A peaceful and relaxing day at Mama Llena

With power and Internet out until about 8:30 pm, we’ve all had unplugged day. Many spent their time swimming, finishing journals and personal reflections, relaxing, playing cards, etc. I (Steve) haven’t been unable to get more student work up on the website. I’ll try to get a little bit more posted, but much less than I’d hoped for. All students are represented in one form or another.

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Mama Llena

We arrived at Mama Llena just in time for dinner on Sunday after traveling for almost 10 hours. But before we got our well deserved dinner, we had to unload our suitcase and roll them up to our house. We are all living in a 4 story house. We ate our very healthy dinner of fish, brown rice, and salad. A bunch of us went down to the natural pool for a refreshing dip. The water was a bit cold but it was very nice. After we all huddled downstairs for a movie night. It took many tech savvy people but we finally got School of Rock to play on the TV. 

We had a leisurely wake up this morning. Here, breakfast is from 7-11 so there was no rush at all. People spent the morning journaling, relaxing and enjoying the hot sun. At 11 am a number of us went on a tour of the property. We saw all of their produce and were shown the difference  between the citrus trees just by the smell of their leaves. After a 1 o’clock lunch people dipped on the pool before our reflection discussion. During the reflection period we each came up with two questions or realizations and then selected the most interesting ones. Each group of three facilitated a discussion about the realization or question. After 6 great discussions we broke for a bit and then met again for another delicious meal. Now many people are getting ready for another movie night, featuring “Bend it like Beckham.” Mama Llena is wonderful, and we’ll be home soon!

-Liam and Sara

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Notes from Cotito

View down the Cotito River valley

Hey it’s Lizzie, Sam and Schuyler! While we are now at Mama Llena for the course wrap-up, we wanted to share a bit more about our time at Cotito. We arrived on March 1st and soaked up the beauty of the place for the week. Hot springs, waterfalls, Abel’s stories of tomb robbers and of course Ramira’s wonderful cooking are just a few of the many things we enjoyed in Cotito. 


Over the course of our stay, each student was tasked with conducting an individually-driven science project. Lizzie did a comparative analysis of the varying water qualities around the Cotito property, Schuyler researched “Matapalo” trees (also known as “strangler figs”), and Sam wrote poetry. Steve really encouraged us to connect with our surroundings in a creative way, and so a lot of our projects were passion projects as well as expeditions into new scientific territory. 

Schuyler, Lizzie & Sam helping Austin with his comparative forest project

The Cotito property itself is a coffee farm that harvests coffee, primarily for the hotel. Nicolas, Raquel, and Antonio are a Panamanian family who live and work on the farm, and they were gracious enough to let some of our group shadow them around while they did their daily work.

Cotito was a great place for all of us to bond! We played tons of games together and really enjoyed being off the grid. We will really miss being together and our group dynamic, but we look forward to reconnecting and relaxing in Mama Llena with the rest of the squad!t data
(Note from Steve: This is posted late as we weren’t able to blog from Cotito as we had no way to directly send data.)

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There is a new tab – Student Work

See the new tab – Student Work. Note this is a sample and that not all student projects are digitally friendly. We are still updating it. 

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Copa Airlines flight information for March 8 return home

I just checked the Copa Airlines website and the flight information/schedule remains the same as posted at the beginning of the course. 
Copa Airlines
     • March 8 depart Panama City 

12:34 a
m, arrive Boston 


6:15 p

      • 5 hours 41 minutes nonstop,    flight #311

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We’re at Mama Llena now

Journal writing at Mama Llena

After a long bus ride yesterday, we arrived at about 7 pm last night. They had dinner waiting for us. Some went swimming after dinner and many watched “The School of Rock” before going to bed .It’s 8:30 in the
morning now. We’re at about 2,000 feet in elevation here, and it’s a nice temperature for sleeping and enjoying the outdoors. Today is a total sleep in day (the only one in the course as students have reminded us).

Austin with friend

Some are already stirring and having breakfast in an open air dining room with a view of the the forested hillside. More later. 

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New Photos from Cotito

Cabin at Cotito ~5,000′ altitude


It was nice to be off the grid at Cotito, but we couldn’t post anything from our stay there from that location. Now, back in Guadalupe, we can post photos. 

See photos of both groups stay at Cotito in 2017 photos tab. 

See a new album of photos by Ben Blaustein that were part of his project at Cotito.
Photos de la familia de Raquel, Nicolas y Antonio

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Adios Cerro Punta

Hi everyone, Sophie here. This is our last night here at Cerro Punta. Today group Pegasus spent the morning walking around Guadalupe. In groups of two or three we explored the town and asked the people we passed on the street questions. My group asked about strawberries, others asked about AMIPILA, the local environmental organization, or tourism in the area. After a delicious lunch, we had the afternoon to explore and meet up with the other group, who just got back from Cotito. In the late afternoon we had a Despidida with out host families. There was lots of food, dancing and games. We played a very competitive game of musical chairs and one host family taught some of us how to dance. We had a tearful farewell with our families. I will personally really miss my host mom and sister. We are spending tonight at Los Quetzales before heading to Mamallena tomorrow. Mamallena is the last stop in our journey here in Panama and has been described as a Shangrila for us to debrief and unwind. We are all sad to leave Cerro Punta which has been our home for the last two weeks but we are also excited to relax before the flight home.

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Buenas from Max, Marisa, y Malik

Sarah leaves!

    Yesterday, we went to visit the AMIPILA (Amigos de la Parque de la Amistad), an agricultural initiative where we met Ana Sanchez, who told us about her work in promoting sustainable organic farming. Ana’s job consists of educating the youth of Guadalupe, spreading the message: we need organic farming!

 Ana informed us that the region of Cerro Punta has one of the highest rates of cancer in all of Latin America as a result of the use of chemicals in agriculture. After our Q&A session with Ana we visited AMIPILA’s composting facility where they make compost out of chicken caca, rice husks, leaves and sweet, sweet molasses. We helped complete a mural project inside the composting facility that promotes sustainable agriculture. One group painted a mural which read “Bosque Es Vida” to discourage deforestation and use of agrochemicals. Another group painted a mural that read “Agua Limpia, Mundo Limpio/Rios Libre Para La Vida” to discourage water contamination and resist hydroelectric dams.The murals will be used to help educate youth groups and others touring the facility. All said and done all it was an extremely informative and eye opening afternoon. 




Group Pegasus returned home to a delightful dinner and nap. Before dinner Max and Ben went for a mountain walk through the farmland surrounding our house. We saw an extremely beautiful double rainbow with a possible pot of gold at the end! At Max and Ben’s homestay they ate for dinner a course of chicken, rice, and lentils, topped off with fresh mint tea. After dinner it was straight to bed before 9:30. We are very good.

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Cotito to Cerro Punta


Hi! Mu’izza and Sophie here, writing from Cerro Punta/Guadelupe. We just arrived yesterday for our second homestay. For the past four days, we our at Cotito. This year is the first time this trip has ever been there. Cotito is a farm, a small coffee plantation and a hotel all in one. Everyday there were optional trips to the nearby hot springs, which were beautiful. Nicolas, one of the main caretakers for the site, took us on a tour of the coffee farm. Afterwards, we spent the afternoon working on independent projects. I (Sophie) studied the hot springs through a scientific lens and a cultural lens. I (Mu’izza) took a more artistic approach and created a digital collage made from photos of various sites there.

Other people shadowed workers on the farm, learned more about the coffee making process or made a photo series. On the last night we presented our projects to everyone.
After spending four nights at Cotito, the ten of us all piled into two four by four jeeps. An hour and a half later, after a thoroughly bumpy ride down, we arrived at our new school. We started classes right away, playing an assortment of interactive games. After class we were given time to wander around the last day of carnival in Cerro Punta before going off to our homestays. Continue reading

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Update from Gracie and Charlotte

¡Hola todos! It’s Gracie and Charlotte, back by popular demand. We’re coming up on our final night in Guadalupe/Volcán. This homestay experience is definitely different from Pedasí, but it’s been just as fun and welcoming.

Our host sisters, Paulette and Cati

Our host family consists of five sisters (Patricia, 18, Paola, 16, Paulette, 14, Yolani, 13, and Cati, 9) and their grandparents, Marina and her husband, who we haven’t gotten to know as well as we would have liked. There are constantly cousins and friends filling the house so there’s never a dull moment. Some of our favorite times here have been playing cards with our host sisters, accidentally watching a horror movie, and playing with their five dogs and talking parrot, Toto.

Like many families in Guadalupe, ours grows and sells flowers and plants from their house; we loved being able to learn more about this part of their lives. 

Since we’re here for Carnaval, we’ve been able to see many people selling food and crafts along the street. While Carnaval seemed to be a widely enjoyed holiday in Pedasí, many people actually travel to this area if they don’t like Carnaval and want some peace and quiet during this holiday.

Patchwork hillside farms of Guadalupe

During our stay, we’ve been able to see the presence of religion in our family’s lives. On Saturday, we accompanied our sisters to a meeting in order to plan for a celebration that took place at their church on Sunday. Even though we’ve only had three nights here, it feels like much longer.

Every night we have a new adventure of some kind. Last night, Marina asked us if we wanted to go with the family to drop off Patricia in Volcán. We said “Yes,” to which she followed up with “Would you be okay with going by ‘mula’?” (said in Spanish obviously.) Given how many cognates exist between English and Spanish, we assumed that “mula” meant “mule.” We were a bit concerned seeing as Volcán is a 25 minute car ride away from Guadalupe and neither of us have much experience riding mules. However, our fears were soon assuaged when Paulette revealed to us that “mula” meant “truck!” Minutes later, thirteen of us piled into the front of their 18-wheeler.

“la mula” aka big truck!

The truck had two beds inside, one on top of the other. We started the ride sitting on the bottom bed, but after dropping Patricia off, we moved up to the top. The bumpy ride would not have been the same without a playlist of disco classics playing in the background. “Funkytown” was one of our personal favorites.

We’ve had such a wonderful experience in our homestay here. Everyone we’ve met has been incredibly warm, greeting us with hugs and always including us in their conversations. While we’re jumping for joy to see Steve and spend time in Cotito, we’re definitely sad to say goodbye to Guadalupe.

Sincerely, your favorite blogging duo, Garlotte and Cracie.

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Update from Sam in Guadalupe group

Juego el “Periodicazo”

(Internet slow…photos coming soon.)
¡Hola, Sam está aquí! Ahora estamos viviendo en Guadalupe con familias locales y estamos asistiendo a una escuela con una profesora que se llama “Luz”. Guadalupe tiene muchos granjeros y vendedores y también la topografía es muy irregular- los cultivos son una parte de las montañas.

En la escuela, nosotros estamos aprendiendo sobre la historia de Panamá y Volcán, específicamente el orígen de esas palabras. Además hemos jugado algunos juegos como “Simón Dice” y “Periodicazo”, y también hemos practicado hablar en español. Para mí, esta experiencia era muy beneficiosa porque no tengo confianza en mi habilidad de hablar en español con personas que tienen el español como su primera lengua.

Todos los estudiantes están en grupos de dos para los hospedajes con las nuevas familias y Austin y yo estamos viviendo con una mujer que se llama Doris. Ahora, Doris tiene tres otros chicos en su casa quienes están en Panamá para aprender sobre biología y ecología- todos chicos tienen veintiun años y son muy cómicos. Austin y yo tenemos nuestra propia casa, por eso podemos practicar español todo el tiempo. Mañana nosotros aprenderemos sobre las personas indígenas de Volcán y también más sobre la cultura de Panamá. ¡Hasta luego!

Sam and Austin after climbing hill to homestay

Translation: Hi, Sam here! Right now we are living in Guadalupe with local families and attending a school with a teacher named Luz. Guadalupe has many farmers and shopkeepers and the topography is very irregular- the crops are a part of the mountains. At the school we have learned about the history of Panama and Volcán, more specifically the origin of those words. Furthermore we have played games like Simon Says and Periodicazo (a game where someone stands in the center of a circle and tries to slap people with a newspaper.. it’s more fun and less ridiculous than it sounds I promise), and we have practiced speaking Spanish as well. This was a very beneficial experience for me because I don’t have much confidence in my ability to speak Spanish with native speakers.

All students are in pairs for the home stays and Austin and I are living with a woman named Doris (who is actually the sister of Ana, the woman who runs this section of trip). Right now Doris has three other boys in her house who are in Panama in order to learn about biology and ecology- they are 21 years old and very funny. Austin and I have our own house, and therefore we are able to practice Spanish all the time. Tomorrow we will learn about the indigenous people of Volcán and more about the culture of Panama as well. Until later!

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Update from Cotito group

Ben shared the following about what they have been up to in Cotito: “Today we are in the midst of our independent projects. We got here the first day and explored the hot springs which were beautiful! Yesterday we got a tour of the coffee plantation and had an interesting conversation about pesticides and agrochemicals with one of the farmers. Today we started working on independent projects. Some students are taking more in depth tours of the coffee farm, others are talking to families that live here, and some are exploring on their own. A lot of people are interested in the daily routines of the farm and the people who work there. Max is looking more in depth into the use of fertilizer and pesticides. Liam and Hope looking at the man-made structures versus natural environment. I’m photographing Nicolas and Raquel who live on the farm. This morning some people chose to watch a chicken slaughtering. Sara helped plucked feathers. And earlier we all went birding with Will and Abel. Chessie showed the group how to do soil shake tests with soil samples from the different sites we’ve visited so we can compare the composition. The cabaña where we are staying is beautiful. It’s all wood and the beds are comfortable and there’s a huge deck for people to hang out on.” More later!

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Settling in

A brief entry…more soon…
This morning all of us came down from the cabañas up in the cloud forest and divided up into the groups for the second half of the course. 
Everyone is now settling in to their newest accommodations. We heard from Steve and Chessie that their group arrived safely in Cotito and they are enjoying the large rural cabaña, surrounded by cows and chickens. The cabaña fits the group of 10 students, 3 instructors, plus Abel and Ramira. (Steve’s new Panama phone number is 011-507-6553-2433 .)

