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The Final Push

Doing all we can in the last two weeks

semi-overcast 85 °F

Our time in Panama is getting near the end. There is still so much to see, do, enjoy, learn, but shortly we'll be heading back home.

We took off for the jungle/rain forest for a three days/two night stay. What an experience! We arrived at the Cabanas Burbayar just before lunch on the 11th of August. The cabanas can handle 17 guests at a time, as we arrived six guest were leaving and we were going to be the only guests. Our guide, Justo, a Panama University grad with a degree in biology was chomping at the bit to get us into the jungle. After a typical lunch, rice, meat, fruit, juice, and water we headed out. Justo said the trip would only be 2.5 kilometers, he didn't mention six elevation changes in the humid, wet jungle. Four and half hours later we returned, soaked through from sweat, totaly exhausted. A very interesting hike, lots of birds, creepy crawlers, variety of plants and flowers. Lots of photographs.
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We collapsed into bed, after a cold water shower and an excellent meal. The dinner was served on a private observation platform that overlooked the rainforest. A very beautiful setting. No one had ever asked to eat on the platform before and the staff was very excited to do something new and different.

The next day we hung around the lodge and the near jungle areas. No more hikes. Lots of hummingbirds near the lodge, along with toucans, squirrel cuckoos, parrots and other jungle birds. This area is suppose to be a "birders" heaven. Two of the women that work at Burbayar made Kryss a custom mola with her business logo. A very unique item.
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We had another dinner on the platform overlooking the jungle and headed to our cabana to pack for our departure the next day. During the night it started raining, and then the thunder and the lightning started. The noise and light awakened us at about 1:30am. We sat on our porch, under the cover of the cabana roof and watched the show. Using a lightning timing device we photographed about a dozen great strikes, all off in the distance, lighting up the sky and the jungle. Then it happened...we saw a string of dots light up the sky, then they connected and just about knocked us off our chairs. The hair on my arms and back of the neck stood up, Kryss felt the hair on her neck move, and we both received some kind of temporary blindness in our eyes, the width of the lightning bolt. The strike was less than half a mile away, the attached picture is nothing like any other lightning strike we'd ever seen or photographed. It took about an hour before our eyes were seeing normally again. A totally new experience!
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We got back to Panama City, put our feet up for thirty minutes and then prepared for the arrival of my brother John and SIL Jean. We toured them around Panama City; visiting Casco Viejo, the fish market, the canal and other highlights of the area. To see both the Pacific side and the Caribbean side of Panama we went whale watching again in the Pearl Islands and visited Portobello and the San Blas Islands on the Carribbean side. They were able to witness the "diablo rojos", the red devil buses that move people all over Panama. And of course, shopping for Molas, the iconic symbol of the Kuna Indians and Panama.

The trip to the San Blas Islands was a "blast". The Kuna Yala Province has complete autonomy from the government of Panama. The Kuna's run their archipelago themselves. There are no fast food restaurants, no hotel chains, and not many tourists. Additionally, this is considered one of the last pristine island areas of the world. You can either fly in from Panama City or drive from Panama City. Each way has it's own plus and minuses. We drove because all the flights were booked. We stayed at Cabanas Kaunidup, a thirty minute boat ride from Canti town in the Kuna Yala. One of the travel books stated that these cabanas had a five star view with rustic accommodations. They weren't exaggerating. The views were like a postcard or a magazine cover, our cabana had dirt floors, sand every where, shared but private showers and banos. Three meals a day, lunch and dinner always included fresh fish, lobster, or shrimp. Snorkeling was great, lots of conch shells, sand dollars, fish, and cyrstal clear water. Setting aside the Boy Scout camp sleeping arrangements, the views, the food, the tours, and the new friends we met were all good. We'll return to the area, just not quite so "rustic".
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Tomorrow we head back to CONUS. Not totally ready, but it is time to go...
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Posted by rhislop 14:07 Archived in Panama Tagged islands sunsets caribbean panama pacific whale watching viejo pearl diablo san_blas cabañas casco burbayar rojos kaunidup Comments (0)

Whale Watching Panama

ask for Anne

sunny 85 °F

This was an incredible trip. Kryss and I have been whale watching in Newfoundland, Alaska, Hawaii, and in Costa Rica. Nothing in the way of quantity and activity has been like this experience. We saw more whales yesterday than we'd seen on all our previous trips combined. After the first ten, before 10:30 in the morning, we stopped counting.
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We left Panama City with three other whale watchers, a naturalist/guide (Anne), her husband/assistant (Otniel), and the boat captain (William). The forecast promised rain and there were a few clouds in the sky. The water was a little choppy but our able captain guided us on a relatively smooth course toward the Pearl Islands. The Pearl Islands are about 1.5 hours via boat, 40 miles, from Panama City. As we left Panama City on the horizon the skies became blue. Our guide spotted the first whale before we had reached the Pearl Islands. The excitement really started at that point. Everyone scanning the waters with camera in hand for a blow spout, a tail, or the gentle roll of the surfacing Southern Hemisphere Humpback whale.
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We learned from our guide that the whales in these waters come for two reasons; raising their new borns and reproduction. They don't eat while they are in this raising and breeding stage, losing almost a third of their body weight. The warm waters are very conducive for birthing and teaching the new borns. Over and over we saw mothers with their new born coming in and out of the water. The blow spouts were the tell tail warning that a whale was going to surface, but for how long and to what extent was always the question. Many times they would dip back into the water without making a display of their fluke (tail). One very unusual event happened early on, a whale laid his/her tail flat on the surface of the water and then hung down into the depths. For at least 15 minutes we observed this behavior. The professional crew kept the boat a safe distance way as we watched this cool event. Below is a picture of the "hanging fluke" and a type fluke shot.
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We cruised the Pearl Islands for about three hours capturing hundreds of various whale images. In the distant we saw four separate whales breach, coming staight out of the water and crashing down with a huge splash. Unfortunately, they were too far away for a photograph. The whales must have known it was lunch time since we didn't see any around the noon hour, so we headed into Isle Contadora for lunch. Transfering from our boat to the island water taxi I slipped and almost hit the water. Kryss grabbed me and I held onto the cameras. No problems. A refreshing lunch, with two bottles of water and a beer...ready to go again. On the island I spotted these flowers, don't know what they're called but I like the color. We also had time for a family shot!
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Reboarding our boat was uneventful and we headed back to the ocean for a quick snorkle/swim. Then back to the business of whale watching in Panama. As we were searching the horizon for whales, one came right under our boat and rolled onto his/her side to give us a look. The white underbelly and blue rippled waters gave a very surreal look to the photograph. Can you spot the eye? As we were leaving the Pearl's and heading back to Panama City another whale came right along side our boat and as if waving good bye stuck out his/her dorsal fin. Again, another beautiful turquoise color in the water.
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The ride back to Panama City looked like it might be a wet one. The skies started turning gray, fog and mist could be seen in the distance and the captain suggested that I might want to cover up my cameras. I heeded his advise and as soon as I did another whale popped up. I decided to risk a little rain; put on my rain shell to cover my camera if the rain started, and got out one camera. I'm glad I did, one last mammal to send us home. A small group of dolphins started playing in our wake, entertaining everyone with their jumps and fast moves.
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This was one fantastic trip. If you come to Panama and want to go whale watching, just remember whale watching panama and ask for Anne. I know we will.

PS. It never rained...yeah!

Posted by rhislop 13:08 Archived in Panama Tagged islands panama dolphins dolphin whale watching anne pearl whale_watching_panama isla_contadora Comments (0)

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