Canopy Family Panama

The Boston Globe: Panama: so much more than the canal

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By Andreae Downs, Globe Correspondent, 12/10/00 (excerpt)

In a nature preserve just north of the city an entrepreneur named Raúl Arias de Para has converted an old US radar tower into a birder's paradise. We were allowed to visit, as long as we kept the children in check (the drop from the top, which has just a single rope at the edge, is 200 feet). On the top floor is a dining room and sitting area filled with books on the area's flora and fauna. There are also hammocks hanging right in front of picture windows Arias blow-torched out of the radar tower's steel walls. Below that are six rooms, each with twin beds and a full bathroom (bird watching from the shower is also an option), and at the base a miniature natural history museum.

The Canopy Tower, as it is called, is usually only open for overnight guests, and is quickly booked by groups like the Audubon Society, which has rated the tower one of the nine best birding locations in the world. From the top, we saw agouti (a South American squirrel-like animal), a coati (related to a raccoon) and so many colorful birds that our 7-year-old was quickly converted into an avid naturalist. When birding got slow, we could watch huge container ships going up and down the canal. On a short walk down the hill (Tower employees drive you back up), we also caught sight of a three-toed sloth and a toucan stealing woodpecker eggs.

About two hours out of the city - through some breathtaking mountains, is Raúl Arias' other attraction - the Canopy Adventure in El Valle. This is a series of cables strung over a 100-meter waterfall called El Macho. Riders in rock-climbing harness are attached to the cables with pulleys. Using thick garden gloves to brake, they then ride down the cables, going from one treehouse-like platform to the next, about 500 feet in all. The idea is that you'll take the time along the way to observe the life of the upper and middle canopy - which you otherwise would miss on the rain forest floor. In fact, both my husband and my daughter enjoyed the ride and the adrenaline rush, without seeing much in the way of wildlife. But they did get a "Certificate of Audacity" at the end of the trip.

Our youngest child and I made up for their inattention by catching glimpses of several ground birds and an array of butterflies, flowers, and lizards.

This story ran on page 1 of the Boston Globe on 12/10/2000.
© Copyright 2000 Globe Newspaper Company.

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