Mid-Semester Break: Exploring Panama

Posted: November 14, 2013

Last week we had our mid-semester break, which allowed us to have new and fun experiences independently. We divided up into smaller groups; some people stayed in Bocas town to get SCUBA certified; others went to Santa Catalina on the Pacific coast of Panama to dive on Isla Coiba; one of us ventured to Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica to experience a new country; and the remaining group went up into the mountains of Boquete.

I spent the first day in Bocas, traveling to Bastimentos to go zip-lining through the canopy forest. It was amazing to soar through the forest and have time to relax in Bocas town before embarking on the three and a half hour winding-road bus ride up the mountains to Boquete the following day in order to meet up with some of the other students. Boquete is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen, and it was amazing to travel up in elevation since I have had few life experiences in the mountains, as I am from the flat, prairie landscape of Illinois.

While in Boquete we had a lot of time to have outdoor adventures! A few members of our group embarked on the twelve-hour, overnight hike up Volcán Barú to experience the sunrise at the top of the 14-kilometer high summit. We also lounged in natural hot springs, hiked in torrential downpours to see waterfalls, and went on a local coffee tour. One of the best experiences I have had so far was being able to swim in a river that cut through a small canyon in Boquete.

We enjoyed jumping off the canyon ledge into the narrow river beneath and letting the current move us downstream. It was really amazing to compare this unique landscape to the coral reef, open ocean, and mangroves where we have spent most of our time over the past seven weeks of our studies. Since I have been around solely freshwater my whole life, it was really satisfying to swim in this river while small minnows swam around me. After having these astounding, new experiences in Boquete, we traveled back to Bocas to reunite with our friends and make our way back to the Center.

While there were issues throughout the break like finding the right hostel, power outages in Bocas, or painfully long bus rides; I would say we all had a great time exploring somewhere new. The break also renewed our spirit to finish out the rest of the program. At this point we have acclimated to Bocas town, the extreme humidity, and for the most part, each others’ quirks. I look forward to the rest of our time here, especially the Directed Research projects we will be doing after we get through with one more hurdle: finals!