I am an observer. Always have been – always will be. Truth is, I enjoy being an observer. People will ask me where I get all my crazy stories, and the answer is simple. Life supplies me with everything I need for a good story – all I have to do is observe it and report on it.
Marc and I recently went away on vacation to the incredibly diverse and beautiful country of Panama. Pre-marital life for me was simple and simply about me. I loved to travel and immerse myself in the culture of the country I was fortunate enough to visit. I rode a camel across the Rajastan desert, I trekked in the mighty Himalayas, I camped my way across Africa and I cycled through much of this great Canadian countryside. Then I met Marc, who I love to have by my side, but Marc has a much smaller comfort zone that I do when it comes to travel. His idea of a great vacation takes him to an all inclusive resort with a great beach, great food and a great bed. Marc’s Panama looks like this. A beautiful oasis of comfort, extravagance and relaxation.
But, Panama has an incredible story and a surprisingly diverse countryside. It is the link between not only the Atlantic Ocean (or more appropriately the Caribbean Sea) and the Pacific, it is also the bridge between Central and South America. The land mass did not even exist 14,000 years ago, so this is new land. It has rainforests and mountains within its small breadth, and the amazing skyscape in Panama City has all been built since the year 2000. The Panamanian population are understandably proud, incredibly resilient and unbelievably friendly. In Panama I met the three toed sloth, became acquainted with some incredible local people and was treated to a view of the rainforest from all sides. This is my Panama.
But this post is not about Panama, or even really about travel. While I was visiting Panama, and splitting my time between my Panama and Marc’s Panama, I realized that I was an outsider in both places. I never fit in anywhere. I expext to be an outsider when I an touring another country – that makes sense. But back on the resort, among mostly fellow Canadians, I felt very much an outsider – definitely different than my fellow Canadians here.
Canadians have this international reputation for being uber polite. We apologize when someone else bumps into us. We confuse our American counterparts when they race to get to the door first, and when we win we just open the door for them allowing them first entry. We overuse the trilogy of “please”, “thank you”, and “you’re welcome” but it never loses its sincerity for us. We are proud to be the peacekeepers as opposed to the fighting forces, and we generally shy away from confrontation, unless the topic is hockey related. But boy oh boy – do not mess with our self assigned right to have a perfect winter escape to some place warm. I observed some very frightening and confusing (for me) behavior from my Canadian compadres while sitting in a resort in Panama.
I guess the food did not meet the expectations, and the pool hours were too limiting for their schedules and the air conditioning was not to their standards. It left me with this profound anger and embarrassment for being lumped with this group. I was blessed with a chance to view a three toed sloth up close, and my fellow countrymen were complaining about waiting several minutes for a fresh towel. I was allowed to walk through this inspiring swath of rainforest that had so many hues of green in it that I was in awe of the majesty of nature, while my fellow Canucks compared notes of why they would not return to Panama because the food was not up to their expectations or their AC units only kept the room at a unacceptable 25 degrees. I was honoured to visit one of the wonders of the world that allows monstrous vessels to be “lifted” across a land mass that bridges two oceans, while Canadians spoke about the need to warn other “travellers” to strike Panama off their vacation lists because the water made them sick or because the Ocean was not blue enough.
It dawned on me that I should just accept that I am different and that I do not fit in.
But I was still angry. Why are these polite Canadians so uncharacteristically anal? How dare they bring these high expectations to a country that is still healing from the Noriega tyranny? I was still embarrassed. What happened to our polite and acquiescing nature? Where was that ability to find the good in everything – a trait that defines us. Where was that ability to laugh when the snow plough drove by just AFTER we finished shoveling several feet of snow off the driveway, but BEFORE we got the chance to back the car out.. Where was that Canadian resilience that we find every spring when the mosquitoes iinterpret our bare arms as an offer to donate endless quantities of blood. And where was that empathy that we share when our pals forgot to add ice to the beer cooler?
I felt very alone on this trip to Panama. I could not share horror stories with my fellow travelers, because I was honoured to be allowed to visit this impossibly beautiful country. I could not offer complaints or criticism, I could only stand in wonder at how much Panama had to offer. Panama was a lonesome vacation for me.
But…… I do know the answers – and most of it even makes sense. What most Panamanians, and Cubans and Jamaicans may never understand is that we Canadians are very proud of our four seasons, but winter does tend to wear us down. For many many Canadians, we work like demons 50 out of 52 weeks just for the luxury of two weeks of self indulgence on some warm beach. Our normally polite and compliant nature is all good until you mess with their picture perfect plans. This one or two weeks is their reward for a year worth of hard and honest work. It is the holy grail and they deserve this reward. For most Canadians, it is not about the three toes sloth or the multi-hued rainforest – it is about one week of self earned selfish self indulgence. If the resort is the sole reason for coming to Panama, of course anything less that perfection will be a disappointment. I think I understand it now. The less-than-perfect winter reprieve is very much like a luke warm beer. It can still be enjoyed, but somebody has got to say something about it.
I still feel like I don’t fit in. I still feel different about Panama than many of my travel companions. I can accept the annual straying from character of my countrymen, knowing that we do work really friggin’ hard for these few days off. I can accept that Marc is one of those Canadians who just want to feel the warmth of a tropical beach, with unlimited arrays of great food and endless supplies of cold drinks – all paid for in advance from the proceeds of another year’s hard work. I just hope that Marc can understand my need to shelter myself from the extravagant resort. Okay – maybe I can handle a day or two on the beach – but then I need to be off to see the wonders this world has to offer.