The other group had their first Spanish class early this afternoon in Volcán with their instructor, Luz, who wove in a bunch of fun games and drawing activities while teaching about this unique region. We then returned to  Guadalupe and met Ana Sanchez, the director of AMIPILA. Ana walked each of the 5 pairs of students to their newest home stays in this lovely farm town. The host families are Ana’s extended family and good friends. We will meet up again in the morning to go to the second day of language classes and may partake in some of the local festivities during carnival.

The current groups are:
Science 1st – Sara P., Sylvia, Hope, Sofie, Mu’izza, Marisa, Liam, Ben, Malik, Max
Spanish 1st – Charlotte, Gracie, Sky, Lizzie, Sarah S., Rory, Austin, Phil, Sam, Andrius

Hasta luego,

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Marvelous Montane

Hi there,

Outside cabin 6 (l B-H)

All due apologies for the lack of updates! Our last few days have been filled with mountain treks, vegetable-rich meals, and reconnections between Gryphon and Phoenix groups. The Los Quetzales cabins are stationed at approximately 7,000 feet above sea level in a tropical montane rainforest–also known as cloud forest. This kind of forest is typified by cooler temperatures; a density of mosses, bromeliads, and other epiphytes; and frequent mists and rains. This new lushness, as well as the opportunity to enjoy collective cabin living, seem to have been popular with students.

Along the Millenium Trail (l B-H)

Earlier today, one group set out for a hike on the Millennium Trail, named for the thousand-year old oaks on the ridge that we followed for most of the hike.  We decided to rechristen it the millennial trail.  Abel, an incredibly energetic and theatrical guide and local Cerro Punta resident, took us up to show us the way.  We were treated to incredible views of nearby towns and agricultural fields as well as some of the group (Phoenix members) getting their first views of primary tropical rainforest.  

Vista after coming out of the forest of the Millenium trail (L. B-H)

The hikes have been beautiful and scenic, but some of the best wildlife sightings have happened right outside our cabins.  Last night, Mu’izza, Abel and Will noticed a raccoon-sized mammal climbing around outside cabin #4 during a group meeting and pointed it out to the rest of the group.  It turned out to be a cacomistle, or ringtail, a close relative of the raccoons and occasional visitor to the

Vertical Farming (W.F.)

areas around the cabins.  Some students set out bananas outside the cabins in hopes that they could see it up-close, and maybe even catch sight of a kinkajou, a small prehensile-tailed relative of raccoons that can best be described as looking like a teddy bear.  We struck out with the kinkajou, but got point-black looks at another beautiful cacomistle eating unhurriedly on a cabin deck. Much to Will and a few ornithologically-inclined students’ excitement, the birding has been fantastic, with visits from cloud forest birds like golden-browed cholorphonias, spangle-cheeked tanagers, and even several sightings of

Stream crossing (M.B.)

resplendent quetzals.  These birds, which played an important role in Maya and Aztec mythology and whose numbers were once decimated by the feather trade, have made a great comeback in this area (enough to be a namesake for our hotel!)  

We returned to another rich, local-vegetable filled meal prepared by the vivacious Señora Ramira, with help from her granddaughter Laura and several students. Both Ramira and Abel are longstanding friends of the course, and a large part our positive experience at Los Quetzales.

Tomorrow, we’ll be splitting up again into two groups, with some students going to language classes and homestays in the nearby town of Volcan and others going to an even more remote cabin owned by Los Quetzales Ecolodge in Cotito.  The Cotito group will have no access to wifi and little cell service, so expect fewer or no updates from them in the coming five days, and blog posts mostly about Spanish- and culture-related topics for the next ten.  The group is largely in good spirits, enjoying the mix of group hikes and activities and free time, and unwinding in the misty montane forest.


All the best,

Will and Chesapeake

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In the cloud forest

Tres Cascadas Trail – (MB)

Hello! It’s Sarah Stockdale writing a quick blog post to update those at home on the goings on in Panama.

View of Area of Cerro Punta – (MB)

The whole group has arrived safely at Los Quetzales, Cerro Punto, where we’re all enjoying cooling off in the cooler (50˚-75˚F) weather. This morning was a late start, each cabin making their own breakfasts and meeting up at Cabin 8 for a morning of hiking or journaling. The group separated into smaller groups, some heading up the Tres Cascadas trail for a beautiful, though somewhat steep, hike and others did just the lower section. A smaller group went on a birding adventure with Will and the rest of the students stayed behind to work on their journals. The hike up Tres Cascadas offered incredible views, a closer into the environment of the cloud forest through our guide, Abel, and a decent leg workout!

Lunch with Ramira in cabin 4

After the morning hike, we met up again at Cabin 4 for a delicious lunch cooked by Ramira, our chef for our time here. When we were all full, we had a meeting to debrief and talk about our work and then dispersed for some free time in the afternoon. Some people chose to use this time to relax and journal, one group went for a quick dip in the cold river water, and others explored the trails around our cabins. Sara and Andrius hung out with Ramira in the kitchen to chat and help cook dinner. After dinner, Sophie and Mu’izza went exploring with Will to find nocturnal creatures, some people spent had some downtime before bed, and one group of students played a spirited game of cards.

Currently, most people have hunkered down for the night to get a good night’s sleep before our hike up to the ridge on Millennial Trail tomorrow morning! Buenas noches y hasta luego!

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And Now We’re One

Look in Photos 2017 tab for added photo albums.  We have a lot more updates  and photos, but we’re very busy in transition. We have a long travel day today. Both groups are doing well and now we’re one. In the next 3 nights in the cloud forest of Los Quetzales we’ll be spread out in 4 cabins—all set deep in the forest. The altitude of these cabins is +/- 7,000 feet. We’ll be all-together often and will eat all lunches and dinners together in one of the cabins. 

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Achotines – project writeup & presentation

Drawings for tidepool biodiversity project – Sarah Stockdale

Hey everyone, it’s Andrius and Sara writing to you after a very full work day. Each group had to complete their papers and presentations before our afternoon activities. Andrius’s group woke up at 7:00 to get an early start, and Sara’s group slept in to compensate for their early morning yesterday. After breakfast everyone bunkered down and worked on their lab reports. Sara’s group only had to edit and create their presentation so her groups day was full of journaling and laundry. Because of the labor intensive nature of their study, Andrius’s group spent all day working on the lab report and scrambling to get as many edits as they could. Thankfully everyone finished in time. After lunch we were divided into two groups, one to go soil testing with Chessie and the other to receive a lecture about how to analyze biological diversity in forests. While the forest diversity group was waiting for the soil group to return, we headed down to the beach for a quick cool off. When the rest of the group returned we went back to the beach with everyone. Shortly after we had dinner and a quick siesta time. Sara Liam and Ben went for a run, and others in the group went on a night hike. We then met for the big night of presentati

Sunset at el faro, Sylvia, Charlotte, Gracie,Chesapeake, Amber & Hope (front)

ons at 7:30. There were definitely some jitters within members of the group but everyone did so well. As a reward Pete (the founder of ITEC) made us ink for temporary tattoos. Everyone including Steve got one. After we all made s’mores over the stove. While on our sugar high we are having an intense dance party, as respite from our days of hard work!

Signing off!

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Link added to student Panama course instagram

See it on the righthand sidebar

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Achotines– Projects and More


Hello Old Chaps,

Ben, Andrius & Sarah – Biodiversity of different size tide pools

It’s Hope, Sylvia, Liam, and Sara here describing another intrepid adventure from Achotines Panama. We write to you after a long hard day working on our research projects in the beating sun. Yesterday morning we all awoke quite early and were given the choice of bird watching with Will, or Biodiversity with Pete. And we chose to go birding! We grabbed our binoculars (or “binns”) and fled up the trail with good Ol’ Will. Though it was at first a slow start, we saw many unique birds and even learned some interesting bird calls from Will.

Sylvia, Liam Hope & Sara – Psuedomyrmex ants selective defense of Acacia collinsii

After breakfast, some partook on a hike, and after lunch we were given our choices for our research project. The four of us decided to research the ant-acacia plant and its symbiotic relationship the acacia-ants, while other groups decided to focus on the biodiversity of tide pools. After a quick siesta, we headed off into the field to start our research. We formed a hypothesis and began to start testing our theories on what part of the plant the ants protect more when faced with a foreign object. After doing trials of our experiment, we met up

Gracie, Charlotte & Philip (& Dr. Peter Lahanas) – Acacia size & colonization by Psuedomyrmex ants

with the rest of the group for dinner and heard about each other’s research projects. After dinner, some in the group decided to take a quick swim in the ocean that our field station has access to before listening to a presentation on tropical rain forests from Pete Lahanas, the head-director of ITEC. After the presentation we all went to bed to get some rest.

The next day our group woke up at the crack of dawn to get started on research before the sun made it unbearable to be outside. After collecting all of our data, we ate a well deserved bre

On Playa Venao

akfast, then spent the rest of the day completing our group research paper of our ant experiment while other groups did the same or completed their field research.

We left for a birthday excursion to a nearby surfing beach, Playa Venao. We spent time in the HUGE waves (everybody wiped out at least once), then we ate a great meal to celebrate Steve’s birthday. Happy Birthday Steve! Back at the field station, we surprised Steve with a birthday “cake” made completely of his favorite fruit and doughnuts. Sylvia in particular had a very interesting experience with the Passion Fruit which tasted like a “lemon on steroids.” Now everyone is working hard on their research projects, for they need to be completed by tomorrow afternoon. Check in later for more from Panama 2017! See more photos in photo tab or by clicking Achotines Feb 17-18.

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Ben Blaustein now has an album

See Ben’s, Max’s and Sarah’s photos under student photo albums tab.

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There are new photos

Click on 2017 photos for new Achotines photos and and student photo albums for Sarah Stockdale photos. More photos will be added tonight, and hopefully we’ll have a student blog entry as well. 

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Touring the Tuna Laboratory at Achotines

Susan, scientist from Achotines, showing the largest tuna they currently can rear from eggs.

Hi, Liam and Sylvia here with an update about our tour of the tuna laboratory at Achotines! Today we visited the yellow-fin tuna culture labs at the Achotines Field Station. Achotines is surrounded by various fish communities, and therefore is a prime location to bring tuna. There are two ways that tunas are taken into the lab: they are either caught by the fishermen or they are grown from eggs in the labs. In both cases the tuna are kept at the laboratory in a variety of different tanks. These tanks are filled with water from the surrounding ocean, and the area around the tanks is manipulated in such a way to ensure that the water will always be the same as the water in the ocean. Scientists and fishermen catch yellow-fin tuna, and put them in special bags to be transported to Achotines. When they arrive they are put in one the main tanks. Experiment tanks allow scientists to change the conditions of the tuna’s new habitat, and observe how they respond. In the main tanks, the tuna spawn everyday during mating season, and do not stop unless the water dramatically changes in temperature, or a female dies. The eggs that are produced are kept and cultured in separate, smaller tanks, and have over a 60% hatch rate. The larvae are kept in similar tanks, and are observed. The fish that are grown from eggs are smaller than the fish caught in the ocean. Currently they are not able to grow the fish to maturity in the tanks. When we visited the lab we viewed the tuna being fed. There were are 24 fish in the tank we viewed, and each were very large. Each fish was around three to four feet. The fish are fed a mixture of squid and sardines which are injected with supplements for the tunas. The tank was about 17 meters in diameter, and 6 meters deep. The scientists do not know the sex of the fish by their physical features but can determine by behavior.  Some fish have died because the scientists have no way of knowing that each fish gets the proper amount of food or for other reasons. The lab is dedicated towards studying the early stages of the tuna. This facility allows scientists to accurately observe the behaviour and life cycle of tunas, which makes it a great place for experimentation.

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Phoenix – Pedasi –> Achotines


Hello everyone! It’s Ben, Hope and Sarah Stockdale from group Phoenix, here to update you on our adventures in Panama! Monday morning we kicked off the day at Buena Vida Language School,  where we learned about traditional Panamanian dance and festival attire. After class, we spent some time exploring the town and many people bought souvenirs for family

Rocky intertidal area at Achotines

and friends. By the time we had finished, it was too hot to do much else than cool off on the patio of a local bakery. Sara, Liam and Sarah decided to hail a taxi and head to Playa Arenal for a nice, cool-down swim. In the evening, everyone headed home and spent a nice night with their host families.

The next morning, we all woke up early to head to the tropical dry forest with Jairo and Vincente from el Proyecto Ecológico Azuero to learn more about the native plants and climate and to see spider monkeys! After a nice morning hike, we headed back to the project’s headquarters for a presentation from Ruth, the program’s  director. We ate more duros and learned about the environmental and social impacts of reforestation, with a focus on the local relationships between environmental workers and farmers. We also talked about environmental policies in Panama, especially in relation to the Azuero, and how they affect the efforts of environmental workers in Panama. After an exciting and busy morning, we headed to class where we got to try traditional Panamanian crafts! The girls learned how to make “tembleques” which are beaded flowers to either decorate hats or adorn hair for festivals and dance. The boys watched a local artisan make a motete basket, and then had the opportunity to try the weaving technique themselves. After, everyone headed home to spend a last night with our host families. 🙁

Wednesday morning we headed to school where we were were given traditional Panamanian hair, makeup, and dress. From there we headed to the gazebo in the center of town to take some photos with our new looks! The process for the girls was very lengthy, nearly three hours of doing hair, makeup, and putting on layers of clothing and jewelry. The amount of detail in each garment was amazing – many of the blouses were embroidered by hand, and all of the tembleques and some of the jewelry were also crafted by our teachers and other local artisans. After we took off the clothes and started to look more like our usual selves, we recapped on the different cultural lessons and our fulfilling experience at Buena Vida. We then returned to our homestays for the last time and finished packing before heading back to school to greet the Gryphon group! We said our last goodbyes to our homestay families and teachers, and then boarded the bus for Achotines. We settled into our apartments at the beautiful Achotines Laboratory, and caught the last bit of light for a refreshing swim under the sunset. We then headed off to bed early in preparation for an early morning hike.

