Friday, December 25, 2009

Muchas gracias a todos y todas

I've been back in the United States for "más o menos" two months and it has taken me this long to figure out how to compose a closure statement for this blog.

"The End" or "Bye-bye" or "So long and thanks for all the ..." well, I certainly need to fill in the blank and at least post something.

Could be that a long list of scrolling credits is appropriate because the Peace Corps experience hinges on more than one character, more than one mentor, more than one friend, "pues, digamos mucho apoyo, sí?"

But I imagine that those people I would mention would just roll their eyes, so I think I will keep this post simple, avoid singling people out, not wax poetic, and finish.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

39 Days

With so little time remaining in Panama, what can you expect?


For starters, last-minute photo opportunities:Also, last-minute Baru fieldwork:

Final trips to the grocery store:

And... well, there simply isn't anymore time for anything else.

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Inauguration Party

We set the date 4 weeks ago and on Sunday, July 26th we celebrated.

The Aqueduct Project of Quebrada Mina is officially closed. The hard work of planning, designing, constructing, and trouble-shooting is over. The community has a sound water system, the Committee has new responsibilities, and there was a lot of food and chicha (dulce) to celebrate it!


Every family contributed several pounds of rice, chicken, celery, potatoes, carrots, garlic, coffee, sugar, and ... to prepare all of this, no one had to carry a single jug of water up from the river.


A lot of cooking and cleaning needed to be done to get ready - that included everyone and everything!


The celebration began with formal words from the Water Committee. The Master of Ceremonies, Secretary of the Directive, Miguel Mora introduced all of the speakers and provided closing remarks:


The distinguished guests: the PC director of the Environmental Health Sector, a neighboring volunteer, a visitor from the States, and of course, Beligo Kudobu shared praise and enthusiasm for the water feats and community achievements. Thanks to Tim, there are great photos to share as well!

And before the meal was served and the dancing began, the Committee had some gifts to administer to the Peace Corps Volunteer:

Did I just say there was dancing? Oh yes; don't let them fool you, the Ngabe have a great sense of style and appreciate Tipico as deeply as Americans do Rock-and-Roll. The dancing, plus the party favors and chicha, lasted until dusk, when we simply ran out of light to see where to put our feet.

Great party!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Water v.2.0

Quebrada Mina Update:

Monday, July 13, 2009

Water!

We've had several weeks of great weather and lots of enthusiasm to finish the aqueduct system. The main line and all of the house connections are buried now but the most important news is that water is flowing. No air blocks or problems with the flow of water; every house has water running through the faucets. The volume of water is also excellent - the rainy season is well underway (and will grow in intensity until it hammers the Comarca full-force in October).

I anticipated this blog to include photos from the inauguration party... but that is scheduled for July 26th. So here's a photo-update of the latest work.
Line 2 stretches away from the tank dipping down between the mango trees. Where the slope rises up to Saturnino's house, we've installed a reduction to transition from a 2" to a 1.5" line. Out of view is the summit of the tallest hill lying between the tank and the last house and the point where the 1.5" reduces to 1" diameter tubes: the bulk of the system depends on 1-inch lines.

There has already been talk about where some new houses will go, so tees have been strategically placed along likely connection points. This futuristic outlook is a healthy sign that the water committee is considering how it will accommodate changes once the system is inaugurated. It is a critical time to train the community and committee because now the point is to transition ownership from me (the volunteer) to the committee. They will be their own service provider once I'm gone.

Only 2.5 meters below the water tank, Milton's house is located at an important bend in the mainline. Just like we connected the long Line 1, we stopped at mid-day and conducted the anticipated "prueba de agua." It's sort of like an after-lunch surprise... Here is the result:The answer to the question was:
Yes! Yes, there is water running here!


I was mostly worried that there hadn't been enough time for the pvc glue to dry - but after the anticipation to know for sure if the hill summit was going to stone-wall the flow, we were all happy to see that water was gushing to through Milton's patio only 15-minutes after the main valve was opened up.

We bought some expensive cable (total of 300ft so a relatively pricey investment) to use where the lines cross dry and full-running quebradas. These are delicate points in the system and also points of head-loss, so it was a great photo-op when we saw the last house connection:
Just 2 days later we connected the short, 1/2" line to a faucet. Now Milna's house, the last on Line 2 has was flowing plus an emergency clean-out valve.

