Panama expedition in Jan. '09

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16 years 2 months ago - 16 years 1 month ago #131562 by wildbill
Panama expedition in Jan. '09 was created by wildbill
David Obi Jr., put together about 18 minutes of his video from the January 2008 expedition to Bocas del Toro, Panama. This is what we found on January 10, after leaving Atlanta where it was 26 degrees Fahrenheit. Five hours and 2,100 miles farther south we landed in a tropical paradise with hot latin nights and warm blue waters…!

Part one:

Part two:

January 2009 Panama Tree Climbing Expedition
Sixth Annual Edition

UPDATED NOTES: The expedition’s first night in Panama City, Panama is moving from the Hotel Covadonga to the Hotel Lisboa, about two blocks away on Avenida Cuba. The Lisboa is newer and has nicer rooms at about the same price as the Covadonga, but it does not have a swimming pool. It will be hot, around 90 degrees Fahrenheit, when you arrive in Panama City so wear comfortable, cool clothing such as a cotton shirt, khaki pants and sandals or tennis shoes. All expedition members will meet at 6 p.m. on Saturday, January 10, around the corner and uphill from the hotel at the sidewalk café called “Casa de Fernando,” which is located on Calle 30 (30th Street) between Avenida Cuba (Cuba Avenue) and Avenida Peru (Peru Avenue). This restaurant serves awesome shrimp ceveche and ice-cold cerveza Panama, along with the traditional rum y coca-cola (specify Ron Abuelo aged rum for your rum and coke, and be sure to ask for a twist of lime.) The estimated trip cost is higher than in past years and may change again due to the soft U.S. dollar and dramatically increased fuel prices. Monday, Jan. 12, is a national holiday in Panama, which means banks and many businesses will be closed, so don’t plan on arriving late and being certain of getting to the island where the expedition will be based on that date.

WHO: All recreational. educational and research treeclimbers over the age of 18 who have reasonable experience in double-rope climbing.

WHAT: The 2009 Rainforest Treeclimbing Expedition to the Republic of Panama.

WHERE: The Institute for Tropical Ecology and Conservation, on Isla Colon (Columbus Island) in Bocas del Toro Province, Republic of Panama

WHEN: Leave home Saturday morning, January 10, and return home Wednesday night, January 21 (or stay a day or two longer for solo tourism around Panama City).

HOW: Fly to Tocumen International Airport (code PTY) in Panama on Delta, Continental or American airlines, spend one night at the Hotel Lisboa and then taxi across town the next morning to Albrook Aeropuerto to take a local commuter flight to Bocas del Toro on Isla Colon.

COST: The exact cost will not be determined until mid-summer, but ten days and nine nights at the field station will likely cost $750 to $800. The price covers lodging and meals at the station, most ground transportation on the island, an orientation hike through the rainforest and the swamp forest, half-day instruction in single-rope techniques, a possible after-dark hike to see the elusive night monkeys, a possible visit to the Agouti Cave and the Nemeteme River caverns, and access to hundreds of the largest climbing trees in Central America. It does not cover your air transportation to Panama, or your hotels, meals, etc., along the way.

PASSPORT NEEDED: A valid and current passport, which is available from a passport officer at your local post office or courthouse, is needed to enter the Republic of Panama. It normally takes about six to eight weeks to receive the passport, so do not delay. If you don’t have one, GET IT NOW. DO NOT EVEN THINK YOU CAN WAIT UNTIL THE LAST MINUTE.

SPONSORS: The 2009 expedition is sponsored by the Treeclimber’s Coalition, Tree Climbing USA and TreeTrek Exploration, with assistance from Dr. Peter Lahanas of ITEC. For additional information, contact Joe Maher at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., Abe Winters at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or Bill Maher at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Trip Details: This will be our sixth expedition to the Caribbean rainforests in the Republic of Panama. The unofficial tourism motto is: “Hey, we’re cleaner than Miami and we speak better English.” We will be based at the Institute for Tropical Ecology and Conservation (ITEC), a working biological field station in a tiny beachfront community on the western end of Colon Island near the Costa Rica border. This is a fairly primitive station and village, which does not have telephones, televisions, air conditioning or reliable electricity (the generator runs from about 6 p.m. to about 11 p.m. each evening). There may or may not be Internet service in the evenings so do not plan on having reliable e-mail communications. Emergency telephone calls from your family should be made to the ITEC office in Gainesville, Fla. at 1-352-367-9128.

