The "Lure of the Tropics"

The "Lure of the Tropics" one hears of so frequently works its seductive influence here in old Panama, holding its victims happy prisoners.

When the cities of what will be terminals of the Panama Canal were quagmires, men spoke of "The lure of the Tropics" as they leaped across green-coated pools and dodged the flying mud from passing vehicles.  Now that the fairy wand of the engineer has been waved over Colon and Panama, and God's pure air is free from the scents from accumulated human and other filth, the "Lure of the Tropics" in these parts is a real thing; and if its enchanting spell has been proportionately increased in power, it is because the hand of man has joined forces with Nature, the result being that man himself has fallen deeper into the power of the balmy influence of the rain-cooled zephyrs, from blue seas and ward sun rays of even temperature in the midst of all the conveniences of modern civilization.  What was once called a "pest hole" is now termed a "Health report" by the world's greatest sanitation expert.

"Human derelicts," "tropical tramps," "vagabonds," etc., are the names given to those victims of the "lure of the Tropics" who relax body and soul and surrender absolutely to the Enchantress.

Panama has its share of these; huge, hairy Anglo-Saxons, who sprawl in the warm sunshine along the waterfront, flirting with the brown-eyed "cholitas," and sharing their last dime with the little sons of the country, whose skins are of all shades, from that rich brown which gives the "cholita" her charm (which is one of the principal lures of the tropics) to the deepest ebony, hereditary hue of the son of Ethiopia.

Happy vagabonds!  They nourish their weary bodies with the succulent plantain, and an occasional heaping dish of "frijoles," and, now and then, a little beef -- and all the rum they can lay their hands on.  The last is their ticket to the "long rest" in the land from whence no traveler hath returned, to date.

The "Lure of the Tropics" is a dangerous thing when the moral structure of the native of colder climes is frail.  Now and then a Canal Man gets caught; but being of the right kind, he fights free again and goes back to his clean quarters and substantial, and starts a new collection of postal money orders.

From: Panama Roughneck Ballads by John Hall, 1912

September 19, 1998

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