When traveling and especially by boat – our skills in improvisation, invention and patience are constantly exercised and tested. We also need to embrace ambiguity when the paths forward aren’t clear.
The boat needed a fair amount of work to become sea-worthy again after a year of hard sailing and seven months sitting in Panama. So we have been in Shelter Bay Marina, Panama for a month+, while we work to make things better. The work is frequently hard, sweaty and hot. But as economists are fond of saying: “on the other hand…”.,there are also opportunities to take pictures and explore the nearby surroundings.
Shelter Bay Marina is built on the site of a old US Army Fort, Fort Sherman. Named after General William Tecumseh Shermam, from the Civil War. The fort was abandoned when the US returned the canal to Panama in 1999. Originally built in 1912 on a point, for defending US Canal interests, Fort Sherman, overlooks the canal on the bay side and the Caribbean on the other.
While the Canal has been maintained by Panama in pristine condition, the fort is slowly being reclaimed by the jungle. In thermodynamics, it would be called positive entropy – if left alone, the fort will slowly change from order to more randomness, more nature like.
There are many walks through the disorder of the fort. My favorites have photo opportunities or an expectation of animal sightings. But no matter which walk, one can always find something interesting.
There was a book I read a few years ago called “On Looking: A Walkers Guider to the Art of Observation” by Alexandra Horowitz. In her book, she walks the same NY City blocks many times, each time with different expert. Each new advisor shares unique knowledge with the author (and the reader) making the same walk seem different, new and interesting every time. One walk was with an architect, another time with a stone mason, sociologist, audiologist and others. The same walks become engaging with the addition knowledge from the experts.
Each walk through the jungle is like Ms. Horowitz’s walks around the blocks of NYC. Either, I’ve learned something new making the journey seem different in light of added knowledge or sometimes the place has really changed.
One or the other, the jungle has changed or maybe I have, it matters little. It’s exciting when I’ve noticed some small difference, I covet those moments. To be an active participant in the world we live in – and I believe each of us is very lucky to be here –we need to make the best of the opportunity, we need to notice the world around us , see differences, scorn them or appreciate them, but notice them.
One of the walks, I call the loop. The loop winds up out of the Marina on a old somewhat paved road past the old Army Church. If looking up toward the sky, there is a gauntlet of tall palm trees forming a canopy over the road. These trees are frequented by white-headed Capuchin monkeys and occasionally the mantled howler monkey. If one were look down at the ground instead, there are two or three cleared “trails” across the road where a continuous flow of leaf cutter ants clear the ground of leaves and bark that impedes their “mission”. Their mission to feed the colony. They are always entertaining, each ant carrying a piece of leaf many times their size. The work doesn’t ever stop (like boat work). Interestingly enough the leave bits serve two purposes: a fungus grows on the stored leaves. That fungus is fed to the infant ants and the leaf sap feeds the adults.
Further up the loop, the road splits at a “Y” – go either direction left branch or right branch you end up back at the “Y”. Near here, there are usually pairs of brightly colored parrots flying and chattering loudly between themselves (like married couples). Even from a distance their distinctive wing flappings’ and sounds make them easy to identify.
Occasionally I’ll come across a green ground-cover-like plant called Mimosa Pudica.. When disturbed, the leaf starts a self protective action by rapidly closing. It’s a very rapid motion, taking just a few seconds to fully close. I never tire of watching a plant move that fast.
Every trip is an exercise in observation. Every walk uses, if we want it to, some of the same skills needed for travel by boat: improvisation, invention and a fair amount of patience. Every trip also holds the possibility of being affected by the walk as well, And when a camera is in hand those moments are magical.
Why travel if we aren’t changed by our experience? To have our minds twisted in new directions by the randomness or ambiguity of our travels is is one of the pleasurable results of all the hard work that travel requires. To stay the same, not grow does not do justice to our existence here on earth.
To my mind, we travel to encounter the unexpected. To go looking for what you know already exists accomplishes little. To quote one of my favorite photographers:“you may find what you seek but fail to discover what you did not know was possible” – Guy Tal.
If we hadn’t needed to be in Shelter Bay for repairs and improvements, the vagaries of exploring the area wouldn’t have happened. I wouldn’t have learned about the weasel-like Tayras for example.
Or the various species of new world monkeys or the history of Fort Sherman and how it was also used as a jungle warfare training school.
It’s all good. But the greatest gift off all is that it was unexpected. Gems aren’t always found in Jewelry stores, sometimes a piece of rose quartz is more valuable than the finest emerald.
Fort Sherman was an accidental find, a result of spending time in a place not known as a destination but being a worthwhile place to explore nevertheless. The world is full of places like Fort Sherman but finding them involves willingness to explore, making an effort at observation, and an openness to new experience. Sometimes a little luck is involved. But I believe what Luis Pasteur, the French microbiologist said” “Chance favors the prepared mind.” We open ourselves to serendipity if we are willing to accept it.