Watching preparations and mounting anticipation as Pedasi, Panama prepares for Carnaval
The last four days of our month-long stay in Pedasi on the southern tip of the Azuero Peninsula in Panama coincided with Carnaval. Carnival celebrations occur in many parts of the world in the days prior to the Christian solemn season of Lent. The nature of the festivities vary by location but typically involve public celebrations, costumes, parades, street parties, and a fair amount of alcohol consumption. Carnaval is a cultural tradition in Pedasi. My husband and I weren’t sure what to expect, but we watched preparations with interest. Visible preparations began almost two weeks before the event and intensified as the days grew near until the entire town seemed filled with an aura of anticipation.
In our first walks through Pedasi we’d noticed faded float decorations tucked behind buildings and in the back of open lots. These were now pulled out and moved, being spruced up for upcoming parades. As we walked past houses in the early evening, open doors revealed living rooms full of decorations.
We returned home from a day’s outing to find posters promoting Carnival queen Norma on the electricity poles along our street and on our neighbour’s front porch. One of the distinguishing features of Carnaval in Panama is the tradition of two competing queens, one representing Calle Arriba (uptown) and one representing Calle Abajo (downtown). Apparently we were in the Arriba area and Norma was our queen.
Many houses in town posted signs advertising rooms for rent. A week before Carnaval, an empty lot separating us from the neighbours on one side was mowed and cleaned. We suspected it might be used for camping or overflow guests. In the couple of days prior to Carnaval, guests began to arrive at our neighbours’ homes. Music blasted from the yard of the neighbour at the back as they and guests sat on their patio and strung coloured feathers together for float decorations.
We were told that over 4,000 people descend on Pedasi for Carnaval, effectively tripling the town population. I’d read the strain this put on power and water systems could result in outages. We were advised to stock up on food and supplies early in the week because supplies in the store could run low. We were told festivities lasted until about four in the morning, the time my husband is usually getting up to start his day. Pedasi is almost crime-free, but we were warned to exercise caution during Carnaval, There had been break-ins the previous year. I could feel the excitement in the town and looked forward to seeing how the festivities would unfold. Another part of me wondered if the crowds, the noise, the mess, and the security concerns would be too much to deal with. Either way we would find out. You can find out too by reading Carnaval in Pedasi.
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jacquiegumMarch 3, 2016 at 6:38 pm
How interesting! Looks like the locals are serious about the Pedasi Carnaval!
Donna JankeMarch 4, 2016 at 5:05 pm
Jacquie, Carnaval here is a big deal!
Anita and Richard @ No Particular Place To GoMarch 6, 2016 at 2:18 am
Panama’s women are beautiful, aren’t they? When we were in the Azuero Penisula a couple of years ago (the Las Tablas area which hosts the largest celebration in Panama ) the posters for the Carnaval Queens were still up several months after the event. We were told that families save all year so that they can participate in the event. I think we’d skip the later festivities but seeing the family friendly portion of the celebration and floats would be lots of fun! Anita
Donna JankeMarch 6, 2016 at 9:17 am
Anita, there were posters from the last year still up when we arrived in Pedasi and we wondered what they were at first. We were in Las Tablas about a week and a half before Carnaval and preparations were well underway. Scaffolding up all around the town square. I think the Carnaval at Las Tablas would be too busy and crazy for me. The owner of the house we rented said the renters he’d had last year went for a day and had to throw their shoes away after.
Jeannette PaladinoMarch 6, 2016 at 12:28 pm
Thanks for the lovely story. A nephew lived in Panama for a year and love dit.