2: In Transit

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East Pacific Rise

I arrived in Panama City a week ago. I was met by Rachel Collin, who earned her Ph.D. from the University of Chicago based on research performed at The Field Museum. Rachel, now a staff scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and Director of the Bocas Field Station, brought word that the R/V ATLANTIS would transit the canal the next day, meaning that the maintenance work on the Panama Canal that I mentioned in my first dispatch would not delay us. The ATLANTIS avoided delay because it could fit inside the canal's locks with another ship that had a comparatively early spot in the queue. The good news of an on-time departure was offset by word that one of the science party, Kim Larsen had to cancel his participation in the cruise.

Relieved that I, and the entire science party, would not have to spend up to three days waiting for the canal transit, on top of our five+ day transit to the dive sites, I was determined to enjoy Panama. Rachel was a gracious hostess, I moved into her guest room for a couple of nights, awaking each morning at dawn to a chorus of tropical birds. Although I had more things to do to prepare for the cruise, I devoted as much time as possible to being a tourist. Stimulated by memories of The Field Museum's exhibit a few years ago that showcased the fabric art of Panama's indigenous people, the Kuna, I shopped for their characteristic molas with intricate hand-stitching and stylized appliqué. Stimulated by the diversity of the Panamanian forest, I hiked with Rachel up a steamy forested hill overlooking the very canal that threatened to slow my cruise. At the top of a tower on top of the hill, a toucan (famous from Fruit-Loops), greeted us with repeated calls. In the glorious forest canopy, still dripping from a rain shower, a frenzy of feeding birds flitted far above the understory of palms. Although I've watched birds for decades in North America, the tree-top birds included members of families entirely new to me. After weeks spent co-ordinating cruise details, emailing members of the science party, and fretting over shipments arriving, people canceling, choosing dive sites, and determining sampling protocols, being hosted in a beautiful place by a friend was the perfect way to relax.

On Thursday, I boarded the ship in Balboa to good news. The Californians were all ready on-board, their flights were unaffected by wildfires. Many of the ship's crew are familiar to me from previous cruises and the ship's uneventful and prompt transit through the canal had created a mood that was almost jubilant (although as scientists we are way too cool to actually be jubilant).

This is Tuesday, our long transit to the first site, 8 degrees 37 minutes N is nearly complete, but this site has its own concerns. This site, we think, hosts undiscovered hydrothermal vents. Very early in the morning, however, a voice in my head keeps reminding me that we could be wrong. It's too late for second thoughts - I've committed two dive days there. I'll let you know on Friday if the choice was a good one, or if the voice was right.