Walking along this trail one thing becomes clear, we’ve been away from the tropics for way too long. Heliconias, red and yellow glow in a sea of green. Sweat runs in rivulets down my face, heat and humidity, the necessary ingredients for this untamed mass of life, hard to handle after years spent in Colorado. Howler Monkeys roar and howl from mid‑level in the trees overhead, a misty rain drifts through the canopy, makes my shirt even wetter but doesn’t cool. Surrounded by an almost unbelievable diversity of life, plant, animal and insect make a dreamscape for a photographer.
After a 10 year absence from the new world tropics we decided on a trip to Panama to renew a love affair that started in Costa Rica (that affair ended up as a book on the common plants of CR) in the early ’90s and to see if living here full‑time was possible; but also to be surrounded by the incredible medley of life, the colors, the sounds, the smells that mark the neotropics as a place of extraordinary biodiversity. This account is a blend of 2 trips, one in 2014 and the last in 2017. Both trips were during the rainy season (green season) which is not constant or even consistent. Some days have no rain at all and generally mornings are clear with the breath of the rain forest, like a gossamer film, sliding through and over the jungle. Occasionally it will rain all day. All bets were off in 2017 when a tropical storm churned up the Caribbean coast of western Panama up to Nicaragua causing massive downpours, described as “biblical” by some. Those rains developed on the Pacific side of these countries, rains that seemed they couldn’t come down harder, then did and at that point increased yet again. Rivers churned brown with mud, tree trunks sluiced toward the ocean.
We come fully armed with the photography equipment necessary for working in the rainforest, digital cameras that allow speeds that were unthinkable in the age of film and a range of lenses. Full frame (2 Nikon D800s) and DX (1 Nikon D500) cameras and an assortment of lenses from a Nikon 500mm f4, a Nikon 200mm macro, assorted zooms from a Nikon 200‑500, to a 16‑28 Tamron as well as flashes and mounts for off‑camera flash work. Not to mention a laptop and a separate hard drive.
After surviving the drive out of Panama City, something you really don’t want to do, surviving is good, the driving is not. A little clarification, first trip we picked up our rental car in downtown and found a traffic system that seemed devoid of rules and was not an experience I would want to have again. Our second trip we stayed in Casco Viejo (Old Town) an area on the edge of Panama City and of picturesque old crumbling buildings, some in various stages of renovation, very old churches, good restaurants and very nice places to stay. The view across the Bay of Panama at night from Casco is not to be missed, find a restaurant with a roof top dining area . A taxi to our car rental on the outskirts of the city solved the insane traffic problem.