Flying High in Panama
In Episode # 13 Lainie & Miro share their experience on Panama’s Pacific Coast, among a community of conservative expats + the duo share a brief history of Panama’s month-long independence celebrations. Finally in Epi #13, Miro conducts a phenomenal interview with Beny Wilson, a passionate Panamanian “birder”.
“How much more there is now to living! Instead of our drab slogging forth and back to the fishing boats, there’s reason to life! We can lift ourselves out of ignorance, we can find ourselves as creatures of excellence and intelligence and skill. We can be free! We can learn to fly!”
~Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach
Lainie and Miro have been in Panama for a little over a month and have had the opportunity to travel a little around the country. They spent some time on the Pacific coast, then back to David, a large city near the border to Costa Rica and even a day trip to Boquete, a small fairy tale-like coffee village, set deep in the misty mountains.
On the Pacific coast, Miro and Lainie were the guest of a British expat, who works with new real estate developments designed to transform the quaint Pacific-side village into a grandiose planned community.
Lainie and Miro toured the property developments under construction as they witnessed the birth of a planned community. They saw roads being carved out, sewage and water treatment areas being constructed, a sprinkling of markers defining the borders of each lot change from available to sold.
Lainie and Miro share their experiences, including meeting a retired man from Texas who was just about to move into his newly built home, one of the first to be completed in one of the new developments. Their ideological differences were extreme, however, Lainie shares gratitude in having the experience.
“We had absolutely nothing in common, other than the fact we were both in this town, for very different reasons, of course. That seemed to be enough though, to be respectful and see one another’s humanity and agree not to agree on anything at all, other than the fact, we both were there.” Lainie says.
After their trip to the Pacific, Lainie and Miro headed back to Panama City just in time to celebrate two of the countries major holidays: Separation Day and Colon Day, which combined make up one holiday AND the Uprising in Villa Los Santos day, which took place 7 days later.
(Note: The official Independence Day takes place the end of November )
The holidays virtually shut down the Panama City, crowded the streets with Panamanian men, women and children as they watched with pride the costumed parade of traditional dancers followed by the endless marching in bands supplied from schools across the country. Most days, the parades started at 8:00 am and continued well into the late afternoon. Here’s a brief history surrounding the holidays:
As foreigners, it is a bit confusing to see Panamanians celebrating not a single independence holiday, but a whole month of independence. It’s easily explained once the history of Panama was understood.
Panama became independent from Spain in 1821. On November 10th of that same year, the citizens of Los Santos in Panama’s southernmost province declared their independence from the colonial power under the rule of Spain. So that day is celebrated as the “Grito” or first independence yell. This day is widely known as the “Uprising in Villa Los Santos” Day.
In the same year on November 28th, Panama’s independence from Spain was completed , which is the official date Panamanians celebrate “independence”. Independence was declared after a meeting held in the capital city. These are the two dates related to 1821 and Spain commemorated as national holidays.
This is where it gets a little confusing. A few weeks after Panama became independent from Spain, it joined the Colombian mega-state, at the time, comprised of today’s Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador. This “marriage” lasted over 82 years, however turbulent it may have been.
On November 3, 1903 Panama formally separated from Colombia and established the Republic of Panama. Since declaring independence from Spain in 1821, Panama was part of the Republic of Gran Colombia. However, Panama tried to claim its independence several times during this period. Finally, with the assistance of the United States, the country became an independent nation.
Colon Day is Panama’s version of Columbus Day. It is celebrated on November 5th each year. Apparently it took 2 full days for the news to reach Colon over land, therefore, Colon did not declare independence until then.
Next, Lainie & Miro were Beny’s guest in Panama City for a week and experienced first hand his passion for the birds of Panama.
“I hope you love birds too. It is economical. It saves going to heaven.”
The Republic of Panama, a tropical country with a large variety of easily accessible habitats, is a great place for an introduction to the birds of the American tropics. The typical neotropical families, like trogons, antbirds, and tanagers are well represented, some, like the tyrant flycatchers, by a hundred different species, and others by just a few. The total number of bird species found in Panama, about 950, is surprisingly large, especially when you consider the relatively small surface of the country. Some 150 of these are neotropical migrants that only occur in the country from September till April. It is not rare to see more than twenty different migrant warblers and vireos on a good morning on spring or fall migration, and that added to fifty or sixty resident species.