What drives all this hard work?
Goodwill? Goalsetting? Need? Enthusiasm? Curiosity?
Well, yes, those things count. But also... food!

So what work remains?
Now we're in the trouble-shooting phase.
There are still some valve boxes to construct, threads that need more teflon, another layer of white cement for the tank, and applying some text: "Quebrada Mina, abril 2009" to the tank face.

Soon, there will be inauguration photos to share: I promise!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Project: Aqueduct

We´ve entered the final stages of construction:

2 Springboxes [Check]

1 Water Tank [Check]

3 Suspension bridges [2 ya hecho]

2000 Feet of trenches [1/4 ya hecho]

1 Inauguration Party [pronto]
-------------------------[to be continued]-------------------------


Saturday, June 6, 2009

Peace Corps in the news - LA Times


Peace Corps

Jose Abrego / For The Times
Alexandra Hodgkins, left, of New Hampshire and Yemiymah Yisrael of Chicago are volunteering with the Peace Corps in Santa Fe, Panama. Yisrael extended her stay.

More Americans turning to Peace Corps

With President Obama extolling the volunteer agency as an exemplar of public service and U.S. diplomacy, applications have jumped. The idealism is tinged with pragmatism, amid joblessness at home.
By Chris Kraul
June 2, 2009
Reporting from Santa Fe, Panama -- Peace Corps volunteer Alexandra Hodgkins couldn't be farther from her comfort zone here in Panama's Darien jungle: coral snakes, sauna-like heat and, just a few miles east up the Pan-American Highway, marauding Colombian rebels.

But the 25-year-old New Hampshire native wants a career in international development, and she figures a couple of years helping this poor community find permits and financing for a medicinal soap business will be invaluable experience. It also feeds her passion for public service and projecting a positive U.S. image.

  • Peace Corps in Panama

    Peace Corps in Panama

"This is a good way to test whether this is what I want to do," said Hodgkins, who was a community organizer in Boston before she joined the Peace Corps in October. "I like the Peace Corps approach of working with communities, not just giving out presents right and left."

With a mix of idealism and pragmatism, increasing numbers of Americans are turning to the Peace Corps. Some, like Hodgkins, see it as a training opportunity at a time when job prospects at home are bleak. Others have been inspired by President Obama's campaign call to public service, and his frequent mention of the Peace Corps as a good vehicle for volunteerism.

At his commencement address at Arizona State University last month, Obama said the Peace Corps was an American institution that shows "our commitment to working with other nations to pursue the ideals of opportunity, equality and freedom that have made us who we are."

Peace Corps officials credit the "Obama effect" for most of the 25,000 Internet requests so far this year for "starter applications," up 40% from last year.

That's on top of a 16% increase in completed applications submitted in 2008. A new wrinkle to the flood of application requests is that 7% of them are coming from people 50 or older, up from the typical 4%, says the Washington-based organization.

Even as some government programs are being scaled back because of the global financial crisis, the Peace Corps' budget is getting a boost from Obama. If Congress approves the proposed 9% increase in the agency's 2010 budget, the number of Peace Corps volunteers, now at 7,876, is expected to rise.

"We are just skyrocketing in applications," said Peace Corps acting director Jody Olsen, who expects the volunteer ranks to grow significantly this year. "Obama represents what Americans really want to be asked to do. We want to hear how important service is, whether it is domestic or international."

These are good times for the Peace Corps, which was founded by President Kennedy in 1961. It has had its ups and downs, peaking at 15,000 volunteers in 1966 and hitting a low of fewer than 5,000 in 1982.

"It's refreshing and uplifting to witness this sort of outpouring of American idealism again, particularly after the U.S. reputation has suffered such setbacks as Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo," said Bruce Bagley, a University of Miami political science professor and a Peace Corps volunteer in Colombia in the late 1960s.

Olsen said 20 countries that have no Peace Corps presence have asked for volunteers, with specialists in farming, English teaching, and HIV/AIDS and hygiene awareness the most in demand. The requests reflect the agency's proven effectiveness, she said. But budget and logistical restrictions mean that most requests will not be met.

