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Panama Dec 2004 - Jan 2005
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This was a one-week all-inclusive loaf-on-the-beach resort package air+hotel vacation from Toronto to Panama.
Not my typical vacation, but it's what Susan needed after an overly-hectic autumn of work.

We stayed at the Barceló Playa Blanca in Farallon (just west of San Carlos on the map), 90 minutes west of Panama City on the Pacific coast (of course, the airport was 30 minutes on the other side of Panama City, making for a long bus ride).
The bus ride took us through Panama City, whichhad surprisingly modern skyscrapers next to not-so-surprising slums, and over the Bridge of the Americas (the "entrance" to the Panama Canal, which runs from the southeast (Pacific) to the northwest (Caribbean), contrary to what one typically imagines as a west-east route given where the 2 oceans are). Our tour bus commentator called it the American Bridge, which may seem similar enough but takes on an entirely different meaning.

Panama has 2 official currencies: the bolivar and the US Dollar, priced the same. We only saw a bolivar once, when the bus tour guide passed one around (it's named after an explorer).

There were almost no Americans at our hotel (a "small" 200 room hotel, unlike the 600 room monster Decameron Playa Blanca down the beach, where my brother and sister-in-law stayed 2 years ago), and probably half of the guests were Columbian (did you know Panama used to belong to Columbia until the early 20th century?). The entertainment staff (similar to Club Med's animation staff) was a mix of young 20ish Latinos/Latinas from around the Caribbean and Central/South America who could dance well. Each afternoon at 3pm they introduced the staff (to the song that goes "I'm coming out so you better get this party started"), then did a Spanish song where the chorus goes roughly:
    How do the girls like it?
    Here (hands touching beside the breasts) and here (hands touching beside the crotch)
    How do the guys do it?
    Like this (pelvic thrust), like this (pelvic thrust)
The funny thing is that little kids were singing the song (minus the movements) in the pool later in the afternoon.

I managed to hurt my foot playing beach soccer (I couldn't see a few of the tendons for 2 weeks due to the slight swelling) after making a couple of brilliant saves in goal. That was about the extent of our activity (well, that and daily swims out to the buoys).

We were there on New Year's Eve for which they did a party with a live dance band, including salsa music. One Columbian man cut in to dance with Susan (he said we were making it too complex), then his wife promptly grabbed me to dance. The next day a Canadian woman (from our charter package trip) said that she saw us "attempting to dance." Well, thank you very much. We weren't that bad! :-)
On New Year's Day we also finally walked town the beach (about 40 minutes) to peek at the aforementioned Decameron. At noon. Without a hat. Real smart. We did manage to get some drinks there by "hiding" our wrist bands below the bar counter... not like the bartenders would really check that closely (both resorts give unremovable wristbands of different colors/sizes depending on your departure date). The Decameron did have lusher grounds, but overall it was too noisy for our taste (certainly better than ours for singles, families and 20-something couples).

A few minutes past the Decameron is the looted shell of Manual Noriega's beach house, but we didn't make it that far (apparently there is not too much to see anyways, more of an interesting footnote, esp. since that former dictator is currently in jail in Miami, Florida). On the other side of the Decameron was the beach where the locals came to enjoy the beach (or at least Panamanians from the nearest towns 20 minutes away, as there waas no real town on the beach, just some villas). They were friendly and the beach was clean!

The food was very good (which apparently is not true in Cuba or the Dominican Republic) although the freshness did drop off at the end of the week (suddenly canned pineapple appeared instead of delicious sweet fresh pineapple). Although you have to wonder about little kids putting their hands on the buffet food.
Of course we ate and drank too much! The staff was very friendly, dinstinctly more Indian looking than say the Mexicans. Sonia was particular friendly and helpful to us.
However, there weren't enough palapas or lounge chaises, let alone cushions for everyone -- meaning I had to get up by 7am (sunrise) to reserve some! It was 31° C (88° F) each day, which for our pale selves was too hot and the sun too strong to actually be in the sun all day -- but the shade was just right.

The water was clean but a little murky due to the waves and river runoffs -- not the brilliant blue water you see in most tropical brochures. We also had stingrays come in to our beach during low tide and swimming was not advised at those times... we even saw one tourist get stung (ok, not the actual stinging, but the swollen foot as she was helped out of the shallow water and up the beach to the lifeguard).

On our last full day there, we enquired about the ridiculously early airport transfer of 7:45am for a 1:50pm flight (6 hours!). Apparently prior that week the transfer was at 7am, because the charter flight makes for a lot of people checking in at once. Well, we combined forces with another couple to get a taxi at the more civilized hour of 9:30am, well worth the USD$35 per couple. We arrived at the airport just over 2 hours before the flight, and by then the checkin lineup was reasonably short, albeit still quite slow. Not only that, but apparently the transfer bus still wasn't there at 8am, which would have left me hopping mad had I gotten up that early for it.
One final note... you think cattle class has little legroom? Try a charter flight, it's even worse (I could feel the knees of the women behind me on both flights, and they weren't particularly tall!).

  Last modified on 2014.10.28 4721 visitors since 2006.07.25
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