Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Tourist Weekend

I've been a bad blogger and haven't written in over two weeks, shame on me. The positive side is that I have been out living up Panama to the max. I have 4-5 entries I need to catch up on and am feeling a bit overwhelmed, but here we go.

The weekend of February 24th I am calling tourist weekend although it would probably be more appropriately named AIESEC intern/ tourist weekend since it was filled with AIESEC gatherings and mashed up with sightseeing. 
Mostly UTP people : ) Love you all!
Friday was a fun yet slightly sobering taste of reality. The fun part was a birthday party for Diego- one of the interns- that brought the two powerhouse Local Committees together for one big shebang. The sad part was that it was also his going away party. He was the first intern that I have had to say good-bye to here and it was a cold reminder that (at that point) I had at most a month and a half left. 

The party itself was great. I rolled in with Ernesto, Carlos and Vinicius after stopping to fulfill the BYOB part of the party. Panama and Soberana beer in hand, we got there when it was already well under way. Ernesto, Vinicius and I started with the Soberana, which Vini absolutely loved because it has a similar flavor to Brahma, a Brazilian beer. While it is light and ok cold, as it gets warmer, at least for me, it was rather… unbearable. Note to self: stick to Panama. 

New friends from Sanofi, Roberto, Puerto Rican
My first half of the night was spent in the comfort zone talking with everyone from AIESEC UTP, my host LC. As the night progressed, I got to know a lot of the people here through AIESEC USMA who work with my roommates at Sanofi (pharmaceutical) and several other businesses. At its peak there were probably 30 or 40 of us in an apartment which really got rocking after the lights were turned off and the music turned up. I believe the building security was called once or twice but we just kept on celebrating the birthday boy. Side note: I completely missed out on the cake. 

My boys dancing in the street.
Having the two LCs there intermingling was definitely my favorite part of the night and it kept me there later than it should have since I had to work Saturday morning. I definitely anticipate that being a problem as my time here winds down; wanting to stay and take advantage of “lasts” and sacrificing sleep to make the most of my experience. I can sleep with I’m back in Ohio. We left around two and flagged down a taxi back to our apartment. There in the deserted street another one of my favorite memories happened. Trying to flag down a taxi, Vinicius and Carlos started to dance in the street, Vini singing I don’t even know what with his booming voice. (man I miss him!)

Thank goodness I had plenty to work on Saturday wrapping up the interview guides or else I would have been half asleep. The morning flew by and before I knew it I was out to the next adventure. Saturday Ernesto, Vinicius, Carlos and I planned a tourist day to see as much of the Canal as possible since Vinicius only had a couple weeks left in Panama. Our departure was a bit delayed because Ernesto was having his car worked on and I had to go cash my first paycheck and pay for my apartment. On the way from work to the small mall nearby where there is a bank branch- mind you it is only about 5 blocks- I was honked, whistled, or hollered at… wait for it… 27 times. That’s a new (and absurd) record. 

Panama Hat!
After taking care of business and getting a fat wad of twenties, the 4 of us met up to start our adventure. The first destination was the old YMCA by the entrance to the canal which has been turned into an artisan market. This first destination was originally chosen so Vini could stock up on gifts for friends back home. Ironically, I was the only one who ended up buying anything; a mola and magnets for my dad’s new fridge back in Wisco. I love going to the YMCA because they have everything you can imagine as far as Panamanian artisan crafts-woven baskets, molas, carvings, Panama hats, the list goes on- and there are so many different vendors that you can pick and choose and haggle. The vendors are generally friendly too so I asked a couple to explain the crafts, their tradition and how they are made to the guys. Keep a look out for a post completely about crafts : ) 

Since that was only our first stop we tried to keep the time there short. On our way back to the car we sidetracked to the plaza right in front of the YMCA to take pictures with a monument to the canal and Panama. 

From there we hopped in the car and drove through the canal zone getting sidetracked once again at the administration building for the canal where there was a salsa concert just a few weeks earlier. Pictures were taken with another fountain monument to the canal and we were even photographed by a tour bus full of Asians that was passing by. 

Refocusing, we set our sights on Colon and the other side of the canal but got distracted by food on the way. We stopped at McDonalds to grab something for the road but unfortunately Panamanian McDonalds is not convenient or fast. With only 3 people in front of us I knew it would take about 30 minutes to get our order so we bailed and hit the road. Fortunately there was another McDonalds in Colon so we stopped and ate there which took a bit longer than expected but because we were taking our time and not them. 

We got a bit turned around in Colon but ended up making it to our destination, the Gatun locks, at about 3:50. Unfortunately they stop letting tourists in at 3:45 because they close at 4. Yeah, 5 minutes late. I felt so bad for Vini because this was supposed to be his canal visit and we didn’t even get there in time. We begged, I batted my eyes, but nothing worked. We tried to make the best of it and walked around the outside of the fence and were able to see a couple boats go by but its just not the same from a distance as if you are right above it watching the water go in and out of the lock. I felt terrible. We walked to the end of the locks by the lake to see as much as we could and I told them about how the lake was formed and the source of the water but there was not too much to see there. So we headed back to the car with our tails between our legs. 

