Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Haras Cerro Punta

Day 4 Haras Cerro Punta

Today we visited a farm where they breed and raise Thoroughbred race horses called “Haras Cerro Punta”. They have 140 horses total including: 5 Thoroughbred stallions, 65 Thoroughbred mares, and 1 Percheron stallion called “Centurion” - the remaining are yearlings.                                                   

Breeding takes place during the months of February-March and the newborns arrive 11 months later. The mares give birth to their fouls in a laboratory/clinic located in the basement level of the main house. Artificial insemination is illegal in Panama, so all offspring are conceived naturally. There is an on-site veterinarian 24/7.

The fouls are started in gate training at 5 months old. Here they are fed their daily rations in an enclosed area designed to acclimatize them to being in the starting gate. Race training begins at 17 months and utilizes a rotational running machine designed to get the horses used to running in an enclosed space. The horses are exercised daily at this higher altitude location (2000 meters) in order to develop greater lung capacity and endurance. At 2 years of age they are taken to Panama City where they are sold at an auction that takes place at the Hipodromo Presidente Remon Racetrack. The horses race from 2 to 6 years of age.

4 of the Thoroughbred stallions here are from the United States and one champion called “Figo” was born and raised at Haras Cerro Punta. The 6th stallion residing here is “Centurion”. He is a 13 year old 2300 pound, majestic Percheron. He has a shiny jet black coat and a fabulously wavy mane and tail. Not only is he handsome, but he is also extremely good-natured and they will let you take a short ride on him if you want to give it a try.

Tours are available at the farm daily from 8:30-5:30 and cost only $5.00. This is a great opportunity for anyone who wants to see some beautiful horses and learn something about the lives of racehorses.

Day 3: Finca Dracula

Day 3 Los Quetzales

Today we visited “Finca Dracula”, a local Orchid farm named after the rare Dracula Orchids. The farm was founded in 1969. It sits on 10 acres, 5 of which are greenhouses and gardens. The farm has 2200 different Orchid species from around the world, 115 of which are the Dracula variety. Currently the Orchids here are for exhibition only.

We took a 20 minute tour and learned many things about the plants and how they are grown. I emerged with a much greater appreciation for the lovely flower. First we learned that the process from pollination to flowering plant takes 5 years when grown commercially. It takes 15 years in nature. It takes 12 months to make a mature seed capsule that produces millions of seeds. In nature, a fungus called Michoriza provides nutrients for the maturing seed. In the nursery they use Agar as a substitute for the fungus. We also learned the different techniques each type of flower uses to attract potential pollinators. Some use smell while others use a visual attractant like mimicking a female insect. Some of them trap their pollinators causing them to become agitated and release the pollen inside the plant.

Day 2 at Los Quetzales

Day 2 at Los Quetzales

At 8:30 A.M. we met our guide Abel for our hike into La Amistad National Park. The journey to the trail began by tractor driven wagon (lucky for us) as the road to the trailhead was rugged and long. We started the actual hike at one of the remote Los Quetzales cabins. They are located just outside the park boundary and are lighted by kerosene lamps and heated by wood fireplaces.  The hike was pretty much straight up and then straight down along a not so worn rainforest path that passed through several streams, by 3 waterfalls and was surrounded by dense vegetation. We were provided with tall rubber boots for the hike which we picked up at the cabin. The hike was moderately strenuous (unless you have bad knees) and lasted about 2 hours. It was a great introduction to this lush environment.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Headed to Guadalupe

Headed to Guadalupe

We made it out of Panama City around 0930 and began our 9 hour road trip to Guadalupe. We navigated the well-paved roads without incident passing by many radar- wielding National Police. The speed varies between 30-100 km/hr. The weather was partly cloudy with occasional light rain.

We arrived in Guadalupe around 6:30 P.M., just about the time it was getting dark. Guadalupe is a tiny community nestled in the mountains near Volcan Baru. The hills are covered with many different agricultural crops and the high mountain peaks beyond are shrouded in a perpetual mist. We are here at the end of rainy season and right now there still seems to be a significant amount of rain that often takes on the form of heavy blowing mist.

Our hotel Los Quetzales is perfect for this phase of our adventure. It is located just outside of 2 national parks, Volcan Baru National Park and La Amistad National Park. The restaurant serves excellent cuisine at a reasonable price and has a descent variety of vegetarian selections. They have an organic garden here where they grow many of their own vegetables. The staff is friendly and very helpful. Our room is on the top floor of a 3 story lodge-type building. It is equipped with a kitchen, fireplace, patio and my favorite, a small lookout loft surrounded by windows complete with window seats. I have dubbed this room my secret hideaway. The lodge also has a spa which offers a variety of therapeutic modalities. Activities at the lodge include; guided or non-guided hiking, biking, birding, and horseback riding.

Arriving in Panama City

Panama City Arrival
After 24 hours of flying and layovers we reached Panama City. The skies were partly cloudy, the air sticky, making the 85 degrees feel like 95. We checked in to our hotel on the canal and immediately headed for the balcony where we sat fuzzy-headed and blurry eyed watching the massive tankers and cargo ships cruise lazily by. There is something quite mesmerizing about watching ships pass by. We took turns succumbing to sleep deprivation dozing off in the tropical heat. Eventually we mustered enough energy to take a stroll along the Amador (a long paved walkway at the side of the canal). We passed by a huge new abstract looking structure that is going to be a natural science museum. We also noticed many new high-rise buildings in the center of the city.