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!

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