Catching the Tail End of Carnaval

It was just before dusk. Upon witnessing a seemingly mile-long line of people, and seeing an infinite ocean of folks beyond this surprisingly organized queue, I opted to walk back to my hotel, the only place I knew of that surely had food to satiate my famished soul.

Most things in Panama City were closed because it was the fourth day of the national holiday Carnaval.

I’d just arrived after an 18-hour bus ride from San José, Costa Rica. It would have been 15 had it not been for three hours of wasteful border bureaucracy.

After filling up on a salad and grilled cheese sandwich,  I opted to walk to the water once again. By this time two or three hours had passed, and the line was much shorter.

I quickly came to the area where police were checking IDs:

Excuse me but I don’t have identification.”

I’d gotten in the habit of leaving my passport in my place of lodging, and it’s to the point where I don’t even carry a copy anymore. I thought:  Great, here’s an excuse for a cop to extort a few bucks from me.

Where are you from?”

Estados Unidos.”

The cop was polite.

Do you have your pasport?”

No, it’s in my hotel.”

Do you have a copy?”


That’s OK, move over there so that he can search you.”

I went to the next officer who quickly patted me down. He then motioned me in. I’d made it for the last evening of festivities.

I’d caught the last few colorful floats moving along the road while walking towards the water from my hotel.  Perhaps they were going into storage until the next Carnaval in 2012.

I had no idea how big the Carnaval area was.

I bought a skewer of what was supposedly a mixture of meat and chicken but tasted more like a sausage or bologna concoction. I asked the vendor how long the festivities would last. She shook her hand up and down and said:

Oooooo, five or six am.”

I walked amongst huge crowds. I paused to buy cans of cold, $1 Panamanian beer from coolers that sat alongside continuous food stalls where the options were mostly grilled meat.

Hard booze was also for sale. Hot dogs and hamburgers could be found with ease. I also spotted ready-made plates of Yucca and plantains.  Fried chicken and french fries were sold along the food-stand stroll. There were also vendors who sold shaved ice with fruit syrup.

There were huge stages with live bands on either end of what seemed to be the length of two football fields or more. Estimating area and numbers of people is not an easy task, but there were surely thousands upon thousands of human beings in a gigantic closed-off area by the waterfront.

There were side areas where huge speakers blared Reggaeton and Salsa. I walked amongst a sea of mostly young people, but all ages up to around 50 existed. Some had small children with them.

Boys were often spraying random girls with shaving cream. I noticed that a few girls were indiscriminately doing the same to boys .

A fireworks displays flared in the distance.

The most impressive thing about this long walk amongst so many earthlings was the vibe. Mostly everyone seemed to be smiling and having fun.

I was happy to have made it just in time to have caught a couple of hours of the final night of Carnaval in Panama City, which boasts the second biggest Carnaval after Rio de Janeiro.

Pleasantly exhausted, I took a 20 minute walk back to my hotel at around midnight.


4 responses to this post.

  1. Well, I was called papito lindo. I’ve never heard a hilarious comment such as that before.


  2. Have you found a date down there?


  3. Great photos – did you take others? Did you talk to any of the people? Cool that you got to catch Carnaval.


    • This was the first post where I don’t have any photos as I didn’t bring my camera. I was beat as I’d just gotten done w/ 17 or 18 hours of travel, including overnight. I had the cab driver bring me to a hotel near the celebrations so that I could check it out. I’d forgotten to bring my camera (rare). I only talked to a couple of vendors. In my sheer exhaustion, the whole thing was a bit overwhelming.


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