The great thing about being in your 30s is that you (well at least I feel this way) can easily slip between the beer-chugging hostel scene and a nice hotel. I woke up on my sweat stained mattress in Carti, fully intending to stay another night (and perhaps get my own island) and I thought... I'M DONE. I have spent over half of this trip in hostels, and it has been fun. The easy company, spending $20 or less a night, it's a great thing. But once in awhile I need to be around a different crowd. I read about Canopy Tower a week ago in Lonely Planet, thinking I might check it out. Just an hour from Panama City, it's one of the best birdwatching spots in the world. Jimmy Carter, Martha Stewart, Angelina Jolie have all been here. It's been mentioned in National Geographic, Traveller magazine and a bunch of others. Not fancy, but in a fabulous setting in a tower in the forest.
I took a bus from Panama City, got off at an intersection and hiked up a hill for a mile or so thought the woods and came up to the green tower. Everyone said "you WALKED up the HILL?" because they all had taken a private taxi. This was a different crowd. I admired the amazing view from the roof and took a shower. This place has a feel of a scientific station, a hotel and a lounge. All the rooms open up to a big interior balcony and there is a library of nature books and birding magazines. The third floor is a lounge where you can sit on couches, lay in a hammock, eat, drink, read. I took the 3PM tour and was joined by Dianna and Eric, a couple from Bermuda, Rachel from England, Tony, an animal rehabilitation guy and pipers plover enthusiast and Larry, former cardiologist and hummingbird enthusiast. Our guide drove us out to an abandoned road in the forest. "better wear hiking boots and long pants!". When in fact it was just an easy stroll.. for me. Everyone had binoculars and I had to borrow some. Larry had the biggest camera I'd ever seen, he was a genuine bird paparazzi. His photos could be in National Geographic.
To me, all forest sounds kind of blur into one big soundtrack of random cheeps and chirps. Insects and birds sound similar to me. Not to these people! We heard another random chirp, and Tony or Larry would say "Oh, there's a flatbill over in that tree!" and we would all point our binoculars, and our guide would point a big telescope. Sure enough, a neon colored bird would be hiding in the leaves. Something I NEVER would have seen. Everyone busily jotted down the birds they saw in their own personal log books, and I happened to have my journal with me. This is what I saw:
Broadbill mot mot
bi colored antbird
white whiskered puffbird
scarlet rumped cacique
along with a literal RIVER of army ants, a river of leafcutters, termites and frogs. It was also the best smelling rainforest I'd ever been to. It was great to be around people who care so much about birds, their enthusiasm was so contageous. When I got back, I laid in the hammock and checked out "birding" magazine. Did you know that there is a world series of birding? It takes place in May, lasts 24 hours, you stand in a 17 foot circle and have to identify as many birds as you can in 24 hours. Last year it took place in New Jersey. (New Jersey??). Kirtland's warbler made the cover, and there was a whole article of what to do when a preditor comes to eat your baby chickadees. Just like Jimmy Carter, I love this place and it was a great random spur of the moment decision.
We sat down to a nice dinner of wine, salad, beef, potatoes, etc, etc. It was fabulous. After dinner we looked at Larry's photos on his computer and all clapped when he was done showing us. I have to get up at 6AM to not miss the morning feeding outside the observation deck. It was fun to be a birder for a day! Tomorrow I might finally go to Isla Grande.