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
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
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.