The natives are curious

White-faced Capuchin Monkey at Panama eco lodge.

Six months into the pause, the locals are wondering, where are all the people? Given there are only a few people around, I believe they might think they can take us.

I check on each of the cabanas every other day. So, when I walked up to the porch of cabana four and a chair was missing, I wondered where it had gone. The fire extinguisher was turned on its side and a walking stick was lying down directly in front of the French doors. I paused, had there been a storm in the night? No.

Looking over the side of the porch, I found the chair. Broken to pieces, but somehow still upright. Were the kids playing on this porch? Not sure, note to self, investigation necessary. 

After I turned on the air-conditioner in that cabana, I continued my walk around the others. I remembered a couple of things out of place at cabana eight, so I went over to check it out. As I approached, I heard something unusual out in the open area.

A barrel of monkeys! White-faced capuchins, to be exact. Looking at me with serious teenage angst, as I made my way up to the cabana. Hmm. Was it possible they were my vandals?

White-faced Capuchin Monkey at Bocas del Toro, Panama lodge.

The troop had been visiting cabanas five and six of late, staying mostly within the trees. A few brave individuals had decided to walk onto cabana five’s porch. Could it be the same rascals who had been on the porches of the other units? When I went up to the dining room, I asked Jim, Jay, and the kids if they thought a monkey could toss a chair off a cabana porch. Based upon what we had seen of late, the unanimous response was sure. What to do now?

The same day, we encountered a group of monkeys on the porch of cabana five. We shooed them away, but only over to cabana six. The next day, Scott scared a capuchin as he was trying to come into the dining room to pilfer a banana off the bar.  Inside the DMZ!

Something had to be done. We wanted to avoid “five little monkeys jumping on the bed.” We like watching monkeys, but we don’t want them on porches or attempting to enter any building, or God forbid, taking off with your binoculars, camera, or scope.  As much as they might enjoy these tools to spy on the other monkey tribes, we are sure you are not interested in donating them to the monkey cause. Nor do we want any of our guests waking up to this:

Monkey looking through glass directly at you.

In fairness, this monkey business had really started in January when we were placing bananas out for the birds on a feeder hanging off of the porch.  Many of our wildlife operators have asked for access to view and photograph the local birds directly from the porch.  Once the local monkeys found free food was available, they visited the bird feeder each day.  We knew we had to keep them off of the porch.  Scott quickly engineered a change to the bird feeders and put together a “monkey” feeder to keep them away from the porch and the bird feeders.  It worked, but only until it didn’t. 

We remembered a story about a similar problem some friend of ours had with monkeys entering one of their buildings and fighting with the other tribe they saw in the mirror. Their guests insisted that the local kids were tearing the place up, however, a game camera later confirmed it was indeed locals – just not humans.  So, they made a curtain and had guests close the curtain whenever they left the building. The reflection was no longer available.  No more troop skirmishes in the bathroom.

Our solution was along the same lines, but we are hoping it is temporary. Now all of our units have “curtains” over the porch windows and French doors. Thus, no reflections are available for the monkeys to wage war with the “visitors.” We also cleaned up the palm fronds and trimmed some of the trees near units, so our buildings were less accessible to our native friends.

It appears the problem is abating—limited signs of monkeys near our structures for a little over a week. Maybe we will install a distortion mirror nearby so they can “reflect” upon their behavior.

Distortion mirror photo

Outside of wanting to avoid broken glass, we need to avoid allowing the monkeys to make porches a regular part of their daily commute. They are wild animals and should be observed from afar, not quite so up close and personal as on your porch.

Many years ago, when we had just opened, a capuchin ran off with Jay’s glasses. It was a pet at a restaurant in town.  Jay went over to take a look at him and before he knew what happened, the monkey was up a tree bending his new toy in all directions.  The owner quickly responded by retrieving Jay’s freshly bent glasses and delivering a couple of cold beers for the trouble.

