The Panama Hat

Panama Hat

Picture of Pijipaja or panama hat (https://www.worldguide.eu/t5/Lifestyle-Events-Articles/All-you-have-to-know-about-Hats/ba-p/15386

Probably some of you know the Panama hat is hand-made in Ecuador, a traditional product that began in the 1600´s and was declared by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2012. The fibers of the leaves of the Panama hat plant (Carludovica palmata), are known as iraca, bellota or toquilla in Spanish. The young leaves of this plant are boiled, cut in narrow strips and bleached to get the pale color fibers used to weave the Panama hat.

Panama Plant Story

Leaf of the Panama hat plant (Carludovica palmata)

There are different versions of the story about why this Ecuadorian hat, also known as Jipijapas, took on the name of “Panama hat”, I am going to share just a few.

  • In the 1830`s and Spanish man, Miguel Alfaro, was the person who changed the industry of these hats. He established a plant in the town of Montecristi and organized a “system of production” with the intention of exporting the hats to Panama, and from there to the rest of the world.  By the 1850`s, with the California Gold Rush, the United States was a big buyer of these hats.
  • Another version says that in the 1880s, when the Panama Canal was under construction, with the famous Frenchman, Ferdinand de Lesseps, in charge of the revolutionary project, he and many of the workers of the Canal wore this hat.
Panama Hats at Panama Canal

Picture. Members of the technical commission with Ferdinand de Lesseps, in Panama, February 1880. http://www.pancanal.com/esp/photo/historicas/ingenier.jpg

  • Years later, in 1906, when the Panama Canal was under management by the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, president of the United States at that time, came to inspect the progress of the Panama Canal, he was wearing a black-banded straw hat, and a picture of him was taken and published.
Roosevelt Panama Canal

Picture. President Theodore Roosevelt siting down on the steam shovel, with his Panama hat, during the construction of the Panama Canal, 1906. http://www.czbrats.com/PicWk/picwk008.htm

 

Which one is the real cause of why the Panama hat goes by this name?   I do not know, any of them seem pretty likely to be accurate, but what is important is the history, and how valuable is to preserve it and share it.

If you want to learn more about the very interesting history of the “Panama hat” you can visit:  https://www.brentblack.com/pages/history.html

 

2016 Bird Retrospective

Birding Panama

Jabiru (Jabirumycteria) observed in the Chiriqui Grande area, Bocas del Toro lowlands.

Personally 2016 was a very exciting year. It brought me one of my “dream birds,” the Jabiru (Jabiru mycteria), which was another addition ro our Western Caribbean Slope Bird list. We ended 2016 with a total of 514 species, a very impressive number, and hopefully this new year will bring some more species to our list.

Some of you are probably wondering what is included in our Western Caribbean Slope Bird list.  Basically it is a compilation of all the birds we have seen in the province of Bocas del Toro and the neighboring area of the Chiriqui province, near the continental divide. Or more simply, the birds we have seen in the areas where we go with our guests for birding excursions.

The elusive Limpkin (Aramus guarauna), an uncommon species in this part of the country, was also a new addition for our list. I still remember, as if it was yesterday, how exited I got. Not many words would come out of my mouth, but enough to put everybody on the bird and enjoy the beauty of it. Do you remember Jennifer Wolcott? What a great birding day we had!

We also added another species that is very common in other parts of the country, but not in Bocas del Toro. In over a decade of birding in Bocas del Toro, we saw the Black-crowned Night-Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) for the first time.

Panama Birdwatching

Not a good picture, but a very happy moment of my first Black-crowned Night-Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) in Bocas del Toro, next to a Boat-billed Heron (Cochlearius cochlearius).

Here is the updated list of the Western Caribbean Slope which is also available on the website:  TBWCS117

Building a StoryBrand PodCast

StoryBrand is a great group of people who help business clarify their message. Donald Miller began the company some years ago as he learned how to simplify his own message.  I have been interested in his books and other products for some time.  I signed up for his newsletters, emails, etc. and watched as his company grew.

StoryBrand did grow and it offered a live workshop to help other companies clean up the information they offer to prospective clients.  Given our location, heading to Nashville for a live workshop wasn’t in the cards so I hoped they would offer an online workshop as they have done for other products.  They did.  Yet, I still didn’t discuss it directly with Jim and Jay.  I kept absorbing all the information the company put out publicly and incorporated it as best I could.

