We have had a very exciting, exhausting, and internet-less experience over the past 6 days! Now that we have internet again, we will get back to posting more updates from the field.
The participants arrived safe and sound to Panama City last Thursday accompanied by our Session B Mentor, Andrea Wolfe, and were met by the four in-country staff members (Jessica Viales Lopez – Co-Project Director, Alli Nolan – Co-Project Director, Emma Fredricks – Project Supervisor, Nuria Arbelo – Project Supervisor) in Panama. Together, we traveled to our hostel and tried to get to sleep early to be ready for the long journey to Isla Cañas the following day.
Friday morning meant hopping on the bus and settling in for the 6+ hours until we arrived in our first destination of the trip: Isla Cañas. As we arrived, we were met with a very different sight as compared to Session A. Instead of the calm tranquility and very few people, there were tons of people all waiting to cross in the pangas or little boats in order to get to the island. In addition, there was a big cow that looked to be in the line for the boats as well!
As the participants soon found out, they had arrived to Isla Cañas in time for the island’s annual celebration of their Virgen del Carmen, the saint that protects all fishermen. As Isla Cañas is a community where most people earn their living by fishing or digging for clams, the Virgen del Carmen is a very big deal and her celebration is especially important for the people on the island. As the participants crossed over to the island on the boat, the last group of participants realized that they were about to see something very unique: seeing a group of people try to get a cow across the water to the other side!
Local people tied the cow’s horns with ropes that were then held by people in the little boat. Questions ran through our mind: Would the cow get pulled into the boat? Would the people get hurt trying to move this cow into the boat? How are they even going to do this?! Much to all of our surprise, the cow, instead of getting into the boat as we had imagined, ended up going for a swim alongside the boat. A few minutes later, all of the participants had crossed and saw that the cow had also made it across successfully. While it was pretty surprising, it was quite an experience within the first 15 minutes of having arrived!
After arriving and getting settled in to the island, we met with Subteniente Julio Gonzalez and Cabo Benjamin Guevara, the two Policía Ecológica that would be guiding us throughout all of our activities on Isla Cañas. Together, they gave the group a talk about the different characteristics of the island – the population, the economy, the flora and fauna – as well as gave an introduction into the topic of sea turtle conservation. After the talk finished, we walked to dinner at the incredible Doña Victoria’s house, who prepared us a delicious homemade meal of rice, lentils, and chicken.
On the way back from dinner, the Subteniente picked up a crab to show us and explained how if they have a black top of their shell, no one eats them because they are too bitter. If they are purple, however, it’s all good to eat! While we didn’t eat any crab during our time, we did see hundreds of them everywhere we went!
After we got back to our house, we finished up the first day with a nightly meeting. Participants then headed to bed where they had some struggles and successes with their mosquito nets:
All in all, the participants had an eventful first evening in Isla Cañas and were ready for more on Saturday!