The field station is located nine degrees north of the equator and directly south of Miami, which means it will be on Eastern Standard Time. Because it is so close to the equator, days and nights are roughly equal in length – about 12 hours each – all year long. The climate in January is normally hot and humid, with daytime temperatures around 90 degrees Fahrenheit and overnight lows around 68. It is perfect weather for the beach 20 yards in front of the field station.

This adventure is recommended for recreational, educational and research treeclimbers who are 18 years old or older and who have reasonable experience in double-rope climbing. Those who have completed the basic climbing course offered by the International Society of Arboriculture, Tree Climbers International, Tree Climbing USA, Dancing With Trees, New Tribe, Tree Trek Exploration, Tree Climbing Japan, Tree Climbing Colorado, Tree Climbing Taiwan, Blue Ridge Climbers and other recognized groups are qualified for this adventure. Those who have competently learned DRT and safety techniques on their own are also welcome. It is recommended but not required that climbers have some understanding of single-rope climbing.

You can expect to spend between $1,900 and $2,200 for the entire expedition, which includes about $200 for souvenirs and running-around pocket money, depending on where you fly from in North America. You can expect to spend about $200 to $250 more if you decide to remain in Panama City for several days after the expedition ends, and you will have to pay your entire hotel, taxi and dining bills for those days. Panama does not have its own currency but instead uses the U.S. dollar, so there is no need for a currency exchange.

1. Round trip airfare from your home to Tocumen International Airport in Panama City, Republic of Panama, about $650 to $825 (sample round trip fare from Atlanta on American Airlines was $658.30 on April 17 but is subject to seasonal changes). Two other U.S. airlines – Continental and Delta – also have daily fights to Panama City Delta flies from Atlanta and Continental flies from Houston. Some airfares will decrease slightly after October 1, when the summer fuel prices are adjusted. It is recommended that expedition members wait until then to purchase tickets. (NOTE: Spirit Airlines flies from 18 U.S. cities and listed the cheapest price from Atlanta to Tocumen at $519, all taxes and fees included, but anyone using a budget airline needs to be aware of the large number of delays and flight cancellations in that segment of the travel industry, as well as the number of small airlines that have gone belly up in recent months.)
2. Taxi, dinner and one night at the Hotel Lisboa in Panama City on the way to the expedition base, about $70 (less if you share a cab with several other passengers);
3. Round trip airfare from Allbrook Aeropuerto in Panama City to Bocas del Toro on Colon Island in the Caribbean Sea near the western end of Panama, about $189 (it does not include an excess luggage charge of about 60 cents a pound for anything over 25 pounds);
4. Nine nights stay at the Institute for Tropical Ecology and Conservation with meals included (sodas, beer, mixed drinks and snacks are extra and can be purchased at the small sand floor café next to the compound), an orientation hike, access to hundreds of the best climbing trees on the island, ground transportation to and from Bocas Town, boat transportation to mainland climbing sites and adjacent islands; about $750 to $800 (does not include any individual trips you might make to Bocas Town or meals you purchase in Bocas Town).
5. Taxi, dinner and breakfast, and one night at the Hotel Lisboa on the way home from the expedition, along with a morning sightseeing trip to the Miraflores Locks on the Panama Canal, about $100.
6. Money for souvenirs and for running around, about $200.

Saturday, January 10: Fly to Panama City, Panama and spend the night at the Hotel Lisboa in the historic district.
Sunday, January 11: Fly in the morning to the town of Bocas del Toro (called Bocas Town) on Isla Colon in Bocas del Toro Province, and take a van down the “road from hell” for 11 miles to the ITEC field station at the other end of the island. Orientation hike after lunch with field station biologists, followed by a possible after-dark movie.
Monday, January 12: A half-day class on SRT in the morning for those who need it. First climb in the rainforest.
Tuesday, January 13: Tree climbing in various trees in the rainforest and/or along the beach, with a possible trip to the nearby Agouti Cave.
Wednesday, January 14: Tree climbing in various trees in the rainforest and/or along the beach, with a possible movie in the evening.
Thursday, January 15: Boat trip with native guide Enrique Dixon Sr. to the Punta Caracol area for climbs in the giant mangroves.
Friday, January 16: Tree climbing in various trees in the rainforest and/or along the beach, with a possible after-dark hike to look for the elusive night monkeys.
Saturday, January 17: Two-mile hike to the Nemeteme River caverns for a day of getting wet. Evening trip to Bocas town in the field station bus to absorb local culture.
Sunday, January 18: Tree climbing in various trees in the rainforest and/or along the beach.
Monday, January 19: THE BIG SURPRISE CLIMB.
Tuesday, January 20: Fly from Bocas del Toro back to Panama City and spend the night at the Hotel Lisboa, with final dinner at our favorite steak house.
Wednesday, January 21: Morning tour to the Miraflores Locks on the Panama Canal, after lunch fly from Panama City to home. The 2009 expedition will be over.

