Monday, December 17, 2012

Carols By Candlelight......

A sprinkling of rain reflected in the stage lights and appeared almost like snow, as my mind took a negative turn.  The thought of sitting in the rain to sing Christmas carols didn't appeal to me, but why would it be any different if this was snow? After all caroling in the snow is accepted, and almost preferred to ensure the perfect Christmas setting. But thankfully moments later the rain ceased and the clouds started to scatter as a few lonely stars shined down on us.

The girls in the red were dancing

Imagine sitting in the middle of historic old town Panama City singing Christmas carols with thousands of gringos by candlelight?  That was us Saturday night as we taxied on over to Plaza de Francia in Casco Viejo.  The second annual Carols by Candlelight sponsored by the Canada Plus Club is a fundraiser that offers local talent a place to show off while raising money for local charities.  For a small donation we were provided with battery operated candles and a song book to sing along with locals groups as they led the carols.

Singers from the Panama Opera

Carols by Candlelight began over 70 years ago by an Australian radio personality as a way for communities to join together in song while raising money for the less fortunate. This worldwide event made its way to the Republic of Panamá just two years ago. This year the money raised will go to Hogar Malambo, Santo Tomas Hospital and Casa Brown.

Ten groups volunteered their time and talent to sing, dance or play instruments helping to spread a little holiday cheer.  And who would think that a tiny, third world country like Panama would have a National Ballet Company, an Opera Company, Choral Group and a Youth Symphony Orchestra full of incredible talent. 

Each of the groups performed a variety of holiday music in several languages and the audience was encouraged to sing along by candlelight.  The opera company amazed the audience as they performed their selections in German, Spanish and English.  Two members of the National Ballet company delighted us with excerpts from the Nutcracker ballet.  The choral group sang a medley of songs in several languages and the cast of Godspell belted out some songs.  Local school groups looked adorable as they sang in both Spanish and English too. 

One of the great singing groups

We spotted Rudolph!

Santa and his sexy little helpers were nearby allowing the kiddos a chance to meet with him.  My dear husband along with many other men in the crowd were more interested in nuzzling up with his young helpers dressed in red mini dresses and heels. 

Santa's Little Helper
(who cares about the guy to the right?)

OK, here's Santa and his
two helpers

Our taxi ride back to the hotel was spirited and fast paced sort of like a roller coaster ride.  The driver cranked up the Latin music and sang along without a care in the world.  He put his  pedal to the metal and drove full speed ahead blasting the horn whenever someone got in his way.  As the car whipped around corners it seemed to be on two wheels and ran over anything that didn't move fast enough. But we made it back to our hotel unharmed ready to crash for the night.  This by the way was the first time we'd ever used a taxi since we've been in Panamá.  Clyde thought with so many people expected at this concert we'd never find parking and a cab would be easier.

Country Inn and Suites

Table in the Hotel

Art in the Hotel

HOTTIE at the hotel

Hotel Pool area

Our weekend in the city included a stay at a nice hotel on the Amador Causeway that overlooked the canal.  His plan was to try out the nearby Zona de Rumba on Friday night for some dancing.  This complex includes as assortment of clubs and bars all included in the $2.00 entry fee and sounded like a great idea.  But since the clubs are all centered around an outdoor common area, some heavy rain put a damper on our festivities.  This girl was not a happy camper walking around in heels and a tiny black dress hovered under an umbrella.  With just a few clubs open for business the place wasn't much fun and we quickly headed out.  Next door was the Balboa Yacht Club which featured easy listening live music in English.  Taking cover from the rain we cozied up under the thatched roof, had a drink and a snack while enjoying the musical medley.

A view of the Bridge of the Americas
from our Hotel Room

Saturday during the day I insisted on a trip to several malls just to walk around and look at the Christmas decorations. Malls were packed to the ceiling with shoppers and we quickly tired of fighting our way through the crowds. 

Santa Land at Allbrook Mall

Terry found a tall friend
A different huge animal stands at each entrance to Albrook Mall
helping shoppers to remember which door they came in.  There are 15 or more
 of them since this mall is so huge, and they've recently expanded it.  Shopping here is exhausting!

