago we started traveling with this company whose motto is “seriously fun birding”. (Look out: plug coming.) And I’m happy to report Truth in Advertising: Field Guides takes both the birding and the fun, well, seriously. Of course, not everyone has the same idea when it comes to “fun”. Take the travel — please.

Our 4-wheel limo. Standing-room only, but with terrific air-conditioning

We’ve found that there seems to be an inverse correlation between gorgeous birds and efficient transportation. The countries with the best birds have, basically, the worst roads. (The teeth-rattling tarmac in Kenya comes to mind.) Or no roads to speak of. (Amazonian Brazil and Downcountry Guyana, I’m talking about you.)

No, our bags are not abandoned by the side of this extremely steep Panamanian road. (See ‘The Time We Left The Child by the Side of the Road’ for guilty details about another road, another time, and an actual abandonment)

Western Panama had roads. But, except for the Fortuna, which was paved and smooth and went over the Continental Divide (and along the sides of which we found most excellent bird life) the roads we saw on this trip were the kind you most definitely needed four-wheel drive (and nerves of steel) to navigate. To get to our first lodge, we went up (and up) to almost 6000 feet on a road so crazy-rocky that it took us over an hour to go two miles.

We reach our destination: the Totumas Cloudforest Lodge. Where the road smooths out at last (and I throw in another plug)

When we weren’t rattling our teeth and compressing our spines jouncing along in the backs of trucks, we were scrambling up and down muddy rocky trails. On foot. Here are a few highlights from the High Country —

Up at dawn. Then more up — and up and up — watching carefully for cowpats as well as Common Chlorospingus

The aforementioned Common Chlorospingus, none the worse for being shot from a rattling truck. We saw one pretty much every day, hence the “common”

If a tree doesn’t fall in the woods, will someone stand in front of it?

Guess who ate the bananas that were put out for the birds? (And maybe left a few of those cowpats?)

Enjoying a well-earned midday break

When we’d had our fill of rattling in trucks and scrambling on foot we commenced bouncing. In boats. See, after the Western Highlands, we descended to the Western Coastlands, specifically to an archipelago called Bocas del Toros. The way folks get around in this archipelago is by boat. Ours were small, bouncy boats. Pretty much the only time we weren’t bouncing was the day our boat had a clogged fuel line. Then it would bounce like crazy, then slap the water and stop.

Bounce/slap, bounce/slap. Each time it stopped, the enterprising First Mate (or Whatever He Was Called) would pump the fuel line to get us going again until he finally just yanked out this tube and blew on it till whatever was clogging it popped out. Sort of like performing the Heimlich Maneuver, only on a boat.

A boatload of birders, ourselves included, bounce-bruised butts forgotten after a great day out. Photo by Fab New Friend Barry Tillman

We used these boats every day, to get pretty much everywhere. (Except, of course, when we were hiking on muddy trails — birding locations always seem well-equipped with muddy trails.) One day we boated along a disused canal that had been dug to ship bananas.

Yes, we have no bananas. But we do have plenty of these beauteous banana-billed toucans. (Not their real name, which is Keel-billed Toucan, but what the heck)

Speaking of bananas, it looks like The Dude was glad to see me. Or maybe it was that toucan

On our last day we even took that same little boat (in the dark…in the rain…one unfortunate couple who had packed their raingear got soaked) to get to a teensy airport to fly to a slightly bigger airport then took a van to get to the big airport — where we Crazy Birders dispersed to fly to our respective homes to nurse our bug bites and sore spines so we can be ready to do it all over again.

What does a rock think about? I know we’re already thinking about our next birdy adventure

New York City. March 2019


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

8 thoughts on “Planes, boats, and sorta kinda automobiles

  1. Madeleine Szabo

    Alice, so impressed by your adventurous spirit! In my sunset years, I “think about”
    having to get up and down the flight of stairs to my second floor as an accomplishment. You two……words can’t express… wow.

    Love your blog!

    • Ah, Madeleine! Thank you for your comment — and your vote of confidence in my “adventurous spirit”. I have to admit that I wouldn’t be out there scrambling in the rocks and mud if it weren’t for that Whitmore I married (!) He is One Adventurous Dude!

  2. Ruth Meisenheimer

    Packing for these trips must be extra easy. I’ll stay home and watch the doves who get so twitterpated the warmer the weather gets?
    Hi, Alice and Wayne!

    • Hi and thank you for reading, dear Ruth! “Twitterpated” (!) Most excellent Bird Word, that. And yes, those trips are SO easy to pack for: drab unisex clothing, no makeup whatsoever, plus PLENTY of “gear” (bug spray, mostly).

  3. josypheen

    I have a feeling you need to visit New Zealand. They have amazing, interesting birds AND good roads. You still might get bitten by evil sand flies though…

I'd love to hear from you