Carnavale In Panama

Five-day Bender!

Back in Panama City, the Carnavale festivities must be in full swing. We’ll hear all about the fun, I’m sure, when we return to the office later this week. Meantime, Lief and I have opted out of Carnavale this year. Instead, we chose to brave U.S. immigration and airport security antics to travel north and spend a few days in Florida.

For Panamanians, this pre-Lenten bender is a big deal. The whole country migrates. Panama City becomes a ghost town, as residents head to the beaches and the interior for four or five days of nonstop partying. Other towns, notably Las Tablas on the Azuero Pacific coast, swell in population, as tourists from elsewhere in the country and elsewhere in the world descend in big numbers.

I’ve not braved Las Tablas during Carnavale, but I’ve heard reports. This is a town of, ordinarily, 10,000 people that, this weekend and through next Tuesday, will see 10 times that number of transient residents. They’ll come with sleeping bags, tents, coolers, and the resolve to go as long as possible without sleep so as not to miss a minute of the so-called fun.

They’ll dance and sing and drink beer until they can no longer hold themselves upright. Then they’ll nap on the sidewalks, in the streets, in the parks, on the tops of cars…

I think that the crowd, the noise, and the garbage would be too much for me. But the hundred-thousand-plus who cram each year into little Las Tablas for these five days of raucity seem to revel in the experience.

Our experience of Carnavale has been limited to Panama City, where, each year, one of the main thoroughfares is blocked off for pedestrians only, so that those Panama City stragglers who didn’t travel to the beach or the interior can still mark this holiday, which, for many Panamanians, seems to be more important than Christmas.

Along the designated Panama City route, stands and stalls are set up where people sell chorizo grilled on the spot, beer, cans of spray foam, packets of confetti, and other Carnavale paraphernalia. This year, Carnavale in the capital is taking place on the Cinta Costera, the parkland stretch along the Bay of Panama completed only a year-and-a-half ago. The street party began yesterday and will continue through the wee hours of Tuesday night. I hope the Cinta Costera, a big investment for the city, carefully landscaped and well-maintained to date, survives.

As I said, we’ve participated in Carnavale Panama City-style twice…and, for us, twice was enough.

Thus our trip to Orlando. Here, we’re meeting with our contacts at the hotel at Universal Studios where we’ve planned our Retire Overseas Conference next October. We’re taking Jack to Disney World.

And we’re shopping.

We weren’t the only ones to have this idea.

Shopping trips to Florida are an established tradition among Latinos (and Latinas). Folks from Panama City to Buenos Aires, from Caracas to Bogota plan annual sprees up north, where they shop for designer goodies.

Now these Latin shoppers are joined by Euro- and other bargain-hunters from all over the world. Running around from shop to shop and mall to mall yesterday, we noticed that we English-speakers were in the minority. Cashiers and sales clerks in this part of the world speak English, yes, and they do ok with Spanish, but we watched as they struggled to communicate with folks from France, Italy, Holland, Germany, Japan, Brazil…

The highways are jammed, the parking lots full, the restaurants over-flowing with non-locals, like us, in town from way down south, across the Big Pond, even from halfway around the world, to stock up on stuff they can’t get or can’t afford back home. The United States…well, Florida, anyway…seems to have become the world’s shopping mecca, the global shopper’s bargain bin.

I for one am enjoying doing my part for the Orlando economy. We’re going to have to buy a new suitcase to take back all our gotten gains.

Kathleen Peddicord

French Course Online