After our night transiting the canal, we woke to find ourselves anchored in Gatun Lake at sunrise this morning. This manmade body of water was created in 1913 when the Chagres River was dammed to direct water to one of the most important engineering projects of the modern world. Our vessel is the only one in the world that gets to complete the canal crossing in two segments.

Our expedition visited the Rain Forest Discovery Center, our first contact with nature. We could not have started our day better. In pangas, or local boats, we headed toward Gamboa across the lake. The transition gave us the opportunity to enjoy abundant snail kites, a pair of keel-billed toucans and wattled jacanas. Marvelous tamarin monkeys were the star of the day. These gracious little creatures have a limited geographic distribution; they inhabit Panama and a small corner of Colombia.

Tamarin monkeys represent one of five species of monkeys that we will potentially see in this Panama-Costa Rica journey. They are certainly one of the two most elusive. Tamarin monkeys form social groups that consists of two to nine individuals. The groups usually include a single breeding female, one or more adult males, and the young. Female Geoffroy’s tamarins usually give birth to twins. An adult member of the group, either a parent or another family member, carry the young tamarins on their backs.

In our visit to the Discovery Center, we enjoyed hiking the trails. Among other magnificent flora and fauna, we observed the broad-billed motmot, the golden-collared manakin and a three-toed sloth. Colorful white-necked jacobins are jewels of the area. Their wings beat over 1200 times per minute, and they can fly backward and forward in search of nectar to fuel their active behavior.

We returned to National Geographic Quest to enjoy lunch and a relaxing afternoon on the lake. The view of the sunset from the sundeck provided stunning scenery while we enjoyed drinks and tasted the famous ceviche. That moment set our mood as we started the second part of the Panama Canal transit. Whether you have experienced the transit before or if it is your first time, the sensations are always impressive. It is amazing to think that this construction began over a century ago; despite many limitations and challenges, the goal was accomplished.

We finished our first day of expedition by passing through the Pedro Miguel and Miraflores locks. What a great introduction to Panama – Costa Rica navigation as we finished crossing between the Caribbean and the Pacific.