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Adios, Panama! (part 4)

November 3, 2014

Being on a tour can be exhausting. Other than having to get up at 4:00 a.m. one day, I can’t say we were run very hard, but the heat did take its toll. A couple of relaxing days at a classy resort on the Gulf of Panama sounded like the perfect way to wind down before returning home. I’d looked up the  Wyndham Grand Playa Blanca Resort, and although it looked beautiful, some of the reviews weren’t encouraging, citing problems with maintenance and an uncaring staff. Now, some people will complain if they’re hanged with new rope, but when Carlos, our guide, told us that Caravan Tours had broken their contract with Wyndham and would start using a new resort in November, we wondered what was up.

We arrived to find we didn’t just have hotel rooms … we had condos. Sleek, modern, starkly white condos! Kitchens! Living rooms! Big balconies! Spa-like bathrooms! And an amazing, gorgeous pool area! Wow!! This would NOT be a problem!!

condo interior

resort pool

Or maybe it would. Why wouldn’t the lights turn on? Eric went back to the front desk. Seems the entire area was experiencing a power outage. And with no power, we quickly discovered we had no water. Hours passed. People were getting a little … pissy. Just before dinner, the power came back on. But the air-conditioning in our living area was dead, and the condo was rapidly heating up. Another call to the front desk … the AC was promptly fixed. Thank heavens.

The main building and restaurants had a generator,  so they didn’t miss a beat. Dinner was excellent. But when we went back up to the room, we still had no water. What good is a gorgeous resort if you can’t flush the toilet? A power surge had burned out the resort’s water pump. Just before we retired for the night, Carlos called to say the water was back on. You could almost hear everyone beat feet to their bathrooms. We fell asleep, glad to put the problems behind us.

Alas … come morning, no water again. This time, no one was amused. But the drinks at the swim-up bar were free, so we topped off our breakfast with a series of pina coladas. And, as I eventually discovered, the bathroom in the middle of the courtyard somehow flushed.

I had never before gone on the kind of vacation where you lie around a pool and vegetate. Eric and I are always running from place to place, trying to explore everything we can. We enjoy our vacations tremendously, but we do pack them pretty tight. As I lolled in a cabana, listening to the piped-in smooth Brazilian jazz or hypnotic Middle Eastern music … soapified by pool water and stupefied by several pina coladas … I began to understand why people vacation in tropical destinations. It’s so bloody hot, you can’t do anything but lie around and force yourself to relax. Yeah … now I get it! (Our cabana was the one on the right.)

swim-up bar

We did not drink and ride like these people.

beach riders

The lush landscaping and foliage around the resort contributed greatly to the relaxing vibe. Lots of palms, flowers, and birds flitting about. (We had hoped to see more exotic flowers, but it was rainy season, so fewer were in bloom.) Nevertheless, it was lovely. These photos are Eric’s.

tropical foiliage

When old palm fronds peel away from the trunk, they leave a gauzy woven material that the native people used to use for clothing fabric. So this is what grasscloth wallpaper is supposed to replicate!

woven-looking palm fiber

So we all made the best of it. Free booze and serene surroundings can go a long way toward soothing cranky tourists. Eventually, the water came back on. A cool shower sure feels refreshing after a hot day at the pool. Good thing, because I could not coax the water past luke-warm. In fact, it would be five days before I enjoyed my next HOT shower. (Our traveling friends had been to Costa Rica, and they said the infrastructure there is more reliable than in Panama, where tourism is a fairly new effort.)

beach cabanas and palms

Friday morning, we were on the bus again, headed back to the city. We made a rest stop at a guava plantation, where the trees sported plastic bags to keep birds from destroying the fruit.

guava trees

They also had large open-air aviaries full of colorful birds. Eric talked these two parrots into posing for him.

two green parrots

On the hill above the plantation I spied this little yellow cottage surrounded by thick jungle. Many of the houses out in the countryside were brightly painted—even in DayGlo colors. Unfortunately, the bus sped by too quickly for me to get photos.

yellow house on jungle hillside

Our final stop was the Kuna Indian marketplace.

Kuna marketplace

I was looking forward to purchasing a mola (a type of cutwork, reverse applique, and embroidery art, with the tiniest of stitches) ever since admiring one belonging to my college roommate so many years ago. The choices seemed endless, but I selected two. A tote bag with—you guessed it—los gatos. And a bird-of-paradise design. Eric picked out the blue one with birds. We’ll frame these, and I may stuff the tote bag and turn it into a pillow.

mola with los gatos

blue parrots mola

bird of paradise mola

Kuna Indian woman with mola

And then, we were back in the city …

rusty rooftops in Panama City

That evening, our farewell dinner featured a performance by a well known troupe of Panamanian folkloric dancers … whose name we cannot recall. We were pretty wiped out by then, and we weren’t looking forward to getting up at 4:00 a.m. to get to the airport.

Panamanian folkloric dancers

Panamanian dancer in costume

Home again …

Now that we’re back in the cool, rainy Northwest, we’ve had time to reflect on all we saw and experienced. It really was a fabulous trip, and we have awesome memories to cherish. Although I struggled with the heat and humidity, I survived better than I’d anticipated. And the insect-repellant clothing must have worked, because we didn’t get a single skeeter bite!

Will we return to Panama? I doubt it, but we highly recommend that you go. I’m just not made for the tropics. Eric thinks this exempts him from taking me to Hawaii (wrong). However, on our flight home through Atlanta, we flew over the Florida Keys, and their turquoise water looked mighty attractive. Never say never, right? I’ve been scouting out Hawaiian hotels with big, fancy pools and graceful palms  … and free pina coladas.

palm fronds

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From → Travel

12 Comments
  1. D’Arcy,
    What a wonderful trip. I’m with you, heat and humidity is a deadly combination for me…it brings out the whiny little brat in me. The resort was smart to ply you with alcohol since they obviously needed a better plan for things that can go wrong.
    I’ve been to Hawaii once and it was nice, but I was much younger and I wonder if the humidity would bother me now?
    Welcome home!
    Karen

    • Ha ha! I tried not to be a whiny little brat, I really did, but at times it got the better of me! 🙂 It didn’t used to bug me so much when I was younger … but I’m game to see if Hawaii can be a couple degrees cooler! It is good to be back, except I have to work.

  2. How frustrating that the resort had such poor infrastructure. Glad you enjoyed the trip despite the difficulties. You picture makes me want some real grass cloth.

    • Makes me want grass cloth, too! It’s always interesting to see the “real thing” behind something we take for granted. For example, the first time I flew over the Florida coast I was amazed at the color of the water and realized that’s why they paint swimming pools that color–it really DOES exist! 🙂

  3. Love your description of the trip, you will love Hawaii anyway. There are so many options depending on the island you visit. Remind me to ask you about the insect-repellant clothing, I may need to get some for Belize.

    • We highly recommend the clothing! Can’t argue with success. Have to show you next time you come by.

  4. It’s been a lot of fun following your Panama adventures!

  5. Hawaii won’t be nearly as bad. We’re here now in Zihuatenajo and it’s been quite humid at times. It was better today. But I’ve never thought of Hawaii as this kind of sweltering heat.

  6. Water is the worst thing to have turned off. When they turn it off for even a morning I don’t know how many times I forgetfully turn the faucet to get a few drops. They should have comped you but then how could they. You’re a good sport. Jo @ Let’s Face the Music

  7. Yeah, we won’t be returning, so a comp wouldn’t work. Free booze worked well, under the circumstances!

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