On a positive note, the Peace Corps is returning to Rwanda, Liberia and Ethiopia for the first time in a decade or more. Here in Panama, the number of volunteers has steadily increased to 160 from 100 five years ago, said country director Peter Redmond. He said the upturn was due in large part to the fact that the country values and seeks volunteers.

But the final number of volunteers the U.S. sends out will depend on whether Congress passes Obama's $380-million budget request for the next fiscal year.

It's not a slam dunk. The program's cost-effectiveness has been a source of debate over its 48-year history, with some critics contending that the Peace Corps is a form of "developmental tourism" and that some volunteers at times drift aimlessly in their communities during their two-year tours.

U.S. diplomat Dale Maki disagrees vigorously. Maki is a former Peace Corps volunteer in Chile and is now an agriculture advisor at the U.S. Embassy in Panama. He said volunteering benefits the United States because it "develops leadership and puts a good face on the U.S. out there."

In addition to scores of former volunteers who, like Maki, have gone on to join the U.S. foreign service, five are members of Congress, including Democratic Sen. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut.

Charles Goodsell, a Virginia Tech professor emeritus who is writing a book on the Peace Corps and other government institutions, said the critics are wrong.

"The Peace Corps is very hard work. It takes a lot of creativity to be effective in often lonely circumstances and where the tasks are not perfectly outlined," Goodsell said. "In fact, the whole idea is that individual volunteers not show up with prepackaged plans but find out what the locals really need."

Santa Fe resident Marcelina Noriega says that's what Hodgkins did, helping her cooperative cut through red tape and the application process to get a $20,000 United Nations grant.

Now the cooperative has its sights set on setting up an iguana farm to sell the skins and meat. "She has helped us do things we had no idea about," Noriega said.

Yemiymah Yisrael, a 26-year-old volunteer from Chicago who has spent three years in Santa Fe teaching composting techniques, extended her stay partly because of the lousy economy back home.

"Several volunteers who have gone home have advised me not to because it's so difficult to find a job," said Yisrael, who has her eye on a career in international health. Before the Peace Corps, she did carpentry work with Habitat for Humanity rebuilding hurricane victims' homes.

Not that the Peace Corps is lucrative: Hodgkins and Yisrael are paid about $320 a month, just above Panama's minimum wage.

Hodgkins said she gets discouraged at times by the delays and paperwork required by the Panamanian government.

"But if you keep an open mind and try to understand the culture," she said, "then you can do what you came to do."

Source:
http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-peacecorps2-2009jun02,0,2239945.story

Kraul is a special correspondent.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Anniversary

29 Years Ago

---------------------------------------------------Description of Mount St. Helens' 1980 events
http://vulcan.wr.usgs.gov/Volcanoes/MSH/May18/MSHThisWeek/intro.htm

Friday, May 15, 2009

Project: Aqueduct

The rainy season has held off and, thank goodness!
The window of unexpected weather allowed the technician and community work teams of Quebrada Mina to construct the foundations of the new water system. We had 4 weeks of relatively rain-free weather and now there are 2 spring boxes and a beautiful 3,000 gal tank to boast about.
Mixing concrete in the shade - maybe the better task to have! The massive tarp we bought to protect our work from "aguaceros" served better as it offered the shadiest and coolest place to be during the hot afternoons. Better to mix than to pour!

Of the 23 households, workers cycled through the week to be sure that each day there were at least 4 assistants available to help the technician with construction.
Nicolas pours the marginal base of the water tank - a multi-step project that later involved much rebar and cement blocks.

And the springboxes? For our purposes, "box" is a misnomer. With water seeping out of the friable clay soil from "qualquier lado," a concrete box would do little to protect the spring quality and natural flow. Our technician has devised a way to channel and cap springs that seep and often wander - the result is a concrete-and-rock mosaic with snorkels.

The Before:
Miguel Mora looks on as I point out: "Here, here, and here are places where water is trying to flow - this is good! Our mud has a lot of water in it!"

The After:A professional springbox model: note the paucity of mud.

