Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Bienvenidos al Collin Lab

By Gina Contolini

The Collin Lab is full of snails.

Marine snails.

And very few of them look like snails. At least, very few of them look like that charismatic, coil-shelled terrestrial snail I think of when I hear the word, "snail."

how to draw a cartoon snail
A classic snail. 
Picture from Dragoart.com
Crepidula capensis from South Africa
A Crepidula snail like those in the Collin lab. 
Picture from the STRI Collin Lab webpage.

I was okay with this, because I didn't have my heart set on playing with coil-shelled snails. I had my heart set on doing some great marine ecology, and hanging out with knowledgeable people with really interesting experiences to share.

Lucky for me, I found all this at STRI's Naos laboratory. Not only that, but barely a week after meeting the people in Rachel's lab, I fit right in and felt like I had been there for months.

This was, of course, after arriving at Tocumen Airport, where I met Rachel and was taken by taxi to my apartment in Ancon. Luckily I had been to the apartment before, because it is not the most welcoming establishment. There is a reason the STRI community calls it La Jaula"The Cage."

La Jaula is a very safe place on the inside. It's probably safe outside, too, 
but you can never be too sure, so why not adorn it in steel bars?

The next morning I walked to the Tupper campus to get my ID.

The STRI Tupper campus in Ancon. 

I took a cab to the Naos lab where we work. For those interested, by taxi you ask to go to "Isla Naos," the causeway, or Amador, and this should cost no more than three dollars.

(There is also a MetroBus that goes out to the Causeway. To take the MetroBus, you first have to buy an orange MetroBus card at the Gran Terminal Nacional de Transporte, located by Albrook Mall, or in the Plaza de Cinco de Mayo, where I would not advise being at night. The card costs something like $2 and then you add money on it after that. (Five dollars is a good starting amount.) Each time you use the card to get on a MetroBus it's 25 cents. The bus to Naos island will say "Amador" on the LED sign atop the front of the bus. I wish you could recharge the balance for these online, but I haven't been able to figure that out yet if it is possible. As far as I know, you can only add more money to it at the Gran Terminal or 5 de Mayo. At least you can check your balance online!)

Upon arrival, I met Isis (lab coordinator) and Allan (intern), who immediately made me feel right at home—er, right at work. It is especially great to be able to work with someone (Allan) who has so many similar interests and is in a relatively similar stage of life—we both have a bachelor's degree, are interested in grad school, like to travel, enjoy music, and play sports.

It was especially, especially great to find out that we live next door in La Jaula.

And it was especially, especially, especially great to find out that nearly everyone else living in La Jaula is interested in similar things, too! I recommend living there if you are going to work at STRI and have the option. It's not the most convenient for going into town, but it's in a safe area, you can walk to Tupper and a great fresh food market, and you get instant friends.

So far, in the three weeks I've been here, I have seen a Japanese film, been to two concerts as part of the Panama Jazz Festival (one was Herbie Hancock), been to an international beer festival, been to a black sand beach called Gorgona, played around a dozen games of volleyball, watched boats go through the Panama Canal Miraflores locks, gotten churros downtown at a popular churro cafe called Churrería Manolo, and of course been to the (huge) intertidal zone several times collecting snails and their eggs. The list will go on as there are more concerts and festivals in town, especially with Carnival coming up. Carnival is a celebration before el miércoles de la ceniza, or Ash Wednesday. There will be a lot of festivals, parades, and partying going on during those four days.

To conclude, here are some pictures of the fabulous Cerro Ancon (Ancon Hill), located very close to La Jaula. It's an excellent place to see some local flora and fauna and some views of the city, the canal, and the Bay of Panama, all while getting in some serious exercise!

Some flora we saw on the way up. 
View of Panama City from the top of Ancon Hill

The charismatic Panamanian flag proudly 
flying at the top of the hill.

Eastern view, toward the canal.                                 A nice place to sit at the top.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Gina, sounds awfully great what you are experiencing! I also totally agree with your statements, comparing the Collin lab to other institutions I've been to it really stands out :). As to la jaula, well the feeling might be a bit different from what you get back home but it is definitely fun and I think it offers a lot more comfort than other places, being climatized and all ;). Also I found that if you are lucky and search around a bit you can find Dendrobates auratus, the little black and green (in this case) poison dart frogs just behind the house, as well as Túngara frogs in small puddles around the hose.

    I really hope you'll have a great time and will have some time to visit the rainforest (on Barro Colorado Island, for example) or other nice places!