Isla Colona, Bocas del Toro by Caitlyn Costa

To get to the ITEC Biological Field Station where the fieldwork for our study abroad program was to take place, the main method of travel is by boat. In fact, the main method of travel in Bocas del Toro seems to be via boat. In Bocas del Toro, a province of Panama off the Caribbean coast, water taxis are ubiquitous, and you can’t forget that you are on an island within a bigger island. The pace is slower there, and flip flops buffer the soles of inhabitants’ feet, and the ocean seems to be an integrated part of the culture. When our group arrived at the field station, we were in for a bit of a rude awakening. In the tropical rainforest, it typically rains almost every day during the wetter season (from about April to December). Within minutes of our sweaty arrival, after trailing luggage uphill through a picturesque cow pasture, we were told that the area was experiencing a drought, and water supply at ITEC was dangerously low. Panama City and a hotel room with air conditioning served as a transition state between our cushy American comforts and the reality of living off the grid in the tropical rainforest. Gone was the possibility of a shower, the magic of modern plumbing systems, internet, insect control, and A.C. There was definitely an adjustment period. On the phone one night with my father, in the couple hours of the evening where the WiFi was turned on (ostensibly for studying and calling loved ones), I regaled him with details of my experience thus far living in the rainforest. He reminded me that adaptability to change is key, and that difficult experiences make you a stronger person. His wisdom guided the rest of my time at the field station; whenever I wanted to complain about the heat or being unable to talk to my friends and family, I recalled that phone call. After the initial adjustment, I focused on the exciting aspects – and there were many. The proximity to both the rainforest and the beach gave us ample time for exploration: we caught poison dart frogs, saw snakes and sloths, and snorkeled meters away from great barracudas and Southern stingrays. I think it was very fitting that we were studying ecology and the importance of adaptation; I definitely would not have enjoyed myself as much at ITEC if I had not adapted to the lifestyle of staying at an off-the-grid biological field station.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *