How a big dig in Panama to make shippers richer saved a rainforest and astounded paleontologists

By Dave McBride

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Standing at the new Cocoli Pacific Locks of the Panama Canal today in the company of heads-of-state and assorted Pooh-Bahs and Potentates) we watched as Panama opened a bigger door to world commerce.

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By this time, most everybody knows the basic way that a lock system provides the steps for ships to climb and descend between sea level and the lakes above. But we also learned that the expansion of the canal is also the story of a scientific sensation and environmental salvation.

There is a newly made-up word in the world’s lexicography which, in that single word, describes a complex story about how corporate profiteering and a national need partnered to save the rain forests of Panama from ruinous development. The word is Neopanamax. Panamax was the word coined to describe the biggest size a cargo ship can be to fit through the Panama Canal. The locks newly opened after a decade of construction were designed for an even more immense ship called Neopanamax, which requires a space that is wider, longer and deeper. The wider and longer requirements are accommodated by the brand new locks on either end of the Canal. The deeper element of the design required that the waters across the interior of Panama be raised higher to float the enormous new ships. Deeper means more water and that requires rain.

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Lake Gatun—Courtesy of the Panama Canal Authority (ACP)

Like the Everglades in Florida, the tropical rainforests of Panama help create their own weather.  The humid forests give up evaporated moisture that rises into the clouds and condenses into rain. To ensure that enough rainwater falls to raise the rivers and lakes that fill the canal and float bigger ships, the government of Panama, realizing their reliance on this symbiosis, declared the interior rainforests throughout the canal region to be protected from development.

Another gift to Panama from the new canal project is that scientists were able to follow the diggers into the bedrock carved out for the new locks and to discover fossils that surprised paleontologists around the world. Deep in the Las Cascades Geologic Formation, researchers from the University of Florida and elsewhere found seven fossil teeth that shook the foundations of animal origin theory. These are teeth of a monkey similar to the capuchin that wears a bellhop’s hat and dances to the tune of the organ grinder. The teeth are 21 million years old. That means monkeys lived in North America before it was connected to South America by the Panama land bridge.

Monkey images

Courtesy of the Panama Canal Authority (ACP)

Till now it was assumed that South American monkeys evolved there and traveled to North America after the isthmus rose up. Now it is clear that somehow monkeys floated north, perhaps on rafts of floating debris, across a hundred miles of ocean separating the two continents to colonize the forests in the southern tip of North America millions of years before the two continents were connected. The scientists called the ancient monkey species Panamacebus transitus, to allude to the monkey’s movement across the ancient seaway that divided the continents. The U.S. National Science Foundation contributed almost four million dollars to the scientific project to study the fossil record revealed by the cutting of the new canal lock, which was led by researchers from the Florida Museum of Natural History. The great variety of fossils identified in the dig include those of camels, crocodiles and fierce bear dogs (Oh my).

Veteran Newsman Dave McBride is an award-winning news radio reporter, anchor and program director and creator of fan-favorite Dave’s Raves. Dave has received the Edward R. Murrow Award for Best Writing for Radio/Large Market and the 2010 and 2011 Murrow for continuing news coverage. He was awarded the New York Festivals World Gold Medal for Best Writing for Radio. In his first year in Florida he received the Florida AP award for Best Long Light Feature in both first and second place. Dave is currently based in South Florida.

Posts by Veteran Newsman Dave McBride

We asked amateur birder Dave McBride to report back to us on bird-watching conditions in Riviera Maya. Here’s what he had to say:

Birding Safari on the Riviera Maya

2 Stalking Birds with a Camera in Mayan Muyil

The Black Bandit of Yucatan Birds

Babes in Mayaland

Puerto Morelos—where a picture of Señor Morelos will buy you a beer at the beach bar

Veteran Newsman Dave McBride is an award-winning news radio reporter, anchor and program director and creator of fan-favorite Dave’s Raves. Dave has received the Edward R. Murrow Award for Best Writing for Radio/Large Market and the 2010 and 2011 Murrow for continuing news coverage. He was awarded the New York Festivals World Gold Medal for Best Writing for Radio. In his first year in Florida he received the Florida AP award for Best Long Light Feature in both first and second place. Dave is currently based in South Florida.

Birding Safari on the Riviera Maya

By Dave McBride

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When the irrepressible Chief of the Seminole Tribe of the Everglades, James Billie, was acquitted by a jury of eating an endangered Florida panther in a tribal purification ritual, a reporter asked him what panther tastes like, to which he famously replied: “Like a cross between manatee and bald eagle.”

A funny story, but the alarming reality is that environmental scientists last year warned that the world is entering a period of mass extinction not seen since the age of dinosaurs. Like many others, my wife and I have reacted by improving our relationship with the natural world and, in particular, have re-embraced a desire left behind in adolescence to seek out the agreeable company of birds.

We do not pretend to be serious birders and a beach bar can be as appealing an attraction as a jungle hiking path. But Anita and I are regular visitors of local wetlands and wading birds near our South Florida home and likewise seek the fellowship of their feathered Mexican relations when travels take us to the Riviera Maya. The color palette is bolder south of the border and nowhere is that more evident than in the plumage of the birds of the Yucatan.

1bHosting more than half of the bird species in all of Mexico, the Yucatan Peninsula is one of the best regions for bird watching in North America. Some are our neighbors at the Now Jade all-inclusive resort. Others are a short walk or drive away in the mangroves and jungle around nearby Puerto Morelos. Any back road will lead you to them. They are abundant in mangroves and at cenotes; the underground water-filled caves. The resort even displays photos and profiles around the grounds of birds guests are likely to view.

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For travelers who are becoming more conscious of the destination environment and who wish to leave a lighter footprint, the Now Jade is Rainforest Alliance Certified and offers water-efficient bathrooms, biodegradable shampoos, soaps, and body wash. It discards kitchen grease safely, recycles waste and uses eco-friendly cleaning products.

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Any Google search of the words “bird forum Yucatan” will summon posted tips by bird hunters, offering directions to productive locations. The Apple Vacations desk at the Now Jade can connect you with a birding guide.

Barbara MacKinnon is the preeminent authority on bird life in the Yucatan. She wrote the Spanish language book on indigenous birds called Sal a Pararear Yucatan, which describes more than 400 species of birds in the region. The books are donated to local communities in the Yucatan to teach children to identify the birds they live with. Money from sales of the books supplies the kids and their adult volunteers with binoculars.

A more Anglo-friendly book is A Bird-Finding Guide to Mexico by Steve Howell. He lists 100 sites all across Mexico, and the Yucatan and Cozumel are well-represented.

By the way, should Alex Trebek speak to you the words: “For Final Jeopardy—The number of species of birds on the planet Earth,” the correct reply is: “What is nine thousand?”

Veteran Newsman Dave McBride is an award-winning news radio reporter, anchor and program director and creator of fan-favorite Dave’s Raves. Dave has received the Edward R. Murrow Award for Best Writing for Radio/Large Market and the 2010 and 2011 Murrow for continuing news coverage. He was awarded the New York Festivals World Gold Medal for Best Writing for Radio. In his first year in Florida he received the Florida AP award for Best Long Light Feature in both first and second place. Dave is currently based in South Florida.

Snorkeling adventure at Maui’s Molokini Crater and Turtle Town

We asked Instagrammer michaeldizon to take us along as he and his wife Niki and kids Jake and Liam explored the Hawaiian Islands in December. Here’s their trip report:

Snorkeling is one of those activities that everyone in our family could do. With two kids in tow (one 8 and the other 11), it was a great way to kick off our stay in Maui. Quicksilver was easy to find in the Harbor. After signing a waiver form, we boarded their boat and enjoyed a continental breakfast while receiving instructions from the crew about safety and how to put on the equipment.

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Our first stop was Molokini Crater, which was roughly a 20-minute boat ride from the harbor. The water was cool and clear – perfect conditions for snorkeling. Donning the snorkel mask and fins make you superhuman; not only can you breathe underwater, but you get more power out of your kicks when you swim. To make it easier, we put on flotation devices around our waists, which made our one-hour stay at the crater less strenuous.

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And one hour was the perfect amount of time for us. At that point we boarded the boat and were ready to go to our second location, Turtle Town. En route, the crew served a buffet-style lunch of pulled-pork sandwiches, potato salad and drinks. Afterward, a crew member passed out home-baked chocolate chip cookies, which was a nice treat and gave us the energy we needed for our last stop.

Turtle Town was less deep than Molokini Crater, and that allowed us to get closer to the coral and see the underwater life. Like its name suggests, it’s a popular spot for turtles, but we weren’t so lucky that day and didn’t encounter any. Nonetheless, it’s a beautiful spot where the world underwater is just as colorful and vibrant as it is above the surface.

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Jungle Valley Adventure with Princeville Ranch Adventures Part II: Zipping through the air with the greatest of ease

We asked Instagrammer michaeldizon to take us along as he and his wife Niki and kids Jake and Liam explored the Hawaiian Islands in December. Here’s their trip report:

One of the most popular activities offered in tropical destinations is ziplining. In theory, it sounds insane: Strap yourself into a harness, connect that harness to a wire strung high between two trees, and jump, hoping that wire and that harness will get you safely to the next platform.

In reality, ziplining is … awesome. It’s safe, fun, requires just about zero athletic ability, and makes you sound cool to friends and family alike. And anyone can do it, from my 8- and 11-year-old sons to my 70-something parents.