This variety is partly explained by the fact that Panama is a land bridge between North and South America. Therefore, our resident avifauna is composed of a mix of birds from both North and South. In Panama it is possible to find species typical of Central America like Passerini’s Tanager, Green Shrike-Vireo, and Resplendent Quetzals, as well as their South American Counterparts: Flame-rumped Tanager, Yellow-browed Shrike-Vireo, and Golden-headed Quetzal. As it would be expected, the South American birds are easier to find on the eastern portion of the country, while the Central American species are found west of the Canal Area. The birds of the central part of the country, the area surrounding Panama City, include species from both ends.
*excepted from here
*Photos are courtesyof Beny Wilson at panabirds.com
Birdlovers come to Panama because:
- Very well studied avifauna: the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute had studied our birds and jungle for over 80 years.
- 4 of the must diverse “Important Bird Areas” of central America converge in an area of 5,000km which comprise Panama City
- 971 birds species had been reported for these little country: more birds than all the species found in the Continental US and Canada together
- 12 endemics species: more than large countries like United States or diverse countries like Ecuador
- 61 hummingbirds, 54 tanagers, 101 flycatchers, 8 species of toucans, 5 macaws species
- 45% of Panamas lands are forested
- 36% of Panama is protected by National Park
- 5 World Heritage Sites from which 2 are national parks
- The Panama Canal: a world class attraction not to be missed
- Panama use of the American dollar and our standards make it easy to travel for foreigners
Venicio “Beny” Emmanuelle Wilson Altamiranda was born in Almirante, province of Bocas del Toro in Western Panama in a house surrounded by beautiful creeks and swamp forests. It was there where his father and grandfather inspired his interest in “the little animals”, as he used to say.
Beny discovered his passion for birds at age sixteen when he fortuitously received a copy of the newly translated Spanish version of “A Field Guide to the Birds of Panama.” Two years later, along with fellow biology students attending the University of Panama, he created Grupo Ecologista Vida, a non-profit organization conducting environmental education programs for elementary students in the city of Colon. He is currently a volunteer for Fundacion Avifauna Eugene Eisenmann, Panama Audubon Society, and CEASPA. As one of Panama’s most reputable certified interpretive and naturalist guides, Beny has worked for many top-tier tour operators.
He is an expert in the Darien region and has led treks from Ustupo, on the Caribbean coast, to the Gulf of San Miguel, on the Pacific side of Panama. Besides hiking and birding, Beny is also an authority on frogs, with expert knowledge of the Dendrobatid poison dart frogs.Venicio “Beny” Emmanuelle Wilson Altamiranda was born in Almirante, province of Bocas del Toro in Western Panama in a house surrounded by beautiful creeks and swamp forests. It was there where his father and grandfather inspired his interest in “the little animals”, as he used to say.
Beny discovered his passion for birds at age sixteen when he fortuitously received a copy of the newly translated Spanish version of “A Field Guide to the Birds of Panama.” Two years later, along with fellow biology students attending the University of Panama, he created Grupo Ecologista Vida, a non-profit organization conducting environmental education programs for elementary students in the city of Colon. He is currently a volunteer for Fundacion Avifauna Eugene Eisenmann, Panama Audubon Society, and CEASPA. As one of Panama’s most reputable certified interpretive and naturalist guides, Beny has worked for many top-tier tour operators. He is an expert in the Darien region and has led treks from Ustupo, on the Caribbean coast, to the Gulf of San Miguel, on the Pacific side of Panama. Besides hiking and birding, Beny is also an authority on frogs, with expert knowledge of the Dendrobatid poison dart frogs.
For more information on Beny Wilson and his services, please visit panabirds.com
We want to take a moment to thank a few people who have contributed to our travels. Your donations have helped cover our travel expenses from Guatemala, to Nicaragua. The people who have contributed to Raising Miro are: Terrance O’dowd, Eric Hammond, Chip Jacobs, Billy Horn and Sonia Kim. Thank you so much! Your donations are much appreciated!
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