Carnaval In Las Tablas, Chitre, And Panama City, Panama

Holding Down The Fort While All Panama Parties

We’re at half-strength today in our Panama City office…and tomorrow our doors will be closed. (Don’t worry…we’re preparing tomorrow’s dispatch in advance.)

Tomorrow is Carnaval. Today is the day before Carnaval. Saturday and Sunday were the weekend before Carnaval. Friday was the day before the weekend before Carnaval. You get the idea.

Bottom line, most of Panama has been shut down since last Thursday and won’t be back at it until Thursday this week or Monday next week.

Carnaval celebrations in Panama may be humbler than their counterparts in Rio, but they’re no less important to the local population. Panamanians save all year to be able to escape to the beach or the “interior” (as all Panama beyond Panama City is referred to) for a few days over Carnaval.

“Carnaval in the city is not Carnaval,” explained Candice in our office. “For Carnaval you have to travel. My favorite place for Carnaval,” Candice continued, “is Las Tablas because of the fancy queens and the floats, but Las Tablas gets very, very crowded, especially on Sunday and Monday.

“For a calmer Carnaval, Ocu and Pedasi are best, but the nightlife is not nearly as exciting.

“Chitre is as crowded as Las Tablas, but the queens are not as fancy.

“Carnaval can be overwhelming for newbies,” Candice added. “Four days of party, day and night, in a crowd, under the sun is not for everyone. But for us Panamanians, there’s nothing like it. It’s a nonstop celebration of drinking, dancing, jumping, and just being happy…”

A friend from New York is passing through Panama City this week and wrote to ask about getting together for dinner. “Should I reschedule my trip?” he wondered, when I reminded him it’s Carnaval week. “The city will be crazy, won’t it?”

Au contraire. Today and tomorrow are the quietest days of all the year in this town. Looking out our windows at the city below this morning while dressing for work, the streets were empty. No cars, no pedestrians, not even work crews. It’s quieter today and will be quieter tomorrow than on Christmas Day.

A Panamanian I knew years ago told me that, in fact, for Panamanians, Carnaval is a bigger deal than Christmas. “Christmas is just one of the holidays, along with our Independence Days and New Year’s, leading up to the really big day,” he explained.

While nearly every Panamanian in Panama City is off to the interior to enjoy their really big day, Lief, I, and some stalwarts are holding down the fort.

I took the opportunity that today’s deserted city presented to drive to the office. It’s the first time I’ve been brave enough to get behind the wheel of a car in this town in a very long time. I’m looking forward to the drive home.

Kathleen Peddicord.

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