This morning we woke up early and set off exploring the trails around the compound of the lab. Along the hike we began observing our surroundings and generating questions for our upcoming field research. After a beautiful walk we returned for breakfast and then went on a tour of the tuna research facilities here. Did you know that yellow fish tuna are cannibals?!?! We’re excited for an afternoon siesta and the possibility of night hike tonight ! Hasta Luego!
— Sarah, Hope, and Ben

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Project finish & writeup

Swimming at Starfish Beach

This will be a brief post. All is well. Students focused on project write-up and wrap up of the forest structure project. This is a continuing comparative project as we will sampling in the same way the other forests we visit in the course. Some had time for a little tree climbing. We took a break in the afternoon with a boat ride to outdoor restaurant where we had milkshakes or other drinks. This was followed by a swim at Starfish Beach. After supper, students, again, plunged in to finish their write-ups. They’ll present their results tomorrow.  We’re still a limited on availability of Internet and bandwidth, but it’s much better than in past years. Click on ITEC (Feb 13) or go to 2017 Photos tab to see some recent photos. 

– Steve

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Studies: Frogs, Spiders(2), Soils, Forest Structure (& Tree Climbing too)

Hey, Rory and Lizzie are writing to ya’ll today. In the morning we split into two groups of five; one group studying soil and the other made a biodiversity index of different plants in the rain forest. The soil group collected samples of soil from 5 different areas of ITEC and then started a “shake test”; we put some of the soil into jars, filled them with water, and shook them for two minutes in order to separate the particles. The three of us who are studying soil for our lens will check the samples again in a couple of days in order to see what kinds of particles the soil in ITEC is made of.

Later in the afternoon, we split into our 3 main project groups. The poison dart frog group  finished catching frogs. We saw a lot more today because it rained last night! The spider web angle  group searched for more webs in the forest, and after getting lost in the greenery, we finally finished collecting our data. The other spider group continued to take close-up snaps of the golden-orb banana spiders. After dinner and lots of card games, the groups reconvened to begin writing our scientific reports. We all hit the books and analyzed our data. Stay tuned for more! 

Notes from Steve:
Check out the new tab student photo albums for photos by Max Bowen. I expect there will be albums from other students too. I don’t have access to the Phoenix group’s photos 

We were very fortunate to have Bill Maher at the station to lead, teach, and oversee a tree climbing session for interested students.  He is very experienced and has the vey highest level of training and certification there is. Bill is a Certified Master Instructor from the Global Organization of Tree Climbers and the Association of Experiential Educators. As Bill practices it, this is a very safe activity.

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Greetings from Sara, Andrius, and Liam of Group Phoenix!

Saturday was a packed day! After we finished our dance class, we went to the Maribé school to help paint the new playground. This was a project spearheaded by the Waved Foundation, an organization that raises money for public education through surf competitions.



We spent the majority of the afternoon painting a basketball court surrounded by murals and games, such as a map of Panama, hopscotch, a maze, and the alphabet. After many hours of hard work in the sun, we ate dinner and left for the beach!

We went to Arenal beach to welcome the sunset while swimming in the warm waters. We swam until just after dusk, at which point we trekked the two miles back to Pedasí. Fortunately our teacher’s husband followed behind with his car, lighting the way while we played music and enjoyed the gorgeous full moon.

Back in Pedasí, we hung out in the plaza and had ice cream before returning to our host families for a well-deserved night’s sleep (and for Spanish homework).

Sunday morning we arrived at school to find an array of ingredients before us. To our delight, today’s lesson was learning how to cook traditional Panamanian dishes! First we learned how to cook empanadas, made out of ground corn, salt, and local white cheese. Next on the menu, was bollos, a sweet breakfast dish cooked in palm leaves.


Lastly we made tamales, which included hand kneading ground corn and a blend of spices and wrapping it in banana leaves with chicken and vegetables. While the tamales were cooking, we were lucky enough to have another dance lesson- only this time we added tambores, or drums. After a truly exhausting hour, we returned to school for a traditional Panamanian soup.

For the rest of the afternoon, we’re going to catch up on journal entries, and then reward ourselves with a trip to the beach! ¡Hasta luego!

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Soropta Canal trip and start of projects

Greetings from ITEC! And hello from Austin and Schuyler!

Today the group set off early in the morning to visit the old Panama Canal built by the Snyder Brothers who owned and operated the United Fruit Company. After a 10 minute boat ride from the field station, we saw the old canal. We discussed the implications of the United Fruit Company on the Panamanian people, the country, and the economy. Pete noted that this was the 1st Panama Canal, and it was used to bring bananas to a deep-water port for export. The canal was an excellent place to go birding! There were plenty of birds to see and we saw a couple of caiman. For birds, we saw a roadside hawk, a great egret, a purple gallinule, a couple Passerini tanagers, brown boobies, a brown pelican, Montezuma oropendulas, a little blue heron, a green heron, an Amazon kingfisher, a ring kingfisher, a magnificent frigate bird, and turkey vultures. A traveled a couple miles down the canal, and then we docked near a path to the ocean. We hung around the ocean for twenty or thirty minutes and after that we came back to the field station

After a very yummy lunch, we started our main projects! We split off into three groups. One group is working on the population of poison dart frogs (Marisa, Rory, Mu’izza, and Austin). And two groups are working with banana spiders, one working on the angle of their webs (Lizzie, Schuyler and Sam), and one working on their mating behaviors (Sophie, Max and Malik). After we split up, we spent two hours this afternoon working on our group projects. We then had dinner and have been hanging out since! On our introduction hike, our guide Dr. Pete gave us a fruit with a juice on the inside that makes temporary tattoos. We did some group tattooing tonight! That’s really all for today! We’re excited to work on projects! Hasta Mañana

Click on ITEC–2-(Feb-10-11), or go Photos 2017 tab  to see more photos of our day.



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The latest from Pedasí

Hi Everyone!
Hope you’re enjoying the snow!

It’s Charlotte and Gracie (of group phoenix) writing to you from outside the Buena Vida Language School in Pedasí. We just finished a delicious lunch that was well needed after a vigorous couple of hours of dancing.


We learned two traditional folkoric Panamanian dances, one called Viva Panama a type of cumbia.  And the other one was la danesa poblana.

Learning traditional dances

The women got to wear polleras, traditional skirts worn for dancing. Spanish classes are going very well. Yesterday we had an intense game of Scrabble in our group; shockingly the Spanish teacher of the bunch, Patricio, and his equally knowledgeable teammate Liam, reigned victorious.


One of our favorite activities so far has been working with Proyecto Ecológico Azuero. We helped build the foundation for a “maya,” a sheet that blocks the plants from the sun. We dug holes using various tools and stuck in wood from a “teca” tree.

Digging holes and carrying posts made of teak (teca) to build a structure for a tree seedlings that will be covered by netting (“maya”)

During the digging process, we had to be careful not to hit any pipes because the electricity and water supply ran underground.

We did hit one water pipe and one of the people at the project had to come to our rescue. His name is Vicente Vasquez and he’s 17 like many of us. He helped us all day and was a welcome addition to our conversation. As it turns out, he’s a star! He competed on a Panamanian television show called Concurso Nacional de Oratoria and won! Some of our second celebrity sighting of the trip (the first being el Presidente). Here’s a link to the video that features Vicente, skip to 2:01:10 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=22eDXiBQMig . After doing work out in the sun, we ate some banana cake and duros de coco and guyaba (frozen fruit juice sometimes made with milk.)

Shelling seeds at Proyecto Ecológico Azuera

We continued our time with PEA by shelling seeds for beautiful trees that will be planted at a school. Overall, we LOVED our time with PEA. We were able to learn more about the agricultural and environmental conditions of the country. We are jumping for joy about returning on Tuesday!

Both of us are having a wonderful time in our homestays. I (Charlotte) have a host mother named Nina and father named Dago. Dago works as a fisherman and gives tours of the Isla Iguana. He said that one day he may be able to take all of us as a group, so we can see the beautiful scenery of the island. One of the highlights of spending time with my host family has been getting to play with their three year old niece named Jaciel. Dago jokes a lot that she is the age of a three year old but the size of a two year old because she is so tiny. I spend a lot of time sitting on their patio in the hammocks and talking to everyone.

I (Gracie) have a host mother named Janet, a host father named Omar, and two host siblings, Yarisel (9 years old) and Wilson (11 years old). Yarisel and Wilson have other siblings as well but they don’t live with their parents anymore. (One of their older brothers lives with their grandmother next door.) They have a dog named Princess and the tiniest kitten I’ve ever seen named Leti. There are also a few horses near the house, and I’ve watched some friends of my host family change their shoes. There are constantly friends and family in and around the house and I’ve loved talking to them all. I’ve also ridden bikes around the neighborhood with my host sister every night and visited friends and neighbors.

Yarisel (Gracie’s host sister) splashes her piglets with water to help them cool down.

Both families offer us treats and new fruits to try, like guayaba, which has been fun and delicious. It turns out that Charlotte’s host mom, Gracie’s host dad, and Sarah S’s host dad are all siblings. On Thursday night, when we first arrived, our host families all took us to meet up and see the pigs they are getting ready to sell. We both saw the biggest pig we’ve ever seen. The piglets are very cute but smell… funky.

Overall, we’re both having an amazing time in Pedasí. We’re super excited to go to Achotines but also sad at the idea of leaving our host families. Les extraño! Hasta Pronto!

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Pedasí homestays

Our time in Pedasí is off to a great start. Today is day two of language classes. When we arrived in at the Buena Vida language school we were greeting by Dania, who runs the language school, and the homestay mothers, grandmothers and some younger siblings. See a few images below from our bus ride packed to the brim with luggage, our arrival at the school and students just as they headed off to their respective homestays. More to come!

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Rainforest and reef – Gryphon


Sam and Malik here, and we are reporting on Group Gryphon’s first two days at ITEC (Institute for Tropical Ecology, and Conservation). Following an early

Starfish beach

morning flight on Wednesday that gave us beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean, our group arrived in Bocas del Toro, a province near Costa Rica well known for its lovely archipelago of islands. After a hearty breakfast and group exploration, we set off on a pleasant boat ride to Isla Colon, armed with our luggage, groceries, and Steve’s suspicious looking supply of Diet Coke.

Dr. Peter Lahanas is the head of ITEC, and an expert in almost all things tropical (ecology, anthropology, botany, etc.). Enrique is the field station manager, and Rosa is the cook she and daughters Julieta and Rosita help to prepare the delicious meals we get to enjoy. While at the Field Station, we have the chance to conduct on site field research, explore local coral reefs and rainforests, and totally immerse ourselves in the beautiful nature that surrounds us, both literally and intellectually. On our first day, we went on a 2-hr hike into the Mature Forest north of the station, where Dr.Pete talked about the incredible biodiversity that can be found in the area. On the hike, we saw Capuchin monkeys, Poison Dart Frogs, Snakes, and swarms of Butterflies- all of which pale in comparison to the gigantic spiders that hang right outside the boys dormitory. Following the group excursion and a delicious dinner of veggies, we headed to the bunk room for some early shut-eye.

Snorkeling at Starfish Beach

We started our second day here at ITEC with a breakfast cooked by Rosa followed by a seminar by Dr. Pete on the climate of Panama and the science of heat convection on the planet.  Then we headed out on a motorboat for a snorkeling expedition at Starfish Beach, a reef where we were able to see starfish, coral, sea cucumbers and urchins, and flying fish. We got a look at the tourist economy in Panama; at the beach there were flocks of tourists, and Panamanians who offer food and drinks, trinkets, boat rides, and snorkeling trips. Upon returning (and after several showers) we headed inside and tried to identify some of the sea life we observed with the help of Steve, Pete, Chessie and several books. Tomorrow we hope to begin working on our final projects. Hasta Luego!

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Gryphon, ITEC & Phoenix, Pedasí both settling in

Buena Vida Language School

The Phoenix group settled into their homestays in Pedasí today at about 3 pm. They’ll meet tomorrow morning at 8 am at the Azuero Project to do work with them, and they will have language classes after lunch. 

Moving through the mangroves on the way to ITEC’s dock

Group Gryphon settled into their bunkrooms, and, after lunch and a siesta, we went for 2-hour slow walk through the nearby rainforest. Dr. Peter Lahanas led the walk and discussions. After dinner we had some time debriefing about our time in the forest.  With a number of early mornings in a row, we’re all pretty tired. We’ll go snorkeling in the morning and later in day I expect to have some students enter a blog post about what we’ve been doing. 

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We’ve arrived safely in Bocas del Toro

Gryphon group is enjoying a breakfast in town, and we’ll be going to our field station site in about an hour. Internet will be limited, but we’ll post if we can. Our cell should work but reception can be spotty 

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La Adventura Comienza

Blog Entry: February 8th, 2017

Hello from Sylvia, Liam, and Marisa! We arrived in Panama City yesterday at about 2:00. We made it to the Magnolia Inn at about 3:30, and got a lunch-dinner at a local buffet-style restaurant! The portions were large and delicious. Later that day, we met and talked about the trip, and then were given time to wander around the area of Panama City we are staying in, for these first

A picture of a part of our neighborhood, Liam 18’

couple days. This area happens to be the tourist and Government district. While we explored in small groups, we all stumbled upon a protest. The group Liam was a part of ran into the protest as the president of Panama walked from his office to address the protesters. Liam does not know why he is writing this in the third person. Anywho, Liam got a video of the president talking to the protestors. Afterwards, the president invited the protesters to his office to discuss reparations. The group asked locals in the area about the protest, and got some mixed responses. Some people said it was about class issues, others said it was about toxins in medicine and buildings, and several people had no idea the protest was going on. The whole group was exhausted at the end of the day, and gladly settled into their beds at the Inn.


The locks of the Panama Canal, Liam 18’

Today was the first full in Panama City and the first full day of the trip as a whole. We woke up relatively early and went out to find ingredients to make breakfast; a LOT of scrambled eggs and fresh fruit. After breakfast we climbed into a bus and drove to the Miraflores canal base. We spent time walking around the museum there and learned about the history of the canal as well as the mechanical side of the canal. We also had the exciting experience of watching two cargo ships from Japan pass through the locks. We had the pleasure of standing for a short eternity of 30 minutes while one of the boats waited for the water levels to even out on both sides of the gates.

