My new little gang of Phil, Norberto and Jen, what a happy group it was and Phil and I have been missing our third musketeer since he left on Saturday. Norberto was great fun, always up for an adventure and our first major adventure was heading into Panama City on the Tuesday of Carnival! Tuesday was the big day, to get all of our sins out before Ash Wednesday and it was such a fun day. The only really sad bit was that the batteries were dead in both of our cameras, what a day not to be able to take pictures…
We had a leisurely wake up, everyone pretty tired from the transit and the late night out. By lunch time we headed to take a taxi, always a bit of work, they ask for 10, you offer 4 o 5, they accept or drive away and if that happens you start from scratch. Such a lovely treat, Norberto speaks way too many languages, Portuguese, French, English and SPANISH!!! So after asking a taxi driver where to go for lunch we were dropped off at a lovely family run restaurant, it reminded me a lot of Angie's and we had a feast! Salad, calamari, steak, it was delicious and we were so full when we left we decided to walk for a while, little did we know we were going to walk the whole city!
Panama city has a beautiful waterfront pathway, a lot of it was closed because of Carnival, we decided to explore the city and just looked down the side streets watching heaps of people walking past us in shorts and bathing suits (not a typical look here where it seems that everyone is perpetually well dressed) towards big water tankers that were spraying down the crowd!
The architecture here is very cool, beautiful buildings, sky scrapers, even one shaped like a screw. We walked all over checking them out and eventually found our way to a small bar that was still open, it seemed like everything else was shut, no traffic on the roads, nothing open so when we saw one open we stopped and had a drink. They had a TV on, everyone was wearing blue and there was a football game on TV. So strange to think we were watching the same game that Tim might have been in the UK! It was Napoli vs. Chelsea and we couldn’t figure out why everyone was cheering for the blue team until we realized we were in a very Italian restaurant!!! So nice to sit in air conditioning, watching grown men laugh and cry and scream at the TV. Just to rest! We wandered through a few open souvenir shops, saw boots made out of Molas ($60.00 each, yikes!) and headed back towards the festivities.
The line ups were amazingly huge, but one good thing about being a tourist, we walked to the front, of the line to ask if we needed tickets, were told we needed ID, Norberto didn’t have his on him and we were sent through the line ahead of everyone.
Kids were running everywhere, with hair dried from being hit with the water trucks and carrying baggies of confetti, or cans of silly string and shaving cream. It was the day for sinning, so if they saw someone as a target they would spray them or throw things at them, everyone was covered in bits of paper and even the adults were getting into the fun. There were young men dressed up as devils in incredible costumes with canes and bells on their feet dancing and scaring the little kids, and we wandered through the crowd toward the beer tents. There are three main local beers we have found, Balboa, Panama and Atlas, and for 0.75 you could buy them at the tents, beers in hand we realized we had walked into a concert. Fabulous Salsa=y, Panamanian/latin American music with a guy rocking out on an accordion and the main singer a tiny woman in a skin tight fluorescent green outfit wiggling like I never imagined possible, I now know where Shakira learned to shake. It was great, a really friendly fun crowd, young, old, middle all dancing and having fun although as we stood there enjoying the music you could never be sure when someone would nail us with shaving cream. There was a very mischievous couple of older ladies with an arsenal of things to throw and by the end of the concert we had all been hit with shaving cream, silly string, baby powder (disastrous when mixed with beer) and confetti. Back to the street with the throngs. It was a main road through town that had been closed off for the party and along the road there were amazing sound systems set up blaring everything from Spanish rap to salsa to who knows. People dancing and drinking, devils prancing by and couples wearing matching outfits made especially for the day. We finally found a quieter place to stop for another beer and saw all of the floats from the parade. I was convinced we had already missed the parade, BUT in fact it hadn’t even started yet! The first costumes we saw were a group of slightly more mature ladies dressed as watermelons, with full red skirts, trimmed in green with watermelon seed shaped sparkles sewn on. Managed to get a picture of Phil and Norberto with them which was great. Then found a lovely spot on the curb to sit and watch. They had another concert going in the distance and eventually as it began to get dark people started congregating near the floats. There was a huge float with a complete band on it, trumpets, trombones and other brass horns. While they were waiting for the parade to start they started playing along with the concert, amazing! I realized the two front floats had the typical Carnival girls on them, in tiny bikinis with enormous feather head dresses looking beyond beautiful. So interesting to see them getting dressed on their float with a whole team putting on the last touches of makeup and straightening their head dresses. They each had a handle to hang onto as the float drove away, and the most beautiful of all seemed quite practiced n looking comfortable, and confident wiggling and waving away, the younger ones gave away how uncomfortable the head dresses were, trying to readjust them and not looking quite as cool and collected as the main girl. Each float had its own music and that was all you could hear while they were beside you, but as they drove off, your ears were filled with the next float. One of them had girls bouncing in time to the music so much that the whole truck was moving along with the rhythm. After the first few well-funded floats came the neighbourhoods. Each area in Panama was represented, some of them had a whole group of 50-100 people complete with drums and music dancing down the street in matching outfits, others were wearing shirts in the same colour and still others were just in regular clothes. One of the groups was led by a tiny girl about 6 years old, wearing a floor length gold evening gown, feathered head dress and strutting in tiny high heels like the most sophisticated 20 year old in the world. Other groups had tiny kids leading the way wiggling in a way I could never duplicate, they are born knowing to dance and it would be so hard to live in Latin America without a sense of rhythm. They moved together as communities, the young and old, babies in arms, toddlers trying to keep up and kids everyone included. It was the most amazing parade I’ve ever seen I think. So inclusive, so fun, so much good music. When it was over, the night was lit up with an incredible fireworks display and then we moved towards the food vendors, a bbq set up with strips of beef on a stick, an amazing dinner, to go with yet another cold Atlas beer. We wandered down the road to the next concert, a man who had originally played some song in the 70s in Puerto Rico; he seemed famous because everyone was singing along! It would have been nice to stay and see more, but we had all decided to start to head home when the babies were going home, it was rapidly changing from a family party to a late night party, more police coming out, with their big scary guns and dogs and as we walked towards the exit we realized that the line up stretched nearly a Km down the street with people waiting to get in. After a taxi back to the dock and a shaky wobbly red dinghy ride we made it back to our Seamonkey and collapsed into bed. I woke up at 3:20 am, the party finally drawing to a close to another set of fireworks. The next morning we looked around our poor boat, confetti everywhere, a blackened cockpit from all of the dirt ground into our feet, clumps of shaving cream ground into our hair and the surprised look of 3 people who had no idea what they had found the day before.