As we were passing by the gate the guard hollered over that, since there was a boat passing through, we could drive on a little bridge that went in front of the first lock, as long as the doors were closed. Once on the other side we could take the ferry back, which was free. It sounded like a decent plan B so we ran to the car and scurried down to cross. Driving right in front of the lock doors was pretty cool and there was a great view down the canal way to the Atlantic. There was not much to speak of on the other side of the canal but we wandered our way to where the ferry waited. We ended up being the only car on the boat, which was very similar to the Miller Ferry to Put-In-Bay. We got out and walked up to the upper deck for the view. 

While up there appreciating the view and watching some smaller vessels go by, the guys in the control room invited us in to take a peek from their perspective. They must have been bored never having passengers because they were very friendly and explained all the controls to us and even let us sit in the captain´s chair. While I am sad that we missed the locks that day it worked out really well because we actually got to be on the canal and see down both sides of it, toward the Atlantic, and up toward the locks and lake. The ferry ride was probably 10 to 15 minutes at most so we shuffled back into the car and headed back to Panama City and our final destination. 
allllll byyyyy myyyyseeeelllfffff
I will note that I was a bad navigator in shotgun and slept on the ride back but come on, I was up way too late then had to work on a Saturday. I woke up back in the canal zone where Ernesto had stopped to show me where they have women’s flag football there, another popular sport that many people are starting to play.

Our last destination of the tourist day was the Causeway. That way we saw both ends of the Canal in one day, Atlantic and Pacific. After arriving, we strolled a bit, enjoying the sunset and evening. Carlos, an intern from Proctor, met up with us and we decided on a restaurant. We had dinner where we could see the water and enjoy the sea breeze. It was a great end  to the tourist part of the day. 

But the day was not even close to done. For some reason or another, Carlos and I decided to have a party at our apartment that evening. So on the way home we stopped by the grocery store to stock up and ran home to get ready. I made jello shots which I figured would be ready to eat at about midnight and ran through the shower before people started to show up. The night started with kings, which is different with each group that comes to play and we always seem to end up dying laughing. As more people showed up, we moved away from the table and all became more social. At about 12 a group of 20+ arrived from an intern’s birthday party a few blocks away. With that many people the music from my pathetic little speakers was pretty much drown out. The large group stayed about an hour before deciding to hit the bars. At that point in the night I didn’t feel like paying a cover to go anywhere so most of us stayed. I think at some point the night ended up winding down but there weren’t enough beds to go around so people were sprinkled on chairs in the living room. I believe I saw the sun come up.

After probably 2 or 3 hours of sleep my alarm went off to head to the beach. The plan for Sunday was to get up and get to the ferry to go to the island of Taboga and spend the whole day on the beach. Well, the original plan was for Ernesto to drive us but we didn’t wake up in time. We threw our things together super fast, even though we were all dead, hung over, and maybe even still drunk, and ran downstairs to grab a cab. Luckily Mauricio and Cecilia were already at the ferry and could buy our tickets before we got there. For being the weekend right after Carnaval, there were a lot of people trying to get to Taboga and Victor almost didn’t make it on the ferry. While trying to haggle a ticket for him I met a couple from the Netherlands who were very nice and I spent most of the trip there talking to them. Luckily there were so many people there that day that they ended up sending two ferries at the time we wanted to go, so everyone was able to get on. 

Once on the island we strolled toward the west end where the beach was best and you had a view of everything; the city, the canal, and all the boats waiting to go through. Although the clarity of the water does not compare with that of the Caribbean, it is cool and extremely refreshing. Each person more or less did their own thing, relaxing in the sand, water or off exploring. 

The day went by quickly just lounging in the water and walking the length of the beach and unfortunately we had to catch an earlier ferry back to the mainland. Once there, Ernesto was nice enough to pick us up and drive us home. Although only a 15 minute drive, if that, everyone was dead and sleeping. Until we go caught in a mini traffic jam because of an accident near the highway. While we couldn’t tell exactly what had happened, we got a close view of the aftermath of a large cement tube that had fallen off a semi. It looked like it didn’t quite fit under the bridge, but that was as far as we could tell. Whoops.