Going into the museum at the base we each had individual questions prepared that we were supposed to find the answers to from the information given in the museum. Some of the questions

A Japanese boat is guided through the canal, Liam 18’

included, “Who originally built the canal?”, “How much money does it cost to be able to pass through the canal?”, and “What was the environmental impact of the canal?” After lunch we went to another museum, but this one focused more on the art and culture/background of the canal. After a couple of hours of walking around the city we reconvened as a group to process the information we learned throughout the day as well the experience of being tourists from America.


Another boat is guided through the canal, Liam 18’)

After dinner we spoke to Domingo Villaronga, an old friend of Amber, who works for the U.S. Embassy in Panama as Deputy Economic Chief, about his experience of being a diplomat. We talked about his experience working in Panama, as well as other countries he’s worked in (Botswana, Colombia, and Afghanistan). The students going to ITEC then packed for their early morning flight; they need to have everything ready by 4:30 AM!!

Students with Domingo Villaronga, photo by Chessie


We all cannot wait to continue the adventure!


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Panama leader phone numbers are posted (under ’17 Group Info)

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We’ve arrived safely and are in the Magnolia Inn

Plane flight was smooth. Everyone is getting settled into their rooms and we’ll post an update later. We’re about to go out for dinner

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See additions to ’17 Group Info tab & Sidebar “Important Links”

On the sidebar to the right, we’ve added links to most of the major sites where we’ll be staying or are hosting us in some fashion.

In the ’17 Group Info tab on www.cswoffcampus.net, see the list for the Gryphon and Phoenix groups for Feb 9 – Feb 21, as well as links to itinerary, site information & contacts. Leader contact info (before we go) is listed below the group lists. Once we’re in Panama, and have outfitted our phones with new Panama numbers. we will post, under this tab, the numbers for all the group leaders. 

Note: this tab is password protected using the password we spoke of at the Parent Informational meeting. Contact me (Steve) by email if you need the password.

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Flight information for 2017 Panama Course (updated 2-4-17)

The following is the flight information for travel to and from Boston and Panama. We are fortunate to have the only direct Boston to Panama flight. This saves much travel time and, very importantly, it means that we don’t have to move a group of 25 through customs and security in Miami.

Copa Airlines

  • February 7 depart Boston 8:10 a


arrive Panama City 2:18 pm
    • 6 hours 08 minutes nonstop,   flight #312
  • March 8 depart Panama City 

12:34 a
m, arrive Boston 


6:15 p

    • 5 hours 41 minutes nonstop,    flight #311
(Note: Copa Airlines may alter slightly their departure times over time.)
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Despedida (farewell party for end of 2015 course)

kids *& party horizontalTonight we had our despedida or farewell party. All the families attended in one fashion or another and there were many kids playing around the ground of the school. It was potluck and there was plenty of food for all. Joe, Naty and Joey (in that order, gave thank you speeches on behalf of all of us. They were very well received. Pedasí has well earned its reputation as having very
friendly people. All are back in their homestays at this point. 4-happy-students-2Tomorrow, starting at 8 am, they have individual oral finals in Spanish, and we have synthesis questions and activities for them both in the morning asleepand afternoon. All seem well, and while many are thinking about getting home, most are also going to miss Pedasí and other places in Panama we’ve been. I’ve already heard some vow to return.

See  more despedida photos in the Photos ’15 section of the website.


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Entering final days in Pedasí

old man and chicken

-photo buy Joe Hille

naomi in dress for blogA

Naomi in traditional Pollera dress

We’re now in the final few days of the course.  The final day of classes was today, and they’ll have an oral final evaluation on Monday. Today, as every day, for classes,  their was a rotation of groups among three teachers, one focusing on grammar, and annother focused on making and/or talking about tangible reflections of the culture (e.g. traditional baskets for making maize, traditional hair ornaments as seen on Naomi, etc.). The final teacher guided each group  on a 10-day scavenger hunt concerning local culture. They would need to find things or gather information from locals.

Students have a rare (unique?) free day tomorrow.  In the late afternoon on Sunday, were having a farewell party with our host families.

Monday, morning, we’re back to work with oral  evaluation with their teachers and individual written  reflections and synthesis of science, environment, agriculture, culture, and social equity.


class at Buena Vida

Class at Buena Vida Language School

On Monday afternoon, we’ll divide into three groups to synthesize the above for each major site we visited—ITEC and its surroundings, Cerro Punta and Pedasí.  Each group will present and discuss their findings and possible recommendations with all.

See Photos ’15 for new photos of Pedasí. Also Joe Hille has new a album of his photos since we’ve been in Pedasí. It can be found under his name in Student Photos or by clicking Joe Hille III

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Back from Achotines

el faro ccliff and wavesHello World! This is Emma, Rayna and Naty and we’re here to give you the best blog post ever!

Tuesday afternoon, nine of us left Pedasí to stay at Achotines Research Facility, where tuna are studied in detail. Did you know that not much is known about tuna? Isn’t that crazy? Well, now we know, and now you know, too. We observed the feeding of the tuna in captivity, and learned about how the staff at Achotines works with the fish.

We also walked through the tropical dry forest surrounding their facilities. We saw howler monkeys, cacti, and, at nighttime, we took a walk to the Pacific Ocean. Did you know that we (all three of us!) have never seen the Pacific Ocean before this trip? Crazy, right?

ant acaciaWe saw a small tree species (Bull Horn Acacias) loaded with ants. The ants protect the tree from herbivores, and the Acacia houses the ants in the thorns. The Acacia provides food for the ants with little protein rich nobs at the end of new leaves, and provides nectar to the ants in nectaries at leaf bases. The ants also clear the ground around the trees, and that reduces competition for the tree! Crazy, right? We also discovered, that at night, if you look around with your headlamp on, spiders look like diamonds in the grass. I (Emma) was very excited to find my arachnid friends in the forest. Spiders are so cool, right?

4 brothersWe spent twenty-four hours at Achotines, and when we got back to Pedasí at exactly 1:42 the next day, we had classes beginning at 2:00. The other half of the group left for Achotines when we arrived back at school. This morning, while half of our friends were hangin’ out with the tuna and gettin’ fishy, we went Azuero Earth Project, an organization that works to better our natural world!

really cool fish larvaeWe helped cultivate the earth near the organization’s headquarters, and we learned about the process of creating mulch. Did you know that there is no Spanish word for “mulch”? Crazy, right? The entire experience was very enriching. We also got to have an amazing lunch after, with freshly picked basil and tomatoes, (courtesy of Emma and Naomi), and the rest of the meal was made with all natural ingredients. Crazy, right?

tree and achotines baySince we are coming home in less than a week, we want to say thanks for keeping up with us, and while we’re sad to leave, we’re totally excited to come home and get cell phone service! And see all of your beautiful faces, of course. The memory of a snowless world will keep us company during this cold winter.

This is Emma, Rayna, and Naty signing out.
xoxo, Gossip Girl


Achotines addendum: Both groups had a similar itinerary. First, there was a brief afternoon orientation to the field station (don’t scare the tuna, don’t let the dogs go on long walks with you, and enjoy the resources of the station site). We had free time in afternoon to avoid too much activity in the heat of early-mid afternoon At 5 pm we walked to, and then cliff-side along, the ocean to “el faro” (mini lighthouse). We discussed some some dry forest basics along the way. After dinner both groups went on a night hike through part of the forest and then to another ocean side site that has both beach and rocky shore. The light of the full moon caused us to pause both nights for a while as the surf pounded against the rocks. We got off to early (6:30 am) start the following day to be in the forest when as that’s when it is coolest and the animal life at it’s most active. After some discussion and journaling time, we returned in time for an 8:30 breakfast. Tuna feeding was at 10:30 am. The second group also got a tour of the lab facilities where we saw larval tuna, tuna eggs and rotifers that are reared to feed the larva tuna.

See Achotines photos at Photos 2015



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Settling in at Pedasí

Gazebo game 3-march-200215Today was a fairly low-key day. Spanish classes ran from 8 am to noon. After lunch and a siesta we meet in the Gazebo in the park at 3 pm and played a game, led by Sophie & Jacob, that essentially was a single elimination tournament for pretend arm-wrestling between individuals selected randomly. Winners were determined by vote (no actual arm wrestling involved). I lost in Gazebo game 3-march-200315the first round to Madeleine. The finals were between Olivia and Awa who were supposed to arm wrestle for real. I’m not sure whom the winner ended up being, but it didn’t matter. Batidos (milkshakes or smoothies) for all. Afterwards some sent to the beach and others got together and did other activities.

Gazebo game 3-march-200415

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Ísla Iguana

birds-and-boatsAs today was Sunday students spent the morning with their homestay families. We ate lunch together at the school, and then headed out to catch boats for Ísla Iguana. We had four boats for our group, and it took about 25 minutes. The island is delightful, and it is characterized by a large breeding population of Frigate Birds, ctenosuars (a smaller dark brown iguana relative), clear water, corals and hermit crabs in great abundance. We headed back at a little before 5 pm. Click on on Isla Iguana GPS tracks to see our route and  Photos ’15 tab to see some photos of our afternoon.

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Hello from Josh, Jacob, and Lena!

bright colors

We are sitting at La Pandería in Pedasí snacking on some pastries. It’s a short walk from all of our houses and the Buena Vida Language School, at which we attend classes (completely in Spanish) from 8-12 during the week. The town is painted with bright colors: bright red, bright orange, bright yellow, bright blue, bright teal, bright green, bright pink and dark maroon!

Yesterday we walked to the beach. It was a much longer journey than originally expected, but was worth the trek. The sand was dark and the water was warm. We played several water and beach games: water-related movie charades in the water, porpoise attack, synchronized swimming dance routine, beach rugby-football, and frisbee.

yoga-for-blogThis morning, we woke up very early in order to arrive at the beach by 6:45. We were there to help the local scout troop pick up litter. Before we began cleaning, a few of us participated in a morning yoga class on the beach during sunrise, while others from our group tossed a frisbee with the scouts. After the cleanup, we had a while to enjoy the ocean, then went to school for a couple hours of class. (Beach cleanup photos)

beach cleanup for web25Each weekday, we have three unique classes: culture class with Mitzy, grammar with Dania, and Pedasí dynamics with Loreto. Today in grammar class, we discussed our home stay families and played a game including nouns, verbs, articles, and prepositions. In culture class, we met a local professional motetes maker and he taught us how to weave these baskets. They are made from white wood and are used by men to carry maize.

We met our host families two nights ago. We all have families:

I (Lena) have three host-sibilings: Cristofer (7 years old), Katherine (10 years old), and Marbin (18 years old).  My host-mother is named Marilin and my host-father is named Rigoberto and works at a farm.  Each night, I play “la papa caliente” (hot potato) and “las sillas musicales” (musical chairs) with my younger host-siblings.  Yesterday, we played with plastic dinosaurs and Cristofer and Katherine explained the various injuries the dinosaurs had, including fractured toe, amputated arm, broken tail, etc.  My host parents are very kind but speak very fast!

I (Josh) live just two doors down the street from Lena. My host-brother is named Kevin J02j&Jseqn}and is 10 years old. My host mother is Felicita and my host father is Edwin. Edwin is a construction worker and is currently working on a project on the beach. Felicita is a cook and we live in her restaurant. The whole front patio has about ten dining tables, and during meals that is where we eat. The first night she offered me fish and I gladly accepted. Little did I know that she would be serving me a full fish. Eyes included. Nevertheless, it was delicious. Last night Kevin and I watched Jurassic Park with spanish subtitles.

I (Jacob) have two parents and one brother in Panama. My host father works at a gas J01j&Jseqn}station across town, and my mother is an assistant, but I don’t know for whom. My brother is 14 and is on vacation until Monday. My first night went like this: “this is your room”, “what should I do”, “watch TV”, “here is a bean”, “should I peel more”, “If you want”. I peeled the beans. Seriously though, my parents are cool. I brought Josh and Lena home for a quick visit and my mom hugged and kissed them. I shower daily and am keeping my hygiene on point.

Overall, we have all been having a really good experience here in Pedasí and look forward to the last 10 days in Panama!

Que Cool,

Lena, Jacob, and Josh

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Links to photos & student work

• Link to course Cerro Punta photos
• Link to new set of Joe Hille course photos: Joe Hille 2 and Cerro Punta Fútbol
• Link to sequence of playing cards with Laura
• Link to Josh Glass video of ITEC projects: student projects at ITEC

Student post to follow later on our day

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Cerro Punta to Pedasí

Having spent the past two weeks at ITEC and the Cloud Forest in Cerro Punta, where most first-morningof our time was spent with each other as a group and removed from the outside world, living with our brand new host families has come as a welcome change as well as a great shock.

The Cloud Forest was refreshingly cool, brisk enough that we were all regularly wearing sweaters. Our cabins, high in the mountains, took quite a hike, or bumpy truck ride to reach, but were well worth the struggle. All of the cabins were remote and beautiful,

Cerro Punta

Cerro Punta

and each was unique in its attributes. While there, we did some journaling for science and Spanish. We also ventured on a few hikes in the cloud forest, and invented some adventurous new dishes for our unending appetites. On the first day we even saw five Quetzals; a beautiful bird that many visit Cerro Punta to see, though few are lucky enough to encounter.

Pedasi 102

Learning how to weave baskets traditionally used to harvest corn. This man is the only one left in town that makes them. (Pedasí)

Not to say that we have been in complete seclusion from the rest of the world! We spent some time in the town of Guadalupe, where we interviewed locals for our agriculture projects and explored the local stores and cafes. We also befriended the two granddaughters of our incredible cook, Señora Ramira, seven-year old Natali and ten-year old Laura.

At the end of our stay in Cerro Punta, we loaded up a (air conditioned!) bus and began our nine-hour ride to Pedasí. We left before nine in the morning and got here around six in the evening. Once we had reached Pedasí, we met our host families and walked, bags in hand, to our home for the next ten days. The extreme heat was a great shock compared to the cool cloud forest (The sweater I (Liver) bought will not be touched until we return to Boston).


