Sunday, February 3, 2008

Carnaval Panama

Modify the spelling of the word ‘carnival’ into something slightly exotic sounding and all of a sudden it begins conjuring up all sorts of debauched imagery involving sparkly, revealing costumes, enormous street parties and all kinds of delicious, unsavoury phenomena. When we found out Panama’s Carnarval was coming up, we decided to stick around in the densely touristed Bocas del Toro, where, no doubt, there would be some pretty crazy celebrations going on.

The weekend rolled around, and the covetous fantasy of Carnaval went largely unfulfilled. It seemed mainly an excuse for people to gather in the park and drink, while the children were sprayed by water from a firehose all to the sound of some extremely loud, often extremely bad, continuous music spewing from a massive PA just metres from our dorm room. I ate some bad cheese from a broken refrigerator and spent the main night of the celebrations freezing in bed while simultaneously sweating a river.

There were a few feathery ensembles, and a bit of dancing, but the most interesting part of the weekend involved some monster costumes, whips, some anger and lots of pain. I still don’t entirely understand the reasoning, but near the end of the weekend, a ring of people formed on the main street, and inside that ring there were around eight men dressed in black and red costumes brandishing sticks the length of their arms with an equal amount of rope attached to one end. The monsters would stalk around the crowd, occasionally threatening onlookers with a beating, and every so often a man or teenager would burst from the crowd and run around, while the monsters viciously and unmercifully whipped at the guys legs. The only protection the intruder had was a stick, which he would place in front of his legs, hoping to catch the nasty end of the whip there. Most of the time it worked- when it didn’t, there were painful, nasty (sometimes bloody) looking results. I think it was ‘all in good fun’, but from the looks on some of these guys faces, there was some serious venting going on.

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