Fast forward to spring 2016.  It was time to update the website and I knew it really needed an overhaul.  StoryBrand offered the online workshop again so I talked to Jim and Jay about it.  We decided to make the investment.  As soon as I finished the school year with the kids I dug into the class.  Then I edited the website and edited it some more.  It was a challenging process, but absolutely worth every dollar and hour spent.

In December, J.J. Peterson gave me a call and we talked about how StoryBrand had made a difference for Tranquilo Bay Eco Adventure Lodge.  Now, to be fair, the numbers we discussed with regard to growth of our business are so much more so than just changing our messaging.  This has helped immensely, but 12 years in business, trade shows, work with groups, and increasing our available units has also had a significant impact.  The increase in individual travelers rather than groups or people booking through travel professionals is the number that ties most closely to our work with StoryBrand.  And I must say that the investment in the StoryBrand workshop has paid off more so than any of the other marketing related tools (SEO assistance, business listings, etc.) we have used in the past.

The Building a StoryBrand Podcast is live now.  Its feature guest is John Lowry who discusses negotiation skills with Donald Miller.  I learned a few new things to consider that I didn’t learn in law school or years practicing law – always a nice bonus.  The phone call between J.J. and me is at the end of the podcast.  Take a listen.  Look out for a sloth and a little bit of Van Halen.

Birding Isla Colon

Birding Bocas del ToroSome days ago, Natalia and I were visiting some friends on the neighboring island of Isla Colon (known also as Bocas Isla or, simply, Bocas). We got there after a bus trip from Panama City (and a short water taxi ride), so after 12 hours in a close quarters and some more hours performing as the walking dead, we knew there was an antidote to our situation, as always, go birding.  So we went! Nothing fancy, just on a road around the Y (la Y griega), and some short entrances to farms and pastures. The weather did not look very cooperative but, as we went out, everything started waking up, and so did the sun.

Hiking PanamaAs soon as we stepped out of the house, parrot couples and some small groups of parakeets started flying over.  Calls and sounds were everywhere:  a singing green and yellow “Red frog” (Oophaga pumilio), howling Howler Monkeys, a posing Roadside Hawk model.  We started to feel that this was not going to be a usual birding morning for us.  A group of five Masked Tityras with a Black-crowned Tityra couple, Bronze Hermit feeding four feet away from us, a female White-winged Becard and many migrants that were joining us like Blue and the Rose-breasted Grosbeaks. Prothonotary, Yellow, Mourning, Chesnut-sided Warblers, Northern Waterthrush, Gray Catbird, Baltimore Oriol, kept showing up in our binoculars.

Reptiles & Amphibians Bocas del ToroWe experienced sustained bird activity through the whole time we were birding without much variation. Different species of Flycatchers were calling and flirting around. We even had a coconut water drinker, a Black-cheeked Woodpecker.  A friendly Dusky Antbird couple entertained us with their sporadic appearances outside “their” thick clump of leaves.

BIrdwatching PanamaAll this and more we saw during one of the most intense mornings we ever experienced in that area. It is just another example of one of the beauties of birding, you have to be there to catch these good days because you never know when or where it is going to happen.

If you are interested in any more detail of our morning you can access : http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S32557965

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Exciting new specie for our Birdlist – Jabiru

The latest addition to our Western Caribbean Slope Birdlist, is a specie I have been hoping to see since I was a little girl. This bird is often seen in the nature documentaries of Latin American tropical birds, I am talking about the spectacular Jabiru (Jabiru mycteria).

Birding PanamaThe Jabiru is the biggest stork found in the Western Hemisphere. They can reach a hight of 131 cm (52 in) with a wingspan of 256 cm (102 in). It’s found from Mexico to Argentina. Besides its size, the best way to recognize this species is the entirely white plumage in flight with the bare black head and neck, and a pink or red ring around the lower part of the neck.

Panama BirdwatchingThe populations of this species in some countries of South and Central America are abundant, but the situation is completely different for countries like Panama, where the specie is vagrant. A vagrant species means the bird is hundreds of miles from its familiar territory, and that is what makes this observation a very special and exciting encounter.

Ayuama River

During the last week of October, Natalia and I had the opportunity to explore, with the kayaks, the Auyama River mouth.  Where the Auyama River pours it´s water into the Chiriqui Lagoon. Jay was going fishing  with a guest in the area, there was space for the kayaks, so we got some water, our cameras in a backpack, and we were ready to go.

