Fiestas Patrias (part 1)

In Panama November is basically a month full of “fiestas patrias” (patriotic parties is the translation but I don’t think it sounds as good in English). November 3rd (yesterday, Sunday) is their Independence Day (from Colombia) so this weekend people celebrated from Saturday night and will continue to celebrate until today, tomorrow (Tuesday) or Wednesday, depending on how hardcore they are. The school I volunteer at has no lessons until Wednesday. In this blog I’m counting part 1 as Saturday and Sunday and part 2 as the rest.

On Saturday LOADS of people arrived from Panama City and the streets became 2 or 3 times as busy as usual, and the restaurants and tour offices were all packed. I think Bocas is a bit like Panama’s version of Malia/Magaluf/Ibiza (if you’re from England) or Cancun (if you’re American) – basically a place where young people fly to when they want to party. It was weird to see Panamanian people being just as touristy as the usual tourists, going on tours to the different islands, eating in the more expensive restaurants, taking photos and walking around in their bikinis. I’m not even from here but I felt like it was a bit of an invasion of my home!

Last week there were lots of flyers up advertising different Independence Day parties around the islands. I didn’t realise until Saturday, but one of them, an event called Casa Animal is actually famous throughout Panama and happens here every November, and a lot of the Panamanians who came here this weekend mainly came to go to Casa Animal. I decided I should probably go to see what all the fuss was about.

My camera was out of battery that night so I don’t have any pictures, but Casa Animal was SO different from a normal Bocas night, I felt like I was back in London or something. Most of the bars here aren’t really in buildings, they’re mainly outside by the sea with some parts covered by a roof. Casa Animal was held in a building called Tony’s Markets which isn’t normally used for parties. It’s an actual building with the only outside parts being a balcony at each end for smoking and sitting down etc.

We paid $10 to get in and were given a wristband (very official for Bocas, and normally you pay nothing to party here). There were serious looking security guys all over. I think they might have actually been policemen, and they were searching people as they came in (again making me feel like I was in London). The room was BIG with a bar at each end, a lit-up dance floor and a tall stage with 3 separate DJ tables set up. I thought drinks would be expensive but they were normal, $3 for lots of rum and ice.

The MC was topless, covered in tattoos, very energetic and had dreadlocks down to his bum. He had a fire-sprayer thing (basically an aerosol that made a flame the height of a person shoot up from the can and almost set the ceiling on fire). He was shouting, jumping around, dancing and spraying fire all night, and to be fair he created an exciting atmosphere.

It was only about 10% tourists (as in white tourists) and from the Panamanians, it was surprisingly easy to spot who was from Bocas and who was from Panama City. People from Panama City wore less clothes and you could tell they were more expensive, and they had more jewellery and glittery things in their hair etc. I really wasn’t expecting there to be a difference like that.

I loved the music for the first hour or two (reggae and reggaeton) but then it changed to some weird electro stuff that just hurt my ears so I sat on the balcony and asked the Panamanian man next to me why they were playing such horrible music. He explained that the Panamanians who were there were the ones with “plata” (slang for money), and in Panama the richer crowd go to rock and electro parties. Again this really surprised me because electro music is just not something I associate with Latin America at all, or with rich people.

I got home at 4.30am and was woken up on Sunday morning by the sound of drums on my road because the Independence Day parades had started. The marching groups were from various schools around the islands and their drumming skills were AMAZING. Some of the kids must have only been about 10 but they all drummed in perfect timing and even spun their drumsticks round in synchronization. The local people were sitting on shop stairs etc to watch and clap, but loads of tourists were just walking past to go to the beach etc, which I really didn’t understand. Surely if you’re in another country you should take an interest in their culture. Anyway here are some pictures from the parades:

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