During our trip to Kauai, my family signed up for Princeville Ranch Adventure’s Jungle Valley Tour, which combined ziplining through the rainforest with more mild-mannered adventuring such as kayaking, hiking, and swimming. This was the part of the tour my sons were most excited about, and it did not disappoint.

Our guides, experts in the flora and fauna of Kauai, also turned out to be experts in ziplining. They cleverly didn’t tell us we were hiking up to the lines until there we were, 60 feet above the rainforest without even realizing it. They helped us into our harnesses, secured us with two lines for safety, and eased our fears. After one guide zipped across to wait for us on the next platform, it was our turn. IMG_0013

My kids, who had never ziplined, jumped up to the front of the line and whooped and hollered their way across the rainforest. Then it was my turn. Do I step off? Jump? Ease my way down? Finally, after the guide jokingly said he would push me after the next question, I jumped – and suddenly was whizzing high above the trees, feeling free and exhilarated.

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At the next platform, we did it all over again, this time with everyone – including me – eager to go first!

Jungle Valley Adventure with Princeville Ranch Adventures Part I: Hiking, kayaking, and a hidden swimming hole

We asked Instagrammer michaeldizon to take us along as he and his wife Niki and kids Jake and Liam explored the Hawaiian Islands in December. Here’s their trip report:

Of all of Hawaii’s islands, Kauai is known for its bounty of natural beauty. Dozens of Hollywood movies have been filmed in Kauai, with its landscape filling in for everything from Jurassic Park to the alien lands of Avatar.

We decided that the best way to explore Kauai was to get up close and personal with the nature the island is known for. That’s where Princeville Ranch Adventures came in. The huge ranch offers a variety of tours including ziplining, ATV off-roading, and horseback riding. We chose the Jungle Valley Adventure, a five-hour tour that included a little bit of everything: hiking, kayaking, ziplining, and a dip in a hidden swimming hole.

My family of four (including two adventurous boys ages 8 and 11) was welcomed to the town of Princeville by its natives – chickens! They roam freely on the ranch and in the nearby area, squawking away at everyone they meet. Our true welcome came once we found the ranch, where two friendly and knowledgeable guides were eager to get us started!

Word to the wise: Princeville Ranch Adventures rents hiking sandals for just $5, and it’s the best investment you can make. The hiking trails are MUDDY, which just adds to the adventure! We hiked up a hill and past some curious cows, taking in the breathtaking scenery as we made our way to a nearby stream.

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Kayaks awaited us at the stream, and the guides made it easy for the novices among us to figure out how to go with the flow as we glided to our next destination. A short hike later we were high above the rainforest and ready to zip through the trees (more on that in part two).

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Our adventure ended with a nice picnic lunch and a cool dip in a hidden swimming hole with a waterfall before we hiked and kayaked back to civilization. We explored many places in Hawaii, but our boys enjoyed this true adventure the most!

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THE PARTY PACK Celebrate In Style

By: Stylist Melissa Lynn
The holidays can be full of beautiful surprises, especially when traveling to new places with new adventures scheduled.

But, not all celebrations can go as planned. Fortunately, there are essentials you can prepare to ring in the new year with success. Pack these stylish wear-anywhere items for wherever this season’s’ festivities take you. From ugly sweaters to sequins and sparkles, you’ll be ready-set to keep the spirit bright in front of the fire or laying beachside…

A Casual Chic Christmas…

CasualChic XMAS- B1Party Place: The May Fair London
Items Links: Replay Blazer | TumiTegra Lite | Kate Spade Keds | NIKE Air Max | Sakroots Travel Case | Classic Flannel Set | Hobo Abrielle | Sequin Uggs

Mix/Match and be Merry
MM Merry, B2Party Place: Riu Plaza Panama
Items Links: Eliza J Skirt | Roxie Ankle-Tie Pumps | Minimercengy | Alexis Leona Dress | Carlene Bow Pumps | NARS Jungle Red | Gabi Dress | Atelje Jask Sandal | Pointsettia Drops Earrings

Winter by the Waves

Screen Shot 2015-12-18 at 3.35.41 PMParty Place: Melia Nassau Beach
Item Links: Linen and Sequin Tote | Le Specs | Petalo by M. Gemi | Snake Print Maxi | Gigi Burris Hat | River Island Wrap Suit | Beats Wireless | Sonix Bahamas Phone Case

Stylist Melissa Lynn has more than 15+ years in the industry with a degree in Merchandise Marketing from the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising. SML has styled television appearances and music videos, viral and print advertising campaigns, red carpets, editorial shoots + look books.

Her work has been featured on major television shows and publications like Cosmopolitan, Dazed Magazine, LA Times, MTV and she contributes expert opinion for fashion news leaders such as Luxury Daily and TheHauteMess.com.