Walking in Pedasí

It is hard for any of us to say much about our host families yet because it has only been one night, but no one has any horror stories beyond a bat, some geckos, and an early wake-up call from some mouthy roosters. Our first day at the Buena Vista Language School passed rapidly, and tomorrow, we reconvene at school at 6:30 in the morning to clean up a nearby beach with the local scout troop.

Until next time J,

Roshni, y Liver

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First meeting a member of their host family

• Photos of students first meeting a family member: Students & host family member
• Link to ITEC photos you might not have seen: Projects & Soropta Canal

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On the Road to Pedasí

We’re in the bus a little north of Chitré. We can a little bit of an internet connection using a smart phone as a “hotspot.” There is plenty of things to tell about Cerro Punta (but that will have what until later); we enjoyed our  stay there, and students are also excited, and probably a little nervous, about going to their homestays in Pedasí.

Before you hear from us again, check out Josh Glass’ video on ITEC projects. Click on the “Videos” tab on the upper right corner of the website and you’ll find it. When I reorganized the photos a bit (and more will be coming from Cerro Punta), and I realized that there was a album from ITEC that included our afternoon trip to the Soropta Canal and more that I had yet to make public. There’s some nice photos in it (and many are student photos) so I suggest that you check those out if you haven’t already. Click on Projects & Soropta Canal to see the photos.


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Cerro Punta – Getting into the community

It’s been a long rich day. We have to get up early tomorrow, so I’ll just show some parts of the day in photos.


Movie night

Jurassic Park

Interviews in town

Interviews in Town

Playing cards with Laura

Playing cards with Laura

Dean making loam

Dean making loam

Natalie & Kasey

Natalie & Kasey

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Subir, Subir, Subir

Group about to head out for the Millennial Trail

Group about to head out for the Millennial Trail

Greetings from the cabin 6 squad! We are all currently in Cerro Punta, about 7,000 feet above sea level. To get here we took a bus from Almirante, Bocas del Toro. En route, we popped a tire, and spent some time at a hydroelectric dam where we sampled some local cuisine: queso blanco and a paste made from tamarinds. They were all wrapped in banana leaves, and went great together. After we were back on the road for a while, we stopped at the Elfin forest (6,000 feet), whose winds made our hair fly backwards. When we arrived at the base of the mountain, we loaded into a massive tractor, which took us on an incredibly bumpy ride to the cabins near the top.

These cabins are awesome! They are solar powered, so if we conserve our energy use we have “lento” Wi-Fi and power throughout the day. We also have constant hot water, a major luxury after the 3-minute freezing military showers at ITEC. Brr! Outside every cabin is a hummingbird feeder. They are plentiful here, and are very beautiful; you can even see them mock-fight each other for access. At night, bats take the place of hummingbirds and sip the sugar-water we fill the feeders with. More night creatures to be spotted are kinkajous and cacomistles, which are monkey and lemur-like animals.

So far we have done a lot of hiking. The first day we hiked 2 different trails, each to different cascades. The forest is magnificent, and surprisingly cold: about 50 to 70 degrees. This is too cold for most insects, thank goodness. There are humungous trees, some dating to over 1,000 years old. Tarzan-worthy vines hang from them, as do other epiphytes, and there is so much life that it is hard to see very far in front of oneself on any of the trails. The day after (today) we hiked the “Millennial Trail,” the toughest one at Los Quetzales. It was 40 minutes of “subir, subir, subir” (in the words of our hilarious guide, Abel, which means “up, up, up”). He was not, for once, joking. The trail was slippery and challenging, but it was a ton of fun and very much worth it when we saw the view at the top: Cerro Punta, the small town, situated in a valley surrounded by mountains covered in farmland. We really can’t describe how amazing it is here, but we hope some of our pictures can do it justice.

Tomorrow we plan on doing group projects in town, and working with some local farms. Adios, y hasta luego!

( Cabin 6 (Dean, Cora, Molly, Joey, and Steve)

Note: there were some photos uploaded earlier. Click on Photos ’15 tab

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Living in the cloud forest

We’re all doing fine, but we are busy. We had two hikes today, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. We split the group in two each time. Abel, an animated and very knowledgeable, guide whom we’ve worked with 8 years was with one group, and Dr. Peter Lahanas was with the other. In the afternoon, we also had a field exercise in making observations, asking questions and developing ideas into studies.

Tomorrow, a majority of the group will go on a long 3 and ½ or 4 hour hike on the “Millennial Trail,” and we will likely get to an altitude of about 8,000 feet. (The upper two cabins we’re staying in are at about 7200 feet.) Those who don’t go on the hike will follow a substantial initiative of their own choosing. We will share all our experiences later in the day. Were staying in three separate cabins, one is a sort of base camp where we have lunch and dinner and the other two are a 15 minute walk up further into the cloud forest. Collectively, we saw 5 Quetzals today, four females and one male. It’s a spectacular bird that this area is famous for and it’s often hard to find. It’s also the namesake of the lodge that owns the cabins in which we are staying.

Sorry, no photos today or yesterday. We just don’t have the bandwidth to upload them. We’ll be staying in the cabins through Tuesday night. We will be doing some activities with the local farm community during the day on Tuesday and Wednesday. As the farms are around the small town of Guadalupe, I’ll try to find some time to get to a location where I can upload some photos. Students have been so involved with their surroundings, whether it be in the forest or the cabins, that I’ve been hard pressed to get new student blog entry. I expect, you’ll get one tomorrow.



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Final day at ITEC & travel day tomorrow

While some students were apprehensive (and excited) about being in rainforest field station with no a generator for electricity (for part of the day) and no hot water, I think all really enjoyed being there. And, as we said, at the parent meeting, its a good site to start. We’re all together, students and leaders get to know each other and its a good environment for the group to bond and form an identity. Despite the somewhat compressed time, I was very pleased with the student projects. They were doing final edits today on there reports  and I hope to share many of them at this website. There is another way you’ll get to chance to see the student projects, but I’ll leave that a mystery for now.

I’m in Panama City now, and away from the group as I’m putting my son Joey on a plane for Boston tomorrow, to go back to school. I’ll rejoin the group by dinner tomorrow by flying to David, the nearest airport to Cerro Punta, and getting transpiration up to where we’re staying.  The journey for the group tomorrow is very interesting in that, after a 45 minute boat ride, the group will get on a bus in steamy Almirante, and over the course of 2 hours, or so, climb steadily to the continental divide. They will transition from a steamy lowland rainforest regime to a much cooler climate at the height of the divide that is 3,ooo to 4,000 feet (estimate). At the other side of the divide, the area is in dry season, and as they descend to Pacific plain it will get hotter, dryer and very brown compare to area around  ITEC. In contrast to the Caribbean drainage, the land is dotted with with farms and ranches and most of the land is cleared. After shopping in David for food for breakfast an snacks, the group will get back in the bus and climb to the area of Cerro Punta and to one of the farthest towns in the area, Guadalupe. The town itself is over 6,000 feet, but we’ll be staying at an even higher altitude—between 6,500 to 7,000 feet. It can be quite cool there and it is often precipitating there, although often its a form of mist and not heavy rain. I’ll let the students describe there accommodations at a later point; they won’t be disappointed.

For program there, we start with orientation, comparative forest ecology, science and natural history. Dr. Peter Lahanas is with us for these first two days. There will also be time set aside for individual student initiatives. The last two full days will focus more on agriculture, land use, history and labor, but we will integrate all elements each day during our time at in the town of Guadalupe.

Internet has not been available at all in the past during our stay in the cabins. There may be a gap in ur updates. I’ll try to have more photos in future updates. Thank for your support.


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Project writeup and presentation

Joey, Olivia & Emma working on research paper

Joey, Olivia & Emma working on research paper

Today students made a strong push to finish the bulk of the data analysis and writeup. We had presentations at 4 pm. They are having a check for both science and language journals before we move on to the the next site of Cerro Punta. You’ll see some more on the projects   at a future point. Chessie First is leading a unit on agriculture, food system, sustainability & equity. It’s a thread that runs through the course and students are doing some small group work in the last 3 days at ITEC.

blog 2

Rosni & Cora looking at a map of Panama looking to find our route to Cerro Punta and later to Pedasí.

On Saturday, we’ll be moving on to the next site. We’ll be taking boats for a 45 minute ride to the mainland proof Almirante, where we’ll have a bus pick us up for a the 4.5 -5 hour drive to the tiny town of Guadalupe in the area known as Cerro Punta (“pointed mountain”). The group will be stopping in the small city of David (accent on the last syllable) to get groceries and supplies for stay in the cabins of Los Quetzales lodge.

I’ll be going to Panama City tomorrow to drop of my son Joey for plane to Boston Saturday morning. I’ll fly to David and meet the group by suppertime on Saturday. It’s been a great experience for Joey, I’m sorry to see him go, I’ll miss him. The group has been very welcoming of him, which I appreciate very much.




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Projects & perspiration

blog photo 1¡Hola padres y madres!

Sophie and Dean here, coming at you live from the ITEC palace. We haven’t seen any of the other blog posts yet, but assure you that this one will be the funniest.

Today we continued to work on our independent projects, which incited joy for some and panic for others. I (Sophie) just returned from my night walk to study my friends (the leaf-cutter ants). My partner (Joe Hille) and I are studying the effects of changing the options that the ants have when they are selecting which leaves to bring back to the colony. First, we give the ants the option to pick up a leaf collected from another ant trail. After that, we give them the option to pick up a leaf from their own path. This is important because ants are blind, and work almost completely by following scent trails along the path. After many hours of watching ants, we’ve proved that the ants are in fact quicker to pick up leaves from their own path. There are more ant facts I could list off, but I’ve decided to spare you. Not being much of a bug person, I wasn’t very excited to be doing this project, but I’ve learned that ants are in fact my friends.

Today in my (Dean’s) corner of the world, Cora, Roshni and I were busy working out in the reef with a small starfish known as the brittle star. We were trying to determine if the color of the sponge that the brittle stars live on correlates with the color of the stars themselves. From the data we collected we found that there was no correlation between the color of the sponge and the color of the brittle stars. We had gone into the study believing the opposite of what we found out in the reef, a prime example of science in action (woah).

blog photo 2In other news, there was a group workout that was utterly laughable. Dean took part and Sophie watched and laughed. After hyping up this workout for several days, Naomi gathered the group in the 90-degree heat of the day and commenced the workout. She was very proud of it. They were outside for 20 minutes tops before throwing in the towel. All that the workout achieved was causing lots of perspiration, not necessarily any physical improvement.

That’s all for now from down in the land of Panama. See ya’ll next week for the next installment of Dean and Sophie on air!

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Biology, Beaches and Bananas

Feb. 17, 2015
Day 7 in Panama
Day 5 in ITEC

Madeleine Killough frofToday was the hottest day so far, well into the 90s with no rain (finally). In the morning we went our separate ways and worked on our projects. Some of us went to the reef while others stayed closer to ITEC and ventured into the rainforest or worked in the lab. Before lunch, we had an intense game of Crazy Gin. Afterwards, we had some chill time. People took advantage of the weather and went outside to tan and play Frisbee.

We regrouped after relaxing to go to the Soropta Canal. Sadly, this entire area may soon be taken over by large companies hoping to profit from building a luxurious resort. Luckily, our guru Pete has a plan to save the land. He found a new morphotype of the poison dart frog and he aims to preserve the land as well as the frogs by taking the case to court.

Our favorite part of the day was when after going down the canal, we got off the boats and went to a secluded beach. The waves were very strong, and we had to be careful as we waded into the warm water. The sand was dark because it came from volcanic rock, and soropta beach for blogsome people went into the water and used the sand as an exfoliant.

After a delicious dinner, we talked about the evolution of Bocas del Toro and the banana industry. We discovered the truth about tourism, the environment and the banana industry. We explored the positives and negatives of tourism and its effects on the Panamanian culture and economy. We ended the day with a little bit of Bruno Mars funky funk.

Rayna & Konstantina






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List of Projects at ITEC

Today was a major workday for getting the projects started in earnest. There are a wide variety of projects, and they take advantage of several major ecosystems nearby. While there might be some slight adjustments, below is a very quick, simplified, summary of projects

Poison Dart Frogs:
Kasey, Madeleine & Naomi
• Location of perches of males and females

 Mangroves: Jacob & Lena
• Differential salt excretion by mangroves growing in different salinity environments

 Leafcutter Ants: Joe & Sophie
• Do ants show different leaf preferences on different trails?

 Tank Communities: Emma, Joey & Olivia
• What are the differences in communities of invertebrates living in pools of water in      bromeliads and 2 species of Heliconia

Sea Pearls: Molly & Rayna
• Distribution of Sea pearls in fore, mid and back reefs
• Within a zone is the distribution, clumped, random or evenly distributed?

Brittle Stars & Sponges: Cora, Dean & Roshni
• Is there a correlation between the colors of brittle stars and the colors of associated sponges

Feather Duster Worms: Konstantina & Naty
• Are there differences in defensive reactions in two species of feather duster worms?

Photography & Video: Josh
• Capturing events using time lapse, GoPro underwater, macro and documentary videography

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Sea Pearls, Poison Dart Frogs and more

Molly’s day: In the reefy morning, it was impossible to collect any data because the water was so murky. Lucky for us it cleared up in the afternoon, and all the reef project-doers were able to gather some data. There were also a few sunburns and a sea urchin attack (casual).

The clear water in the afternoon helped Rayna and me locate sea pearls on the sea floor. They are a large, single-celled organism, and just look like small, glass balls (try finding a big marble when you can’t even see the ground). We are searching along the reef for ‘groups’, or trying to find sea pearls that are near each other.

In order to determine whether or not the pearls are in groups, first we need to find one. Once we find one, we treat that as the center of the group. We examine the immediate area around the pearl (a square meter, to be exact), and if there are any other pearls in that space, it means that there is a group of sea pearls (!). So far, there have been 17 sightings of sea pearls.

