When Jenny Dunfree, a graduate student in ornithology, is assigned to a birding project in a remote area of Panama, she is given one directive by her superior: Don't piss anyone off. Almost immediately, Jenny encounters problems with this assignment.
While slogging on with her research, Jenny is required to attend weekly "town hall" meetings in the Kuna village. Jenny finds the native Kuna people to be a prickly lot, quick to take offense. But as the weeks pass, Jenny becomes acquainted with Pedro, a man cynical and detached from his own culture; Eulogio, the charismatic leader; Iris, who had married the previous ornithology student; the racially prejudiced Anselmo; and Ceferino, with whom Jenny shares a passion for the natural world. Jenny also encounters outsiders with their own agendas for the Kunas and the surrounding rainforest.