Opportunity knocks, and this morning we woke up in Panama Canal’s Gatun Lake for our second leg of transit. We had time in the morning to arrange for local panga boats to pick us up. We enjoyed a rainforest expedition on land to the famous Pipeline Road, world-renowned for bird counts with over 480 species of birds in a 24-hour period.

Historically, this road was merely a service road of military construction. Covertly placed underneath and alongside the canal, the pipeline covered the distance between oceans. In case of an attack on the waterway, the road would have allowed the passage of bunker fuel for the US navy. The canal was never attacked, but ornithologists and bird enthusiasts took advantage of Pipeline Road from its beginnings in 1945.

On our way down the channel, we enjoyed spectacular views and photo opportunities. From our boats, we saw gigantic Neopanamax ships make their way across Gatun Lake. As we meandered, we entered coves deep inside the edges of the canal. We observed abundant wildlife and came across our fifth monkey species, Geoffroy’s tamarin. The Panama Canal marks the northernmost range in South America for this monkey.

Once on land, we took a quick ten-minute ride to Soberania National Park. We quickly spotted birds from the windows as we reached the Discovery Center and a birding tower nestled smack in the middle of thick rainforest. We stepped out to hear the birds’ musical symphony surrounding us. We enjoyed great views of hummingbirds, blue-crowned motmots, woodcreepers and slaty-tailed trogons. Most of us made the 90-foot climb to the top of the tower to take in the breathtaking scenery. The protected rainforest is immense and critical for watershed preservation.

Returning midday, we prepared for our call from the Panama Canal authorities to let us know our cue time for final transit. We enjoyed an onboard wine tasting prepared by our fabulous hotel management staff. The cuisine aboard National Geographic Quest is nothing short of excellent!