Claude Walker | Bicentennial-By-Buttons

“Noriega's Revenge”
3 of 5 stars Reviewed December 31, 2012

When Panamanian dictator Manual Noriega took refuge in the Vatican mission during the U.S. invasion of 1989, he was finally driven to surrender after relentless blasting of the Vatican compound by high-decibel rock music. The lack of sleep and psychological submission imposed by the pounding turned one of Central America's most powerful people into a prisoner (where he remains today).

What is the effect of unrelenting high-decibel sounds on human beings, or on sensitive creatures such as the turtles and exotic birds who populate Bocas del Toro? What is the impact of high-decibel music until 5:00 a.m. on school children, or on tourists seeking quiet?

Which brings us to Isla Carenero. The island has two faces. Hike in one direction from Careening Cay Resort and you'll see expensive waterfront mansions. Go in the other direction and you'll see a nasty shantytown: kids playing in piles of garbage, stray dogs (one of whom bit me), a cholera epidemic waiting to happen. Nice views of the water, though.

The site of Careening Cay Resort is fantastic: lush gardens, hummingbirds, waterfront vistas.

The bungalow-on-stilts we stayed in was charming, although vulnerable to rain through the door (our gear got soaked). The Cosmic Crab restaurant features fresh, tasty seafood and killer margaritas. The owners are nice folks and their dog Mango is a sweet pooch.

At 10:00 pm every night (including Christmas Eve), high-decibel music starts blasting from a disco a half-mile away in Bocas Town. Non-stop until 5:00 a.m. Every night. Someone must be paying off someone (hey, I'm from Chicago!)

What about the schoolchildren of Isla Carenero and Bocas Town? How can they excel when they're being pounded with trance music all night, every night? Bocas boasts its ecotourism, yet it allows the potential destruction of habitat of reptiles, birds and fish.Those cute caged parrots at Careening Cay? Each morning, they're quivering: "Polly wants some earplugs!" And every single fellow guest at the hotel we spoke with complained about it. Don't get me wrong. I'm an old punker and still prefer my music fast and loud. I just don't jam it down other people's throats.

Isla Carenero has lots of potential, but as long as some fat-cat disco owner keeps assaulting wildlife, children and tourists on a nightly basis, and the businesspeople and elected officials who rely on the tourism industry look the other way or wring their hands, it will fail.

  • Stayed December 2012, traveled as a couple

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