The rest of the evening was spent cleaning and later cooking. Big props to my boys Carlos and Ale for helping to leave the house spotless for when Mica got back from Costa Rica! After cooking them a great dinner, I went to bed at about 9 and felt like new for work on Monday. Such a great weekend!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

“Modeling” for Panama Tourism

I really wish I had more pictures of this whole day. While there is lots of pictures and film somewhere, it is not yet in my possession, so unfortunately I will have to post it all later. 
Doesn´t this add look legit to you?
The whole opportunity was too good to be true, so I didn’t mention it to many people before it happened in case it did not turn out the way I thought. A couple weeks ago they were promoting a tourism campaign with Markez World Wide I heard about it though one of the AIESECers, on the facebook page (totally legit right?). They were looking for “European looking” people to help promote Panama as a tourist destination. I didn´t believe it but that little voice in the back of my head was like “hmm, what if it is that easy?” So I started doing research. I talked to the guy who supposedly knew the people from the agency. I checked with some other AIESECers to make sure they knew the guy and the agency. I researched them online. When I finally found a news article about how the agency had won this contract from the government, I decided it was legit and that I would not be kidnapped and sold into sex slavery. 

So I emailed in a little letter with some adventurous pictures and heard back within an hour that not only were they interested, but that I had already been picked. My suspicious side told me they were a little over-zealous, but it still sounded like fun because they were going to be shooting various activities so I might be able to see several things and have touristy experiences not only for free, but they would pay me for my time. Woot.
A few days before filming started, they had a meeting for all the models to assign roles and tell people when and where to show up. Still cautious, I asked Mauricio to accompany me after work that day, just in case. It turns out the agency was only a block away from where I worked. It was off the main road but looked like such a fun place to work. Bright colors, really imaginative designs and decorations, a great ambiance for a creative, marketing firm.  We were some of the last people to arrive but we still had to wait for it to get started. Oh Latin time. 

There were all different kinds of people there because they were trying to display all the different aspects of Panama. More or less one by one or in small groups, they told us what we would be portraying. Finally my turn came. They told me that I looked very mature and carried myself well, so I would be playing the mother of a 9 year old in a family that was visiting the canal. They introduced me to my son and husband… which was actually hilarious because the kid they picked was a pretty good mix of my “husband” and I. They gave me some instructions on what kind of clothes to bring and said to come back at 5 am that Thursday.
Since they were still looking for people and Mauricio was conveniently right there, they asked him to be in the commercial too. He very excitedly agreed. The funniest part is that he would be playing a Panamanian. The Bolivian guy was going to play a Panamanian… haha! Either way we both left the agency very excited and antsy to get started. 

Wednesday was Mauricio´s turn to go to the filming and I only heard about the experience afterward. The group they had for that day was taken to the Caribbean super early in the morning. Because they were going to film on and around an island, they could only take a few at a time including the camera crew and everyone so some of the extras had to stay on the beach. What a way to spend the day, right? As Mauricio told me, they had to do a lot of shots and ended up pretty behind schedule so he didn’t get to film that day. They paid him for his time anyway ($100) to sit on a beach all day) and said they would call him when they rescheduled.  Unfortunately he is still waiting. The word is that several of the scenes were behind schedule, so they postponed the rest of the filming until March. My fingers are still crossed for him to play a Panamanian! 

Hearing about his experience I was super excited. While I had wanted to be on the beach instead of playing a 23 yr old mother I knew no matter what I would have a good time, get to see new things and get $$. My only problem was I was having trouble “getting into character.” I did not bring much clothing that fit the role of “European mother” and did not have much to go off of. I kept on thinking of how my host mom from Spain, Pilar dressed. Very classy and feminine. Yeah let´s go with that. I ended up hitting up the inexpensive mall by my work and buying a few thing I thought they might approve of and packed a bag for Thursday morning.

Markez at 5 am. Whomp whomp.
I don’t  care who you are or what you´re going to do, 4 am is not an hour of the morning to get excited about something. I had to take a cab to the agency because it was still pitch black out and around here my hair pretty much glows in the dark. I got there just after 5 and the bus and a couple of the other “models” were there waiting; a Panamanian my age, my son and his grandma. We settled in to wait for the others since the building was closed and others began to arrive. I should have known better than to get there on time. The majority of the commercial crew didn’t even show up until 5:45 and we weren´t in the bus ready to leave until after 6. I should have slept on the bus on the way there but I wanted to see the countryside more than I wanted to sleep. 

On the way there I found out that the crew would be filming two scenes that day; the first of the family at the locks and the second of a group doing zip-lining through the forest. Damn… zip lining… And I had to stand next to a boat with a kid I had when I was 14. Maybe I would get extra EXTRA lucky and they would need more people as extras to zip-line. We stopped at a supermarket in Colón for breakfast. That was another great part of the filming, they fed us and hydrated us all day. We hung around chatting in the little café area for about 30 minutes getting to know each other and munching on empanadas. 