Kasey’s day: This morning, we were to begin the first day of our data gathering. After some confusion, I settled into a group with Naomi and Madeleine, and we went to the rainforest to look for poison dart frogs. Equipped with our cell phones, a measuring instrument, water, bug spray and wellies, we began our expedition.

Our project is focused on the sex and size of the frogs in comparison to the location in which we found them. They are small, their backs are green with black spots, and their bellies are yellow. They are around 20mm long, and are great at avoiding humans. Pete, our resident herpetologist, had given us lots of background information and sparked our interest in the frogs.

Collecting data proved to be a big adventure. So far, we have chased and held 20 frogs long enough to measure them. It felt very strange to cup my hands around a frog and feel it still jumping around on my palms. The rainforest itself was shady but buggy. We spent about 4 hours total hiking and jumping after frogs. Along the way, we saw a snake, got a little lost, and trudged through a swamp. Tomorrow we will head out again in hopes of getting a larger sample of data. Wish us luck.

<3 Molly and Kasey

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CSW Cavemen

cave for webToday we went to a limestone cave on Isla Colón.  After a long walk to get there, decked out in our headlamps and trail gear, we were greeted by a narrow entrance into the rainforest, complete with a flooded trail to the cave.  The cave itself was made entirely of ancient coral, churned up by geological activity over the years.  Calcium carbonate dissolved by acidic rain creates stalagmites and stalactites, and carves the cave out of the coral.

cave for web group 1Getting into the cave was a very tight squeeze.  We crawled through natural tunnels on our hands and knees, while being hugged by the cave walls around us.  Right after crawling through the mud on the cave floor, we discovered that it wasn’t actually mud: it was entirely bat guano!  At the first chamber of the cave, we were introduced to a smattering of Orange Nectar Bats (Lonchophylla robusta).  As we entered the next chamber, our line of sight was literally clouded by flying bats.  They would often brush our shoulders as they flew by.  There were four kinds in total: the Orange Nectar Bats, Greater Sac-Winged Bats (Saccopteryx bilineata), Seba’s short-tailed Bats (Carollia perspicillata), and Vampire Bats (Desmodum rotundum).  We also saw cave crabs, a spiny rat, cave crickets, and a whip scorpion.  Even the most scared of our group were able to overcome their fears and appreciate the untampered natural beauty of the cave and its residents.

–Naomi and Joey 🙂

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Hoy nosotros…

steve uplaod to blog Itec day -2'15027Hoy nosotros… Just kidding. Although this is only our second day at the ITEC research station, we have already seen so much! After some shockingly cold showers and a delicious breakfast this morning, we split up into two groups to explore some of the different ecosystems in the area.

Our group ventured into the rainforest first, finding some huge spiders, poison dart frogs, and stick bugs among other insects. Pete (our guru), talked to us about the clay in the soil, age of the forest, and warned us about the leaves with foot-long spikes attached to them. We found some fruit that many locals use to dye their skin and clothes, and brought some back to try for ourselves. When we entered a clearing, we found a 50-foot root hanging from a tree. After testing it, we found we could swing from a nearby hill, ending the morning on a fun note.

josh uplaod to blog Itec day -2'15025

Photo by Josh

After lunch and a short siesta, our group boarded a 15-person boat with our snorkeling gear and headed for a small coral reef and mangrove forest nearby. The water was much warmer than we were used to, but the poisonous, spiky sea urchins (Diadema antillarum) kept us on our toes. Throughout the afternoon we saw starfish, puffer fish, and Featherduster worms, as well as many different types of coral. Yesterday’s rainstorm made the water a little murky, but the reef was still beautiful.

roshni uplaod to blog Itec day -2'15026

photo by Roshni

After both groups returned, we had a little down time where we debriefed our experiences, ate dinner and played cards. In the next few days, we will be starting our experiments in one of these ecosystems. We are super excited to explore more of the nature around us, even if it means braving the bugs and the 95% humidity. Stay tuned for more posts from the rainforest in the coming week!
– Madeleine and Joe H.

(There are new photos in Photo Albums)

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ITEC Day 1

ITEC-day-1011-palne--lighterWe were up before 4 am to catch a 6:30 air Panama flight to Bocas del Toro. It was raining somewhat when we got there. After spending a half hour in town the rain had abated somewhat and we took off for the other side of the island and you can see our route by clicking on “boat ride to ITEC“. The rain picked up a bit on our way to the station, and we were in various degrees of wetness by the time we got to Institute for Tropical Ecology and Conservation (ITEC). The station itself, is about a 200 yards walk from boat dock.

ITEC-day-1005-2nd-verAfter a change of clothes, an early lunch, orientation to the station and a siesta we were in
pretty good collective mood. A large group of students went for a short walk with Dr. Peter Lahanas, the director of ITEC. We got a great look at a three-toed sloth and had a little discourse on its life history, evolution it’s relationship to other forms of life.

Sloth-day-1-ITECPlease note that there are some photos of our day today in “Photos ’15” tab. We’ll be here long enough to settle into a rhythm, you will see more photos, including more student photos as well a  student blog entries. Tomorrow, the group is separating into two different activities. In the morning, one group, weather permitting (no not snow), will go snorkeling at the coral reef, and the other will walk in the rainforest with “Pete.” In the afternoon we plan on switching the groups. We will debrief and discuss what we discover.


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Casco Viejo & Panama Canal

We had a full day today. We went to visit the Miraflores Locks today and watched a couple of ships go from the Pacific Ocean, raising them 1/2 the way up to the 85 feet above sea level of Lake Gatún, the big freshwater lake in the middle of the canal. There is a museum there that explains the process moving ships through the canal as well as describing the history of the canal. In the afternoon we had a fun and well-thought scavenger hunt that was organized by Casco Antiguo Language School whom with we partnered. We split up into two groups for dinner. We’ll be leaving very early tomorrow on Air Panama for Bocas del Toro (mouths of the Bull). I’m having a little trouble with the photo gallery that I’m using for the site, so right now I’m just going to add a number of photos directly into the blog below. I’m hoping to get the photo gallery issue resolved soon, but we’ll have limited internet at ITEC, so it may be difficult. In any case enjoy Josh Glass’s photos below:

Josh Panama-day-2001 Josh Panama-day-2008 Josh Panama-day-2007 Josh Panama-day-2006 Josh Panama-day-2005 Josh Panama-day-2004 Josh Panama-day-2003 Josh Panama-day-2002









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First night in Panama

After settling into the Magnolia Inn we went out to eat at Purdue Pizza. too too much to right now. We’re all going to sleep soon to get ready for a full day tomorrow.

Purdue Pizza 1

Purdue Pizza 1


Purdue Pizza 2












Joe & Roshni

After eating our dinner dusk was falling the night was cooling off and we took a leisurely stroll back to our hotel.

At the main plaza of Casco Viejo

At the main plaza of Casco Viejo

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Were In Panama City

We arrived safely and have settled in somewhat to the Magnolia Inn. We’re going out to eat.  It’s 86º F.  We’ll have a another post later with some photos.

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Note on 2013 blogs

The 2013 blog is up to give flavor for the course. The last things to happen in the course appear closest to the top. If you want to follow the course front he beginning, you will need to first scroll down and then work your back up. Note, also, that, as the photo albums are using a new interface, the links to photo albums no longer work. There are photos of the the 2013 course under the “Photos” tab.

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Emberá Drua

Embera002 We visited an Emberá community in Chagres National Park. In total it took about 2 hours to get there by bus and boat. The boatman displayed considerable skill in getting us up the river. The weather was great all day and about about 80°. Embera001WE stopped first at the mouth of a small tributary, and we walked about 15 minutes along the creek to cascade where many swam. Cascade-near-Embra-Drua We then went about 20 minutes farther to the village. The villagers were very welcoming of us, and we heard of their history and some of their culture. The played music for us, and also danced. Many students got tattoos (they last about 7-10 days). After a very pleasant couple of hours we headed back down the river, and then back on the bus to our lodge in Gamboa. It was another full day. We are about to have supper, and, after a final wrap up we’ll get packed and ready for our 7:30 am flight back home: flight #960 form Panama City to Miami and flight #1828 from Miami to Boston, arriving in Boston at 6:45.Embera003

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All Together Now

Reunion in Gamboa

Reunion in Gamboa

This afternoon at about 4 pm both groups arrived at the Soberania Lodge in Gamboa within 10 minutes of each other. The Pedasí group traveled from La Enea (~ 5 hour bus ride with stops). The other group had a full day in the Canal area. First we went to Pipeline Road In Soberania National Park, then we boarded boats and saw wildlife along the islands and shoreline of Lake Gatún.

On Lake Gatún

On Lake Gatún

After a nice picnic lunch on an island in lake Gatún, we went to the Miraflores Locks and we watched a large ship go through. We’ll update with a little more later. You can follow our track today by clicking on Lake Gatún & Miraflores Locks. The point farthest north is Pipeline Road. The uppermost left tracks are on Lake Gatún. The Miraflores Locks are near the lower right portion of the tracks. Chessie did a group errand and the lowest right tracks reflect that errand.

Panama Canal

Panama Canal

Tomorrow we’ll all go together to a Emberá community (Emberá Drua). It is upstream on the Chagres River in Chagres National Park. It will take about an hour to get to the point by bus, where we will then get into large dugout boats that will then travel about 45 minutes upstream to the community.




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We’re at Gamboa (at the junction of the Lake Gatún and the Rio Chagres)

We arrived safely in Gamboa. Things went smoothly in our boat ride from ITEC to Boca del Drago, then by a bus to the town of Bocas del Toro—and then we arrived at the airport. Our flight was delayed by 2 hours and 45 minutes. Air Panama flew two 5:15  flights to Panama City, but they had only one plane to do it. We were the 2nd flight and had to wait until that plane had gone and come back from Panama City.

While we’re all a bit tired, all is well. We will get up a little later tomorrow than we had originally planned. After a little birding while eating our 8:00 am breakfast in the open diningroom, we will take a short bus ride to Pipeline Road in Soberania Natinal. This is a world famous birding site and it is chance for us to see a tropical lowland moist forest. The moist forest has a slightly more pronounced dry season than than the  tropical wet moist forest (= lowland rainforest). We will some trees bare of leaves and some of these are full of blooms. After this we will take a boat ride out into Lake Gatun, which is a very large manmade lake that is part of the Panama Canal. The lake and the watershed that keeps it full  are integral to the functioning of the Canal and it’s locks system. We plan a picnic lunch on an island on lake Gatún, before heading back by boat to our bus, which will then take us to the Miraflores Locks and the Canal Museum. Another full day! We will see if we can keep the afternoon short, so we can arrive back the Soberania  Lodge to time with the arrival of the other group.

We’re excited to getting all back together again and we will post again tomorrow.



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Atenas group in Gamboa, Pedasí group bidding farewell to La Enea

We’ve just heard from Steve via telephone that their journey from ITEC to Gamboa went well, and the group is now safely tucked in at Soberanía Lodge. We’ll be joining them tomorrow to spend our last two nights in Panama all together! A post from Steve soon to come.

Our last day in La Enea began with a demonstration of traditional drum carving and playing. A few of us gave drumming a try and had fun making music together. Next, we had the privilege of watching one of three existing professional mask artists in Panama create a clay mold for a diablico mask. After the mold is fired, the surface of the mask is created using papier-mâché. It is then painted with vibrant colors and wooden teeth are inserted to complete the character.

Next, we had a picnic lunch under the shade of an enormous Bongo tree. We then visited a house that is about 125 years old. Afterward, the students had the opportunity to swim and hang out at the beautiful beach near Bonnie’s house. We finished the evening with a despedida party with our host families, complete with merengue music, barbecue, and heartfelt farewell speeches.

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La Enea

We arrived in La Enea, a small town on the Azuero Penninsula, to a lovely welcoming including a whole bunch a excited local children, our new host moms, and the mayor of La Enea, who is one of the homestay dads. Bonnie Birker, our homestay and activities coordinator, was a peace corps volunteer years ago in this small town and has now returned to live here. She has nurtured deep connections with the community which help ease the transition for us and allow very unique opportunities to learn about the richess of the cultural traditions of this region.

DSCN0304Students went off to have dinner with their families and then we gathered again to see a demonstration of traditional dances in Guararé. What a treat! A couple of us were even brave enough to learn some of the steps.

This morning the little school bus, driven by Liam’s host mom, picked up each of us from our families. After feeling quite sad about leaving their homestays in Pedasí, the group has felt welcomed in by our new hosts. The bus ride was filled with happy chatter about the new families, including stories of drawing with young host siblings, chatting with new teen sisters, and meeting the iguanas and parrots in the backyard.

We began the day with a tour of Guararé, the neighboring larger town. We walked by the local elementary school, spent time learning about the local library and their efforts to ensure that students in the area have access to books and internet, and saw examples and photos of the traditional polleras – the dresses worn by the “reinas” at the yearly festival. Then we saw a trapiche, the traditional method of drawing out the sweet juices of sugar cane. Lunch was at the home of Rosy, who served us a delicious meal of roasted chicken and fresh herbs, banana cooked to perfection with a hint a vanilla, and rice with fresh, finely chopped vegetables. Our time at Rosy’s included naptime – kids piled on couches and mattresses and any surface they could to catch a very needed siesta (seems like all the moving around is catching up with us.) Afterwards, we were fortified with super sweet and delicious traditional candy that some of us helped prepare called “cocada” – grated coconut with sugar cane honey and condensed milk that is cooked for over an hour and frangranced with vanilla, lemon peel and star anise.

After dessert, we headed to see the final steps of the process of boiling the sugar cane juice into miel  back at the trapiche. They pour the juice into a huge metal bowl which has been built into a cob oven and boil it down for hours – very similar to making maple syrup.

Then it was time to try on the traditional polleras ourselves!

