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!!
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.)
We did not drink and ride like these people.
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.
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!
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.)
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.
They also had large open-air aviaries full of colorful birds. Eric talked these two parrots into posing for him.
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.
Our final stop was the Kuna Indian 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.
And then, we were back in the 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.
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.