Captain Morgan was a real person. That was news to me. I guess I had some vague idea that the swashbuckler on the rum bottle actually lived and breathed. But I definitely didn’t know that he was once the governor of Jamaica. And that’s a cool tidbit, to be sure. But here’s the thing: During a recent visit to Panama and Colombia, taking part in Cheap Caribbean’s “Legends of Pirates Past” tour, that wasn’t the most surprising fact I learned. Not by a long shot.
I went on the trip expecting some rum, a little history, and a lot of tropical basking. I’m interested in pirates — like just about everyone — but I don’t know about them. Not really. I expected to visit historical sites that I’d only ever seen on documentaries or The Travel Channel and to come away able to regale people with interesting stories about these rogues and scalawags (the latter of which, honestly, I didn’t even know was a real term).
What I didn’t expect was that the real surprise would be the people I met and how welcoming they were. That kindness, in a tour focused on cutthroats, caught me off guard. But it was my favorite part of the experience by far.
PART I: Panama City, Panama
Our first stop was Panama City and — let me tell you — if you think traffic where you live is bad, try traveling through Panama City’s rush hour. There are only about four lanes going each way on the highway, and it’s generally stopped bumper to bumper, so much so that there are literally people selling snacks and drinks in the middle of the highways. They know you’ll be there for a few hours.
As we slowly made our way out of the city, the view changed drastically. Creepers and vines spilled out of the jungles, stretching toward the tarmac. I’m always one for looking at the jungle and imagining its secrets but by the time we arrived at our hotel, the Dreams Delight Playa Bonita Panama, I was starving. I’m a sucker for a hotel where when you walk outside you are literally outside — as in on the beach or in a garden — and that’s exactly what I stepped into… or… out to at this property.
What I didn’t expect was the immediate fogging up of my glasses due to Panama’s extreme humidity. I couldn’t trip, though — it’s’s because of this climate and the proximity to the Caribbean Sea that Panama City’s produce and seafood are known around the world. (Plus, I had braids so my hair wasn’t problematic.) Beginning a trip with a huge chunk of lobster should be mandatory, honestly, and the double dessert follow-up left me thinking that if the rest of the trip was half that decent, I would not be disappointed in the least.
The in-hotel restaurant Portofino pulled out all the stops for me and the rest of the group — from endless wines that were paired specifically for our meal to a couple of super dope dining companions so we could understand what we were eating.