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So there we were in Panama, way back last winter. In a previous post I explained how we decided when to take a family vacation and where to go, and described how we got there. Travelling makes me Always Grumpy, but arriving helps! We’d arrived on time, starting with a harrowing journey from boyz’ high school term exams to Toronto’s Pearson International Airport but proceeding uneventfully through check-in,  security, the flight itself, luggage pick-up and the bus ride to our resort on Panama’s Pacific coast in Cocle province. As the excellent tour operator reps from NoliTours had explained to us when they met us at the airport, our luggage was sent to our rooms separately – we were sent to have a free drink and check in. We wave our goodbyes to the friendly couple we’d met on the plane and talked to more on the bus – let’s call them Sue and Dan. They’re here to attend one of three weddings the resort will host this week.

Hello, all-inclusive resort! Even though we’re all reasonably experienced travellers, it has been a long day. All of us are tired and a little edgy, but the fun-in-the-sun atmosphere is starting to take the edge off. At the registration desk the staff ask the boys their birth years. Taller Boy has a late birthday, so even though he’s not quite 18 he gets to wear an adult wristband. Yay, free bar access and so forth! Shorter Boy is a couple of years younger and must wear a youth wristband, to which he responds like the Wicked Witch of the West getting a shower. “It burns, it burns!!” As we ride a cart and walk to our room, Shorter Boy, though almost as tall as dad, treats us to a fit of pique you could build a monument to. We can’t look on the bright side, which is that Taller Boy can easily get drinks for both. The trip will be awful. Nothing will redeem this humiliation. We might as well just all go home right now. And to make it worse, when we arrive at our room our luggage still hasn’t arrived.

We fetch some drinks for both boyz and settle in to relax, putting Shorter Boy’s tantrum down to tiredness and relief from the stress of writing exams and travelling. Luggage arrives. As we close the door of our adjoining rooms, we hear Shorter Boy still raging about the injustice that’s been done to him. Taller Boy silently mouths the words, “Help me!” We laugh and retire to bed – it’s been a long Monday.

Tuesday dawns sunny and very, very warm. As our guides have told us, Panama has really only two seasons: from April through December, it’s hot and rainy; for the three months we call winter, it’s hot and dryer. They call this “summer”. And by “dryer” they mean it doesn’t necessarily rain every day, and when it does it’s not for too long. Fortunately we’ve arrived well into the local summer. Taller Boy and Mum and Dad get some breakfast from one of the free buffets, have a look around and check out the beach.

We’re on the south shore of Panama’s Cocle province, looking over a wide-mouthed bay of the Pacific Ocean: the Gulf of Panama. The water here is warmer than elsewhere because of the Humboldt Current flowing up the South American coast through the tropics. The white sand beach is about 40 metres deep, clean, and above the high-tide line it’s dotted with palm-frond and canvas sun shelters and chaises longues. Resort guests frolic in the surf, ride jet-skis, paddle kayaks, sail in small boats and sunbathe between naps in the shelters and trips to the other amenities. Inland of the beach is a wide grassy area with several interlinked fresh-water swimming pools, a couple of massage huts and a half-dozen or so buildings that house restaurants, hotel desks and small shops. Several hundred metres to the east, the beach ends at a rocky headland capped with a tropical forest that looks like it’s seen a fire not too many years back. Between our resort and the headland are about a dozen large beach homes that look very private, but the beach is open to the public, including us tourist types. A few hundred metres  offshore of the headland is an island, also forested. To the west, the beach seems endless; a kilometre or so away and inland is the village of Farallon. Beyond that the sandy littoral curves very gradually around to the south, forming the western shore of the Gulf. Lovely place!

Our first order of business is to get our stay arranged, so we head off to the orientation talk at the “Convention Centre”. OK… by big-city standards this is something of a joke. They have three or four large rooms with no hallways; they were last painted several years ago in colour schemes that were only briefly and regrettably fashionable in the 1970s. But the rooms have air conditioning, which is a considerable relief to winter-acclimatized Canadians who’ve just taken an energetic 15-minute walk in 35° full sun with humidity. Too bad we started off walking in the wrong direction!

The good news is that the orientation is given by a very lively team of tour-operator types who really know their stuff and tell us exactly how to get what we want from our holiday. We listen to the spiel and joke around with Sue and Dan, who’ve turned up at the orientation in spite of a drink or seven the previous evening. We walk away with a fistful of brochures.

Back at our rooms, we wake Shorter Boy. Happily he’s forgotten his outrage and consents to spend a day on the beach with us. It’s Tuesday and we need to decide what excursions to take and when. We agree on a series of activies that suit our taste and Dad goes to book them all up – fortunately our credit cards can handle the load! Meanwhile Taller Boy is procuring drinks so he and Shorter Boy can find out whether they prefer Panamanian beer or rum what it feels like to get drunk in the tropical sun. I’ll save the results for my next installment of Panamania… coming soon to a blog near you!

Jonathan Gladstone is alwaysgrumpy at or follow me on Twitter @jbglad59.


One Comment

  1. I’m enjoying reading about your trip to Panama — it’s a different experience to hearing about it as each provides a somewhat different angle and viewpoint. Also, your style of writing is fun to read!


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