Celebrating Carnavale In Panama

Nobody Gets In The Way Of Carnavale!

I write today from the beach, where we’ve retreated this weekend before Carnavale.

Panama City this weekend is a ghost town. Every resident who could manage it has traveled to some stretch of this country’s coastline to celebrate through Fat Tuesday. One friend took the all-night bus from Panama City to Bocas del Toro. (“Could that possibly be worth it?” I asked him. “Well, yes. I’ll be spending the next five days of Carnavale at the beach!” he replied enthusiastically.)

Other friends are at Santa Clara…Chitre…which, admittedly, isn’t quite on the coast. It’s slightly inland, but, as a friend who passed through last week reported, “In Chitre, the party has already started. From every local bar, the music was blasting as I drove by. And outside every bar are tractor-trailers loaded with cases of beer…”

Our daughter and her boyfriend traveled in a Panga, a little 24-foot motor boat, from Panama City, across the bay, to the island of Contadora, where they plan to spend five days Carnavaling. It was all the mother in me could do not to tell her she couldn’t go. A Panga? In the open seas that sit between Panama City and Isla Contadora? What could she be thinking?

She made it, though. What she’s been getting up to since she called to report her safe arrival, however, I can’t vouch for…and probably don’t want to hear about.

Earlier this month, this country’s indigenous groups were blocking passage on highways leading from Panama City to other important geographic points, causing big interruptions and interferences.

“Oh, this will stop soon,” our driver Alberto assured us last week. “They won’t keep up these protests and these road blocks much closer to Carnavale. Nobody will stand for that.

“Panamanians will put up with a lot of things, but don’t get in the way of their Carnavale.

“Years ago, Noriega, when he was running the place, he decided one year that he was going to stop all the Carnavale parties. He started making plans. Word got out. And there were rumblings. Oh, boy, were there rumblings. You could feel the people rising up, all across the country.

“Noriega did what he wanted. And we Panamanians, we went along. We had no choice. But when he started talking about interfering with Carnavale? That was too much. Nobody would stand for that. And, finally, Noriega realized he was making a big mistake. We had our Carnavale that year just like every other year…”

The best Carnavale parties are traditionally held beachside…which explains why so many are willing to put up with so much to make their way along with so many others to particular stretches of coastline.

Lief and I? We admire the enthusiasm of these Carnavale pros…but, we admit it, we’re amateurs. Yes, we’ve journeyed to the beach this weekend, but with a different agenda. We’re not up for Las Tablas (this country’s Carnavale capital). We’re not even up for Chitre…or Contadora.

Lief and I are hiding out this pre-Carnavale weekend at Buenaventura. This isn’t the kind of place Carnavale-goers go for…and, so far, things have been quiet. Thankfully.

We’ll look forward to the stories and the photos when everyone returns to the office on Wednesday. But drinking beer from dawn ’til dawn? Dancing in the streets until you’ve worked up such a sweat you welcome the spray of the fireman’s hose? Going days without sleep? Surviving on street vendors’ empanadas and sausages?

Great fun, no doubt…but we can’t help but fast forward to the day after and, imagining it, feel we have no choice but to forego the night before.

Kathleen Peddicord

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