November 18, 2007

Today we had planned to go up to Gamboa, primarily to go birding on the famous Pipeline Road but also to see other things in the area. We got up fairly early, had a good breakfast, and chatted with the other guests. We asked Esteban about getting a taxi to go to Gamboa. He said it would be quite expensive, and told us how to walk down to the bus terminal at Plaza Cinco de Mayo.

So off we went. First we walked down three flights of steps to the road below, then past Mi Pueblito and along the busy Avenida de Los Mártires until we reached the bus terminal. Today being Sunday, the buses were perhaps less frequent. At the area signed for Gamboa we asked a bus driver, and he said the next bus went at 10 am but he could let us off after the bridge. We didn’t know what bridge he meant, hopefully not the Centennial Bridge, but one of the other passengers motioned for us to get on anyway.

The bus was pretty full and really hot, but once we were on our way the breeze from the open windows cooled us down. A lot of people got off at Albrook Airport, and then the bus did a loop through the town of Paraíso, where some people got off at the churches. Then it carried on towards Gamboa. Just before getting there it stopped outside the prison, where most of the remaining passengers—about twenty women and children—got off, leaving only us and a couple of others. Finally it crossed the one-lane bridge over the Rio Chagres and stopped just outside Gamboa. That was close enough for us.

By now the rain was coming down in buckets, but we were prepared this time. Donning our rain capes, we headed along the main street, avoiding the flooded sidewalks. Fortunately there were some maps posted there, and signs directing us to “Camino Del Oleoducto”, so we didn’t get lost. Down by the Smithsonian’s dock the road went off to the right. As we walked along a Gray-necked Wood-Rail crossed the road in front of us. Soon we came to a gate with cars parked outside it. The park attendant happened to be there, so he collected our fee ($3.50 each for foreigners) and we started wandering along it.

The vegetation was very lush and the trees very tall, so it was difficult at times to find the birds. But even though by now it was late in the morning, there were a lot of forest birds active, all of them new to us. It wasn’t long until a White-shouldered Tanager popped into sight, for example. We also saw a capuchin monkey crossing the road high in the tree branches and heard howler monkeys calling, although they must have been far away. We met up with some local birders who pointed out a few birds to us: a group of Collared Aracaris (great views, easy to see), a trogon (too far away to identify for us), and a tinamou (we didn’t see it).

The day was quite warm but luckily the rain had stopped. There were a few mosquitoes around, so we put on some insect repellent. We walked along the road for quite a while, stopping along the way to look at birds, flowers, and butterflies. There were quite a few Blue Morpho butterflies, which were incredibly beautiful and about 4” across. About 12:30 pm we saw an Amazon parrot sitting high up in a tree. At this point we decided to turn around and head back. On the way back we found our own trogon, a female Slaty-tailed Trogon which obligingly sat at eye level right at the side of the road while we photographed it.

We had just passed the park entrance when the park attendant came by in his truck and asked if we wanted a ride. So in we hopped. Where were we going? Gamboa, we said. Hotel? Okay, we said. He was assuming we were guests of the Gamboa Rainforest Resort. The security guard at the gate of the resort looked into the truck, then opened the gate and in we went. The resort is very beautiful and would make a very luxurious place to stay. We were a little hungry, but decided not to eat at the hotel restaurant. After admiring the view we headed back down to the gate, where the guard politely let us out.

On our walk back to the bus we stopped at the Christmas craft fair which we had seen advertised in the local tourist newspaper. It turned out to be not very good, but it did give us the chance to get something cold to drink. There was no bus waiting at the Gamboa turnaround, so we decided to start walking along the road to the Summit Botanical Garden and Zoo. There was a motmot beside the road, so we didn’t catch the bus as it went past. But we thought the zoo was only 3 km from Gamboa, so it should be just down the road.

Off we went walking down the road for a very long time. Each corner we came to, we thought we would see the sign for the zoo, but no sign was to be seen. But at least we saw a mother coati and her two young ones run across the road, and managed to get a photograph of them. There were also streams of leaf-cutter ants walking along the side of the road. Finally we decided to do the research, so we got out the national park map and found out that we still had quite a bit more than 3 km to walk. But at this point a young man named Martin slowed down and in English offered us a ride in his car. We gratefully accepted and rode the rest of the way to the zoo.

The zoo was still open, so we went to have a look at the Harpy Eagles. There were two of them, in a fairly large aviary. But of course it was nothing compared to an eagle’s normal home range, so perhaps not surprisingly there has been no successful breeding. The rest of the zoo was really sad with animals looking really stressed in their small cages. We headed out and across the road to the bus stop and had to wait half an hour before one came along.

Originally we were going to stop at the Miraflores Locks, but it was getting late so we decided not to go there. Instead we decided to go all the way back to La Estancia and phone for pizza. By the time we got back to Plaza Cinco de Mayo it was dark, so the walk back up the hill was a little nerve-wracking. But we made it safely and deposited our things in our room. We asked Esteban to call for us and order a Hawaiian pizza, then after a while we went downstairs to wait for it to arrive. It didn’t seem to take that long before the pizza delivery man drove up on his motorbike. We paid the bill, which was for a bit more money than we had expected, then went upstairs to eat. But upon opening the box we found that it wasn’t a Hawaiian pizza, it was half pepperoni and half vegetarian. Well, we were hungry so we decided to eat it anyway, thinking all the time that someone would be annoyed when they got our pizza.

A few minutes later another pizza arrived and Esteban went down to get it—and it was a Hawaiian pizza! We had eaten Esteban’s pizza. That was rather embarrassing, but Esteban was very nice about it and later said he enjoyed the Hawaiian pizza, which he had never had before.

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