From Mentalfloss “Eleven Mischievous Facts about Capuchin Monkeys” by Rosemary Mosco:

“Professor Susan Perry of UCLA has been studying white-faced capuchins in the jungles of Costa Rica for 25 years. It’s grueling work, she says; “I’m always wet, chewed on, or stung.” But her hard work has paid off. She and her team have observed some amazing monkey business.

Capuchins often invent new behaviors—Dr. Perry calls them traditions—that spread through the group. One of them is, well, shoving your finger in someone else’s eye. Other traditions include sniffing each other’s hands and sucking on tails, fingers, and ears. Capuchins even bite a tuft of hair from another’s face and pass it around with their mouths. This might all be about reinforcing social bonds [PDF]. Just don’t try it with your coworkers.”

Monkeys have also been observed to do some pretty disgusting things.  They clean their feet with urine.  They great each other by sticking their fingers up each other’s noses.  Jim and Jay have stories to tell from construction days about how the monkeys would throw their own waste at passersby. Cute from afar, not so great where you want to pass some time. Thus, changing their behavior before it becomes a pattern is essential.

We want to avoid potential problems where the monkeys have become so accustomed to humans that they cause mischief as in some Costa Rican national parks. In any place where the monkeys are used to daily interactions with humans, they may approach visitors, grab or steal personal belongings, and in some cases, get aggressive. This can become a serious problem because there are shared risks in that humans are exposed to possible bites, and the animals have changed their natural behavior. Human interaction with monkeys can also spread illness such as a virus amongst the monkeys.  Better to leave each other alone and observe from a distance. At Tranquilo Bay, we like our wildlife wild!

As you can see in Tres’ video, watching them from afar is cool. Seeing them eat, jump, and move about the jungle is fun. We plan on keeping them off the buildings because, as we all remember, “George promised to be good. But it is easy for little monkeys to forget” (H. A. Ray, Curious George).

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:

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.





Bocas del Toro Documentary

We participated in a project with UNC Chapel Hill’s School of Media and Journalism students last month entitled Undercurrent.  The students divided up into five different pairs to work on the primary part of the video for each documentary.  Other students participated by taking 360 degree video, as reporters, graphic designers, etc.  All in all they spent a little over a week in and around the province of Bocas del Toro along with their coaches and professors.

Tranquilo Bay Documentary

The project launched last night.  The stories proceed in chapters which are five separate yet interrelated stories about Bocas del Toro.  Tranquilo Bay is Chapter Three, “Raising Up Wild.”  It was fun to be a part of this project and to have some good friends along for the ride.

The 360 degree footage they captured at Tranquilo Bay is pretty sweet.  It is best viewed on a mobile device that can be moved around to get to different parts of the video.

We are grateful to be a part of this process.  We are fortunate to have crossed paths with Claire Fieseler when she was at STRI in Bocas working with corals.  Anne Marie, Paris and Tegan along with the rest of the students and coaches did an amazing job.  I look forward to whatever they all continue to create.  Thanks guys!


Proud Moment

Yohany Miranda came to work at Tranquilo Bay in December 2005. She was around when we brought Boty home from the hospital. She had Boty speaking Spanish at age one.


After a period of a few years, Yohany decided she needed to try things out in the city. So she headed to Panama and got a job. With a commute of at least an hour and a half each direction, the job in Panama City wasn’t as fun as she thought it might be. So, she went back to Puerto Muelles to decide what to do.

We found out she was back at home without a job and asked her to come back to TB. She did.   After a period of time she confessed that she really wanted to go to university to get a degree. We told her to find an university that would allow her to take her classes online or to go on occasions to school rather than needed to attend in person each day. She found one.

We told her if she made an A or a B we would pay for the class. Needless to say she made only As and Bs.

Last Saturday Jim and I attended a graduation. Yohany graduated from college, with a degree in Tourism, in about four years. The entire time she was attending school she was working full-time for us. Jay, Jim and I along with the children and all of our staff could not be more proud of her. I cried at the graduation. I think I might have been the only person there that cried. We are so proud of her. She has worked so hard and developed into an amazing person over the eight plus years that we have known her.


