‘Spending New Year’s Eve in a jungle. (No, not the one in Times Square.)’
When I was a kid I used to watch the Ball drop in Times Square on TV, and dream of being there on New Year’s Eve to see it in person. But now that I actually live in New York, somehow the idea of standing cheek by jowl with a bunch of inebriated strangers in the freezing cold doesn’t sound nearly so enticing.
I think that’s the case with a lot of things that you dream about being old enough to do: driving, wearing pajamas all day, eating dessert first. I’m sure you can think of your own examples.
But even if I’m not out there partying in Times Square (or partying anywhere, for that matter) I still insist on staying up till midnight to See The New Year In. Even if no one stays up with me, which happens more and more frequently with each passing Eve.
Take this year, for example. The Dude and I are in Panama on a bird-watching trip. (I can feel your waves of jealousy from here.) We arrived at our bird-watching base, the beautiful Panama Canopy Lodge, on New Year’s Eve Day. Now, granted, the only person I knew on that day among this group of just-met individuals, of whom there are seven, was The Dude Himself. But I still thought there’d be someone game enough to stay up. Maybe even El Dudo.
Nope. It was just me and some Friends. Words With Friends, to be precise. Though I did hear some Italians whooping it up (well, at least laughing and talking) in the next room till about 12:30 or so. And I could hear fireworks going off in town. (El Valle, that would be) In fact, firecrackers kept going off at odd moments the next day — and have been every day since — usually right when we’re checking out some very shy bird. You should have seen the look on these owls’ faces on New Year’s Day. They looked seriously pissed off, even more than they usually do when oddly-garbed humans armed with binoculars and cameras disturb their daytime beauty sleep.
Firecrackers, by the way, are very big in Panama. You can buy them openly just about anywhere, even by the side of the road. They also sell these weirdly lifelike pinata-like effigies of people. Apparently the local custom is to burn these at midnight; most contain firecrackers to make a better show. (The effigies are of despised figures; I was pleased to see at least one Donald Trump, though no photographic evidence exists. At least not in my camera.)
The reason the rest of our group didn’t stay up (well, New Friend Cele did, but I didn’t find out till the next day, when it was too late) was because birders get up really really early. Because, duh, that’s when the birds get up. Reminds me of that line from the famous bank robber; his name was Willie Something. When they asked him why he robbed banks, he said ‘because that’s where the money is’. It’s kind of like that with bird-watching. You get up early because that’s when you find the birds.
We’ve found about a kajillion birds. And it’s only Day Three. I don’t have time — or the wifi capacity — to bore you with birding details. But I will tell you that most of yesterday’s count was racked up while tromping around an eerily empty subdivision of ‘luxury homes’ waaaay up on the tippy-top of the mountainous edge of the crater of an extinct volcano. (It’s called El Valle de Anton, if you’d like to Google Earth it.)
We rode up there in a couple of four-wheel drive vehicles, then marched around the empty lots, racking up bird after bird. It was odd though. There were streetlights and road signs and driveways — but no houses. Fingers crossed their luck changes. Or (for the birds’ sakes) not.
Our Amazing Guide John told us that, in previous years, in order to get access to the property and its birds, his group would have to listen to a sales spiel — complete with promotional video — and pretend to be interested in buying a building lot.
Well, speaking of birds, our mid-day break is almost over. So I’d better gear up. (Bug spray, sunblock, plus a pocket-sized wad of TP are my essentials. The Dude’s is his Bird Book.)
But I will leave you with this cute little movie I took at a waterfall on our first day here. It’s named El Macho, and features The Dude (heh heh heh). Just click here if you want to see it.
And Happy New Year! I hope you got to celebrate just the way you wanted to. I’ll be back with more stories next week — that is, if I don’t get pecked to death by an enraged firecracker-crazed owl.
El Valle, Panama. January 2017