Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Migrants, castles and more!

I had a crazy idea this morning... to drive all the way to the Caribbean coast after leaving Gloriela at the hospital in order to see if I can find some rare migrants or something. So, I left behind the rainy and dark Panama City, took the highway and after one hour (more or less) I was in Gatun waiting my turn to pass the one-lane bridge through the locks. Contrasting with Panama City, the Caribbean side of the Panama Canal was unexpectedly sunny, hot and bright... probably too much. I did find some migrants, but not the rare ones I was expecting. Anyway, the numbers were impressive. Hundreds (perhaps thousands) of Bank, Cliff and Barn Swallows were flying low over the grassy fields of the Gatun dam, maneuvering acrobatically and sometimes passing just in front of the car. There was also a huge flock of Eastern Kingbirds at the fence of the facilities, sometimes feeding in the ground. They were accompanied by many Fork-tailed Flycatchers, which could have been migrants too. The only other birds that I saw at the dam were the Gray-breasted Martins, the regular American Kestrel and a Southern Lapwing. The spillway had no many birds, only some Little Blue Herons were present. I decided to go to one of the most important touristic attractions of the area: the Castillo de San Lorenzo (San Lorenzo Castle) at the mouth of the mighty Chagres river, within the San Lorenzo National Park. It is about 35 minutes from the locks to the castle through a paved road which crosses several habitats: grasslands, mangroves, residential areas and forests. It also passes through the former Sherman Base (where you are asked for your ID) and the Park rangers station (where you have to pay the fee for entering the park). I did few stops on the way, usually to appreciate the Northern Waterthrushes that were all around. Just a little after the station, I found a snake crossing the road. I was able to see this 5 feet-long beauty before it vanished in the understore of the forest. I think it is a Salmon-bellied Racer, but I could be wrong. Once in the castle, the place was desolated, contributing to the sensation of immensity that was surrounding me.Despite there are no guides, the site has many interpretative signs that tell you the story of this fortress. That was how I knew that it was constructed by the Spaniards back in 1597 to protect the entrance of the Chagres river, and after that, it was destroyed and re-constructed several times, the last one in 1750.
The view is VERY impressive due to its location atop of a hill, dominating the mouth of the Chagres river, which was so important in those days, as it is today! You also have an unobstructed view of the Caribbean sea and some lovely beaches at the base of the hill.
It was a great experience. My last time there was maaaany years ago. Then, as a little child, I imagined myself as a "Caribbean pirate", running and yelling through the corridors of the castle... the idea crossed my mind several times during this visit!

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