We joke that we have already paid for our first college education, but really we have. Spending the time to work with an employee and help her grow into a better version of herself has been so rewarding to us. We are so grateful for who she is and who she is becoming and because of her we look forward to finding ways to help other employees in one way or another.

Congratulations Yohany! Enjoy your vacation because we can’t wait for you to get back to work.

Brothers and Friends

Stefanie and I were talking at dinner on Friday night about how much Scott and Patrick were alike. She sent me a few pictures of the boys that I put together here. We are pretty sure that they are going to be great friends.


[ Supplies: Ali Edwards and others from the kit: Bloom and Grow at Songbird Avenue. All proceeds from this kit go to benefit Autism Speaks. Word Art: Ali Edwards at Designer Digitals. Fonts: Official Ali’s hand from Creating Keepsakes, Century Gothic ]

Kindergarden Graduation

Tres and Scott graduated from Kindergarden today. They had an open house in the classroom for all of the employees to stop in and see what all they have done over the last year. It was impressive. Here is the puppet show that they put together as their graduation project. Pretty cool.

The Knot

The Knot Magazine has its annual 50 best honeymoon spots included in its national Spring Summer 2009 issue. Tranquilo Bay was featured in the section of 10 Best Bargains.

Bocas del Toro: Why? The archipelago is more quiet than Panama City and makes a great outpost for exploring nearby islands. Where to stay? Tranquilo Bay is a chic eco-lodge in the middle of a rainforest.

Check it out on news stands now!


Then and Now

I have been working on updating the website a little at a time since the first of the year. I noticed that the About Us page was a bit dated. Here is what has been on the page for about a year and a half now:


Here is what I have prepared to put on the site later this week:


Some things have changed and some have stayed the same. The same goes for everything around here. Our surroundings and the things that we love to share with our guests remain the same. We have added some different guides and our wonderful teacher. Jay and Stefanie had another child – Patrick. Scott, Tres and Boty continue to grow, learn and change. You can see hints of Tex and Fula in one of the pictures of Jim with the kids. It is hard to capture all that we are in one set of photos. I think that this one has done a pretty good job of it. We are all working towards keeping Tranquilo Bay the same – a little piece of paradise.

Panama Surprise

We were included in this month’s Coastal Living which went on the news stands earlier this week. The article is not yet available online so if you want to read it you need to go find a copy of the magazine. This one is much easier to come by than the Conde Nast Traveller as it originates in the USA. This is the first article we have seen which focuses specifically on Isla Bastimentos. Bastimentos is special in our archipelago since it is home to so much of Bastimentos National Marine Park. The author splits his time between La Loma Lodge and Tranquilo Bay. La Loma is a beautiful place on the other side of the island run by some friends of ours. Thanks to both Jeff and Shelley for their kind words and beautiful photos!


Conde Nast Traveller Photos Online

The photos from the article in the December 2008 issue of

Conde Nast Traveller
are now online. Conde Nast Traveller says that Panama is where to go in February. We personally believe that Panama is where to go any month of the year – however admittedly we are a bit biased.

You can access the


Photo One is of Punta Valiente. Punta Valiente is one of our favorite excursions. The trip to the indigenous village which is surrounded by exquisite nature is just amazing.

Photo number five shows Beau (Jim’s youngest brother) and Mary Katherine at the Zapatilla Cayes just after they got engaged. Perfect timing!

Photo number eight shows Gina (our teacher) walking down the stairs with Heather, a friend of hers. Heather works her in Bocas with the indigenous women.

Photo number nine shows two guys kayaking off of the Zapatilla Cayes. It is the perfect uninhabited Caribbean island.

Photo number ten is a Ngobe Bugle house in Punta Valiente.

And the

Panama Travel Guide
is here. For some reason the Panama Travel Guide has not been updated with the information from the article. The latest information with regard to the places in the article is found with the story which isn’t yet online. I will post once it makes it online.