The next few weeks will be busy with water line connections and trenches to dig. Give us a few more weeks and we'll be "pau hana," "ya listo," "done and dusted," and "all set" to celebrate the end of the grand water system project. More photos will follow!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Tribute to Earth Day

No matter where your corner of the Earth is, no matter what niche you fill, a day or an extra minute to remember "what home is" means that we haven't used up the moments or the days when we can do something to keep it safe.

More Earth Day info and news:
http://action.edf.org/ct/-1aaeCY1xSaQ/

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

"Rocky" Crandell

Obituary
"Rocky" Crandell, a giant in Northwest volcanology

Legendary Northwest volcanologist "Rocky" Crandell uncovered Mount Rainier's menacing past and warned of Mount St. Helens' eruption.

By
Sandi Doughton
Seattle Times science reporter


When newly minted geologist Dwight "Rocky" Crandell was assigned to map the Puget Sound lowlands southeast of Seattle in the early 1950s, conventional wisdom held that the landscape was shaped mainly by glaciers.

But the sharp-eyed Dr. Crandell began filling his notebooks with observations of what appeared to be deep layers of mud underlying towns from Enumclaw to Auburn. Over several years, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientist tracked the mud to its unexpected source: High on the flanks of Mount Rainier.

The evidence Dr. Crandell and his partner, Don Mullineaux, pieced together proved the volcano's summit had collapsed 5,600 years ago, unleashing a landslide so massive it flowed all the way to Puget Sound and filled nearby valleys with a slurry up to 400 feet deep.

The realization that such an event could happen again, with hundreds of thousands of people now populating Rainier's fringes, shaped much of Dr. Crandell's subsequent career.

He and Mullineaux pioneered the approach used today to evaluate the hazards posed by volcanoes. Two years before Mount St. Helens' 1980 blast, they warned that the restless volcano was primed to erupt. Before and after the eruption that claimed 57 lives, Dr. Crandell and Mullineaux worked around the clock in shifts to brief public officials, from then-governor Dixy Lee Ray to President Carter.

Dr. Crandell died Monday (April 6) of a heart attack at a hospice in Wheat Ridge, Colo. He was 86.

"He really was a giant in the field of volcanology in the Pacific Northwest," said Dr. Crandell's daughter Jane Crandell Monserud, of Seattle.

Dr. Crandell collected rocks as a child in Illinois, but he didn't get the nickname Rocky until his first college field trip in 1941. He was a lieutenant in an Army mortar platoon in Germany during World War II and earned a doctorate at Yale after the war. His first job was with the USGS office near Denver, where he was based throughout his career.

Before Dr. Crandell's work on Rainier, no one realized the picturesque volcano had such destructive potential, said former USGS volcanologist Dan Miller, who started working with the fledgling volcano team in the early 1970s.

Miller credits the breakthrough to Dr. Crandell's skill for geologic observation and his open-minded way of considering all possible explanations. "It was a brilliant piece of detective work."

While Dr. Crandell and Mullineaux were scouring rural Pierce County for evidence of Rainier mudflows, they began to find puzzling layers of volcanic ash that they eventually traced to Mount St. Helens. They embarked on a detailed study of the younger volcano's violent past, resulting in a 1978 report that warned of a likely eruption within the next 20 years.

Miller spent time with the two veterans at their field camp on the shore of Spirit Lake, where days began with a dip and ended with gin and tonics under the stars. The hours in between were grueling. "Rocky was a consummate field geologist," Miller said. "He was willing to hike miles and miles to get to an outcrop, and go back day after day."

Most early volcanologists only paid attention to hardened lava flows. But volcanoes can also spew ash clouds, rain chunks of rock and let loose mud flows and the searing mixtures of gas and rock called pyroclastic flows. Dr. Crandell and Mullineaux mapped all of those deposits, giving birth to the field now called volcanic hazard analysis, which looks at everything a volcano has done in the past to predict how it's likely to behave in the future.

"That was really Rocky's idea," Mullineaux said. "It's now used around the world, but when we were making the first map, nothing else like it existed."

As a result of volcano-hazard mapping, several valleys downstream of Mount Rainier are now equipped with mudflow-warning systems. Some cities restrict development in vulnerable areas, and others hold regular evacuation drills.