Hair and makeup!
It might not even be fair how much luck I have. When we got to the Gatún Locks on the entrance to the Caribbean side we had to wait a bit to go into the tourist area. The camera crew was preparing and they started doing makeup for those in the scene. As it turns out, the girl that they had selected to go zip-lining later was scared of heights. They pulled me aside and asked if I minded switching. Mind? Do I MIND? Ahhhhh this is perfect!  That is what went through my head at least. I was calm and flexible and said I could do whatever they needed me to do. So it was decided. I got to relax at the locks while the other girl was prepared for the camera as far as wardrobe. (WIN). 
The Husband I Left
The Son I Dont Have

Everyone was invited into the lock area because we had a while to wait until the boat they wanted to film would arrive and be lowered into the Caribbean. While most people just sat and waiting, I was exploring (even though I had already been there) and chatting with everyone around. I even told my orphaned son to look at some of the information and displays they had around the locks to kill some time. He was a lot of fun to be around and definitely the liveliest of the group. I got to know the makeup artist, talk with my husband a very little before he was put into makeup and hung out with the other extras. After about 30 minutes the group went down to film and the rest of us stayed for a bit up in the observation deck. I started talking to a kid from Venezuela who would supposedly be my zip-lining partner. We watched some boats go by, took some pictures, then went down to join the others who were filming on the platform a few feet from the lock. Very exclusive access. I accidentally wandered in to that area and was told to wait out where everyone else was seated. Whoops. 

tractor to where we ate and ziplined
The lock filming seemed to go quickly and we packed up and were off to the next spot. We drove through part of Colón and out a semi-country road with some rural housing. Over some hills and curves we turned into a place call the Granja, literally the ranch. This is where I would be zip-lining. The entrance was pretty dry and dusty with the registration office so looking over the valley I was a little disappointed I might be zipping over grass and dirt. But no… we just checked in a headed down the road further into the ranch. It was more like an extreme sports area and had a little bit of everything; dirt biking, paintball, horses, and other things I couldn’t see from the dirt road. Our bus and a tractor pulled covered cart made our way through the mini mountains to area that over looked the river and lake. That was more like it. The bus could not make it down the last hill so everyone switched to the covered cart down to a restaurant the overlooked the valley and the lake. This was definitely the spot. Gorgeous. And I could even see some lines and platforms. Now I´m excited.

View from above
At the Restaurant
Everyone unloaded from the cart and settled in to have lunch. We sat at the tables overlooking the water and chatted. Most of us were pretty famished and the food took a little while longer than we would have liked to wait but it was delicious when it came. I had fried fish, rice, lentils and patacones and did not even come close to finishing it all. Plus they had this fresh squeezed juice that I had no idea what fruit it was. Orange, carrot, and… delicious. 

After lunch we got ready to go farther up the hill and film. We had a slight problem since I had brought clothes to play a mom but were able to settle on a light blue tshirt and jeans. The second problem was shoes. I did not bring tennis shoes and ended up having to borrow a pair from one of the camera guys. That probably would have been the one thing I would have changed about the day, because my feet looks like boats. Maybe they can crop that out? I changed and they did my make-up and we were off. 

Once we got up the hill we were put into harnesses and helmets. There would be 4 of us in the scene; the Venezuelan and myself as the main characters and two extra guys plus the zip instructor. We were directed to act like a couple, here for the first time, and super excited and taken back by the beauty of the area. That was easy, he was good looking and it was a beautiful spot which I was seeing for the first time. Done and done.
Lets go Zipline!
We did a couple shots of us climbing up onto the platform where we would be taking off from. Then we did a couple different angles of us up on the platform with the instructor adjusting my harness and giving instructions. The best part was that we didn’t actually have lines to say because it would be dubbed over later. They tried a couple different positions and foci with minimum instruction; look like a couple, look excited, pay attention to the instructor. Everything was easy up until that point. 

The next shot was to be of me being hoisted onto the line and taking off. They wanted the instructor to say a line after I left the platform which made things a bit more complicated. It obviously wasn´t going to be perfect the first time and there was no way to bring me back once I was at the next platform. If I went all the way, I´d have to do the whole course and they would have to fetch me at the bottom to bring me back up. The only option was for me to take off, break, and drag me back up. No problem. 

We did the first take and slid a ways down the line, stopped myself, looked at the wire and decided I could hoist myself back up without help. It was surprisingly easier than expected yet completely unexpected and everyone started to cheer, which I found hilarious. The catch phrase was something like “look at the American girl go!” woohooo. So we did a couple takes that way. After two or three my arms were getting a little tired but the hardest part was trying squeeze the tough leather hand grip to break and stop quickly. After the 3rd someone made a joke saying “only 4 or 5 more” and we all laughed. But it wasn’t a joke! We ended up doing 8 total and my arms were protesting. In the last couple they had to grab and pull me in. The funniest part was the last one because everyone could see that I was getting tired and the worry showed on the extras’ faces. So for the final shot the director was like “Please, guys, for Lauren. She´s still smiling so look like you’re having fun too.” 

And yet after all that… I wasn´t able to go to the next platform. They wanted to take some still shots of the group in action as well. So they back the cart a bit down the hill to get a good angle. They wanted it to look at real as possible so the instructor couldn’t hold me in place. I had to hold myself on the line while they took the pictures. While it sounds easy, I had already done 8 where I had to hoist myself back up, the angle on the cable made gravity an extra factor, and I couldn’t hold myself with the glove, only with the tough leather break so it would look believable. We did that 4 times and my arms were absolutely shaking. There is no way they can say I didn’t earn my money that day! 

