Older, Wiser and Again Facing Open Ocean

Feb. 24, 2009. Day 635: Panama City, Panama


Neville Hockley wrote:Dream Time's cabin floor is covered in confetti. Colorful little paper circles that we unintentionally brought back from Carnaval last night in our hair and pockets are sticking to everything. Within minutes of arriving at Carnaval in Panama City yesterday we were sprayed with water pistols, then had handfuls of confetti hurled at us. We instantly contracted Carnaval fever and with dots stuck to our faces armed ourselves with 25-cent bags of "annunciation" and went to seek retribution. It wasn't pretty. After clouds of paper filled the air around us amid squeals of delight from Panamanian children, and caught in the crossfire of water jets, we were quickly and soundly defeated. While Catherine, Nick and myself tried to hold our ground, we were, after all, amateurs, and the locals made great sport of us.

One of the most anticipated festivals in Panama, Carnaval lasts for four days and four nights. Streets are filled with music, vendors, dancers, performers, elaborate costumes, confetti and floats. We made our way into the heart of the action, getting ambushed regularly by children along the way who weren't satisfied unless they scored a direct facial hit with fistfuls of confetti. Unlike the parades we're used to -- the Macy's Day Parade for example, where spectators and crowds are kept at a safe, orderly and well-defined distance from the action -- at Carnaval everyone parties together. More than once, I was almost clipped on the side of the head by a protruding papier-mâché arm or giant piece of sparkling fruit as the floats trundled past just inches from the crowd. Perched on the top of each float, clinging to a rail with one hand and waving majestically with the other were the Carnaval queens -- beautiful goddesses dressed in intricate costumes with towering headdresses and, well, sometimes revealing just a little more than the performers back in New York would allow. Gyrating and wiggling to the music, they received a hearty welcome from the male spectators. After a dozen or so of these performances rolled past, Catherine, growing a little exasperated, demanded to know when the "sexy man floats" would be arriving.

The floats were fabulous, but the dancers, performers and musicians that followed were a highlight and filled the air with an infectious energy. Lines of dancers moved down the street in waves, followed by men hammering drums and shaking rattles. Each group chanted rhythmically in unison, moving, swelling and jumping as though a single force. It was impossible not to dance with them. It was intoxicating.

It was well after midnight by the time we motored back to Dream Time. Exhausted, but far too excited to sleep, we laid in the cabin and while picking stubborn pieces of sticky paper circles off our skin, relived the highlights of Carnaval I had recorded on my HD camcorder. What a night!

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