Dr. Crandell and Mullineaux drew some criticism after Mount St. Helen's cataclysmic eruption. A few victims' families claimed the USGS scientists didn't press hard enough for larger exclusion zones.

But the boundaries were set by public officials, and there was scant indication in St. Helens' history that it would explode with such fury, Miller said.

Dr. Crandell retired a few years after the St. Helens eruption, partly to make way for young scientists. But he continued to do unpaid field work for another decade.

After his wife, Marion, suffered a brain injury in an automobile accident, Crandell devoted much of his time to her, said his daughter Margie Robinson, of Wheat Ridge, Colo. Mrs. Crandell died in 2004. Two years ago, Dr. Crandell visited Mount Rainier with his daughters to scatter her ashes. They also made a stop at Mount St Helens' visitor center.

Rangers and staff came from across the park to meet the man whose work remains the bedrock of volcanology in the Northwest.

"You should have seen the commotion," Monserud said. "Dad was greeted like a rock star."

In addition to his two daughters and their husbands, Dr. Crandell is survived by three grandchildren and one great-grandchild. His son, Tom, died in a river-rafting accident in 1965.

A service will be held April 18 at Jefferson Unitarian Church in Golden, Colo.

Source:
http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2009016972_crandellobit10m.html

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Fieldwork, continued

The driest I've ever seen it:
In this view, Volcán Barú has a few clouds gathering around the summit but otherwise there's hardly a breath of moisture in the air. The intervening "hummocks" in the fore-and-middle ground are dusty and brittle grass covers the slopes. But this weather won't last long. Despite how brutal the Death Valley-like weather is for hiking and traversing the campo, I'm not looking forward to the polar opposite: knee-high mud and drenched notes.

In anticipation of the winter rains, I've packed in 2 weeks of fieldwork... más o menos. A modified Debris Avalanche map has come from this as well as many new outcrop descriptions and field photos. Should I post the new gritty details? I don't think I have time and it might not be as interesting to read as it would be to type. But regardless, I'd like to share some of the most interesting photos from last week.I haven't spent a lot of time on the Rio Chiriqui Viejo, but each time I visit it, I'm never disappointed; there is always something interesting to see. This time, I saw Squirrel Monkeys (thanks for the correction Holly!). Maybe I've seen these small, masked critters in photos, but never live, in the wild. This view shows 3 of them playing in a tree high above the riverbank. What the photo doesn't show is the object of their game: a white, black-speckled bird of prey that was circling the tree.

Aaaah, the benefits of a good zoom, here's a portrait of a member of the trio.
Southeast of the Rio Chiriqui Viejo are several other rivers. An important one figuring into my mapping project is the Rio Divalá. While there might be a few small families of Squirrel Monkeys close to the Pacific coast, there are MANY clans of Howler Monkeys. I've spent more than a year in Panamá and I've hardly seen so much wildlife so often - the following photo was taken AFTER the howling began.

Have you ever heard anything like this?

video

The following photo isn't mine, but I wish it was. There have been so many times when I've seen a Blue Morpho butterfly - whether out of the corner of my eye or disappearing into the shadows - that it is starting to drive me crazy. These are beautiful marvels, something you can't observe wild in the USA and yet, every time I see the flash of blue, there is never enough time to pull out the camera and focus in on the insect. These butterflies are just that fast. Like the day I spent walking the upper reaches of Rio Piedra: I saw the Blue Morpho in the shadows, immediately dropped my backpack to the ground, pulled open the drawstrings, unzipped the camera case, pressed "Power," and... the butterfly was gone. I even ran into the trees looking for it and, nope, sorry, "ya se fue," I couldn't find it with my naked eye, never mind the camera lens. But to represent it's presence, I'm using this photo from: http://www.yesnet.yk.ca/schools/wes/webquests_themes/butterfly_lucille/butterfly_species/morpho/index.html

Oh, I'll keep trying - I'll keep looking out for those beautiful wings. Besides, it's flashing my favorite color and few things can wear blue so nicely.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Project: Volcan Baru

There are often surprises in the field, but this one had nothing to do with rocks. Within the river valley of Rio Escarrea, this blue-crested motmot was hiding from the afternoon sun - well, the sun as well as intruders... like me!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Project: Volcan Baru

A 5-day visit with volcanologists...