It didnt suck
Finally they let me take off and continue down the course. The way it works is each group goes with two instructors. One in front who watching you come in and one behind to make sure no one has problems. Zipping was super fun and I can’t wait to do it again. The 4 of us were followed around the course by the make-up artist with a helmet camera and she would film us taking off and coming in. The part I found funny was the way they keep you hooked up even on the platform. The instructors have done it a million times so it’s a bit mechanical and like switching dog leashes from one line to another. 

I think there were 8 or 9 lines in total but the best were the last two toward the bottom of the valley over the water. They were extra long too, right in front of the restaurant where we had eaten. Between the 8th and 9th was a short walk and we were all caught up in the fun. The instructors were doing crazy upside-down tricks and the Venezuelan decided to try it as well, which did not turn out as gracefully. I cut a little loose on the last one too and did a couple 360s but nothing upside down. Maybe next time. 

By that time it was one of the best times of the day, about 4 o clock, good and hot, but absolutely gorgeous overlooking everything.  We walked back up to the restaurant and gathered out things. I changed out of my pants and borrowed shoes and was left by the cart who made its way back already so I rode up with the director. I boarded the bus and we rolled out heading back to Panama. Supposedly they saw a sloth heading out of the Granja but I missed it. I have to see one, that is still on my to-do list. 

The ride back also felt quick as everyone was tired and even I slept a bit. I also chatted with the others my age about a free concert that was supposed to be happening that night and trying to talk them into going. I asked them what they were doing for Carnaval which was coming up and what I should try to do to have the best time possible for my one Carnaval in Panama. Someone suggested Las Tablas and the Venezuelan said he was going. I expressed my interest and he said he would look into it. I half laughed to myself at how down this kid was for whatever came up because on the way back we also talked about the Free Trade Zone and San Blas. The answer was always “Let´s do it.”  Little did I know he would be such a good friend and I did end up going with him to Carnaval (Venezuelan = Alejandro, see pictures from Carnaval, Taboga, etc.) and probably to the other things we´ve talked about as well! He is probably one of my closest friends here!

We arrived back at the agency at about 5:30 and they started paying everyone. For me, $200 cash and some great memories. So much fun. A group of us exchanged contact to exchange pictures and go to the free concert that night. Then I started walking home with the biggest smile on my face because I had had such an amazing day. Free zip-lining and money in my pocket. Halfway home another one of the extras, a Colombian, drove by and gave me a ride on his way to film the evening part in Casco Viejo. I meet some of the nicest people.

Campaign After Party
That night I convinced Vinicius, Mica, and Carlos to come to the concert with us. Alejandro picked us up later than planned because he picked up Jorge the Panamanian and we headed to Parque Omar where the concert supposedly was. Unfortunately, we got there at the end and missed the whole thing. Instead, we headed back, bought beverage and played kings most of the night and laughed the whole time. People here love that game. Ok, not gonna lie I do too. When the night was winding down Jorge invited us to a bus party on Saturday. We agreed but never found the time to meet up with him that night because we were out with a group of AIESECers. Ale also showed me one of those card tricks that I can never figure out and kept tricking me into mini bets. I got him on the last one though because I put the card in the wrong place. Sneaky sneaky. I think that had something to do with why I got to go to Carnaval.

So that was my “modeling” experience. I am more than excited to see the pictures and the commercial when it is all done and edited. Hopefully I will get to see it playing or someone will pick it out where ever they decide to air it. Either way, it was an awesome, fun, new experience and I met some great people. I´m so glad I didn’t let the opportunity slip by and will never forget what great things can come from well researched opportunities. 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Panamanian Carnaval 2012

There are a lot of titles I could have given this entry. The runner up was “How to Lose 10 Pounds in 4 Days” since I did nothing but dance and ate very little but I decided to go with something more generic and all encompassing.  So much happened in the 5 days of Carnaval (4 days celebrating, another for travel and recovery) that it is all a blur. Thank goodness for pictures and videos, they definitely help convey the experience better than I can. Anyway, here goes. 

I absolutely have to start with Friday afternoon at work because it was the perfect start to a kick-ass weekend. At the very end of the day, after wrapping up work, I had two more interviews with Abercrombie and Fitch. I’ve been keeping this on the dl because it is all part of a very lonnnggg interview process. Friday brought my interview total to 4, so I´m about halfway done. I chatted first with a member of the team on which I would be working. He was a ton of fun to talk with and it barely felt like an interview. Second was the person I would be working under on the team. From everything I am gathering, we are talking about my dream job and I am a perfect fit so I am getting very excited. Dream job, right out of college, for an awesome company. I could barely contain myself. When I left work I pretty much skipped all the way home. 

