I had heard something weird and wonderful was brewing at Posada de los Destiladeros and I wanted to sip from its cup. In the past, every time I had tried to make a reservation, I was suspiciously told they were full. â€œIn the middle of rainy season?" I'd ask. â€œAnd On a Tuesday?â€ It took some finagling the last time I arrived in Pedasi, but as the result a fresh stick of Juicy Fruit chewing gum, a vacant room magically appeared.
Posada de los Destiladeros sits in Pedasi directly across from the Azueros project. The hotel is graced by this quirky theme of imperfection: the premise of the compound being weird, eerie, eco-luxury. Small surprises are around almost every corner, such as low slanted roofs surrounding the dining room which appear to be built for midgets. Try to figure out their reason for blocking all views to the ocean from the deck or why the entrance way looks like no more than a small opening in a fence, and you'll deliberate yourself into submission. Try to figure out why you have to blood fight just to get a room at the place, or why they lie and tell you it's booked when it's not, and you might as well call it a day.
Upon arrival, a small guard man in the parking area told me again that there were no rooms available. Soon thereafter, as the result again, of a crisp stick of Juicy Fruit chewing gum, I was confronted by several of the staff members who asked what room I would be staying in. How am I supposed to know what room I'll be staying in? I waited for about seven minutes while the equivalent of the hotel's bellboy ran around trying to figure it out. Eventually, with a key in hand, I decided to search myself, wandering through the trails trying to find anything that resembled what could possibly be my room. I suppose for $150/night, this is something I should have felt fortunate about but at the time it was just kinda odd.
My room looked, in a capricious way, like a tree house on crack. The two-story, open-air, thatch-roofed edifice was right out of a movie, with this bizarre contrast of old and new, of nature and modernity. The wooden slab that called itself a bathroom counter was whittled out of jewelry-quality rosewoodâ€”this smooth and flowing texture. The bed frames were gorgeous and unrefined, their joints wedged together by wooden pegs and Swiss family Robinson style rope. The window blinds were made from hundreds of tiny thin bamboo skewers which I envisioned having been tied together by the small and nimble hands of children. An intricately carved wooden table, looking its years, hosted this stainless steal desk lamp that seemed to be right out of a Starship Enterprise. The wrought iron shower nozzle looked to be intentionally calcified in this trendy sort of deteriorating way. It was about as big as a dinner plate and delivered a giant rush of water, albeit room temperature (not hot), that reminded me of a small waterfall on my head. My toilet was of wood. The room was so interesting, that I must've spent 10 minutes alone walking throughout the cabana, examining every tiny feature, down to the pilot-looking toggle switches for the lights and the fishing trap turned hallway lamp. This sort of humble attention to detail, the kind of thing that is noticeable only if you are looking carefully enough, captured me the moment I arrived. It's not glitzy and there's no fu fu personnel telling you to walk in a straight line. To some it may in fact be walking a fine line between true luxury and mental illness, but to me, it's by far the most exceptional and unique small hotel in Panama.
The service was surprisingly eager. In this sort of environment, being an exclusive French hotel in the middle of what amounts to nowhere, it's easy for the staff to cop an attitude, acting as though you should feel honored to be staying there. But that was most certainly not the case. Around sunset, I wandered down to the infinity beach deckâ€”this railing-less wooden platform that appears to be floating above the oceanâ€”and was pleasantly greeted by one of the staff members carrying a ice bucket and a bottle of chardonnay. As the sun set over the nearby cliffs and the tan sands of Azuero gleamed their last dying bits of daylight, I got bit by a mosquito and wept softly.
Dinner was unpredictably marvelous. Going along with the hotel's guest oriented mind-set, I was asked what time I wanted to dine. Dinner consisted of this supernaturally-fresh ceviche spiked with little flecks of habanero peppers. Followed by one of the most deliciously mysterious fish filets I've ever hadâ€”characterized by a lobster-like flakiness. Myself and one other party were the only ones in the dining room that night and presumably the resort: the hotel is full my ass.
Walking the grounds of Posada de los Destiladeros is, according to Casey, like walking through a game of Myst. All I was looking for was that little journal they used to include for you to write things. Droopy frawns hang into the pathways. Dead ends mysteriously open up into sprawling ocean views. Gravel walkways diminish into watermelon sized stepping stones, which then transform into wooden planks, and back to gravel again. The textures and shapes of the place are so organic and whimsical that you can't help but want to reach out and touch. One puzzle-like stairway leads down to the beach: this soothing khaki-colored sand flanked on the right by jagged rock cliffs, and on the left by turquoise waters of the Pacific. The place emits an amazing unpredictable vibe that is incredibly refreshing from the cookie cutter resorts and generic city hotels so many define as accommodations.
It's hard to tell, to some extent, just what Posada de los Destiladeros is. If it's a hotel, why do they seem to not want people to stay? Perhaps it's more of a private retreat for Philipe (the owner) and his friends, in which case, why is it open to the public? Either way, I left the place feeling honored. Please keep in mind that this place is notorious for leaving guests out in the cold, but if you manage to get in, for just that one night, it just may be worth your while. It's a true Panama secret that not even the owner wants you to know about.
My experience at Posada de los Destiladeros was a remarkable one. I didn't want to write such a good report: mainly because I had had so many weird experiences and heard so many weird things about the hotel in the past. I was like a slugger, just waiting for that fastball to slam out of the park, but Philipe and his crew threw in a curveball. Had the staff been more pushy, or the ambiance less light, I may have written a more modest review. But the place has this way of enchanting you: of reeling you into its bizarre intricacies and capturing you in its mysterious, seemingly surreal environment. Its ambiance is puzzling and this takes your mind off the fact that maybe there's no shampoo in the shower or that there's used bar of soap sitting on the sink. Maybe you don't realize the fact that the pool is ridden with algae or that there's no internet, because you're so caught up in the nuttiness of it all. Maybe on the other hand you do realize, but you just don't care, I don't know. The hotel has this way of keeping you on your toes, amidst this fanciful game of misdirection, this game of hospitality trickery and artful deception that has me wanting desperately to come back for more.