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Dangerous Waters (Ari – ITEC)

Today we worked mostly on our projects. These projects consist of hours of field research on  a science topic of our choice and a full lab report. A group of us also went snorkeling today at a reef we had never before visited. We floated over schools of yellow-blue fish, brain coral, and sea sponges. Of all the snorkeling trips we have been on thus far, we may have seen the greatest variety of species at this one. We encountered quite a few scary sea organisms, including baby barracudas swimming near the mangroves and a sting ray which swam right underneath Ari’s feet.  Plus, Nick spotted a lionfish, which he promptly tried to kill. For your information, lionfish are a poisonous and invasive species. Nick bravely went twenty feet under with a spear in his hand. He hit the fish with perfect aim, like a pro hunter and brought his kill with him all the way back to ITEC. There we proceeded to dissect the lionfish (okay, so only a few of us did that). Now we are at a restaurant celebrating Sarah’s birthday, which she says was “lovely,” especially after the cake.

Ari Radcliffe-Greene

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Beachfront Birthday

Sarah's Birthday at Yarisnori

Sarah’s Birthday at Yarisnori


Lydia & Jenn & high impact beach near Soropta Canal

We’re all at Yarisnori restaurant to celebrate Sarah’s birthday. Our bare feet on the sand floor, the setting sun, the gentle ocean breezes, with the ocean 75 feet away are a stark contrast to what we are hearing about the weather back at home. The mood in the group is high. Having us all in one place has strengthened group bonds. While all have become accustomed to cold showers,, electricity for 6 hours a day, no Internet and tight quarters, they will be happy to get to a warm bed and warm showers and the familiarity of home.

Yesterday we took a boat ride up the Soropta Canal— a vestige from an earlier era in banana transportation. There was much wildlife to see and we took time to get out of the boat to visit the nearby high impact beach which is an important turtle nesting site. All the projects are preceding well. One of our last vestiges of civilization disappeared when the projector bulb burned out. No more movie night or powerpoint presentations. The students will complete their write-ups tomorrow and they will present on Sunday morning. We”ll be leaving for Panama City via Air Panama on Sunday afternoon. We may not be able to update you until Sunday evening. I’m running out of battery. I did upload some photos in the Photo Album section: ITEC March 8,  Ari Radcliffe’s photos under student albums, and some of Nick’s Photos.

Talking with Alicai and Enrique

Talking with Alicai and Enrique

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Pedasi group has arrived in La Enea

I talked with Amber and she told me that the group had spent the morning at Isla Iguana (a little piece of paradise) and that they had arrived in La Enea and that all students were in their new homestays. They will all get back together later this evening for a dance demonstration.  They will have a chance sometime soon to update you further.


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Pedasí Highlights

Our week in Pedasí is quickly coming to a close. We’ve been enjoying our stay in this warm, welcoming town, and have kept quite busy discovering all that Pedasí has to offer! Below are some highlights of our week so far.

Daily Spanish classes have been going well. In addition to cultural lessons and lots of conversation practice, classes have included mini-excursions to spots around town, giving the students added opportunities to practice their Spanish and get to know Pedasí.

On Saturday, we participated in a cleanup of one of the local beaches. Our students collaborated with a co-ed local troop of Scouts, along with other local volunteers, to collect trash and sort out recycled materials. After the cleanup, our students and the Scouts got some time to hang out on the beach and enjoy a cookout together.

With the Scouts

With the Scouts

The next day, we walked down to Playa el Toro together. We arrived at low tide, so students were able to explore the rocky coast, peek into tide pools, collect shells, and take a dip in the waves.

Yesterday, we visited the Azuero Earth Project, a local non-profit that started up in Pedasí three years ago. We learned about AEP’s efforts, then spent a few hours working in their organic vegetable garden alongside volunteers from Panama and abroad. Together, we emptied a large garden bed that was full of rocks and a fungus that had been killing the plants. We then mixed new soil and completely refilled the garden bed. We also deconstructed a compost structure and rebuilt it in a shadier spot. AEP tells us our work was a huge help – without our efforts, it would have taken one of their volunteers a week and a half to complete this amount of work. Afterward, we celebrated with loud music, watermelon, chocolate cake, and delicious Panamanian popsicles made of fresh guayabana and cashew fruit.

Everyone before getting to work at AEP

Everyone before getting to work at AEP

Working hard at AEP

Working hard at AEP

We had to cancel our trip to Isla Iguana due to strong winds and choppy waves (weather which is common here in February, but usually subsides by March.) The past couple days have been calm and sunny, however, so we’re hoping to reschedule that adventure for Friday morning – we’d get to spend our last day of Spanish classes sitting in the gorgeous white sands of the isla, surrounded by palm trees, iguanas, and colorful crabs.

Students have enjoyed getting to know the town, playing basketball and soccer with local teens, and getting the life stories of visitors and expats from different countries. One day after class, students divided into teams to complete a scavenger hunt that had them talking to locals, investigating the history of the area, and taking fun pictures around town.

Learning about Pedasí's history at the library

Learning about Pedasí’s history at the library

Jasper receives a makeover in the town plaza - a team effort.

Jasper receives a makeover in the town plaza – a team effort.

We three profesoras have been staying with María Félix, an octogenarian born and raised in Pedasí, who lives around the corner from the school. The other day, she came home with two tiny parrot chicks. She is determined to raise them well: she painted a cage for them, feeds them by hand many times a day, and is excited to teach them how to talk once they are old enough.

Yesterday, our group ventured out to Achotines tuna lab, where we toured the grounds, saw huge yellowfin tuna swimming in tanks, and learned from expert tuna biologists. Afterward, we enjoyed a dip in the ocean at the pristine Playa Venao before embarking on a hike through an area of dry forest, guided by Jairo from Azuero Earth Project, who brought along four local Pedasí High School students who volunteer with AEP. At the end of the long day, we gobbled up delicious paella and hamburgers at Eco Venao resort.

LIam makes at new friend at Playa Venao

LIam makes at new friend at Playa Venao

Tonight, we’ll be having our fiesta de despedida with our Spanish teachers and host families. Rumor has it even the Mayor of Pedasí will be in attendance, as his girlfriend has generously offered to host our party in her home!

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Backyard Orchestra (Patrick – Pedasí)

I’m sitting in the rocking chair out back as I write. I spend a good deal of my time here. There’s a small table for eating breakfast and dinner and a small buzzing fluorescent to read by in the evening.

There’s something peaceful about dirt floors. Rocks, straw and old ceramic tiles gather and crack and slowly start to blend into soil.

There’s also something strangely peaceful about the racket of animals: cocks yodeling, dogs barking, cicadas, insects humming, and the chorus of peeping chicks that converges into a constant shimmer. The noises rise and fall throughout the day. For instance, right now everything’s died down except for the crickets and the month-old puppy murmuring about a dream asleep on my lap.

In the morning the chickens will be in full crescendo supplementing the perk from a rich cup of coffee just boiled up on the stove.

On my first evening, my father led me into the backyard and through the chicken wire fence. He snapped two fruits off a tree and handed me one. Then he pointed to the back corner where I suddenly noticed a small deer. He’d found it when it was the size of a notebook abandoned by its mother in the mountains of Chiriquí. He named it Bambi.

I’d never pet a deer before.

Bambi stares at me every meal. He’s learned to act like a dog licking the tops of the pups’ heads. The only animal that doesn’t make a sound.

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— Patrick Miller-Gamble

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ITEC projects and Student Photo Albums

Gray Vine Snake

Gray Vine Snake

Julia and Andre have some albums up for some of their photos during the course. Check them out buy clicking on the links above.

Student projects have begun. Lydia is working with Leaf-Cutter Ants and the defoliation of Pete’s Yucca bushes. Jason is working on how quickly and under what conditions termites rebuild their tunnel trails. Alex, Jenn and Julia are working with Poison Dart frogs and their homing ability. Andre is working with Golden Orb Spider size and probability of them having missing limbs. Emma and Ethan are looking at web angle and body positions of these same spiders. Ari is looking at the rejuvenation time and variables in the Sleeping Grass or Sensitive Mimosa.

Female Golden Orb Spider

Female Golden Orb Spider

Tai is like at site fidelity in a brilliant blues stink bug. Meike and Sarah are doing interviews of people who live in the Boca del Drago area (which includes ITEC) about food and food systems.

I have a new phone #:
(The old phone met a salty finish.)


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The Halfway Point at ITEC



Over at ITEC, the Atenas group is halfway through their time at ITEC. Our time here has been marked by unseasonal daily downpours, making trips to investigate the reef difficult until today. Despite the weather, we’re enjoying our time. Yesterday students  began to delve into their independent research projects–focusing on topics from the angles of spider webs to interviews about local food systems in Bocas.We’re expecting rich presentations this coming Sunday! Through student’s investigations and with the guidance of Pete and Enrique from ITEC, we’re quickly coming to know the cave, reef, Group-at-ITECmangrove, and tropical wet forest ecosysems that surround us.  We look forward to to four more days of immersion in these environments–as well as a bit more sun!

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Culinary Homeschool (Jasper – Pedasí)

My host family has got this extensive garden where they grow all sorts of fruits and vegetables; bananas, coconuts, papayas, potatoes, and every morning they present me with a plate of fresh fruit for breakfast. My host mother is one of the best cooks I’ve ever met, and she has been teaching me how to prepare typical Panamanian dishes. The fried plantains are particularly delicious – they’re like French fries but sweeter, and with a little bit of the local hot sauce drizzled on them, they’re just fantastic.

— Jasper Sims

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Welcome to our new son! (Alex – Pedasí)

The homestays thus far have been unbelievable, but the contrast of
different people’s experiences with such is very notable. Since my
host parents do not have children, I knew from the start that my
experience would be different from the average. Upon my arrival, my
host parents took me outside and told me that today was their
anniversary (in a very serious manner.) I responded by saying
congratulations, but then they explained that it was not their
anniversary of marriage, rather the birthday of their new, first
child. Since then I think I have had slight PTSD, but my host parents
are unbelievably kind, considerate and generous.

Everyone’s Spanish has become exponentially better in the short time
we’ve been here, and it has been a great experience for all to say the

— Alex Brown-Whalen

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ITEC — Into the Forest and the Sea

At Starfish Beach

At Starfish Beach

Our journey Saturday from Cerro Punta down the Pacific slope to David, back up the Pacific slope along a lower pass (~4,000’) down to the Atlantic slope to Almirante all went smoothly. At the actual continental divide we could see windswept elfin forest. The Pacific side of the divide has a significant dry season, and as consequence, it is easier land in which to settle. At lower and mid elevations land it is mostly cleared for pastures, agricultural land or houses. The land in the Atlantic drainage has considerably more intact forest. When we reached In Almirante we had to wait half an hour so for our water taxi to arrive and then we were then whisked away to for the half hour ride to the ITEC dock. After an hour or so, students were settled into their new quarter. Electricity is by generator only and it is on for an hour in the morning, and for the evening hours until about 11 pm. While this is rustic compared to what they have had to this point, overall, they seem to be adapting well. It certainly has the feel of remote tropical field station and there is some charm to that.

Click on “ITEC day 1” to see some photos. To follow the track we took Saturday to get to ITEC paste the following link into your browser:


Yesterday morning, led by Pete Lahanas, the director of ITEC, we hiked in the rainforest by the field station. We learned much about basic of rainforest structure, as well as about many specific creatures or plants. We saw poison dart frogs, leafcutter ants, big trees, a turtle, a non-venomous snake, lianas, etc. The students then came back and were asked to write in their journals, both reflections, as wells as observations and questions.  In the afternoon we went by boat to nearby Starfish Beach to get acclimated to our snorkeling gear. Because of a heavy rain and wind the first night were here the water was pretty murky and we didn’t get to the reef.

Today, most of the group went to “La Gruta,” a cave with creek running through it in the middle of the island. They saw whip scorpions 2 species of fruit eat bats, a species of nectar feeding bats and Vampire Bats.  They also took a walk with Pete Lahanas in the forest outside the cave. We are currently eating lunch at Yarisnori Restaurant, the nearest Internet spot. The wind and rain is dying down and we expect to get out to the reef this afternoon.  We will seek a sheltered spot, and while the water won’t be optimally clear, we expect to be able to see most of the reef life.

Soon, they will be asked to move from observations and question about either the forest or the reef (or some other sub-ecosystems) to set-up small studies to try to answer specific questions.

My phone got salt water damage this morning, and is not longer functional. I expect to get a new on e tomorrow. You can reach Nick at 011-507-6601-4954 and Chessie at 011-507-6834-9825.



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Our Pedasí hosts

This gallery contains 9 photos.

What a pleasure to be welcomed into the homes of our families here in Pedasí! Here are some first impressions: Jamie: After nervously awaiting the arrival of my homestay family, they welcomed me with open arms. I’ve been able to … Continue reading

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Arrived in ITEC! (Atenas group)

The “Atenas” group has made it to ITEC! They took a bus from the Cerro Punta highlands to the port town of Almirante. From there they boarded boat taxis which took them to Isla Colón in the archipelago of Bocas del Toro. After traveling through a tunnel of mangroves, they arrived at the dock near the field station. I just spoke with Steve as they were unloading luggage and pushing it up the hill in wheelbarrows to their bunk bed home for the next 8 nights!

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Some photos from ITEC (Pedasi group)

Click the ITEC Grupo 1 for a few earlier photos from the Pedasi track.

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This our last night. All reported that the mini homestays went very well. In the afternoon,

Cabin 9

Cabin 9

both farm practices and issues surrounding hydroelectric projects were discussed with Ana, Luis and others. After that students had free time: some rode some horses, some walked up to Finca Dracula (the orchid place), and some walked about town or relaxed. I finally have had a chance to upload some photos. See them by clicking Cerro Punta Photos.  Also see Tai and Andre’s video blog entry.

I took the afternoon time the time to go settle our bills, and, with the help of Ramira who was our cook while we were up in the cabins, I bought 8 days of produce for about 20 people. It was about $50 total. This will give us higher quality produce at a much lower price than can be found on the lowland island where ITEC resides.  Virtually all the food on the island is brought in from the mainland. By buying produce here, in the city of David and in Bocas del Toro we are able to compare prices and quality and it will help us in tracking the produce from their growth in Cerro Punta (part of an area where almost all produce in Panama is grown) to the different endpoints. What is the cost in transport? Who gets the money? This all part of a larger view we are taking of agriculture, economics and social justice.

