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FEB 17 CARNAVAL LAS TABLAS AND SANTO DOMINGO

Crowning the Queen

sunny 28 °C

[b]A DOUBLE DOSE[\b]
It is the last day of Carnaval. The day the queens are crowned. We take in Carnaval in Las Tablas for the afternoon - with more floats and partying. Each day the floats are different.

[b]SANTO DOMINGO[\b]
Later that afternoon Vitalina and Hector pick us up and drive us to Santo Domingo, a small village out of town. We park and walk down to the main square. What a difference from Las Tablas. There are a few hundred people gathered around the square. All the women are dressed up in traditional costume - flowing white skirts, while the men are dressed in simple white shirts. We sit and chat for a while, photograph the women who are pleased to pose for us. Then Arriba and Abajo start to dance and pardaded around the square, singing and celebrating. This is a traditional way to celebrate Carnaval, and we become immersed in the event. There is some great dancing, very refined and respectful, joyous but restrained. As evening comes the queens are crowned. I like it a lot. Here are some more photos

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SITTING ON THE CHURCH STEPS WAITING

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THE KIDS GET READY

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THE YOUNG GIRLS POSE

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ELABORATE HEADDRESS

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THE DANCING BEGINS

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ONE OF THE QUEENS IS CROWNED

[b]LAST NIGHT LAS TABLAS[\b]
We return to Las Tablas and go out for the final celebrations and parade of the queens. Here too the floats are more simple carrying women and men in traditional costume with the queens in all their splendour. It is our last night and we say our goodbyes to Vitalina and Hector. It has been a wonderful experience.

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Posted by RDILL 20:06 Archived in Panama Tagged carnaval Comments (0)

FEB 15 16 CARNAVAL LAS TABLAS IN FULL SWING

With a Little Hitch In Plans

sunny 28 °C

THE PEOPLE
Living in Las Tablas during Carnaval can only be described as a wonderful cultural extravaganza. The population of the town increases tenfold from around 10,000 to approximately 100,000. People sleep with family, friends, in their car or not at all. The first couple of days most people are local or have local roots and family close by. We only meet 4 other foreigners the first night and they stand out as much as we do even though one of them works in Panama City and has a wife from Guatemala. Everyone else seem to be Panamanian. People flock into the square bringing coolers with them filled with ice to keep their beer and drinks cold and they use them to sit on to rest. They love to interact with us and have their picture taken with us. I quickly get nicknamed Papa Santa by the young drinking crowd. We are quite shocked not to see any other white faces joining in, as the festivities are regarded as the most colourful and popular in Central America. It may have something to do with the fact that getting accomodation here is next to impossible. We shrug it off and continue to enjoy ourselves No one speaks any English and we gradually improve our communication skills in Spanish. It is only on the last day we interact with anyone in English when a number of young guys return home from Panama City and are pretty fluent in English and eager to talk with us.

EACH PARADE IS THE SAME BUT DIFFERENT
After a couple of days everyone knows us. We continue to join the throngs for another couple of evenings and days of fireworks, floats and parades, dancing and music making. Some more photos

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ALL IS WELL THAT ENDS WELL
Deciding what to wear and what to take to the afternoon parades is challenging. We know we will get soaked through. We know we will be like sardines in the square. The place we are staying does not seem very secure with a simple lock on the front door. I decide to take a small camera bag and put my wallet in a zipped pocket in my pants. After an afternoon of taking photos and enjoying the festivities, I notice my pants zipper is open and my wallet has been neatly picked. I am missing my credit card and debit card, drivers licence and my cash I carry with me . It is an interesting dilemna as I have only my passport and less than $100 left at home in my bag. Good thing I have my brother here to help out. I resign myself to borrowing money from him and continuing on. When I tell our host Vitalina what has happened she is adamant I go to the police and make a report. So she takes me there and I spend a couple of hours filling out forms and flirting with the girls that take down my statements. It is a good chance to further practice my Spanish in a whole new environment. One is eager to come to Canada and I lightheartedly say I will help sponsor her, but It is interpreted that I am willing to marry her to get her into the country, and Vitalina quickly says I am already married, so I reply maybe I can have 2 wives, and we all start laughing. It is a good break from the seriousness of the situation.

Resolving to continue on, we attend the evening celebrations. While waiting for the floats to come by around 11 pm, a woman approaches and recognizing me from my drivers licence, indicates my cartera (wallet) and cards have been found and returned to the police. She urges me to go to the police station immediately and I decide to do so. The police officers on duty are not interested in my story and tell me to come back tomorrow morning. I go to sleep somewhat excited and return to the police station next morning and in my best Spanish I explain the situation to them and they let me look through 2 boxes of returned wallets and cards but nothing is there. They just shrug their shoulders and go on with other duties.

