Panama II -- Retorno

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Panama II -- Retorno

Post by Joe Middleton » Sat Mar 18, 2006 10:27 am

I got home last night after spending 12 nights and 12 days in Panama. I had some pretty specific goals for the trip and neither of the two major ones -- collect either altoflavus or panamense -- were achieved and hence I brought home no fish. But it was a hell of an adventure on the other hand and perfectly splendid vacation as well. I needed a fish vacation like this and on a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being a GPAS meeting and 10 being all fish fantasies realized I think this was about a 7. When I got home last night my apartment seemed completely alien to me as my mind was still thinking my home was in the backseat of a Toyota Hiace bus on the Panamerican highway and drinking beer with my travelling buds.

Well, I'm back -- get this -- but with no fish! My two specific goals were not met so I opted not to bring back any of the other fish. The others on this trip got the fish through customs without very little hassle and popped out the other side with the following and more: Tomocichla asfraci and sieboldi; Amphilophus altifrons, calobrense and rhytisma; Geophagus crassilabrus; Aequidens coeruleopunctatus; Archocentrus nanoluteus (which was so variable in the one population that I was led to believe that we had caught altoflavus); Chaetostoma fischeri; Brachyrhaphis species "Rio Pediera" (this, from east of the canal in a very pristine river); Pimelodella chagresi and assorted gobies and more. I nearly took home some altifrons (they were SO cute) and some of the nanoluteus but focused my attention on a big, yeasty bottle of vino de palma, a campesino palm wine beverage that I am going to try to ferment out to completion here at home before sharing sometime down the road (I feared that the bottle was going to blow up during the flight).

The weirdest thing that happened in Panama? There were many weird things, but the weirdest was not picking up the soldier at the Bayano checkpoint for much conversation and cerveza drinking in the vehicle all the way back to his wife in Chepo but instead the fact that we found adult Archocentrus spinosissimus for sale in a pet store in Panama -- this was a fish that was a target of last year's Guatemala trip and now we found it for sale in a Panamanian pet store! This was a fish that I almost brought back...

A low-res sampling of slides:

New, modern, downtown Panama City -- looking into the Paitilla district:
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Crazy gringos in the bar "Wild Coyote" in Penonome -- Rusty, Bill, yours truly, and Eric:
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Geophagus crassilabrus from the Rio Ipeti:
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Amphilophus calobrense from the Rio Ipeti:
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A Chaetostoma species that was abundant in the Rio Ipeti, perhaps C. fischeri?
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Coming back from the Rio Ipeti -- beers with a new friend and a member of the Panamanian armed forces (our vehicle now being a military transport, I guess beers and cigarettes beat the back of a truck)!
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Archocentrus nanoluteus female from the Rio Robalo:
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Tomocichla asfraci female from the Rio Robalo:
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This tree sloth (three toed?) popped out of the tree for our photo opps near the Cocle del Norte:
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On the Atlantic Slope of the Cocle province:
Image
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Michael Kwist
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Post by Michael Kwist » Sat Mar 18, 2006 11:22 am

:shock: Verry nice asfraci on the photo And the other fish are also nice to see :)
Greetings Michael.

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Post by Bas Pels » Sat Mar 18, 2006 1:42 pm

Wonfderful vacation thus. Howeve,r I would not have taklen any whine home, but instead would have concentrated on the fishes you did find.

Bas

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Post by Juan Artigas » Sat Mar 18, 2006 2:29 pm

Joe, very nice account thanks. Why isnt that you did not find your target species?
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Post by Joe Middleton » Sat Mar 18, 2006 5:53 pm

Juan Artigas wrote:Joe, very nice account thanks. Why isnt that you did not find your target species?
Main reason: inaccessibility. Getting the altoflavus will require more planning. We had an alternative to the boat trip that Jean-Claude Nourissat undertook a decade ago but it did not pan out. As for the panamense its preference for virgin forest could not be accessed readily. So much of Panama has been developed in its first 500 years of European influence that such environments could not be obtained.

As for not bringing back any fish, I guess I could attribute this to two main reasons: (a) insufficient space -- I am focusing my efforts on maintaining the Guatemalan species I obtained last year and (b) my stubborn bullheadedness in ensuring a difference from myself and "normal" aquarists. I still love fish dearly but instead of bringing them home to my aquariums so as to dote upon them I chose to observe them solely in their natural habitats to face the pressure for survival against the circumstances there. I was swayed at times -- juvenile altifrons and nanoluteus were certainly very hard to pass up -- but instead chose to stick to the two species mentioned.

However, I am not through with Panama. I forsee a time in the future when my all of my objectives will be brought to a certain conclusion.
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Post by Deezil » Sat Mar 18, 2006 6:06 pm

Does anyone have any idea roughly, how much it costs to do a trip such as this? I'm sure it probably depends on where you go, huh?

