Our first month here in the Bocas del Toro archipelago has been a whirlwind of snorkel trips, nighttime bug catching, and excursions to various islands. It has been fascinating to be immersed in a culture so different from my own.

Last Saturday we presented our SWOT analysis projects; a plethora of information about the economic, social and environmental well-being of Bocas that we had accumulated through interviews with locals, business owners, and even the mayor!

After interviewing the owner’s daughter at Lili’s Café

Everything from coral reef and mangrove ecology to the interconnectedness of local and global environmental issues came together yesterday on our Tropical Coastal Ecology exam. While we were each solidifying and expressing our new found knowledge of the Bocas del Toro ecosystem, rain came down in torrents all around us with such ferocity that in the U.S. the storm might have been mistaken for a hurricane. It was hard to believe that just a few days before we had been snorkeling in the perfectly clear waters of Tranquilo Bay, identifying juvenile damselfish and nurse sharks. The juxtaposition of the calm Caribbean Sea and clear skies one day and the dense deciduous forest blown around by the storm the next is exactly what life is like in the tropical rainforest: diverse and unpredictable in the most exhilarating of ways. It’s mind blowing the extent of biodiversity that is right at our fingertips.

Our snorkel site

All of our excursions begin with a boat trip from Solarte to another location in the archipelago.

We spent a morning learning about  Afro-Caribbean culture in the town of Old Bank on Isla Bastimentos. This Afro-Caribbean cultural complex in Old Bank is fascinating given that Bocas del Toro is the center of the Pan Caribbean job market. We examined livelihood strategies in Old Bank with the technique of participant observation, which we had just discussed in our Environmental Policy class, fresh on our minds. Later that day we enjoyed sweet bread made by the woman pictured below.

During our free time we make trips into Bocas Town where we can get to know the community and do research for class using the WiFi in the park or at restaurants. One of our favorites is Be Nice/Nomade. The owner, Christina, loves hearing about our latest projects and is always willing to talk with us about Bocas or help us practice our Spanish. This is the classic Bocas Victorian waterfront view that we see as we pull into the dock.

My company at lunch

View from the walking path on Isla Solarte

I can safely say we’ve learned an incredible amount about tropical island ecology and the diversity of species found only at this gradient of latitude while also becoming immersed in the Ngobe and Afro-Caribbean culture present in the Bocas del Toro archipelago. Studying and living here in Panama has already given me a new perspective on the world I couldn’t have imagined previously. I can’t wait to see what the next two months have in store!