Sunday, February 19, 2012

CARNIVAL Panamá....Day One......

Panamanians love a good party, and by far the biggest party of the year is Carnival. This four day pre-lenten bash, kicked off yesterday and is surpassed only by the famous Carnival in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.  Although the more famous party spots in Panamá are Las Tablas, Penonome, and Panama City, many of the tiny villages host their own celebrations.  The little village of Capira where we live is always a happening place, and just as we expected it came alive and lived up to our expectations on the first day of Carnival.

Pre-cooked food lined up for sale, didn't look safe to me

This guy is actually cooking on
this makeshift table, bbq pit

Since the village square is only about a mile from our house, we thought it would be safer to walk.  As we passed through the gates onto the grounds of Carnival, we each had the "pat down" from green, uniformed police officers wearing bullet proof vests bearing arms.  Women went through on the right side and received the groping from a female police officer, and men on the other side with a male officer.  Although I really would have preferred a male officer, I had to play along and act like a "nice girl."

Lined up to buy beer and sodas


Crazy silly fun for the entire family
 

Once inside we immediately walked by a huge tanker truck, playing loud music that was spraying the crowds with water.  It felt good to get wet down since the temperature was probably close to 90 degrees.  These trucks are referred to as "culecos" and are a well loved tradition of Carnival.  Some trucks even threw out freebies like t-shirts and small bottles of Seco Herrerano, a vodka like drink commonly drank among the locals.  Besides the water trucks drenching crowds with huge hoses, every kid in the crowd had a water gun and they took every opportunity spray us as we walked by.  Some homes even dumped buckets of water at the passing crowds, and others sprayed cans of shaving cream, or even poured out cans of beer on people. It was pretty wild!

People gathered around the "Culeco"
shouting to get sprayed

Getting wet again!

Guy at the top of the culeco
spraying with his big white "gun"

Neighborhood homes get in on the action.
Nowhere is safe!


Besides being a huge party, Carnival is basically a competition between two sides; Calle Abajo and Calle Arriba.  Literally translated these mean "down the street" and "up the street."  Each side is represented by a Queen, a young woman dressed in elaborate costumes, perched high above the crowds on a float.  The floats drive up and down the streets, playing music and followed by the queen's "tunas" or followers.

One of the floats in back of a soaked, Terry.

One of the Carnival Queens

The other queens float

The other queen, she was throwing kisses at Clyde,
or so he thought.


Hunky guys on her float, they were throwing
kisses at Terry, or so she hoped.

Since it was barely past noon, I thought it would be better to drink only water until later that evening, since I'm a lightweight when it comes to alcohol.  After a while we stopped to rest our weary bodies on a nearby cement fence in a park, to watch the crowds go by.  A male vendor in a nearby booth called me over and gave me a free plastic, reusable water bottle compliments of some vodka company.  I thanked him and then he filled one of these 20 ounce bottles with seco and cranberry juice and gave it to Clyde free.  Since I just love freebies, and Clyde already had a few beers, I snatched the bottle for a few big gulps and never gave it back.  It seemed mild enough and didn't offer any buzz, at first, so I kept drinking.

Local homes and businesses "rented" their bathrooms
for 25 to 50 cents


Clyde paid someone 25 cents to pee in their yard.

This man shaved a block of ice to make snow cones.


Snow cone anyone?


He posed for the picture

In the meantime we spotted a blonde gringo with a Panamanian husband and two kids in the crowd.  We introduced ourselves and they sort of took us under their wing, and showed us how to enjoy Carnival, Panamanian style.  She's an American from Illinois who fell in love with a local man and the country.  We hung around with them the rest of the day, drinking, dancing in front of the water trucks, and partying like the rest of the crowd.

Terry and our new friends and their family.

Partying with the people!

Around 5pm the electricity went out, and a man climbed up a pole wearing sandals and socks, carrying a knife, a pair of plyers and some electrical tape to repair it.

Local man trying to fix power outage. 
No fancy equipment, he just climbed the pole with
electrical tape, knife and pliers.


About 6pm green uniformed police officers filled the streets, encouraging people to go home.  Apparently the party takes a break for a few hours and reopens around 9pm for more dancing, drinking and partying all night long.  Totally drenched, tired and sunburned, we literally staggered all the way home along the highway, saying "buenas" to everyone along the way.  As we walked through our neighborhood and greeted our neighbors, they must have wondered about these two, silly, drunk gringos experiencing their first Carnival.

Terry "volunteering" to be arrested and frisked.

Two cops are even better than one! 
This is what we have to look at here ladies!


Our new friend.  She asked them to pose with us,
and they looked at her like she was nuts, but reluctantly agreed.

Happy to have made it home, we peeled off our drenched clothes and made our way into the shower.  I could barely see straight, never mind anything else.  Clyde who was a bit more stable, opened up a can of tuna and added some veggies to it for dinner.  We both fell into bed around 8:30 and I put in earplugs to block out the noise outside.  Despite having the windows closed and the air conditioner running in the bedroom, I did wake up to the sound of fireworks and music throughout the night.

These lightweight Americanos petered out on only our first day of Carnival.  And to think we have three more days to go!  No my friends, this is NOT  our grandparents retirement.  Life in Panama is exciting, wild and full of new opportunities that we've yet to explore......along the gringo trail.

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