Caution: This trip requires a change of airports in Panama City, Panama.

OPTION ONE -- You arrange your round-trip air transportation from your hometown to Tocumen International Airport in Panama City, Panama (airport code is PTY), and then use Starlite Travel in Panama City to make all of your other arrangements. A Starlite employee will meet you at the airport, drive you to the Hotel Marbella (the only hotel the travel agency uses) and take you to the other airport the next morning. Starlite will reserve you a hotel room coming and going, and provide round-trip airline tickets to Bocas Del Toro. (contact Luz Fonger, manager, Starlite Travel at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.). She will usually add about 30-35 percent to the cost of the in-country airline tickets and hotel rooms for her fee. This is the recommended way to travel for first-time visitors to Panama, particularly if you will travel alone. You would need to provide us with your flight number, time and date of arrival at the airport in Bocas Town. You would pay ITEC only the $750 to $800 for the nine nights/meals/local transportation/climbing trips at the biological field station, with a $250 deposit due by November 15 and the balance due by January 1.

OPTION TWO – You make all of your own arrangements to get all the way from your home to Bocas del Toro and home again. This would require you to arrange your round-trip air transportation to Tocumen International Airport in Panama City, Panama (code PTY) [MAKE SURE YOU USE PANAMA CITY, PANAMA OR THEY WILL TRY TO FLY YOU TO PANAMA CITY, FLORIDA] You will then need to get a taxi to downtown Panama City (about $20 to $25 by yourself or about $12 if you share a cab), and get to a hotel for your overnight stay.
--The Hotel Lisboa is located on Avenue Cuba between Calle 30 (30th Street) and Calle 31 (31st Street. The telephone from the U.S. is 011-507-227-5916 and the fax number is 011-507-227-5919. It is located in an older but colorful part of downtown about two blocks from the waterfront, with air conditioned rooms with baths at about $30 single or about $35 double. Reservations should be faxed to the hotel about a month in advance.
--The Hotel Marbella is a little more modern and will cost about $60 to $65 a night, and is located in on Calle D (D Street) between Calle 55 and Calle Eusebio A. Morales. The telephone from U.S. is 011-507-263-2220 and the fax number is 011-507-263-3622.
(NOTE: Most expedition members will prefer the Hotel Lisboa because it is in a colorful area with plenty of shopping and restaurants within easy walking distance, and because all the taxi drivers know how to find it. Many drivers in the past did not know how to find the Hotel Marbella.)
You will also need to arrange your round-trip flight from Panama City (the smaller airport at Albrook) to Bocas del Toro. There are two small airlines – Aeroperlas and Air Panama -- that fly this route, and both charge approximately $189 for the round-trip fare and about 60 cents a pound for luggage over 25 pounds. You can make airline reservations online at or Both companies fly the small but comfortable 30-seat commuter planes. (NOTE: January is the middle of the tourist season in Panama, so you should make these airplane reservations well in advance, to avoid problems.) You would need to provide us with your flight number, time and date of arrival at the airport in Bocas del Toro. You would pay ITEC only the $750 to $800 for the nine nights/meals/local transportation/climbing trips at the biological field station, with a $250 deposit due November 15 and the balance due by January 1.

(SPECIAL NOTE – Several of us are planning to fly on American Airlines together from Atlanta to Miami to Panama City at 6 a.m. on the morning of Saturday, January 10. When we land in Panama City, we likely will save a few dollars by taking a larger van to the hotel rather than several different taxis. If you will be in Atlanta at 6 a.m. that morning or Miami about 10 a.m. then you are quite welcome to join us, but please let us know in advance.)

