Saturday 17th December 2011

Cerro Ancón

Today I am within sight of my previous accommodation in the built up central part of the city, and yet it feels as if I am in a different world. I moved yesterday afternoon to a much more comfortable bed and breakfast called La Estancia, at the foot of the prominent, forest-clad that dominates the skyline from the city centre (when you can see it behind the skyscrapers). This hill is also easily recognisable by the huge Panamanian flag that flies above the trees on its top.

As the weather was appalling, I called off my plan to walk up the hill – this turned out not to be a loss, at least wildlife-wise, as the hotel has feeders directly in front of its balconies, as well as bunches of ripe bananas. These attract large numbers of birds, including Orange-chinned Parakeets, Blue-grey, Palm and Crimson-backed Tanagers, Squirrel Cuckoo and Variable Seedeaters, as well as up to five Geoffrey’s Tamarins, an attractive but quarrelsome species of small monkey with a very limited distribution.

After watching this spectacle for some time, I decided to work a little on a translation I am doing, but it was not long before an event of the type that has come to characterize this journey of mine occurred: a Canadian lady asked me what I was doing, and then introduced herself as Donna. I explained briefly the purpose of my journey, locating the places my great grandfather George Charles Champion (“GCC”) had visited in Panama between 1881 and 1883. Clearly interested by my tale, she invited me to join her husband Ron, her close friend Rosalie and her husband Harry, all from Alberta, upstairs when I got tired of my translating.

This I happily agreed to, and it soon turned out that Rosalie and Harry have a home in Chiriqui, in the far west of the country, adjacent to the Costa Rican border. I told them that I would also be going there soon as my great grandfather had a base there in a place that most people have never heard of, called Bugaba. Well, it turns out that not only had they heard of Bugaba, but that is where their home is! Needless to say, we spent a very enjoyable evening chatting, and they were able to give me lots of tips about the area as well.

I was also amazed to find that Rosalie was busy putting drops in her eyes, just as I have to. Her dry eye problems have been confirmed as Sjogren’s Syndrome, which it is believed I may have as well. This also gave us plenty to discuss….although frustratingly, Sjogren’s or not, there is no cure.

Modern Panama City from the Cerro Ancón

The Casco Antiguo from Cerro Ancón

This morning the rain was pouring down, so an early walk was out of the question (in fact I started out but gave up and returned), but finally it stopped, and all five of us set off up the hill, the ground steaming in the hot sunshine. The views from the top of the Cerro Ancón are spectacular, on one side over the Panama Canal and Albrook airport, and on the other of the city itself, as well as of the Calzada de Amador causeway, and even as far as the Pearl Islands, which GCC visited in 1883 shortly before he left on his voyage home to the UK, and where he got very sick with a fever – luckily not the yellow fever that struck down so many canal workers at that time.

Ron, Donna, Self, Rosalie and Harry at top of Cerro Ancon

My Canadian friends were in a hurry to get back for a tour they were planning to do this afternoon, so I wandered more slowly down by myself, I thought being fairly aware of the wildlife along the way. However, shortly a mother and son who were jogging down the hill at some speed stopped by me and asked if I had seen the sloth in the cecropia tree right above my head! I had to confess that I had not! We got talking, and it turned out that the son had recently completed a Master’s degree in Wageningen University in the Netherlands, where I teach! He has now moved on to do his PhD on viral parasites of honey bees at Cornell University, but we were able to exchange several mutual Dutch experiences!

Leave a Reply

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