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Sirias, Generic tourism
Vacation at Decameron: or, is it really Panama?
by Silvio Sirias
Total physical and mental inertia are highly agreeable, much more so than we allow ourselves to imagine. A beach not only permits such inertia but enforces it, thus neatly eliminating all problems of guilt. It is now the only place in our overly active world that does.
John Kenneth Galbraith
Decameron --- and other such resorts in Panama --- means all the water, sun, sand, food, and drink a person can handle.
The success of the concept of the “All-Inclusive Beach Resort” is unquestionable. From December through March cruise ships and planeloads of Europeans and North Americans flee toward the tropics of Latin America to escape the bitter chill of winter.
And today, as I write this, in July, Panama is in the midst of its rainy season --- a slow period for the tourist trade. That’s when those of us who live in this marvelous country can invade Decamerón at bargain prices. My wife and I love to take advantage of this, and we make it a point to come to this resort once a year.
“It’s a no-brainer of a vacation,” my wife likes to say.
And I believe that’s a perfect description. A person doesn’t need to think much at an all-inclusive resort. All one has to worry about is what to drink, when to eat, and when to go to sleep.
Regarding what else to do during the day, my wife and I have that down to a science. At the easternmost of Decameron’s six pools --- the quietest pool, without loudspeakers blaring reggaeton for patrons in search of greater thrills --- there’s a corner spot where we place two lounge chairs under a large umbrella, lay back, and relax.
This spot has become our sanctuary.
But the serene, secluded setting comes with a price: we have to get up early, around seven --- when the other guests are still recovering from the previous night’s festivities --- to stake our claim. We leave behind towels, wraps, and books to mark possession, and then we go to breakfast. Afterward, we spend the entire day at poolside: reading, perhaps doing a little writing, but mostly resting in the shade. We get up from our lounge chairs only to get drinks, take a dip in the pool when the heat starts to become oppressive, and to have lunch. At 4:30 or so, we go to our room to shower and change. Then we have dinner, a couple more drinks, and go to bed.
That, for us, is Decameron at its best --- a no-brainer of a vacation.
In all honesty, we’ve walked the beach only once. It’s a forgettable beach, with nothing special to remember it by. But that’s fine with us. We’re happy just to sit by the pool.
The thing about Decameron --- or, for that matter, any of the All-Inclusive Beach Resorts that have sprung up throughout Latin America’s Caribbean rim --- is that you can be on a tropical beach anywhere. There is nothing uniquely Panamanian about the place.
People who choose to visit Panama and spend most of their time at Decameron leave without having the slightest notion of the country, of its true landscape, of its history, or of its culture.
Personally, I find it fascinating that the enviable real estate Decameron now occupies is very close to property that once belonged to General Manuel Antonio Noriega. One of his favorite beach houses was located here, at what is known, geographically, as Farallon. And it was at his house, which no longer exists, where --- supposedly --- one of the few amusing episodes of the American invasion took place. Back in December of 1989, shortly after having taken possession of the nearby airfield at Rio Hato, spokespersons for the US Armed Forces announced that they had found an enormous cache of cocaine inside of Noriega’s residence. The news made Operation Just Cause seem righteous. But a couple of days later the military representatives retracted, saying that upon closer inspection the alleged drug stash had turned out to be sacks of flour the general kept on hand for the making of his beloved tamales.
But looking around Decameron today, other than the nearby abandoned airstrip of the now-defunct Panamanian Air Force, there is no evidence that General Noriega once vacationed here, and much less any markers of the prominent international incident.
(Incidentally, the corporations that run All-Inclusive Resorts seem to have specialized on acquiring the beach properties that formerly belonged to dictators. Montelimar, Nicaragua’s best-known All-Inclusive Beach Resort, was a favorite play-spot of the Somoza family. In fact, Montelimar was where General Anastasio Somoza Debayle spent his last night in Nicaragua before flying into exile forever. But again, looking at Montelimar now, one could never imagine its colorful history).
And that’s because All-Inclusive Resorts are generic.
At a family reunion in Cedar Falls, Iowa, where I met the Magees, my wife’s extended family, several of them mentioned, and with great pride, that they had been to the Dominican Republic.
“Really?” I asked, intrigued. “What did you think of Santo Domingo? Did you visit San Pedro de Macoris?”
“Oh, no,” they answered. “We never left the resort, but the Dominican Republic is great!”
And the truth is that they can say that they’ve been there.
But, not really.
And that’s the curious thing, even though we have several All-Inclusive Beach Resorts in Panama, they could be anywhere --- like McDonald’s or Burger King.
Silvio Sirias writes, teaches, and resides in Panama. For more information, visit his website at www.silviosirias.com
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