SIDE TOUR OPTION – If you want to join several of us after the end of the expedition for a day or two of sightseeing around Panama City and the central part of the country, you can expect to spend another couple of hundred dollars. Some of the suggested sightseeing trips include the historic San Filipe government district with its 400-year-old buildings and awesome seafood market, ornate embassies and souvenir stands; the Panama Canal Railway trip that costs about $30; the new treetop canopy tower at the Gamboa Rainforest Reserve on Lake Gatun north of Panama City, cost about $15; dining on the Amador Causeway; and shopping in the YMCA district. You will need to make arrangements with the hotel for additional nights, and you will need to correctly schedule your return flight to the U.S.

Words of Wisdom: Panama is by far the safest country in Central America, with a large and professional national police force and investigative unit. Still, it is best to travel in pairs or groups and avoid showing large sums of money. Many climbers on previous expeditions have worn money belts or have hidden “fanny packs” under their shirts or blouses. Do not let small children handle your bags or equipment. The emergency telephone number for the Panama National Police barracks in each province is 104 and the fire department is 103. We do not recommend that you rent a car. Always ask a taxi driver (they speak better English than they pretend) how much it will cost for a particular trip before you enter the cab. Most taxi rides around downtown Panama City are $3-$4, but a ride to or from Tocumen International Airport may cost $20 to $25 unless you share a cab with another passenger. Taxi rides are more expensive on Isla Colon due to the high cost of fuel (and everything else) on the island. If you pick up real estate brochures or offers of land for sale, make sure they are thoroughly checked out before you make any down payments. The rule of thumb is that it should first be checked by a local lawyer in Panama, then a second one in Panama should check out the first lawyer, and then a U.S. lawyer with international experience should check out both of the other lawyers. There have been several instances where North Americans and Europeans have received bogus titles to land. One of the most glaring examples involves a North American who “purchased” some of the most beautiful beachfront property in the area, brought in a very expensive barge loaded with very expensive building materials, and had his very expensive new home half finished before discovering it was in the middle of a Panamanian national park. The person who sold him the land had long-since disappeared. If you are in doubt at any time, contact the U.S. Embassy at 207-7000. The embassy is located on Avenida Balboa in Panama City, about eight blocks from the Hotel Lisboa. If you are a citizen of another country, let us know and we will provide you with the location and phone number of your embassy.

About pocket money: The Panamanian economy is strong but it still lags behind North America, so a lot of things cost less than they do “North of the Border.” This means that Panamanian shopkeepers are not used to seeing money larger than $20 bills, so they are suspicious of those fifties and hundreds that your local bank teller tries to hand you – often they will refuse to take the larger denominations of currency. Ask for twenties or smaller when getting pocket money for the trip. There are plenty of ATMs around Panama City that take just about all-major credit cards and debit cards, but there is only one ATM on the island where we will be headquartered – and it is usually out of money. (The best place to use an ATM is in the casino at the Hotel Panama in downtown Panama City, since the well-mannered security staff all speak perfect English and they do not charge a fee to use the machines.)

About ITEC: The ITEC field station on Isla Colon is a relatively primitive facility that consists of a two-story wooden classroom/laboratory building, a wooden dormitory building with six medium-sized rooms and one large bunkroom, and two wooden cabins. There are four cold-water shower stalls and four commodes for the dorm building. There is no hot water at the field station. There are no air conditioners, televisions or telephones (except for a solar-powered pay cell phone that rarely works because the nearest cell tower is many miles away). The only electricity is from a small generator that runs from about 6 p.m until 11 p.m. The field station has a small filtration system for drinking water. The blue waters and white beaches of the Caribbean Sea are about 20 yards in front of the compound. A world-class reef is only another 15-20 yards offshore, and climbers are welcome to bring snorkeling gear or purchase it in Bocas Town. Behind the compound is a medium-sized farm pasture, and beyond that is the jungle. Meals are basic but good. Snacks, soft drinks and beer are available from Restaurante Yarisnori, a small sand-floor establishment a few yards farther down the beach. Although you will wear long pants, rubber boots and other appropriate clothing while climbing in the jungle, the dress code in the ITEC compound is incredibly laid back and usually calls for shorts, T-shirts and sandals or flip-flops.