.. Provided you have the space to house the fish you bring home..

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Post by Joe Middleton » Sat Mar 18, 2006 9:18 pm

Deezil wrote:Does anyone have any idea roughly, how much it costs to do a trip such as this? I'm sure it probably depends on where you go, huh?

.. Provided you have the space to house the fish you bring home..

The Basics:
Round trip flight from PDX to PTY, $550-$600. You may pay more if you come back with overweight luggage (due to water weight).
Rental Car: big van cost us about $900 for 12 days. We paid about $20-25 a day for diesel fuel. Smaller vehicles run less. Our "15 passenger van" really equated to just the right amount of space for four lanky gringos and their collecting gear.
Nightly lodging in Panama: $30-$35 for higher-end hotels.
Import license plus potential inspection fees: $100 for license (paid every two years), inspection fee $55.
Food: $10-$15 per day. More if you want to really live it up.
Beer: $5-10 per person, para mi.
Other expense: guides, tips, gifts, etc. -- $10 to $15 a day.
Extra considerations: additional costs or considerations could be made for handling fish. You will need bags, chlorine remover, nets, meds, etc. etc. etc.

The skinny? 12 days, four people, aprox. $1,500 apiece. Some countries cost more than others. We all found Panama to be unexpectedly inexpensive. For example, last year's trip to Guatemala cost all attendees about $2K apiece, mostly due to more expensive beer (ahem). I brought $600 in cash along for the trip and did not have to go to an ATM the whole time in the country (all other bills were put on credit cards).

There's a lot more to be discussed here and it helps going with experienced people. Even after several trips I find myself still looking to others the roster for advice. Strange things can happen and you will really benefit from association with and learning from those who have gone before you.
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Post by Marko Lenac » Mon Mar 20, 2006 7:47 am

The Archocentrus nanoluteus is wonderful!
Image

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Post by anableps » Mon Mar 20, 2006 10:20 am

Did you go by boat up any river systems to find fish?
Did you do any night fishing? :shock:

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Post by Joe Middleton » Mon Mar 20, 2006 8:12 pm

anableps wrote:Did you go by boat up any river systems to find fish?
Did you do any night fishing? :shock:
We did night fishing only when the sun started to set and there was no need to rush back into town for more beer...
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Post by Joe Middleton » Mon Mar 20, 2006 8:15 pm

anableps wrote:Did you go by boat up any river systems to find fish?
I would like to say that some of the fish we sought out were likely up a certain creek without a paddle but that would fall too much inline with my character.
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Fish collecting trips

Post by anableps » Tue Mar 21, 2006 5:22 pm

What kind of physical condition does an individual have to be in to go along on a trip like this?
How demanding would you say it is and what skills do you think are most valuable?
Do most people find it relaxing or hard work or both?
Do you utilize porters or photographers?
Is there a minimum or maximum limit on the number of people you take?
Age? Size? Do prior fishkeeping or fish club participation play a part?
Can you write off your travel expenditures?
Do you interview people before you decide whether to take them?
And, the big one, do you take women?
I have always wanted to try collecting, especially when I read first hand accounts of trips like yours!
But I have never read accounts of trips which have included women.
Is it more dangerous for women or just more troublesome for planning?
Does this depend on the country or countries you fish in?

I know that is a long list of questions.
Thank you for your replies in advance,

Ana :shock:


One more question: why is the beer so much less expensive than other countries, as you have mentioned?
Or was that just joking?
Or is that a dumb question?
Or not?

(Now it is definitely too many questions.)

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Post by Norcal_Cichlid » Tue Mar 21, 2006 8:33 pm

Very nice. It would have been nicer had you brough back Asfraci! I love those guys. Great story though!

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Re: Fish collecting trips

Post by Joe Middleton » Tue Mar 21, 2006 10:33 pm

anableps wrote:What kind of physical condition does an individual have to be in to go along on a trip like this?
Well Anna, as long as your heart is still going thumpity-thump, I highly recommend a trip like this. Some of the people on the trip did experience bladder problems, as could be expected, however.
anableps wrote:How demanding would you say it is and what skills do you think are most valuable?
It's not very demanding. I think the most valuable skill one can have is money.
anableps wrote:Do most people find it relaxing or hard work or both?
I think I find it relaxing. It gets going rough when one runs out of beer.
anableps wrote:Do you utilize porters or photographers?