Ayuama RiverThe boat ride was beautiful, the sun was helping to bring all the colors up, the breeze and the excitement to discover a new place, all were drawing a smile to our faces.

Birding by KayakWhen we got there, the tide was rising but it was still very low so we had to find our way over a sand bar, between dozens of logs covered in Neotropic Cormorants and some shorebirds like Ruddy Turnstones, Semi-palmeated Plover and sandpipers. Flying around we could see some Brown Pelicans and Royal Terns while we were getting into the river itself.

Ayuama River Kayaking

Once we got into the river, both sides were covered in Black Mangrove at the entrance and on the first hundred meters. Vegetation grew thicker as we were going up the river, and after enjoying a pair of Pied Puffbird, we heard an unknown sound so we stopped our kayaks and waited.  Just a few seconds after we began alert mode, a Boat-billed Heron flew from one side of the river to the other perching in a thick clump of branches and leaves.

Panama BirdingIt was time to start heading back to the boat, so we left it resting on it´s perch, and we headed out.   It felt like we needed more time to discover the wonders that the Auyama River holds, but for an introductory trip … we could not complain.  It was a wonderful morning surrounded by interesting birds in beautiful scenery.

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Panama Wildlife – Episode 7

Panama Wildlife Video

Wasps are insects that can bring mixed feelings, but having a close look at them, proves they are very interesting creatures. This video shows the way they take care of their offspring. By flapping their wings to reduce the temperature inside the nest, they protect the young inside the nest. Animals are not as dangerous as we night think. Respect and distance are the key to living in harmony with all the Earth’s creatures.

Birding Panama – Episode 10 – Berries

tanagerphotoDaniel collected a number of birds from Ramon & Natalia’s video collection that enjoy eating one specific berry.  Six species – one tree all within less than a minute.  We have planted many of these trees around Tranquilo Bay because the birds love them.  Enjoy.

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Women in Science

Gender bias?  Here in Panama, at Tranquilo Bay, not so much, but in many other parts of the world, yes.  When many people think of women in science they do not think of the same people who my daughter brings to her mind.  Why, well, we are blessed to live on a spot on this earth that brings many scientists to us.  And believe it or not, the majority of the scientists that we have met working here in Bocas del Toro, are women.

We welcome scientists from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute out to our place to study whatever it is they are studying.  We figure it helps science, we learn something and our kids have an opportunity to meet new scientists on a regular basis.

We have naturalist guides who are on site to work with our guests who have both studied different sciences and who teach us about biology, nature and many different types of science on a daily basis.

We have group leaders who are scientists or naturalists of some form that visit us on a regular basis.

We have a family member who studied ecology and is working with TIDE so that she might become a marine biologist one day.

Why this conversation?  Well, one of the scientists we met in October 2015 is also a National Geographic Photographer.  Clare Fiesler contacted us to see about working with us on a kayak circumnavigation of Isla Bastimentos while she was studying at STRI.  She and her buddy, Becca Skinner, used two portable Orukayaks to complete this expedition.  They stayed the first night with us.  Both of them have shared some details about their adventure on Nat Geo’s blog and Instagram account.

Since then, Clare suggested that a group of students from UNC Chapel Hill spend some time documenting Bocas del Toro and she kindly gave them our name.  The result is this award-winning multimedia website created by the students under the supervision of a great group of professors and coaches.  Clare was one of the coaches.

Bocas del Toro Documentary

Several years ago, Clare worked on a  project:  “Outnumbered:  Portraits of Women Scientists.”  She explains a bit about the project in this video.  You can also get more information here:  http://college.unc.edu/2014/11/12/outnumbered/.

Most recently Clare used words to explain in An Ecologist’s Guide to Writing Obituaries about the “death” of the Great Barrier Reef as well as obituaries as a genre.  We take writing very seriously around here as part of our school curriculum so when we find people who are skilled with this craft, we learn whatever we can from them.

My children have met a number of female scientists and a number of people named Clare, but only one female scientist named Clare.  So when I tell them that Clare is in Bocas del Toro working on another research project they immediately know to ask, “Mom, are you talking about the Clare that did the kayak project?”  They do this because to them, Clare isn’t the only female scientist they know so they have learned to identify her in a different way.  I wish that more people had the same perspective on life – we can work towards whatever interests us and it doesn’t need to fit a specific mold.  We can make it into what works for us.  Clare’s camera and her words are some of the tools she uses to expand people’s horizons and help tell people’s stories.  Many of those stories touch science in one way or another.

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