Waking up early is no easy task, and on the 25th of October, one could see many sleepy-eyed students ambling about our center in Bocas del Toro, Panama. Prepared to leave for our 4-day field trip, our team was advised to pack our snorkeling equipment for the Pacific Ocean. Unfortunately, the addition of our warmer clothes for the highlands of Boquete quickly added up to a heavy bag for me, as I trudged into the boat that would take us to the mainland.

Panama is home to a diverse range of environments, ranging from tropical evergreen rainforests to the cloud forests atop Volcan Baru. Connecting North and South America, Panama also has coasts on both the Atlantic and the Pacific Ocean. Since our center is located on the Caribbean side, SFS organizes a field trip every semester to the other coast, which presents us all with an opportunity to contextualize many of our marine studies. Combined with a trip to the highlands located in the Chiriqui province, the field trip included visits to local coffee farms and hikes through cloud forest environments. Needless to say, we were all very excited for the next few days.

The Pacific coast of Panama is where most of our local seafood is caught, and one could easily understand why it is so. Marine life is abundant and diverse here, and not nearly as over-exploited as the fish stocks around Bocas del Toro. While snorkeling in the Marine Protected Area, we immediately noticed bigger fish and the presence of higher-level trophic predators. The weather, to our dismay, wasn’t the best during our time in Boca Brava, but the short visit was well-completed with multiple dolphin sightings around our boat. We left for Boquete the next day, for the next leg of our journey.

Boquete presented a beautiful change in scenery to sandy beaches and coconut trees. Among the cloud forests was where I went on my first birding trip, and it was a trip that taught me more about birds than I have ever learnt in my entire life. Soon, the trip to the Finca dos Jefes [lit: Farm of Two Bosses] opened my eyes to the reality of the coffee industry. Most of the world’s coffee is often made with unsustainable environmental practices that lead to the destruction of ecosystems. Sadly, much of this coffee is also of poor quality, as we discovered in our tasting sessions afterward. With heavy, over-caffeinated hearts, we soon headed back to our hostel and packed to leave for the following day. The trip was shorter than we expected it to be, and time flew by for most of us.

The field trip was a success, if one had to describe it succinctly. The primary goal was to teach us about the different environments present in Panama and I believe that most of us discovered new interests or preferences. If anything, there is a good possibility that some of us might return to study these environments in the near future, and I’m fairly sure I will too.

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