Saturday, May 03, 2008

Craving an enclave

I've never been to the Panama Canal Zone when it was under American administration (nor was I even alive during its existence) but I have to imagine it was a lot like the Telamar resort. A 1964 article in Time Magazine says that the Zone's urban centers of "Balboa and Cristobal are model company towns with look-alike houses, bargain-priced groceries [and] liquor." At Telamar, the company wasn't the U.S. government running a canal, its locks and military bases, but the United Fruit Company exporting bananas and wielding undue influence in the years when Honduras was the prototypical "banana republic." The premises which contained the residences of United Fruit executives were converted into a beachfront hotel some years back and the place is now the resort par excellence on the north coast of Honduras. And it was our first stop after my parents arrived at the San Pedro Sula airport in their nine day visit to Central America.

Telamar is a beautiful property but bizarrely isolated from the surrounding town of Tela, which I suppose is the point of it all. When my brother came to visit with a group from our church a year ago, four of us stayed in a "cabin" that was in fact a spacious three-bedroom house no doubt once occupied by some banana administrator and his family. This time we looked at the rooms in the more modern buildings but chose were a one-room townhouse-esque cabaña which seemed more suited to a bachelor banana man and was also very nice.

As I say, the older housing had a certain colonial feel and also emitted a strange Stepford vibe since the many fine houses and the streets they lined were utterly vacant but well-maintained and all of a certain style (a feeling that, as I reflect upon it, can be replicated in many American suburban gated communities during business hours). But this was one week after Semana Santa (see previous posts) and probably a fairly low season after many, many people had been at the coast the previous week. Of course, it all had an institutional feel of controlled development, since, like a suburban developer's project or a university campus, building projects were presumably under the control of just a few people making all the decisions.

But it's a lovely place and while I can't speak to the availablilty of groceries, the food and beverages, as in the Canal Zone, were priced well, either at the main restaurant (which has a great view of the beach) or at the "Tiki bar" which lies at the end of a short boardwalk (and, sitting right on the beach, also affords an excellent view.)

The pool is an attraction as well. We decided that the three "lobes," isolated the one from the other by low footbridges, would serve to make the place seem less crowded by blocking the field of vision when one large open pool would allow the eye to sweep over all the bathers in one view. The waterslide (known in Spanish as a tobogán) was fun, as was the in-pool bar. Just like the Diani Reef resort in Mombasa!

After checking out of the hotel, we drove to Tornabé, a mostly Garífuna village a few miles down the coast. The beach was just as nice as at Telamar, but we were clearly no longer in the colonial enclave but the real Honduras, which is what mom and dad had come to see.

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