Working Holiday (hold the holiday)

A marine invertebrate biologist in her natural habitat, the rocky intertidal.
Playa Venado at Veracruz, Panama.
Photo by Maryna Lesoway

Picture this: Reading week. Tropics. Panama.

You’re probably imagining sandy beaches, palm trees, dense forest, a canal. And if this were a regular trip, you would probably be right. But this is a field trip. And while a field trip for me does in fact mean a trip to the beach, it is one that involves wearing long pants and a long shirt, a big hat, dive boots, a cooler full of collecting gear, and being covered in mud. This is the fun part.

Field work also means finding funding to go to the field, stressing over getting permits, organizing equipment, going out with the tide, hoping you get what you are looking for and then spending more time in the lab to process everything than you do collecting it in the first place. This is slightly less fun.



Panama, a mystical and beautiful country. Acres of jungle slope over hills swallowing up roads and houses. The only possible termination of the vast and expansive milluex of flora and fauna is the ocean or the canal.  My hostel was a 3 story red house nestled to the side of a main road and as I slept, ate, worked and waked I could hear the incessant chatter of the jungle. Birds flying and calling, fruits dropping, leaves rustling and movements of whatever mysteries therein lay. The weather was insufferably hot. The air thick, as most air with 80% humidity often is. It was heaven and it was hell. I have never been so close to the equator, and I can certainly tell you my pale skin is not adapted for it.


Voy a Panama

There is a piece of sardine resting in the folds of my scarf. I found it for it lay just beneath my seeking nose. I dealt with it covertly, gently lifting the scarf up to my mouth and scooping up the piece of fish with my tongue, before sitting down in seat 24d on flight 2819 to Panama. If I already smell like fish and I haven’t even left the country, I can tell this is going to be an interesting trip.

This has been the first time in nearly two months that I have had extra time/brain cells to write.  Even now, I question whether I really do have my wits about me or not. It doesn’t really feel like it, but I reckon I don’t need to be fully functional until tomorrow 9 am, when we have our first (of many) meetings with the Supervisors.

So we are in Panama City to give a symposium to the Panamanian Ministry of Health (MINSA), the Gorgas Institute, and the University of Panama on the findings from our research in the Ngabe Bugle Comarca.  After 2 weeks in Panama, I will be going to Guatemala to help a fellow lab mate with her study and hopefully learn Spanish.

I am happy to be on this plane and now I can relax. Maybe soon I will begin to understand the concept of leaving to Central America for 2 months. What have I gotten myself into and why?!

I send love (You send money?) (Just kidding! …. kinda)


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