I return home disappointed but I still trust that the woman who told me to go to the police station was sincere (she had very kind eyes), and I vow to return later. In the meantime I contact bank and credit card companies to put holds on any transactions. I explain the situation to Vitalina and with the aid of a neighbour we have met who speaks some English, we get together to ensure all our translations are accurate. Neither the neighbour nor Vitalina say to trust anyone at the Carnaval and believe the woman had bad motives in approaching me. I say I will still return to the police station later that afternoon and we go through the box again and there is my cartera, a little soaked minus the money but with all the cards. My heart leaps with joy. Vitalina is sweet. She is adamant I have to report back to the authorities that the cartera has been returned and I spend another hour filling out forms. Later she apologizes for not trusting the woman.

HANGING OUT IN LAS TABLAS

HANGING OUT IN LAS TABLAS



It is an interesting experience to go through, and I think quite a miracle that someone would be able to recognize me in the dark of the evening out of a crowd of thousands and approach me in that way. Their is an advantage to being the only foreigners here. I thank the Angels that help protect me on this planet and learn never to carry money in a zipped pocket again while hanging out in dense crowds.

Posted by RDILL 15:27 Archived in Panama Tagged in a plans little hitch Comments (0)

FEB 14 15 CARNAVAL LAS TABLAS

A cultural experience

sunny 28 °C

CARNAVAL
We immerse ourselves in Carnaval un. Every afternoon beginning around 11 people head for the main plaza. Police do a body check and then throngs pack into the main square and main streets. Vendors sell food. There is a lot of socializing. Fire hoses rain water down on the crowd and everyone is wet. It is a nice way to keep cool. Everyone waits for the floats to arrive with mounting excitement. There is a competition between Calle Arriba ( the high street) and Calle Abajo (the low street). Each side has selected a queen who is paraded around the square with her attendants on elaborately decorated floats. Each day, 2 new floats arrive from Calle Arriba and two from Calle Abajo and they take turns parading around the central plaza. A display of fireworks heralds the coming of the floats, each side trying to outdo the other. It can take an hour to navigate the one square block around the central plaza. Supporters of Arriba or Bajo walk and chant songs in support of their queen and their floats are followed by a truck carrying a brass band that further excites the crowd with their playing, while fire hoses are pelting band members with water. By three it is all over, everyone goes home for a siesta and then everyone congregates around 10 or 11 in the evening and it all starts again around 11 to 12 and usually begins to wind down around 1 am. In the evening their is no water spraying and the fireworks and floats are more spectacular.

It goes on like this for 3 days increasing in intensity each day and on the 4th day each side crowns their queen. There is a theme each day to the floats but we never really found out what the themes were. It was spectacular each day. Here is a kaleidoscope of images for the first two days.

THE FIRST NIGHT

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DAY TWO
The Crowd
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Instant Friends
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Spraying The Crowd
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The Floats
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The Bands
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Posted by RDILL 20:21 Archived in Panama Tagged las carnival tablas Comments (0)

FEB 13 14 LEAVING SANTA CATALINA ARRIVAL LAS TABLAS

The Buses Are Really Efficient

sunny 28 °C

FROM SANTA CATALINA TO LAS TABLAS
One more day in Santa Catalina relaxing and then off to Las Tablas. I am a bit nervous as I need to meet up with Brother Don and Kathy and I know the buses will be crowded with the influx of people going to celebrate the most famous Carnival in Panama. Bus numbeo uno de Santa Catalina a Sona es no problemo. I stand on the side of the road and flag it down. An hour and a half later and we are in Sona. There is another bus waiting on the side of the road for us and we transfer bags onto it and are on our way to Santiago. An hour later we arrive at the station, I get my bag walk around the corner and there is the bus to Chitre. I hop on and an hour later we are in Chitre. Don and I have agreed to either meet in Chitre or in Las Tablas at the Banco de National right next to the bus station. He isn't due till much later and the bus to Las Tablas is sitting there beckoning me, so I hop on. 45 minutes later and we are in Las Tablas. And I realize I am in some trouble. Carnival is just starting, the downtown is closed off and the bus can' get close to the bus station, so drops us off on a corner, and I am left standing having no idea where I am or where to go, and the thought of packing my belongings through the crowd is not too appealing. I suss the situation out and decide I do t want to wait for Don and hail a taxi driver who I hope can take me to where our accommodation is but all I have is a cell phone for the owner. The taxi driver phones the owner of the place we are to stay at, connects with Vitalina, and she says she will come over to pick me up. 5 minutes later her husband and she and a couple of nieces and nephews show up and I hop in beside them. Don has made all the arrangements for this place. None of them speak any English except Vitalina whose grasp of English is as bad as my Spanish, so it takes a few tries before they realize I am not Don and he will come later. The unit we are to stay in is not ready so they take me with them as they do some errands and then go back to their house and have some lunch. It is my immersion into coping with my limited Spanish in Las Tablas. They are all sweeties the little boy likes my beard, the girls giggle. Vitalina used to teach and now works in administration in the school system. Hector works on his dad's farm primarily harvesting tomatoes and corn. Vitalina is a dynamo always on the go. Hector is very shy and reserved. I try to speak Spanish with Vitalina and she starts out slow, but soon is speaking so fast I am left far behind.

