Gamboa BBQ

Gamboa is a small town about 20 miles into the interior where I may be taking up residence. It was a township built to house employees of the Panama Canal and is located on a bend of the Chagres River near Lake Gatun. A single lane bridge crosses the Chagres and is the only road access to Gamboa. To pass over the bridge, we had to wait for a stoplight and enter the bridge, since it is one lane of traffic at a time.
We were visiting the home of two STRI scientists: Sunshine Van Bael, Allen Herre and their two boys.
As we sat outside in the evening (steamy and warm)…we watched some leaf cutting ants with their colorful parade. I was taking some photos and Allen came over and filled me in on the ants because that’s some of Sunshine’s main research… They can tell what plants have anti-fungal properties by which leaves the ants avoid. Leaf cutters bring the leaves back to the underground tunnels and feed the leaves, like compost, to the mushrooms that the ants are farming for their food.
As we talk and sip sangria, parrots fly noisily overhead, agoutis forage seeds in the yard, giant cicadas create the background hum, bird-of-paradise flowers and fica trees are growing like weeds. Agoutis are like our grey squirrels, but look more like large, benevolent, big-rumped rats. They are critical to the habitat because they eat stuff, and then poop the seeds out and keep it all in balance.
A few days ago, I did see a blue Morpho butterfly with big flapping wings and am patiently waiting to see my first toucan. (There are around 600 species of birds in the whole of the United States and 960 species in Panama alone, according to our host. Bird paradise.)
After a great home-cooked meal, we were listening to the frogs (which have an amazing call) and Allen filled us in-due to a STRI researcher who works with bats – on the frogs’ two calls. One call is hard for the bats to follow (bats eat frogs – just to be clear), but just says, “I’m here.” the other call says, “I’m here, and I’m ready for you baby!” But the audio profile of that second call makes them a giant sonic target for the bats, so the risk in sending out your mating call can also mean death.
Allen went out to try to fool a frog into doing the mating call…but was unsuccessful (with much laughter from inside).
Next weekend is a special annual event in Gamboa that Allen and Sunshine have been arranging for a number of years. It’s an open mic night, and people that live in Gamboa get together for a night of music, poetry, theater…whatever hidden talents might be lurking have an opportunity to be displayed. They also started the preschool daycare on Gamboa which is experiencing great volume due to a sort of baby boom in Gamboa.

More on Sunshine’s research:

Allen studies figs and fig-associated organisms, and the interactions of tropical plants with fungal pathogens and mutualists, as well as the interactions of tropical plants with endophytic fungi. Actually, I hear he’s about to make a breakthrough about how all things are connected…

One Response to “Gamboa BBQ”

  1. Pete says:

    We demand pictures!

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