’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.)
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.
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.)
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.
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 —
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.
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.
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.
New York City. March 2019