Azuero Peninsula Adventure (Retrospective)

It was great to meet and work alongside other scientists, interns, and students from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (Ancón, Panamá) and University of the Andes (Bogotá, Colombia) who we (the Summer 2014 PCP PIRE intern crew) joined a month ago in the Azuero Peninsula of southwestern Panama for a geological mapping field course. Based in the small coastal town of Torio, we went on daily excursions to different localities seeking new geological knowledge about this relatively unexplored (geologically speaking) region of Panama. For more on this trip, please check out the upcoming June/July PCP PIRE eNewsletter.

I’m a vertebrate zoologist by training, with only a small geology background (mostly involving laboratory methods and samples), so learning field geology skills such how to use a Jacob’s Staff and Brunton Compass as well as how to measure and describe stratigraphic sections with in-field hand samples and rock outcrops through this experience were very beneficial to me as a developing interdisciplinary scientist. I also collected my first plant and invertebrate fossils from the Neotropics along Torio Beach, including some complete fossil seeds and sea urchins!

During my time in Azuero, I made several new Colombian friends, improved my Spanish language skills, and went on many adventures (some quite harrowing) that I won’t soon forget.

Perhaps the day in Azuero that will stick in my memory the longest was when myself, two University of the Andes students, and their instructor followed a local Panamanian guide down the gullet of Rio Torio in search of a geologic contact between Cretaceous limestone and basalt. We trekked/hacked our way through the tropical rainforest on seldom-used, overgrown paths in order to reach the river, and walked/waded upstream from there. We had numerous encounters with rapids and waterfalls, which sometimes required leaving the river to climb around these obstacles on steep, slippery limestone cliffs and boulders; sometimes, however, we went right through or fell into the rapids (and got a thorough soaking in the process). We stopped periodically at rock outcrops along the riverbanks to hammer out some hand samples to inspect with our hand lenses, but kept going through the river laced with slippery limestone and rainforest on either side. After reaching the calmer headwaters of the river, we left it behind and hiked up mountain cow pastures to one of the tallest points in the region, in order to get a better view of our surroundings and consult our topographic maps. It was one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen, looking across the landscape of green rolling hills, rivers, beaches, and the Pacific Ocean. I was completely exhausted, but had to recover quickly for the harrowing return trip down from our high vantage point and back through Rio Torio – this time in the middle of a torrential downpour which infused the river with energy and clouded it with sediment…

From wading through raging rivers and hiking up mountains searching for rock outcrops, to racing the rising tides to collect fossils along the beach, all in the company of new international friends and colleagues, my Azuero experience was unforgettable.

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