Lessons From Panama

Panama City to Playa Venoa and back. A chance to see parrots. Papagayo, loro, perico. Macaw, Amazon, parakeet. Living as nature intended, in their perfect evolution. Wild. Salvajes.

………

Panama City was just as you’d expect in a more progressive Central American country where vast amounts of humans live in small spaces. Six lanes traffic merging into two lane roads, blinkerless maneuvers and the honk of horns in secret communicae. A multi-billion dollar canal generating fathomless income. Stunning skyrises, lavishly lit, reaching fingertips to the sky, juxtaposed with decrepit housing splattered with human debris, mangy boney dogs, and anti-government rhetoric spray painted on stuccoed surfaces. ¡Viva la resistencia! Haves and have nots. Not so different from us. Foreign investors deposit their money here. Immigrants, escaping persecution and war, stake their claims in an effort to create a better life for their children. Expats retire comfortably, their dollars stretched much further. While humans jockey for purchase and position, perched atop aged churches, black vultures, buitres negros, silently watch a diverse city with an energy both comforting and calming.

And Boquete coffee? ¡Muy bien!

Six hours southwest, Playa Venao was sultry and green. The surfer waves thundered with a power both awesome and humbling. Such a rich biodiversity that I’ve not experienced before, yet dwindling and suffering at the hands of human encroachment. The papagayo, I was told, once vast in their numbers, now all but gone, poached or killed to critically endangered numbers, their feathers fetching a fantastic sum. Undeveloped properties se vende, and a melancholy knowing that lush forested beaches would be replaced by upscale housing and the relentless beat of resort music. Dun, dah dun, dah dun dun dun, pause, dun, dah dun, dah dun dun dun, pause…repeat… And why would I think this place different than any other beautiful place on earth where nature falls victim to the 3 C’s of capitalism, commercialism, and consumerism?

Orange-chinned pericos. Every morning I watch as they fly east from the dense forest to the resort. Pairs, groups, in constant chitter, as if excited for human delicacies. Every evening they reverse course. I coat myself with DEET to protect myself from the chitras, who, nearly too small to see, will dine on every inch of my exposed flesh, and whose potent saliva will itch me for weeks, and follow them into the forest. I find the first of the pericos, no longer the gregarious and vocal creature of the tree tops, but silent and cold. An obvious victim of human/animal conflict, his 60 grams no match for one and a half tons of rolling steel, on a road where speed limit signs are merely a suggestion.

Sea turtle. Tortuga marina. She who graced us, burying her precious cargo in the warm beach sand. Her offsprings’ future is uncertain. Will they be dug up and eaten by rich socialites or crushed beneath the feet of dancing, drunken party-goers? Will they hatch and in that hatching, will the young ones maneuver down the the debris littered, obstacle course of a beach or find themselves lost by the light of human dwellings? Or maybe they become yet another casualty of the human/animal selfie epidemic. These are ancient beings, who, programmed with equally ancient knowledge, return to the same spot every year to lay eggs, with a biological GPS that rivals our best electronic devices. This is their journey, unchanged through the centuries, and this journey has ensured their species’ survival. Until now…

These are the things that wake me in the early dawn and wet my eyes. Small and seemingly insignificant, they are just a fraction of bigger, global injustices. How can my mind reconcile the pain and suffering and disrespect such a perfectly successful species has wrought upon earth’s non-human inhabitants? We kill and consume and cage the beauty of the world. My heart constricts by a barbed-wire tourniquet, oozing sadness and anger caused by a broken world.

………

I’m back on the rooftop balcony of my temporary haunt. There’s progress here. Old Panama City, Casco, with its quaint Euro flair and narrow brick streets had seen better days, but a surge of foreign investments and those buildings are being renovated and renewed. While mine is modern and sheik, the dwelling next door, like so many others, is crumbling off its bonesSe Vende. Squatters live among the debris, and I glimpse brightly colored fabrics and plastics through boarded windows. Roofs sag, walls crack, and in those newly formed valleys, fertile seeds sprout, easily adapting to a changing landscape. 

Two Red-loreds fly across a cloudless blue sky. Lora and loro. Relentless are the beat of wings and the laugh of contact call. My heart is lifted and my eyes leak yet again, but this time in joy. These feathered beings live amidst the concrete and steel and rapid fire jackhammers pummeling revitalization and modernization into a ramshackle city. Like the humans and vultures and plants and numerous other animals, they too, are carving out a life, like feathered squatters, where concrete replaces lush, soggy forest and the humid air is tainted with the smell of diesel exhaust and ropa vieja. I’m lost to their journey, but I assign my own story as their emerald bodies flash by. This is a story of hope. As humans create the sixth mass extinction, these creatures are adapting to a new world contrived of new opportunities and that adaptability has ensured their survival. At least for now.

And hope for me. Like the loros y buitres negros y plantas y okupas humanos, I must adapt. Adapt by changing my perceptions. Adapt by releasing my expectations. For my own sanity, I must see past the heartache and heartbreak and insolence and grasp the good. Because it’s there. It’s in the kindness of shop owners and in faces of Israeli immigrant children. It’s in the conscientious farmers growing bird friendly coffee beans and in the animals that persist despite, and thrive because of, human intervention. It’s in one baby turtle that makes it to the sea.

Adapt.

I’ll need this to survive in a broken and beautiful world.

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Red-lored Amazon pair
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Black Vulture on the neighbor’s rooftop/Panama City skyline

 

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