Barro Colorado Island & Gatun Locks, Panama Canal
Early this morning the pastel colors of sunrise started unveiling an emerald-green tropical rain forest in front of us. The call of monkeys, toucans and parrots were telling us that something special was waiting for us at this location. National Geographic Sea Lion anchored in front of the island of Barro Colorado (BCI) in the middle of Gatun Lake; this was going to be the last outing of our trip and judging by the way the morning looked and sounded, it was going to be an unforgettable one.
One of the leading scientists of BCI came to have breakfast with us and talked about the importance of all the scientific research that has been done at the station for the last hundred years. The scientific approach of today’s visit was perfect, not only to enjoy walking through this forest but to better understand the struggles that researchers have to go through in order to understand the complexity of the tropical rain forest.
Some of us took Zodiac rides around island; as giant tankers disappeared in between the islets, the Zodiacs got lost in the several dozen bays and peninsulas of this island. Howler monkeys, toucans and different bird species were spotted and of course the guides were giving deep explanations of the ecosystem around us. The rest of us went for a hike in the extensive trail system of BCI. Walking among the giant trees we started discovering the tagged trees, plastic tubes, hidden cameras, mesh baskets and many other objects that are essential for understanding how things function in this complex and dynamic ecosystem.
Walking inside a rain forest is always interesting; finding the wildlife required a combination of patience, luck and good eyes, and today’s walk paid off! After a mile and a half of trail some birds started to show up and finally the monkeys approached our location; this troop had many juveniles and our guests enjoyed watching them take their first steps with the purpose of becoming experts on tree climbing.
As we continued on the trails one of our guests pointed at some strange formation on the side of a tree just about at eye level. It turned out to be an annulated tree boa. Not only it is difficult to find any snake in the wild but this species is so rare that none of our naturalists had seen one in the wild before.
The afternoon was spent on deck enjoying the Gatun Locks; we were lucky to be in front of the chamber and on the top of the first step of three we could finally see the Caribbean Ocean, our final destination.
As we finished the transit though the locks, almost immediately we started to spot herons, iguanas, hawks and egrets, but all the attention was drawn to a giant crocodile that was on a small beach by the river. We could not expect any less from such a great week; fun and surprises were found until the last minute.