Friday, June 12, 2009

Finally the Quetzal at the Eco Lodge in Panama

You will not hunt for the Resplendent Quetzal – when you are lost in the ambience of cloud forest it will find you – if you are lucky.

OK not my photo... they are hard to shoot.

Travelling Panama is not about the destinations – it is about getting lost and found.

I came to Panama three years ago and built and eco-resort called The Lost and Found. While here I try everyday to appreciate exactly where I am. I try to remember that I am growing nostalgia in the garden of my memories.

Early one evening after a long afternoon shopping for my eco-resort in a sweaty frontier town, I climbed onto a minibus along the Pan-American Highway and played ‘open seat lotto’. To play this game you actually sit in the seat made only for one and a half small children but you don’t spread you legs over the whole seat in an attempt to keep it to yourself. In open seat lotto you make room and see what you get. This trip I had a school girl in uniform, an Indian in traditional dress that smelled of open fire and a toothless farmer with traditional worker’s hat. Most Panamanians don’t outwardly acknowledge my gringoness and this man was no exception. Until his phone rang. (Phones don’t really ring anymore do they?)

His cell phone sang out, ‘Josie's on a vacation far away, Come around and talk it over, So many things that I'd like to say…’

With a machete in one hand and cell in the other he answered, loud and clear in English, ‘What do you want?’

I smiled knowing the act was for me and he looked out the corner of his eye and smiled. I appreciated the song… I stared out the window and The Outfield ring took me back to a memory of a junior high crush.

I have had birders come to my resort and ask questions about birds. In shame I hand them a bird book and plastic pamphlet with pictures. The birds are pretty I tell them. Several birders have come to my resort to and have told me that our place is one of the best birding spots in Panama. Several have written and published what they have seen here.

One birder came hunting for the Quetzal – one of the rarest and most prized birds of Central America. They told me that there was a high probability the birds were here… it is their natural habitat. I took him hiking along the trails of the Fortuna Forest reserve and he was really happy with what he saw. But we did not see the Quetzal.

I am lucky to live where I do because just as I am getting used to white faced monkeys storming my resort or several blue morpho butterflies that dance by, my guests will still remind how special it is.

The day he came I was having a particularly frustrating day. Our water had stopped and I spent all morning hiking searching around our coffee plants looking for a leak in the pvc tube that supplied the water. After an hour I gave up and just sat down to rest. I really don’t know how long I sat there. And I didn’t feel any sensation of being watched. I didn’t hear anything either. But there, only ten meters away, was a male on the branch of an orange tree. He jumped around 180 degrees to face me… waited a moment and flew away. This was more than a pretty bird. And you don’t have to be a birder to know that you have just witnessed something special and I learned that birders are not always after the bird... sometimes they are just there for the moment… to be lost in the present… in the ambience of their beautiful environment. So much so they are aware of what they see and make notes – little notes of who came by to say hi.

You can sit on the beach and watch the full moon rise over the ocean and think about the last person who broke your heart. You can stare at your guide book in the Spanish colonial quarter trying to find a road to a museum when you are in the middle of the most charming alleyway or piazza missing it. You can fill your iPod to remind you of only the past.

If this is you then you need to fill your iPod with this year’s music and then you need a vacation. I know just the spot to get lost in the moment and found by the unexpected.