Climbing adventure: We will be climbing in coastal rainforest (the real jungle, just like in the movies) where the typical emergent trees will range from 150-200 feet high and will include the giant ficus (figs), legendary ciebas, soaring virolas (wild nutmegs), and about 300 other species of trees. There will also be side trips with native guide Enrique Dixon Sr. in his homemade dugout canoe to climb in the saltwater mangrove swamps (and to find his favorite crocodiles). After-dark hikes in the rainforest will offer a chance to see the elusive night monkeys. Up in the trees while you're climbing, you might meet noisy howler monkeys, timid white-faced capuchin monkeys, colorful toucans, giant iguanas, and both two-toed and three-toed sloths. Many of the best trees already have preset lines in them to get you at least part of the way up into the canopy.

Special Gear: It's called a rainforest for a reason --it rains there. The single best equipment you can bring is a pair of inexpensive knee-high rubber \"dairy\" or \"muck\" boots (Wal-Mart has some for about $15 to $20) because you'll often have to cross muddy swamps and wade through shallow creeks (remember, the cheap rubber boots work just as well as the expensive ones and you can leave them in Panama at the end of the expedition, if you want to). We also recommend a medium-sized backpack to carry your climbing gear. You should also bring a flashlight or headlamp, climbing gloves, a poncho and/or rain jacket, your favorite brand of D.E.E.T. insect repellant, a hat, long-sleeved shirt, a set of bed sheets and pillowcase for sleeping (blankets are not needed due to the warm nights and hot days), and a mosquito net (preferably rated for \"no-see-em\" bugs) for your bed. We also recommend you get a couple of pairs of nylon \"fast drying\" pants (the previously-used camouflaged jungle fatigues from your local Military Surplus store are good). Other than that, you'll need your climbing equipment (only a limited amount is available at ITEC) and the standard stuff you'd take on any warm-weather vacation. Don't forget your bathing suit! Another note here: Commercial laundry facilities are available in Bocas Town, so you might want to pack fairly light and avoid paying a lot for overweight baggage. Both Areoperlas and Air Panama charge about 60 cents a pound for anything over 25 pounds, and most of us will have a lot more than that.

Medical stuff: We recommend a hepatitis vaccination, and climbers should consult with their personal physicians about tetanus boosters and any other vaccinations they may need or want. There have been no reports of malaria in the last quarter century in the parts of the country where we'll be climbing and traveling, but some climbers may want the malaria tablets for peace of mind. There is a small clinic-type hospital in Bocas Town that is about a 25-minute drive from ITEC, and a large medical facility in the nearby mainland town of Changuinola. Hospital Nacionale in downtown Panama City has an international reputation and is as good as most major medical centers in the U.S. and Canada, and is staffed by doctors and nurses who trained in the U.S. There is a fledgling ambulance and rescue service. Emergency rooms provide first aid at a small fee, but there is a bigger charge for all other medical interventions and foreigners usually must pay in advance or provide proof of insurance or a valid credit card. For problems with medical emergencies, call the Red Cross in Panama City at 228-2187. Some climbers in the past have contacted their local insurance agent in advance and purchased a one-month travel policy for about $40 to $50 that covers medical emergencies, lost luggage, etc.

Trip secret: The real secret of having a safe and enjoyable visit to the rainforest will lie in your ability to accept the place \"as is\". After all, rural Panama is a third-world country. You must be willing to surrender to the idea that you will be living and climbing in a rainforest and that you will, therefore, spend a lot of your time in the rain. Because it rains a lot, there will also be a lot of walking in mud, mush and muck. Because you are walking in mud, mush and muck you will spend a lot of time with wet feet. You will also get a lot of mud, muck and mush on your clothes, on your face and in your hair. Because it is a tropical rainforest the temperature will be a bit on the warm side. In other words, not only will you get dirty, you will, heaven forbid, SWEAT! And then there are the bugs, all of which will look upon you as nothing more than a new item on the food chain. The secret to successfully enjoying yourself on an adventure of this sort is to realize, up front, that this is the way it is. The uncomfortable people are the ones who refuse to surrender to the circumstances and who try to stay neat, clean, dry, and smelling good in spite of it all. The important thing to remember is that there is an end to every day, clean clothes and a shower are waiting for you, and then you can prop up your feet and embellish the adventures of the day with a libation of your choice in hand. Believe us when we say that it is rather a splendid way to end a day, with your feet propped up, the warm blue Caribbean before you, a gentle breeze on your face, and war stories from the day that will stay with you forever.
Last edit: 16 years 1 month ago by wildbill.

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