Thinking I would be hitting the road right away (c´mon, haven’t I learned yet?) I started running around trying to get everything done especially because everything I had heard indicated that the traffic would be atrocious no matter what time we left. Pack, grocery, shoes to throw away after and ready. About the time I was done Ale was there to pick me up and for once I didn’t forget anything. Unfortunately we had to backtrack through about 45 mins of construction and traffic to pick up the others almost next door to where I lived when I first arrived, the place we use to joke about having to take a passport to get to because it was so far from everything. With 5 us of jammed in the car and the trunk way too full, we were off. We crossed the Bridge of the Americas at about 9 and most of the way traffic wasn´t too bad, a little stop and go as long as we were on the highway. We switched drivers about 2 hours in after a bathroom and McDonalds break. My first McDonalds in like… 5 years. I love how the menus are just slightly different in other countries. Like here it’s the $1.15 menu… doesn’t quite have the same ring. 

I had also forgotten how much I love driving, and stick no less. Fringe benefits of being the invitee of the invited; I sat shotgun the whole ride and got to drive. Getting the traffic patterns down was interesting. Not so much a culture of slower traffic stay right although I think I saw signs that said it. I ended up getting us almost all the way to Las Tablas. The last hour was back roads through other towns, notably Chitré which is another hot Carnaval spot. Off the highway the traffic was completely stopped for a while because of construction. Again, driving rules here were questionable because everyone was heading into town, no one in the opposite direction, so some took chances and shot up the other lane. Not my car, not me.  

downtown las tablas
We finally got into town at about 2:30. We parked, met up with someone who was apparently waiting for us, and walked into town. At this point I was tired since as co-captain I had promised not to sleep and just taking everything in. We strolled down the main road with little stands selling souvenirs and a lot of people heading in the other direction. We walked through the main parts of the city and stopped in front of the place where, little did I know, I would spend the next 4 days and nights, the PH.  Some people bought their passes but Ale and I decided to wait for something about getting them for free. We wandered back to the car and parted ways with the 3 who had some with us and traded them for two different friends. I’m not going to lie, I wasn´t understanding much at this point to two reasons; 1. I was tired and just going through the motions, 2. They were speaking something that I would NOT call Spanish. 

Literally along for the ride, we dropped our stuff at the house and went to pick up I don’t know what. As a precursor to the rest of this entry, I have to give mad props to Alejandro for being an awesome friend and not only inviting me but for being super attentive the whole weekend. When his friends said just drop her at the house (where I didn’t know anyone yet and it was 3 am) he just laughed and I kept my place as shotty. So off we drove into the middle of nowhere to pick something up that I wasn´t listening to what it was. It was a ways out and a bit off road and we were just about lost after the friends fell asleep. Out of nowhere we turned off into a backcountry house surrounded by trees with no lights and what looked to me like broken down cars. Ale honked and said he we were and some voice out of the darkness said ok, in the brown truck. Ok seriously wtf are we doing here?! This is what was going through my head as Ale go out of the car and started rooting through the SUV in front of us. What were we there for? All the beer we would need for the week for like 20 people. The picture doesn’t even show all of it. Some other person had brought it in their car and we were just picking it up. We never ended up going back there but its for the best, it would totally lose its mystery during the day. I prefer to just laugh to myself and what was going through my mind about being the blonde girl in the back woods of Panama with two people passed out in the car and the other shuffling through a strange vehicle. 

Car full of beer at the most sketch pick-up place
The night didn’t even end there. We drove back to our house and had to inflate the bed. Yeah, inflatable bed at 3 something in the morning. Not the best planning. Hairdryer wasn’t an option (thinking *pleaseee don’t make me sleep on the cold tile floorrrr) but luckily there was a hand pump. Not so luckily, we woke up the entire house pumping up the bed and the mom even came in to see what was making so much noise. I felt so bad. Definitely not how I wanted to meet my host. Either way… bed done, pass out.

I was the first to wake up at 10 ish since I was still on work schedule. The first people I met were part of the extended family we were staying with. A young couple with a toddle, which is what woke me up. I went out and said hello and apologized for the disturbance last night, still embarrassed. Then went about waking up.  I noticed there wasn’t much pressure when brushing my teeth and didn’t even think about it when going to the bathroom, which barely flushed. Then a few minutes later I went to get a cup of water… and there wasn’t any. Uh oh. Feeling like an ass AGAIN I asked what might have happened. This time it wasn’t my fault. Because so many people come into town for Carnaval, and because of the water they use in town during the day, it was common for there not to be any at certain times when it was being used most. I’m just glad I learned to plan ahead before it was a…. um… problem. When the parents woke up I introduced myself to them too and they were wonderfully nice and welcoming. Even showed me where extra water was for different uses. 

