Friday, October 8, 2010


I arrived on the evening of October 4th to start my internship at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) in Panama. It's now Friday and 4 days into it, the muscles in my shoulders and the knot in my stomach are beginning to relax.

So far, the everything has gone very smoothly. The plane was on time, my bags made it through, the customs people didn't think I looked suspicious, and my renewed passport now has its first stamp. I was met by Juan Mate, the first scientist I am working with during my 3 month stay. This is the first time I exited an airport and was greeted by someone holding a sign with my name on it. I see that all the time at airports and it definitely made me smile to see JANE KIM written on one of them.

I am staying in Albrook near Panama City in an in-law type apartment belonging to another scientist I will be working with, Ross Robertson. It's a pretty nice set up in a quiet residential neighborhood. Within walking distance I have a pharmacy, bank, ice cream, a few places to eat, groceries, a pool and a BLOCKBUSTER! My blockbuster card actually works in Panama. Given that there is no internet access and I rely very heavily on movies as background noise while I work, the Blockbuster was a much welcome amenity. I will limit myself to only 2 movies a week. I can't blow all of my money on movies. :)

The apartment is very cozy and surrounded by thick growth of palms and other tropical foliage that Ross planted when he bought the place. Below are some pics of the place. Cute, no?




There is a pond in the backyard and is home to a bunch of mosquito eating fish including guppies. Yay guppies! I used to have a small fish bowl of guppies when I was young. It was one of those round old school bowls that had philodendrons spilling out the top. I started with only 2 guppies and over time, I ended up with a little colony of them. Ross mentioned that at dawn, fishing bats come and eat the guppies. I may not see these. I can't imagine that I'll be awake very much at dawn. 7 am is usually as early as I like to get up. Anyway, I love anything that eats mosquitoes.

A little further in, there is a metal stand. Ross explained that if you put veggie and fruit scraps, you'll get all kinds of critters in the yard. So far I've seen agoutis (ñieques in spanish) back there. I wasn't able to get a photo, but I downloaded one off the internet. I didn't know what they were until the other day when I saw them. They are sooooo coool! I love them and they're big. They are about the size of a beagle, but dogs and cats don't like these rodents. They have a gland under their butt that secretes a scent that keeps them away. Ross was also telling me that there are 3-5 jesus lizards that hang around the pond. Males can reach a foot long! Again, the picture is from the internet.


So I'm all settled in. I have my Smithsonian ID card, access card and keys from the main office, Tupper. I found out that it is called Tupper because Tupperware funded the building of this office. I've had several successful cab rides and am now looking into enrolling in Spanish courses. I have a small office in the Naos Marine Lab and am already busy with several projects. This internship is very different from Yosemite. It is a lot more structured and I have specific assignments so to speak. I think it will feel a little more like school in the sense that the syllabus is already written. No more backpacking adventures gallavanting in the Sierras and self-directed projects. I do plan on exploring areas outside of Panama City to get my fix of being outdoors and immersed in nature. On my list of must sees is Coiba National Park.

As I mentioned, the first scientist that I am working with is Juan Mate. He directs the new management plan for Coiba National Park (Parque Nacional Coiba). Coiba is an amazing island and the park is Panama's largest national park. It is a pristine gem and for the most part, untouched by development. It used to be a penal colony much like Alcatraz. It officially closed for this purpose in 2004/5 and is now on it's way to becoming a major attraction. It provides world class diving and snorkeling among rich coral reefs just beyond white sandy beaches. I can't wait to see it!!! So as you can imagine, I'm thrilled to be designing brochures and booklets for the park. One booklet is for the general public and it is an overview of the new management plan. I'm also laying out a pamphlet about diving in Coiba. Finally, I'll be designing a poster for fishermen around the island. I'll post images as these projects develop.

Whew!!! This is a long post. A lot to cover. I think all change brings with it a feeling of nervousness and most importantly, EXCITEMENT. I'm excited to share this adventure with all of you as it unfolds.


  1. great post ms. jane! glad you're all settled in, can't wait to see more :) miss you already! xoxo, via

  2. Sooo exciting! I can't wait to see more.


  3. Yay!!! I can't wait to come visit and meet an agouti!

  4. How exciting!! I am really enjoying reading your posts and hearing all about your experiences. Thanks for sharing!!