The adventure shed light on the far corners of the field while also establishing a scope for the project. While new questions cropped up during the trip, the theme never changed:
What is going on with these debris deposits?!

What we were looking for:
Multi-colored, buried blocks that explain the insides of debris avalanches. Within massive quarries, road and stream-cuts, and construction sites, the presence OR absence of these features provides information about composition and energy.

Textures, when volcanoes fall down, particular things happen to the rocks: fracturing, shattering, shearing, disaggregation... that is to say: busted up. Something we're seeing at the distal end of the deposit is jigsaw fracturing. Not every block is like this, but by now I've seen enough of these to link it with the mixed-up phase of the avalanche. This photo is an example, rock hammer for scale.

Topographic clues, despite the estimated age of the events, the topography still tells us something about the past - and adds a few more questions to the whole picture, but it's no good to ignore the hints given by aerial photos, digital elevation models, topo maps, and panoramic views. There is a 20-square kilometer area that is dissected by erosion and abruptly becomes high, rolling plateau - why?

Carbon samples, wood or charcoal or bulk soil samples that can date or at least constrain the timing of events. As far as I'm concerned, finding 7 samples within a 5-day visit is as good as it gets for a debris avalanche.

Contacts, we were lucky to gain access to the largest construction site I've seen in Panama. A new dam is going in on the Rio Chiriqui Viejo - I learned that there could be 10 more built sometime in the future, interesting... Here, the excavation is cutting so deeply that we saw both debris avalanche material and the underlying bedrock exposed within the same view. Construction workers looked like specks and whether they knew it or not, they were pointing out the unit base for us - thanks guys!

Places like this will be worthwhile to revisit. This kind of construction requires incredible excavation, in the river valley as well as further away where quarries appear to provide gravel for all of the concrete needed to stabilize the slopes.

The 5 days were a success - we have new information and ideas about Volcan Baru's debris avalanche deposits. Also, there was time to talk-story with friends and enjoy the best sunset spot I've ever seen in Panama.

Vacation

The first official vacation - hooray!

Beginning in the La Fortuna National Park and ending in Bocas del Toro, I promised not to use words like: composting latrine, aqueduct, or pasear for 7 whole days.

Now THAT'S what I call a vacation.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Challenge: Return to the Summit

After hiking up the trail from Boquete, I reached the summit of Volcán Barú after 6 hours of walking in the dark. Thankfully, there was no hail storm to greet me at the top, just breezy mountain air, a couple of hikers, and the fantastic views that I (and my last hiking buddies from the year before) had missed last Christmas.

Almost stumbling to the summit cross, I didn't feel a spark of excitement, more-so there was a feeling of release. After the disastrous trip from the previous year, the return-trip had gone smoothly and yet the overwhelming sensation was: peacefulness.

I had started the hike at 11:30pm, a taxi dropped me off at the National Park entrance. I had left behind the drizzle of the bajareque and the starting elevation (roughly 4,000 ft) put me above the valley clouds. With a LED headlamp and a full moon above me, I hiked for 6 hours (maybe more like 6 and a half) up the long, 14-km trail.

Unfortunately for me, the wonderful ¨Flower Festival¨ of Boquete happened to be starting at the exact time when I arrived to begin my hiking adventure. I regret the timing, not because I don't love coffee, not because I don't love country fairs, but because I couldn't sleep worth a damn to prepare myself for an all-nighter, hiking toward the stratosphere.

When the trail passed the Los Fogones camping area and then snaked up to the observatories and radio towers, blasts of cold air hit me from the North. The sudden shocks helped clear my head from the strange LED-induced tunnel vision, the dreaming- yet- not- quite sentient awareness of shadowy rocks that resembled animals from moment to moment, and general fatigue. I was shivering and rickety as I finally found an outcrop enticing me to take a seat.