OUR NEW CASA
Three and a half hours later, Don and Kathy phone, we jump in the car to pick them up, and are delivered to our accomodation. It is a touch down from our usual standards but it is almost impossible to get accomodation in Las Tablas during Carnival and it is right in town. The place has an 8 foot wide front with a door facing the street and a 3 foot sitting area off the sidewalk. The main room is maybe 16 feet long just long enough for a double bed, a small cabinet where linen is stored, and a fold down couch which is to be my bed all lined up along one side there is room to walk by to a small Kitchenette with sink, bar fridge and stove. Their are 2 stools and a hassock to sit on Behind the kitchen is a bathroom shared with another family.

It will be our home for the next 4 days. Kathy suggests she might make accomodation arrangements next time. We move in and prepare to explore the town and check out Carnival.

OUR NEW DIGS

OUR NEW DIGS


ENJOYING THE STREET

ENJOYING THE STREET


VITALINA

VITALINA


HECTOR

HECTOR

Posted by RDILL 14:41 Archived in Panama Tagged las tablas Comments (0)

FEB 11 and 12. More Snorkel Adventures

I Gain A New Friend

sunny

ISLA RANCHERIA
The clouds have left and it is sizzling by 10 am. We paddle back to the ranger station and Cutter, Erin and Monte leave us. Reese and Janielle go out diving and Simon, Anna, Liz and I kayak 1 1/2 hours to Isla Rancherias and snorkel some shallow dive sites, rafting our kayaks to buoys and swimming around volcanic islets. We see three rays, another reef shark, some Cortez garden eels, and lots more fish. The clouds have gone and it is sizzling today. We lunch on Rancherias and I can feel the back of my legs starting to burn even with sunscreen applied liberally. The dive sites are interesting because of their depth but we don't really see that much different from what we can see snorkelling

Back home in the late afternoon we refresh in a little fresh water stream that we can dip a half coconut shell into and wash the salt off us. It feels like paradise.

ON THE WATER

ON THE WATER


ISLA RANCHERIA

ISLA RANCHERIA


ISLA RANCHERIA

ISLA RANCHERIA


OUR BATHING STREAM

OUR BATHING STREAM

OUR LAST DAY ON COIBA
We arise the next morning and break down camp and head back to the ranger station to drop off our kayaks and get picked up by boat for the return to Santa Catalina later that day. It is interesting - the ranger staff are preparing for a small cruise ship that offloads passéngers for the day. Tables get set up for lunch. Barbecues come out and the sleepy station becomes a hive of activity. So much for isolation. Coiba is right on the cruise ship path from Panama City to Costa Rica. We quickly take off for quieter areas. Along the way we have the opportunity to be visited by Tito a crocodile that has been hanging around this area for more than 20 years, but hadn't been seen for quite a while. He is pretty docile so I get some good photos. We go for an hour hike into the rain forest and visit some of Panama's only remaining un disturbed by man rain forests.

TWO REALITIES

TWO REALITIES


WAITING FOR THE SPOILS

WAITING FOR THE SPOILS


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WE MEET TITO

WE MEET TITO


TITO GIVES A WINK

TITO GIVES A WINK


ROOT OF THE PANAMA TREE

ROOT OF THE PANAMA TREE

HAWKSBILL TURTLES
Then on to Granito de Oro and another snorkle. This time it's magic I meet a hawksbill turtle and swim towards him and he begins to swim along side me. For 10 to 15 minutes we swim together 3 feet apart, each doing the breast stroke in unison. A couple of times he surfaces, as do I, and we look at each other and then duck under again 2 feet below the surface swimming in tandem. This continues across the breadth of the Island and finally I say goodbye and we continue on our own paths. It's the highlight of the trip so far. After lunch on a sparkling sand beach we take off for Wahoo rocks in pursuit of the elusive whale shark. Liz and I circle the rocks together but no luck. There were sightings all last week but none in the last few days.

HAWKSBILL TURTLE

HAWKSBILL TURTLE

SUNSET OVER SANTA CATALINA
We arrive back in Santa Catalina and unpack and say our goodbyes. It's been a great trip and we spend the evening drinking Chilean wine, watching the sunset, and dining on fresh fish.

SUNSET AT SANTA CATALINA

SUNSET AT SANTA CATALINA

Posted by RDILL 21:09 Archived in Panama Tagged heaven snorkel Comments (0)

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