Swarovski Crystal Christmas Tree
$500,00 of Crystal Ornaments
on this 15 meters tall tree

This tree is decorated with over
6000 crystals at the
Multiplaza Mall

Back at the hotel we walked to a nearby TGIFridays Restaurant that overlooked the canal.  In the short time we sat there having dinner we saw four ships pass through the canal, two from either direction. 

Ships waiting to enter the canal
view from TGIFridays
next to our hotel

A ship leaving the canal area
view from TGIFridays

Our hotel offered VIP taxi service and even had a list of prices posted at the front desk.  The short trip from the Amador Causeway to Casco Viejo for the caroling event was $10.00.  The bellhop suggested that we walk down the street and pick up a yellow cab for less money.  Since taxi rates here are set by zone, before entering the cab the driver can offer a price.  But like everything here they will try to "gringo" any foreigners and get more money out of them.  So Clyde asked the driver "how much" and he said," $8.00."  Clyde said "no" and the driver asked in English, "so how much you want to pay?"  Clyde said "$5.00," and the driver said "I'll do it for $6.00," to which Clyde agreed.

Spotted this "Rumba Bus"
"Rumba" means "party" in Spanish

On Sunday our plans included a holiday party sponsored by Bob from Retirement Wave, an informational website for those considering retirement to Panamá.  But with a holiday parade in the city at the same time, streets were closed and traffic was re-routed.  With all roads leading to Bob's place closed, our only option was to park somewhere and walk the rest of the way.  Dressed in a nice outfit with heels that I'd never worn before, my plan was to stand around and look pretty, not to walk the streets.

We found a closed off street and Clyde parked on the sidewalk since there was no parking on the road.  Quickly a Panamanian security guard ran over to us telling us we couldn't park there.  Clyde asked where we could park, and the man asked if we were going to the parade?  Clyde told him we had a party at a friends house and he pointed to a vacant parking lot.  The man ran in front of us and moved the neon orange cone blocking the entrance and guided us into the parking lot.  As soon as we left he car another security guard from across the street came over yelling that we couldn't park there either.  Then the two men began yelling at each other about the whole situation.  Apparently one man was guarding the street and the other was guarding the parking lot.  Finally the first man agreed to let us park on his street and instructed us to park where we were in the first place, on the sidewalk.  We thanked him and walked off hoping that the car would be there when we got back from the party.

As we walked it began to rain and even though we had an umbrella, I was walking through puddles and my hair was starting to frizz.  By the time we made our way to the party I was a mess in my own mind.  However, the party was great and we mingled with some old friends and made lots of new ones.  Bob provided tons of great food and drinks to alter my mood a bit along with the great conversation.

A view of the city from Bob's balcony

After three hours at the party the parade was just starting and traffic was even worse that it was earlier in the day.  We made our way back to the car only to notice that the rest of the closed off street was now being used for parade parking.  Clyde had no idea how he'd be able to turn the car around to get out of the street, or if that was possible at all.  The nice security guard that allowed us to park there came over to help.  He pointed out the direction for Clyde to turn and then ran to the end of the street to remove the barricade that closed it off.  This man went way out of his way to help us out and we were so impressed by his act of kindness!!!  As we passed him on the end of the street I opened the window and handed him a few bucks for his kindness thanking him profusely.  I told him to have a good day as we pulled away with a smile, amazed once again at the wonderful local people we've met here in Panamá.

Panama is a Cosmopolitan City

Before heading home we stopped at Price Smart for some essentials.  Once we crossed the bridge and made our way out of the city we breathed a sigh of relief.  Stopped for arepas and meat for dinner at our favorite little place in Capira, where we bumped into friends.  We made it home tired and worn out from our weekend of fun, ready to get back to our quiet life.  But not sure if that's possible with Christmas fast approaching and more parties to attend.  At least we're full of holiday cheer in more ways than one....along the gringo trail.

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