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panama, day 4: “it looks like a dog turd with sea urchins stuck on it”


Our first big bizarre caterpillar, shown to us by a worker pruning a tree along the road.

Our main bird walk this day was the beginning of the Los Quetzales trail in Volcan Baru National Park. We saw many new birds, including some favorite warblers such as Black-cheeked and Flame-throated, and birds with very cool names, such as Ruddy Treerunner and Yellow-thighed Finch.

We saw very few butterflies to photograph. This area does have a lot of small-scale agriculture, with nearly everyone working plots of a few hectares growing mostly vegetables, especially cabbage, lettuce, onions, and potatoes. People were spraying noxious crap from backpack sprayers everywhere we went. Seeing the living conditions and general lifestyle, though, makes me understand these people are just trying to earn a living. I can imagine that every last head of cabbage makes a difference. It’s unfortunate, to say the least, that the health of people and ecosystems is compromised by the realities of limited economic opportunities and, probably, agricultural education outreach, but it’s hard to "blame" these farmers.

In contrast, what excuse does an American gardener have for pouring chemicals on a sterile lawn or ornamental flowers? When I visit Latin America, even countries as stable and mature as Mexico and Panama, I still see a lot of trash, poor air and/or sanitary conditions, and environmental abuse. Despite many shortcomings, it’s easy to see how fortunate we are in the U.S. in terms of environmental protection. When I think about the waste and disregard most Americans have for their own backyards, including unnecessary chemical assault, it makes me sick.

On that note, our next excursion is to a coffee farm; this area is Panama’s major coffee-growing region and one of the most important coffee areas in the world (we have coffee growing in our yard here, too).

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  • BerryBird January 12, 2008, 5:15 pm

    "it looks like a dog turn with sea urchins stuck on it" — this might be the best post title ever. Cool caterpillar, too!

  • Jess January 14, 2008, 1:47 pm

    That caterpillar is out of this world. Amazing!