It's very hard to find a good porter in Central America. However, in Panama, one of the brewers there had a contract to produced Guinness stout. As for photographers, we didn't see many of those -- thankfully. Eric was able to talk his way out of the one ticket we would have otherwise received.
anableps wrote:Is there a minimum or maximum limit on the number of people you take?
Generally speaking, the minimum that goes on these trips is one.
anableps wrote:Age? Size? Do prior fishkeeping or fish club participation play a part?
When selecting people to go along I select people based on their experience. Age plays a part, you have to be at least 21 years of physical age but no older than 12 years mentally. We will not let you go on the trip if you have one of those silly, "proud member of such-and-such fish club" signatures in your email.
anableps wrote:Can you write off your travel expenditures?
For the most part. What happened in Panama stays in Panama.
anableps wrote:Do you interview people before you decide whether to take them?
No. We just invite them. Them having money helps. We only accept gullable victims that I can take advantage of.
anableps wrote:And, the big one, do you take women?
Sure. I like women just as well as like men.
anableps wrote:One more question: why is the beer so much less expensive than other countries, as you have mentioned?
I think Guatemala was more taxing.


Does this help?
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Post by Vincent Fu » Tue Mar 21, 2006 11:54 pm

Are the wisecracks included in the cost of the trip or do they cost extra? :lol:

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Post by Joe Middleton » Tue Mar 21, 2006 11:58 pm

Vincent wrote:Are the wisecracks included in the cost of the trip or do they cost extra? :lol:
They're free!
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Re: Fish collecting trips (and now, the serious response)

Post by Joe Middleton » Wed Mar 22, 2006 12:13 am

q: What kind of physical condition does an individual have to be in to go along on a trip like this?

a: if you have no problems climbing down a slope, hauling around a bucket of water or pulling a net then you should have no problem.


q: How demanding would you say it is and what skills do you think are most valuable?

a: it can be demanding. The biggest matter I think you need is some sense of street-saaviness. Knowing the language of most of the populace of the country to where you are travelling is a major skill set that will be very beneficial. When I planned this trip for Panama, I chose people who could handle each of the specific areas with aplomb -- permits, travel arrangements, fish transportation, etc. Even though I took home no fish, there were others on the trip who did.


q: Do most people find it relaxing or hard work or both?

a: a little of both. Mostly it is vacation-time, and fun for the adventure.


q: Do you utilize porters or photographers?

a: no porters, but there were many who volunteered "for a price." We brought our own cameras.


q: Is there a minimum or maximum limit on the number of people you take? Age? Size?

a: it's easiest to travel as a small group, between 1 and 4 people. Once you get over four it's harder to get accomodations for vehicle and hotels. I have travelled in 2001 with a group of around 18 people and it was really taxing on those who had to do all of the translation. It was also much harder to get everyone in the van to go out to the field, we were a much slower moving group.


q: Do prior fishkeeping or fish club participation play a part?

a: it can. It helps to get people who know what they are talking about. If you don't have any experience with collecting fish, moving fish, transporting fish, shipping fish or identifying fish it can be extra work for those who do have these skills.


q: Can you write off your travel expenditures?

a: I don't. I am not a tropical fish entrepeneur by trade (I work in the financial industry). I suppose if you do fish for a living you might be able to. I just don't know.


q: Do you interview people before you decide whether to take them?

a: no. I have a good idea of who I want to take along on the trip, well beforehand.


q: And, the big one, do you take women?

a: this can be a sticky question. In Panama, having women would not have been a problem. In Guatemala, it could have ended the crew up in very serious trouble. It all depends on the social climate of the destination country. I have seen tourists of both sexes get along fine in Guatemala. However, I have read horror accounts of it not working out on State department websites. Overall, the two big factors are (a) safety and (b) interest. I think I touched on the safety concern here. As for the second, let's face it -- the aquarium hobby is male-dominated. Mostly men go on these trips. However, if a woman wanted to go along, then there should be no problem in making accomodations accordingly.


q: one more question: why is the beer so much less expensive than other countries, as you have mentioned?

a: this is one question I answered earnestly previously! Alcohol appears to be highly taxed in Guatemala. In Panama, it is less so. I think Mexico was pretty cheap, too. I haven't been to Belize, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua or Costa Rica to effectively compare -- nor have I been to the Antilles.
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Post by Dan Woodland » Wed Mar 22, 2006 8:57 am

Ana,

I suggest a guided tour for you with a company like Margarita tours. They make sure you are safe, well fed and know exactly were to go. They help you with catching and exporting your fish. It’s basically an all inclusive trip like Cancun etc…

Here’s their website:

http://www.amazon-ecotours.com/expeditions.htm

Trips like Joe’s can be trying and difficult, I think a first timer would like a guided tour much better.

Dan

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Post by Joe Middleton » Wed Mar 22, 2006 9:07 am

Mojarra_ohio wrote:Ana,
Trips like Joe’s can be trying and difficult...Dan
...especially when I'm along on the trip!
:wink:
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Post by Bas Pels » Wed Mar 22, 2006 10:03 am

Dan,

thanks for the lihnk. Although I do not intend to go to Peru, or visit any tropical forest in the overseable future, it was still a very interesting site!!

Bas

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