I picked a wonderful nook in the rocks and this is what I saw:
It was roughly 5:45 am and the lights from Davíd were multicolored and festive from this elevation (11,400 ft or 3.5 km). The moon had just set and the stars were still bright. I was sitting next to one of ANAM's buildings and wondering just how long a sunrise would take... not that I wasn't happy to hang out at the summit, but I was down to one last water bottle, feeling tired enough to sleep on the spot, and feeling cold enough to wonder if my knees would splinter to bits if I stood up too quickly.

I spent 15 dark minutes photographing the summit observatory area while the sky brightened. Then it was time to make the final hike up to the benchmarked summit.

There were already 5 people there: 3 Panamanians and 2 Germans. There is a stark-white cross at the highest point and unfortunately, a fair amount of graffiti on the dome rocks. But the sight wasn't completely marred, some rocks showed beautiful, curving dacite, small flowers sprouted inches up from the gravelly hollows, and then there was the view.

There were clouds moving in from Costa Rica and from the Caribbean Sea. The sun wasn't quite above the horizon, but the pre-dawn light allowed a wonderful view of the Sea and the Pacific, of Costa Rica's mountains and Panama's Cordillera: "then" the sun came up.
A perfect triangular shadow appeared behind Volcán Barú against the blue Costa Rican backdrop. The yellow light touched the highest peaks and warmed up the grayscale views. The details of the world below 10,000 feet became fuzzy and then, suddenly everything was clear and brightening from the anticipated sunrise.

To my delight, the little hills around the small town of Volcán were alight, individually touched by the sun. For anyone paying attention, little hills anywhere near Volcán cause a knee-jerk response:

Hills? Oh, you mean hummocks? Oh! I wonder if I've been there yet!

It was fun to see my study area, my field of hummocks lighted and already identified. That was when I decided it was time for a self portrait with my subject:

The Panamanians were glad to take the photo and in turn, I photographed them - but all of us were struggling to stay still for the shots, we were still shivering from the cold.

The view to the North was quickly filling with clouds, but the Bocas del Toro coastline was clearly marked by the pale-blue sea. The view East had the dramatic Cordillera and the direction of my little community within the Comarca Ngabe-Bugle. Boquete was visible just behind the crater rim and to the South the lights of Davíd had mixed with the sunshine but the Pacific coast was well-lit and the long point of Burica Peninsula shot out into the ocean like a breakwater. To the West, the congestion of Volcán was roped in by the Río Chiriquí Viejo and the distant blueness beyond represented Costa Rica's mountains.

It was also gratifying to stare into the gulch of Barú's crater. The surrounding peaks fit into my mental map of lava domes and the dark ring further away was the bounding wall of the most recent failure - the debris avalanche scar that was currently muddling my brain with thesis questions.

I only spent an hour and a half up there, at the peak. I knew my energy would continue to leak away and it would be better to find a warm rock somewhere below 10,000 ft where I could snooze for a while.

So I took one last photo from Panama's rooftop and wished the other hikers well (some of them had actually pitched their tent on the neighboring dome next to the summit - their little tent must have been blowing like a windsock last night, completely exposed to the 4 Winds). Then slowly, like a timid abuela, I inched my way back down to the observatory area. Once back down to the main trail, I put one foot in front of the other until, after 2 hours, I had to stop - I hadn't even crossed the first "moat," the deep ravine between the lava domes and crater rim. It was sometime around 9am but at least I was below the tree line. Birds were singing, the wind hardly moved the mossy tree branches above me, flowers were glowing in the sunshine, and so I found myself a nice warm rock.

I fell asleep for roughly an hour, I can't remember exactly now... but several hikers were passing by when I realized that I felt more hungry than tired. After snacking, I continued the descent: crossed from the last dome to reach the crater rim, then across the "moat" to the rim again, and then descending, descending, descending for hours.

I stopped by the Park Entrance, paid the visiting fee ($3.00 for residents) and then didn't stop walking until I reached the Volcancito parada to wait for a bus - around noon I was dropping off to sleep again - this time in a soft hostel bed that was just as comfortable as the sun-warmed rock I found above the clouds.

I am happy to report that the trip was successful, I enjoyed every view along the way, I was never actually hit by rain, there was no fear of frostbite, I took many photos, I am not afraid of volcanoes in the dark, and my feet are still attached even though my shoes need ShooGoo attention.