This could be a carnival ride

Could be a carnvall ride

We are on to ITEC tomorrow. Leaving 8:15 or so, we will travel by bus to the port of Almirante where will take a couple of boats for the ~40-minute ride to ITEC. You can see our land route by going to Google maps and putting in Guadalupe (or Cerro Punta), Panama as a starting point and Almirante, Panama as the end point. The very circuitous route reflects the rugged terrain and the almost total lack of development on the Atlantic slope.

Alas, the ITEC field station has no internet. (The phones will work.) We can have very slow internet if we coordinate an 8-minute walk and a 15 minute boat ride. To get better internet, we have to travel to the main town of Bocas del Toro, which is more of an ordeal. Having such limited internet has been almost painful for me, as I like to upload photos and keep you all abreast of what we are doing. We’ll do the best we can as fae as keeping you updated.



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Viajando a Azuero

Last night, the Pedasí group spent their first night with their homestay families!

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This morning the patio of Buena Vida Language School filled with lively voices of students excitedly sharing about their first moments with the families, delicious meals, basketball near the park, and a good night’s sleep. Yesterday, after spending a night in the dorms of Los Quetzales we piled back into the “Comanche” bus with our driver Elvis and his co-captain.

Elvis drove us down from the cool hills of the quiet agricultural valley of Guadalupe, through Cerro Punta, and then Volcán, past fields and farmstands of onions, potatoes, strawberries, lettuce, cabbage and carrots, and down to the warmer terrain where we turned onto the Pan-American Highway and began to see stands now filled with papaya, pineapple, watermelons and other hotter climate crops. 

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We stopped for lunch in Santiago and munched on candied tamarind. We continued our journey past sugarcane and rice fields, and then corn and cattle pastures as we turned south into the Azuero peninsula. The bus weaved through the vibrant markets and small tiendas in Las Tablas, and at last we arrived in Pedasí. We happily unloaded from the bus, said our thanks to our trusty bus driver, and filled the patio of the school with our luggage. Ingrid, who runs Buena Vida Language School, gave us a brief orientation, and helped everyone locate their homestay and other key landmarks on their copy of a Pedasí town map. 

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Soon the families began to arrive to pick up their new “hijos” or “hijas” for the next seven nights!


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Los Leones, Los Tigres, y LOS PERROS, ¡Caramba! (Atenas – Jenn Baatz)

Si tiene alergia a los perros, no venga a Costa Rica. En Costa Rica hay muchos perros por todos lados. Me gustan los dos perritos en mi familia anfitriona, pero hay un otro perro y creo que él quiere matarme. Todos los perros aquí son adorables.

2010-04-02 02.50.08Costa Rica es perfecto para mí porque me gustan mucho los perros pequeños. Yo podría contar los perros grandes en un mano. Podría usar otra mano para contar los gatos en Costa Rica.

-Jenn Baatz

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Pura Vida (Atenas- Emma Rose)

While cooking pollo y verduras a friend of mine from csw turned to me and began a story with “mi mama.” Laughter of fluent Spanish speakers and even some csw students inflated the room, because while “mamá” means mom, “mama” means boob. Essentially my friend had started his story by saying “my boob…” after another friend explained this to him, one of our professors jumped in with an explanation of why the two words resembled each other and what connection they had culturally.

Students deciding to come to Costa Rica expected language immersion however the immersion is culture deep. Accompanied by Spanish class, our home stays and outside interactions guide us towards alignment with the culture of Atenas.
Our professors include traditional cooking, singing and dancing in our lessons plans. Understanding the culture parallels understanding the language; if someone asks us the dance and we not only understand but perfectly respond that we would love to but then only know how to fist pump, how fluent really are we?
The home stay and abroad program enriches our classroom education with cultural significance and slang phrases. We learned the idea of pura vida (pure life) used to say hello, goodbye, and when you can’t understand your host grandpa, and have begun to understand not only the language but the connections between the words.
I was excited for a language immersion program but have been pleasantly surprised to work towards fluency in all sects of Atenas life.2010-03-27 22.04.43

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The cloud forest and farms (Atenas)

Group before heading out to homestaysIt’s been a bit of a whirlwind with both groups intersecting, and there has been a rich, albeit brief exchange between the two groups. The Atenas group settled in for 2 days and stayed in  fantastic cabins in the forest. We did hikes both days, started to delve deeper into forest ecology and gave room for some personal time to reflect and write in their journal. After dinner the last two evenings of our stay in the cabins, we had discussions that weaved the history of Panama, economics, agriculture, conservations issues, and ecology. Cabin the forestThree Panamanians of different backgounds joined us and the discussion was rich dynamic. These discussions helped to provide a greater context for the agriculture piece they did today.

In the morning, after packing up and getting down from the cabins, they meet up with sister and brother Ana and Luis Sanchez who lead two locally-based NGO groups here in Guadalupe, AMIPILA (Amigos del Parque Internacional la Amistad) and FUNDICCEP (Fundacion para el desarrollo integral comunitario y conservacion de los ecosistemas de Panama). The millennium trailWe worked side by side with them and others in their experimental and demonstration fields.

After a hearty and healthy lunch consisting of freshly picked produce, prepared with much help form our students, we learned more about their organization and the challenges that farmers face in the region as well as the impact that farming has on the environment.Andre in the Fields

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At 4 pm most students set off for 1 night homestay. Those that remained went to Finca Dracula which is botanical garden and greenhouse area, largely dedicated to growing orchids. We will all meet again tomorrow at noon for further programming and, a little, free time.




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Pedasí group is in Pedasí

The Pedasí group left about 8:20 this morning and arrived with time to spare before entering their homestays. Last night they gave presentations of their independent initiatives and had a farewell dinner in a local restaurant. I’m sure you’ll get update from them directly in the near future.

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Farming and Feasting in Guadalupe

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  The group (Atenas track) that just arrived from Costa Rica continues to settle into the cloud forest and went on their first excursions through forest trails. Their evening ended with a lively discussion spurred by Abel, our fabulous guide … Continue reading

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Convergence in the cloud forest

Both groups are now tucked into the cabins in the cloud forest of Los Quetzales. The group from Atenas managed to wrest themselves out of bed by 5 am, and journey by bus along the Pacific coast of Costa Rica and into the mountains of Panama. After some trying experiences with crossing the border (mostly due to power outage across the country), they were welcomed by the Pedasi group, and both groups gathered to celebrate Julia’s birthday. While the Atenas group settles in to their cabins and begins to explore the area, the Pedasi group begins their foray into sustainable agriculture with local families and environmental organizations.

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Paradise in the Cloud Forest – Jamie and Maddy

kinkajou at our cabin!

kinkajou at our cabin!

Upon arriving back at our cabins after dinner, we discovered there were some friendly visitors in our kitchen. We found a kinkajou stealing our bananas after a door was left open…we won’t be making that mistake again. We had fun feeding them fawning over how adorable they were.
After that we had cozy evening and enjoyed settling in. We were pleasantly surprised that we could step out of the showers and say “Wow, that was too hot!” (slightly different than the military showers back at ITEC).

This morning we awoke to a chilly cabin and quickly realized we didn’t pack enough pants. We then split into two groups for a morning hike (one went on a more challenging trail while the other took a more leisurely path and journaled). After an exhausting morning full of adventure, we enjoyed a delicious meal and were introduced to our individual projects. We were given the freedom to further explore observations or thing we found interesting in the forest. The projects currently range from observing hummingbirds to drawing fungi.

As day turns into night, we are now getting ready for another delicious meal and we are excited to meet up with the Costa Rica group tomorrow (even if only for a day).

Jamie and Maddy

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Crocodiles in Carara–Julia

Feb. 17

Sunday was the day we took our trip to the National Park of Carrara. Carrara is about an hour drive away from where we are staying in Atenas and on the way we stopped to refresh with some nice fruit juice and a bathroom break next to a beautiful bridge over a river. We walked across the bridge and looked down to discover the river was filled with crocodiles. Crocodiles (for our readers who are not familiar with them) look much like logs and because they can float in the water almost completely submersed and still, they seem to appear out of nowhere, more and more than you originally thought, and then even more. We began to make our way across the bridge, leaning against the wind that attempted to blow us into the water far below, when suddenly an especially strong gust blew past and suddenly we saw that Awa’s pink baseball cap had been swept off her head and had fallen into the water. As we stood there (personally terrified and shaking) suddenly out of nowhere a giant head appeared in the water and after a few seconds of investigation, a gigantic crocodile ate Awa’s hat in one terrifiyingly large and sudden gulp. I cannot speak for everyone, but I’m sure I was not alone in thinking if a baseball hat was eaten that fast a person, (presumably much tastier) wouldn’t last long if the wind happened to get stronger.

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Dear readers

Hello dear readers–apologies for the delays in entries! You might notice that we’ll be backtracking for a little while until we get caught up. Soon we’ll be off to Panama, where internet may be intermittent. Thanks for your patience! 

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Vamos a Bailar….–Meike

Every year Atenas hosts “La Fiesta Sabana Larga”– a three-day festival about fifteen minutes from the Center of Atenas. The fiesta holds dancing, food, souvenirs and most importantly bull fights and horse shows. People from all over Costa Rica come to Sabana Larga to participate.

After spending all day Sunday in “El Parque Nacional de Carara,”some of us had just enough energy left to go to the Fiesta that night.

Watching the bull ridings was absolutely terrifying. Locked in the ring, five guys attempted to taunt the bull by running as close to the bull as they could without being attacked. When the bull did chase after them they had to escape through tiny holes in the fence. Outside was a dance floor and a DJ. One of the reasons for going to the fiesta that night was to practice our salsa and merengue dancing which we learned in our dance class at school last week. After watching an empty dance floor for a while we decided it was time to start “el baile.” For sure, we thought, everyone will come join us if we start dancing. This was sadly very untrue, since while we jammed to “Gangamstyle” and Spanish pop music everyone else at the Fiesta seemed to silently judge us for making fools of ourselves. Although it was disappointing, we still had a blast.

We have now spent one week in Atenas! It has been absolutely phenomenal. We are all getting more comfortable conversing in Spanish. I think we will all be sad to leave our host families and Spanish teachers on Sunday but we’re excited to begin new adventures in Panama. Hasta luego!


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Up in the Cloud Forest

Arrival in the forest!

Arrival in the forest!

In Davíd, fresh out of ITEC

In Davíd, fresh out of ITEC

We made our way up into the forest and are safely nestled into our cabins. To our surprise, our cabins are equipped with both electricity and wifi, but we are determined to not let these distract us from being present in this beautiful environment.

We ate a delicious dinner together prepared by our wonderful cook, Señora Ramira, and are now resting up in preparation for hiking and exploring tomorrow.

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We’ve Arrived in Cerro Punta


From ITEC to Almirante

We left ITEC at about 8 this morning. We took two boats to the port of Almirante, and then boarded a bus for Cerro Punta. After following the coast for a while we cut over to cross over the continental divide. At about 3,000 feet in altitude we came to the divide and started the descent to the much drier Pacific side. We meet Amber in David (who came over to prepare some of the programming and homestays), In David  (accent on the 2nd syllable) we did some mad grocery shopping. We then ascended back up the continental divide along a different road to Cerro Punta. Cut and paste the following link to see a track of journey today (I started the GPS while we were out in the boats).


We are in the hotel right in the small town of Guadalupe, and shortly we will be ascended further to the remote Cabins owned by Los Quetzales. Our final altitude will be between 6,500 feet to 7,000 feet depending on the cabin. The 3 cabins we are staying in have no electricity or internet, but they do have hot showers and they are cozy, clean and comfortable. We will have a fire in a wood stove to keep us warm tonight—there’s a big difference in temperature between ITEC and here.

So… very soon we will be without internet, and further updates will have to wait. All is well.


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We have no Internet at the Field station. We learned of Karl Fisher’s passing in the morning, and after lunch we circled up and told the students of Kar’ls death. We had a long moment of silence interrupted only by the deep throaty calls of Oropendulas, the sharp clicks from male Yellow-Collared Manakins as well as the gentle breeze which created a quiet rustle through the nearby forest. We followed this by open time for any one one to share thoughts. It is a fitting place for reflection about Karl. I believe it is easier environment for us in this spot than it is for you all back at CSW. We continue to work and explore the forest and reef, but in the back of our mind we are thinking of Karl and his, and our, greater community.


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Jamie at Drago Beach

Jamie at Drago Beach

I will give you a very brief overview of student projects: Liam, Jasper and Alex are looking at the Golden Orb spider. Often, nearby the large females are much smaller males as well as


another small species of  “clepto”-parasitic spiders. They are looking to patterns in these relationships of the these spiders. Jamie and Caroline are investigating Feather-duster worms abundance in different parts of the reefs as well as trying to see if there are patterns in basic behavior. Patrick is working with Leafcutter ants. He is seeing if the minima caste ants are more common in riding and guarding leaves when ants are closer to the nest than when they are far from the nest. Hannah is examining poison dart frogs to see if males and females perch in different places. Gio and Eli assisted Hannah in web21004data collection and they are also looking at the prevalence of Lionfish in different areas we have snorkeled.. Liofish are an introduced invasive species. Maddy is studying the density of Mangrove Tree Oysters in areas of different salinity and shelter. There all working very hard to get their sample collection completed, data analyzed, and write-ups completed.  We have some downtime too.








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Hola Familias!

We’ve been having some busy days here at Itec. The weather has been great everyday, except today where it has been raining all day. It’s a nice refreshing rain though. Everyone has been working on their science projects for the past few days, and ending after tomorrow. Everyone has great projects and enjoyed exploring the island.

Surprisingly enough, everyone seems to enjoy the cabin-like Itec. We only have power from 6:30-7:30 am and 6:30-11 pm and we have to have military like showers. We’ve adjusted well but can’t wait for the cloud forest.

Hope you all are doing well and have fun in the snow!


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Festival de Colores –Awa

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Atenas…. Atenas…. Such a delightful and vibrant town…. It is hard to believe that tomorrow will mark our first week here. What a pleasant and incredible experience it has been so far. I bathe in the sweet and delicate scents … Continue reading

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