I’ll try to keep the graphics to a minimum but I got hit with my third round of giardia and it was the worst one yet. I first became ill the night before I was planning on leaving my community to spend a few days getting internet work done so fortunately I was already packed and ready to go. UNfortunately, at 11 pm I woke up, vomited and then experienced the worst 5 hours of diarrhea in my life. I was running to my outdoor bucket latrine literally every 3 or 4 minutes. I called the Peace Corps Medical Officer who wisely told me to wait until daylight to leave for the clinic so that I wouldn’t be endangering myself further by hiking out of site in the dark. I wasn’t so much worried about the hike (although it was not a fun or easy 2.5 hours) but I couldn’t imagine how I was going to endure a 1 hour car ride followed by a 1.5 hour bus ride to get to the clinic without going through a 10 pack of adult diapers. One step at a time. When I finally arrived at the road, exhausted and dehydrated, I was immediately told by a passerby that there was a protest down at a bridge at the entrance to the road and they weren’t letting any cars through. You’ve got to be kidding me. Of all the days. Before too long, however, a car magically showed up that apparently had been able to get through before the protesters blockaded the road. I was saved! Maybe that man on the street didn’t know what he was talking about, maybe there was no protest. I closed my eyes and sat through the winding car ride all the way to the bridge where sure enough, nobody was getting through…I ran into a fellow Peace Corps volunteer who informed me that she asked permission to pass and was told that they would tie her up if she tried. I was not in the mood to sit and wait so I immediately walked down to the river and waded across up to my waist. Not so bad, just some wet pants to change out of. Eventually I made it all the way to the clinic in the city of David where I had to sit and wait for however many hours with fever, headaches, cramps, and diarrhea until I was finally given the results of my stool test….Negative for parasites. I’ve had giardia twice before. I know giardia. I am a connoisseur of giardia. That test is lying. Dr. False Negative prescribed me some antibiotics and anti-diarrhea medicine since apparently I didn’t have any parasites to kill and hooked me up to an IV for 5 hours.
4 days later I still had all the same symptoms and had lost 5 pounds. I returned to the clinic and met with a different doctor who said he wasn’t going to bother with a stool test because that would be a waste of time. He gave me the anti parasite medicine that I really needed and sent me on my way. Now that’s how it should have been done the first time around! In less than 24 hours I was already feeling back to normal.
About a week after my giardia incident I was invited to help some fellow volunteers/returned volunteers with Jaguar population graduate research. It was being conducted in the Cerro Hoya National Park on the Azuero Peninsula, one of the few provinces of Panama I had yet to visit. About a month ago, the researchers had placed 30 or so camera traps in various locations throughout the national park and our job was to collect them and carry the cameras and batteries out of the park. The first day we took turns riding horses and hiking to get from the nearest community of El Cortezo to the edge of the national park. One of our guides had a cabin set up there where he normally stays to tend to his farms and cattle. We camped out there for one night and left early the next morning to enter into the rain forest. The 10 of us split into two groups in order to cover more area and collect the cameras faster. My group spent the first day inside the park going straight up Cerro Hoya to get to the peak (the highest point in all of the Azuero) with our trusty guide, Mingo. I don’t know how they do it but the guides were incredible. With no trail of any kind, they just followed marks that they had made in the past- some bark cut off a tree here, a branch cut there but they never once got lost. It was all uphill with no friendly path to walk along but when we finally arrived in the magic of the cloud forest in the early afternoon we were rewarded with the good news that we’d be staying at an already set up campsite for two nights. This meant that the next day would be an easy hike without all of our gear to lug around.
Day 2 in the park we set off to pick up 2 cameras at each of 3 stations for a total of 6 cameras. The camera traps were set up facing a small clearing, one on each side so that ideally two pictures would be taken of the same jaguar and the researchers would have an easier time identifying it. They would be able to tell if there were two separate jaguars roaming around or just one that was caught twice based on the pattern of spots on their fur. The clearings had been set up to encourage the passage of jaguars and a log had been placed perpendicular to the cameras. Apparently when a Jaguar walks across a log it places its paw on the log and pauses a moment giving the camera enough time to snap a picture. The excursion wouldn’t have been too bad except for the fact that there was a torrential downpour the entire day and when we finally arrived at the campsite we were all completely soaked and ready for nothing more than to eat and sleep. Everybody in this region of Panama has a nickname. Most receive their nickname when they’re kids based on some significant or memorable or funny event that occurs. Each one of use would be receiving a name on this trip. Day 3 I woke up and tried to get the dirt out of my sandals as I climbed out of my hammock. Mingo poked his head out of his hammock and asked if there were ants in my shoes, “Ormigas?!?” I misunderstood him and said good morning, “Buenos dias!” This resulted in a fit of laughter and my new nickname, Ormiga. We packed up camp and began the long hike out along which we’d be stopping at another 5 stations picking up 10 cameras. At the last station, even though we were all tired and ready to be fed and river bathed at the cabin, we somehow decided it would be a good idea to play Tarzan and swing on some vines. With Mingo showing us the ropes (literally) we proceeded to swing from a rock to a tree, hold the tree, take a picture, and swing back several times each.
As exhausting as this activity was, it lasted for a solid hour before we decided it was time to move on and finish the day. After arriving at the cabin around dusk we compared our pictures with the other group’s (We had already looked at our pictures but I wanted to save it until the end of the story for you guys). Our cameras had collected shots of deer, rabbits, wild board, skunks, coati, agouti, armadillo, pheasant, a hunter and his dogs, several ocelot, pumas, and last but not least 4 or 5 different jaguars including the mythical black panther!!! Black panthers in Panama are a melanistic color variant of the jaguar which means they’re the same species and even have the same pattern of spots but have a black background coloring their fur. There had been rumors that this feline beast was roaming around the mountain spotted once in a blue moon by the wayward traveler but now we had evidence! Two pictures, one from each camera showing a slightly blurry photograph of the jet black cat. Quite a successful trip if you ask me.
P.S. The researchers are not legally allowed to share the pictures yet because they are the property of the university but if I am able to get a hold of them in the future I will grace you with the jaguar’s beauty.