packin coolers
When everyone else woke up we ate and got ready to go into town. The guys had matching tshirts made for a couple of the days which were pretty funny and incredibly convenient for finding out group. We hopped in the dad´s work truck, girls in front guys rollin in the back with the coolers, and he dropped us off close to downtown. Ale and I bought our passes and the others organized the coolers. Along with my 4-day “VIP” entry I got a branded camelback. A CAMELBACK. BAHAHAHAH. Trust me, I put it to good use until I lost it…. Later that day. I had every intention of swiping another but never found one. Oh well, I came home with other swag. The rest of Saturday during the day is an awesome blur of dancing, getting soaked in water and meeting a ton of others in our group. Unfortunately, I didn’t know to take my camera the first day but the other days make up for it and follow the same pattern. The day party shut down at about 5 and each day we would walk over to the Aunt´s house just out of town for food.  The house was gorgeous with a garden out front and full of family who had come into town to celebrate. A cousin of my hosts happened to be the Queen of Carnaval in Las Tablas which is the best Carnaval in Panama so let´s just say the Queen of Panamanian Carnaval. Everywhere you went in town there was posters of her, kind of like Vermilion when Allie won Miss Teen USA in 2005. Only lets be real, Allie´s was a bigger deal. It was easy to tell which house was the Aunt´s because it was also covered in posters of Olga. 
Queen of Las Tablas
Food was always followed by a truck ride back to the house where we were staying and an afternoon nap in preparation for the evening. Each night we got ready and headed back to the PH until about 5. Unfortunately on the first night was wasn´t told to bring my ID which I left at home locked in with all my valuables. When we arrived it turned out that neither Ale nor I had it and we didn’t know we needed it. The problem was only the parents had the keys to the house so we had to scour town to find them at the family flat in the center. Once we had keys we rolled home, grabbed my stuff and drove back. Another note on Ale, I have absolutely no idea how it gets by when no one is there with directions. The good thing is that he is never afraid to ask, the funny thing is not ONCE did he remember how to get back to the car or back home once in the car. Thank GOD I have a good sense of direction. We got back, met up with the group and were there until… um 5 ish.

Day two was a close repeat of day one, except this time with my camera. There´s no way to describe how fun it was and I don’t even think the video captures it. People standing and dancing on coolers, on tables, up in the VIP zone, and water being sprayed everyone 30 mins or so to keep the party goes when everyone started screaming “AGUAAAA.” Ale and I headed up to the VIP for the view. The panoramic might be my favorite picture of the PH. But the videos still trump it. 

Post day party was the usual, back to eat, home to sleep, wake up, PH. The party was a little lame when we got there, or at least I think it was, so we ventured out into the town.  Even after the party stopped at the PH there was always more happening in the center of town whether it was parade, music, fireworks or whatever. Sunday night we headed back home for a big with plans to go back and party later but everyone passed out. Probably for the best.

The Murga, band that plays all the time
Monday: camera day two and much of the same awesomeness. The difference was when the party ended I lost track of the group while talking to some other people who were next to us and had asked me where I was from. Being a very open person, I of course stayed and talked with them and drank their beverage. When I noticed that my group had disappeared, my new friends asked if I wanted to go with them. Well of course that sounded like a good idea. I needed a little while away even though I knew perfectly well where my group had gone.  As a side note, every once in a while I will more or less lie when people ask where I´m from because I don’t want them to speak to me in English. My place of choice? Southern Brazil. I can at least make it believable and that way people´s only option is Spanish. Win. Until walking with this group we passed someone who was speaking Portuguese. MEHHHH. They were like OMG talk to him so I did and he believed me for like 5 minutes at which point the other group had already moved on. Yay more new friends.

new friends, super blurry because its a picture of a picture :(
They gave me drinks and we hung out and danced in the street for a while until it started to get dark. I believe Monday was the day I got most burnt… as pictures can prove. At that point they were headed home to eat too and invited me to join them. I politely declined since my friends might be wondering where the eff I was all this time. A group of the girls insisted on accompanying me home which I agreed with for a few blocks. Then my mildly drunken stubbornness and good sense of direction kicked in since I knew it was a long way 1. I would feel super bad making them walk and 2. They would think I was completely lost going that far. I talked my way out of a taxi since I didn’t know any landmarks nearby the house and of course there were no street names to speak of. Then I talked them into letting me go the rest alone, which was tough, but I agreed to give them a call once I got home knowing my phone had been dead for a day and I didn’t have a charger. I made my way down the little country road and had an awesome walk home. While I love the Latin culture and how much they love to be with groups and other people, sometime I just need my space. Amurrican. 

I got back to the house and had to holler in through the bedroom window for someone to open the door. Through their sleepiness and a little bit of laughter there was exclamations of “the gringa is back” and “where WERE you.” And all I could do was laugh. “I was around.” That afternoon became known as the day I got kidnapped since they never got much detail and I´m still laughing. 

Monday night was another camera-less blur. I know we didn’t stay too late at the PH but the time we were there we were up in the VIP. For most of the time I was the only one in our group dancing. But come on, you can´t waste a good song just sitting and sipping on your drink. So I made more friends. I forget who started talking to who, but I made friends with the Columbian girl next to me and spent the majority of the night dancing with their group. Until the next night when we met back up with them, I had no idea why a camera was following them around. I thought it was just part of the VIP deal so I ignored it. Later in the night I was exhausted since I hadn´t really napped when the others went back to the house so I may or may not have fallen asleep for a little bit on the Colombian´s shoulder. Yes, I was that girl.

