It’s all over for another year. The silence on Wednesday morning was almost deafening. Most of the tourists that flooded into our area had left by the afternoon of Tuesday, the last day, giving our little pueblo, for the most part back to the townsfolk. I’m so glad we were not part of the traffic flooding back into the city and into the traffic jams that turns a trip that usually takes minutes into hours.
After taking a non-scientific poll of a few people we learned that this year was smaller than years past. But my research also indicates that Carnaval in Pedasi, is much quieter than in the larger cities that traditionally host Carnaval such as Las Tablas, Chitre, Los Santos and Penonomé. The liquor distributor told SU that his sales were down compared to earlier years although they were still good. We also heard that not as many people came from the city this year. Panama City is mostly abandoned over the week of Carnaval, as one and all from the capital who can afford it travels away, either to the coast or the interior, for the big fiesta. This year the Tourism Ministry invested three million dollars in Carnaval in the capital city and brought a popular performer from Puerto Rico and held concerts with Panameño performers to try to attract foreign tourists and keep people in the city. Apparently there was no such influx of dollars into the interior carnavales and that has a few people upset.
During Carnaval celebrations the amount of money that is spent is considerable, both for retailers and for people coming for the festivities. Sales of food, lodging, car rental, shopping at local stores and other services increase dramatically. People plan all year for Carnaval and organize their finances accordingly. I saw people shopping for groceries with their credit cards before the festivities, likely to save their cash for the party. Shopping with a credit card in Norte America is common but Panameños usually only shop with cash or cheque.
The people who did flood into our little town slept in tents in peoples yards, in extra bedrooms rented out by the locals, in their cars and I’m sure that some didn’t sleep at all. The local hostals and B &B’s were full to the brim. Food trailers, temporary fondas and the local restaurants did brisk business. All the tiendas large and small were full and some ran out of ice, bread and milk. We planned well and it wasn’t necessary to go shopping for anything, thank goodness.
The garbage and the stench in the town square remains. Even today it is not totally cleaned up. There is still paper from all the fireworks that were set off, bags of garbage and crushed beer cans on the road. There is a lot of seco and beer consumption and no port-a-potties are brought in. During the day, the fun starts with the popular culecos or mojadera (drenching). There are huge water trucks called that spray people all day and the water runs off into the street and the ditches. Mix in a little dirt, beer, body fluids and sun and a wonderful smell is created.
The fiesta centers on our two competing queens Calle Arriba and Calle Abajo. The two groups vie to showcase the best carros alegóricas (floats), the brightest and loudest fuegos artificiales and the most glamorous and extravagant costumes and gowns. A fancy hand beaded evening dress cost a minimum of $3,000.00. Fundraising is required throughout the year to help pay for some of these expenses and the discos and raffles it will begin again in earnest for the 2014 Carnaval next month.
Every day of Carnaval except for day one (coronation night) there are two parades. Each parade consists of one or two floats from each side and another cart carrying the band. A group of singers called the tuna follow behind the band on foot. The opposing tunas mocks each queen as well as mocking her family, friends, acquaintances, and the tuna’s organizers. Both tunas face off in a duel, shouting taunts and setting off fireworks until the activity peaks at a moment called the Topón. It’s all in good fun but some of the lyrics, translated would make your hair curl.
The last day, Tuesday was the most traditional day. The women broke out their beautiful polleras and paraded around the streets with the tuna while they awaited the arrival of their queens. As I mentioned before most of the tourists were gone by then and we all agreed that this evening gave us more of a feeling of community than when the town was overflowing with people. The older people were able to come out of their homes and watch the festivities, people who had gone to stay in the countryside with relatives returned home, the vendors were beginning to pack up their wares and there was not much cerveza being consumed. After five days of partying the town was ready for a rest. The remaining fireworks were lit later in the evening and the Entierro de las Sardinas (Burial of the Sardines) took place. The burying of the sardine is rooted in the tradition of going meatless throughout the 40 days of meatless Lent and is meant to bring luck to all the fishermen who will be responsible for feeding everyone. We left shortly after the first round of the floats but heard the last of the fireworks going off early in the morning signifying Ash Wednesday and the beginning of 40 days of penance.
We made it through Carnaval 2013 relatively unscathed save for a bit of sleeplessness from the noise. There are a few things about the celebration that are confusing to us as Norte Americanos but the tradition of Carnaval has been going on for many years and ours is not to question. Was it as disruptive as people say it is? Not really. Is it fun? I guess the younger generation would enjoy it more, especially if you’re in to late night parties and drinking. Will we stay home next year for it? I think so. Our experience was pretty positive over all. This is what we moved to Panama for. This is our community. Hopefully next year we’ll be able to be more involved. Although, I don’t think we did too bad this year!
Here are a couple of my favorite photos. Some are new, some not. If you look at the pictures of the Calle Abajo band you’ll see Fabian, the gentleman who did some of our welding around the casa for us. He’s the one playing the güiro, the thing that looks like a big cheese grater. His enthusiasm throughout Carnaval was infectious and we couldn’t help but smile every time we saw him, he was having so much fun!