Panamanians love a parade. You could probably travel around the country and see a parade every weekend if you wanted to (read: you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a parade). This time there was a big one in a town down the road. My neighbor told me that it was the biggest one in Panama and very pretty, so the girls and I decided to go check it out (read: I decided to force the girls to go with me to check it out). Dan was under the weather and treating his illness with football.
We heard the parade was going to start at noon and it takes about 45 minutes to get to the town. So we left at noon. This is Panama, after all. We prepped well: we had water bottles, small purses that went cross body, hand sanitizer, toilet paper, charged cell phones and lots of small bills. We got there and found a place to park on the side of the road and walked in the direction everyone else was going.
We wandered around, ate meat on a stick, looked at the vendors who all sold the exact same toys and we tried to find shade. It’s HOT here. And humid too. We knew this was going to be a sweaty day and we were not wrong. You pretty much start dripping the moment you get out of the car. We tried to dress for the weather but you can only do so much.
This parade was celebrating the ‘mejorana’, a small stringed instrument similar to the guitar. This instrument is made in this town, and they now have a multi-day festival to celebrate it and other traditional customs. Just like in the USA when people wear July 4th themed apparel on Independence Day, many of the spectators were decked out in the traditional Panamanian shirts and hats. It was hard to tell who was in the parade and who was just watching.
We found a restaurant (read: a cart that sold food that was probably made last Friday) and there were two tables next to it. The tables were in the shade and there were 3 empty chairs (one of which was sticky with some pink liquid but beggars can’t be choosers). I figured it was destiny for me and the girls. I bought a hamburger that no one had any intention of eating and we took our seats. We had a nice conversation with the couple next to us and after about 20 minutes the parade started. Parades here last a long time. There could be a minute or two between floats or 20 or 30 minutes.
While we were waiting for the parade to continue, Zoe got a cold Coke, but then wandered off to take pictures. When she came back and took a sip, she discovered a bug in the can and she spit her Coke all over my leg. Oh good, hot AND sticky. I now see why they offer people a straw when they sell them a can of pop.
Then Zoe went to get a shaved ice cup that seemed like the perfect treat for the hot weather. But the guy put tons of syrup and then some evaporated milk/sugar combination on it. It became too sweet, even for Zoe. And that’s saying something. So between the Coke (albeit unfinished) and the shaved ice (also unfinished) I’m getting mother of the year award over here with Zoe’s sugar intake today. She tried to buy marshmallows at the grocery store when we got home. Uh, no.
Not only was it hot, it was crowded. The crowds seem to swell as the floats go by and it becomes 3 and 4 people deep. It doesn’t matter if you have a chair, they’ll stand right in front of you. There was barely enough space for the floats.
So we saw some floats, took some pictures, admired the dresses and the many guitars and then we called it a day. When it’s hot and humid and you have sticky soda on your leg, you can only take so much. I’m sure as I type this the parade is probably just wrapping up, and more festivities are going on tonight. We just don’t have that kind of stamina.
A few things stood out to me that are different about Panamanian parades. Not only do they start late and go for HOURS, but I saw only one garbage can, and it was overflowing. There is no litter control whatsoever. They clean up the parks and streets after the festivals, though. Because labor is so cheap here it’s cheaper for the town to hire people to clean up rather than buy trash cans and then empty them.
There were also no porta potties. From my experience in Pedasi during Carnaval, I assume there is an alley that becomes very popular for men to do their business. Not sure where the women go. Perhaps they don’t have to go because they sweat out any liquid they consumed. I speak from experience.
There was no crowd control. We ended up darting directly in front of a pair of bulls who were pulling a float as we were trying to leave. We saw two ambulances headed in the direction of the parade so maybe someone else wasn’t so lucky.
So all in all it was an interesting activity for a Sunday, but now I think it’s time for some football. And air conditioning.