Tuesday I wasn´t the only one who was dragging. We all slept in later than planned and were slow to get out of the house. I have no idea why I didn’t take my camera since it´s indestructible. I guess I thought it would be very similar to the other days but I was wrong. The group positioned itself closer to the stage because there were a couple live shows. The first was this pretty renouned DJ who absolutely rocked it. Im not even usually that into house music but he killed it. He also threw out some stuff like cds (which I got one), Yards (which I got one) and even bottles of liquor (which I got one). Definitely an occasion when it was good to stick out in a crowd. You´re welcome, group! The second person to come out was a Panamanian version of Nicki Minaj who was damn sexy and also rocked. The final one was some rapper who wasn’t really my style but it was a good mix. The after shower was more of the same music from the previous days. Carnaval was definitely good for me to learn all the hit music here between going out and the music in the car.

Tuesday night was epically long, but not in a bad way. We of course ate and rested, although a little later than usual. We didn’t get out of the house until probably 12:30. We first headed to the family apartment in the main square for part of the Carnaval parades. The cultural part. After, we headed to the PH and back up to the VIP where we were the first night. I ended up finding my Colombian friend again and rocked out with them, although not as hard as the night before. We got to talk a lot more and I found out than I told them I was Brazilian… haha whoops. I did explain to her that I had lived in Brazil so it wasn’t a complete lie. She explained to me more about her group. They had won some kind of promotion and were filming a type of reality show which is why the camera was following them around. Also, every guy in their group was gay which is why they were so fun and so good at dancing. As if the two stereotypically go hand in hand, that´s how she explained it to me. 

Post party, last night at the apt. watching the parade
We shut down the PH on that last night and started to make our way out when they played one last song. Everyone was stoked for the last note and started cheering and throwing… everything. Drinks, water, beer, I don’t even know what fell on me. I just know my sweater smelled horrible in the morning because I used it to cover myself. 

Little Polleras dancing, theyre so cute!
Post party we headed back to the apartment to see more of the parade. While there, the Queen was taking refuge and resting for a bit before heading back out into the multitudes. She looked just like all of her posters and her headdress and all was absolutely amazing. I have to say that she was very poised and had incredible patience. Definitely groomed for her reign. 

As far as tradition goes in Las Tables, this was described to me when I got back to work and was telling everyone about my experience: When a girl is born in Las Tablas, it is pretty much decided that she will be queen of Carnaval, and the family starts preparing her. When a boy is born in Las Tablas, he will be a “princess” because he doesn’t have his life planned and managed like a girl´s and his Carnaval experience is influenced in a completely different direction.  

dancing in the street
Queen or princess, we all headed back down into the street to dance with the street band around the block and watch the Queen in all her glory on the last night. Keep in mind this is after 5 am and this girl is still smiling, dancing, interviewing, and graciously taking pictures. After dancing around the block we waited until the fireworks started. I don’t know the official name of this but it was explained to me as similar to a mixture between the Mascletá and San Jose or the burning of the Fallas in Valencia. The things I remember from both of those are lots of noise and crazy fire. Apparently Latins love loud things. When the Panamanian one started I thought a bomb had dropped because there was an explosion and a huge cloud of fire rose just around the block in the park. Holy effing loud. Unlike the Spanish version, there were no fireworks lighting up the sky, just loud noise and light on the ground. Since I´m a big baby I stood with my ears plugged most of the time but it kept going. And going. And we went up to the apartment. And it kept going. An hour and a half later of constant noise like bombs on your house was the finale and the people cheered. It was 7 am on the dot. And everyone started to dance. Somehow I was still standing with the family when the others had gone to bed on the cots in the apartment but there also wasn’t any room left for me to lay down so I sucked it up. When Carnaval finally came to a close at about 7 am on Wednesday, the family cleaned up the apartment, we woke up those who had passed out and went back to the house to sleep. Yah, it didn’t look like I was going to back it back for work at 1 pm on Wednesday like expected. I left a message at work to let them know I would have to switch my work days since I wouldn’t make it back passed out until 11. 

The rest of the time in Las Tablas was spent gathering belongings, packing the car and saying goodbye. The people who had come with us originally had left earlier so we had different passengers on the way back. Traffic back was not as atrocious as I thought it might be and we still back it back in 5 to 6 hours as planned. It was great coming back across the bridge into the city as you can see in the picture. 
city from the Centenario Bridge

Wednesday night was spent getting my life back together and unpacking. I got a good laugh pulling out different articles of clothing and remembering the smells of the different alcohols that were thrown on me. Definitely a Carnaval well spent. Thank you so much to everyone who was part of it! Hope everyone enjoyed themselves as much as I did!