Happy New Year from Bocas

People in Bocas like to party so instead of just one party night (31st December), here there are 2 or 3, starting on the 30th. Every time there’s a big/special party day in Bocas, the island is invaded with party animals from Panama City and other nearby places. To be honest this is just really annoying because it means for example there are queues in the supermarkets (which never normally happens), and yesterday (31st) and the day before, the ATM was out of money when I went to the bank because these people had taken it all. If this is how I feel when “my” island gets invaded, I don’t even want to think about how the local people must have felt when tourism kicked off here.

Anyway… there are 3 main New Years parties – one in bar La Iguana, the main touristy bar, this time with a live Panamanian band and $10 entry fee. It’s quite small so they closed off the road around it, extending it to the closed off area as well with porta-loos and speakers (and loads of unnecessary flashing lights etc) out there. As soon as I saw this giant temporary wall thing being constructed I decided that party wouldn’t be for me because personally I prefer when it’s not too loud/crowded/crazy.

The second available party is in the island’s other club/bar (the more local one), Barco Hundido. The rumours were that the cover charge would be $5 which really isn’t bad for New Years Eve… In London you pay about £20 for a NYE party. However I’d been given a flyer on the 30th saying it was an electro music night in Barco (people from Panama City are into that stuff), so I also wasn’t really down for that.

The third party is an event called Casa Animal that comes to the island for times such as Independence and New Year. It’s well known throughout Panama and I went to it last time (see this post http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&cad=rja&ved=0CDAQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fzoereeve93.wordpress.com%2Ftag%2Fcasa-animal%2F&ei=sYbEUqWCOYvOkQf9vIDYCA&usg=AFQjCNEjXPSUY1Dm37K9P0vf-VWSpzqUhA&sig2=05fKSKum16N-A2TmdYE50Q&bvm=bv.58187178,d.eW0) so I didn’t particularly want to go again because it would just be the same as last time, which wasn’t that great.

So basically the evening of the 30th came around and there was nowhere I wanted to go, but I’d slept all day so sleep wasn’t an option, and it was the beginning of NYE celebrations so really I had to go out. Not only did I not particularly want to go to any of the 3 parties, but also I didn’t actually have enough money to pay for entrance because I had in total $20 and I didn’t know for how many days the cash machine could be empty, so I could only risk taking out $5 or $10 with me so that I’d be able to buy food for the next few days etc.

To cut a long story short, I got in free on the 30th to Casa Animal and to Barco because the security men liked me, and it was a decent night, nothing special but not too bad. The main point of this post is to write about the 31st.

On the 31st my money situation hadn’t improved and neither had my desire to go to any of these parties, so I went to the place I always go to when I don’t know what to do – MUNCHIES 🙂 (my favourite takeaway where my friends work, for those of you who have never read my blog before). I went there at 11.30pm but fireworks had been going off from loads of different places since, I’m not exaggerating, 9pm, and when I was at Munchies pieces of ash kept falling on me from fireworks from the Main Street. The next few hours were like being in a warzone because the fireworks literally didn’t stop and there was smoke and ash everywhere so sometimes it was hard to see where you were walking!

Something really cool happened when I was chilling in Munchies… a couple came over to me and the woman said “you write a blog!” I was like “yeah… how do you know?” and she said she’d been reading some posts because she wanted to know more about Isla Bastimentos and she recognised me from my photos (and the fact I was in Munchies basically confirmed it was me). It was nice of her to come and say hi, and it was fun to feel famous for a few seconds!

Anyway, my Munchies friends said me and Hellen should stay there til midnight to celebrate the new year with them, so that’s what we did. The same as in England, when it turned to midnight people hugged each other and said happy new year and drank champagne. This is me and Martin (who works in Munchies):

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And this is me and Hellen with a random guy who offered us champagne:

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Soon after midnight we went back to the apartment because Hellen wanted to get some vodka from the fridge, and we were surprised to see this madness from our balcony:

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The black car you can see near the bottom right hand corner of the photo had massive speakers in the boot and was playing music which everyone was dancing to, and then these men were setting off fireworks basically just outside the communal door to the apartments:

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It was so loud and me and Hellen were really not convinced that we were going to have an apartment to come back to at the end of the night cos the explosions were so close to it.

We danced on the road and watched the fireworks for a bit:

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At about 1am we went to Casa Animal and the bouncer who fancies me gave me a free wristband but Hellen had to pay the $5 entry. It was fun for a while and it wasn’t too crowded, but when the electronic music (inevitably) came on, we went to see if we could get into Barco without paying. We succeeded and stayed there about half an hour but it was a bit too busy and the music wasn’t great so at about 3am we went to Munchies but then they broke my heart by telling me there were no veggie burgers available.

I went to the other late night food place, Golden Grill (open til 6am). Normally it’s really quick but because of all the extra tourists I had to wait in line for about 20 minutes which I was not happy about! I got 2 empanadas (a bit like pasties) but didn’t really feel like going home (I never really feel like going home in the night), so when I passed a marquee with speakers and a DJ (and about 5 old drunk men and 1 woman dancing), I decided it was my best option and chilled there for a while. The music was nice and the DJ asked me to dance with him so I did for a few minutes. Thankfully none of my friends passed by because they would definitely laugh at me for a few days if they saw me at this old people party.

At 4am after going back to Munchies and seeing that no one I knew was there (except the staff), I admitted defeat and went back to the apartment, where Hellen was still awake so we sat talking for a while when I then decided I didn’t want to go to bed and I was going to go out again. I went to (yes you guessed it…) Munchies and talked to my friends (the staff) til they closed at 6.30am, then we went in search of a party because they’d been working all night so hadn’t really celebrated NYE. We found that Barco was still open and we didn’t have to pay because there was no security on the door any more.

The sun was completely up by this time and Barco is basically outside, just with a see-through plastic roof held up by wooden poles, so people were dancing in complete sunlight which was weird because normally it’s dark at parties. By now people had been drinking for at least 7 hours and you could tell that everyone (except me) was absolutely wasted. I couldn’t stop laughing about the situation. The police definitely would have locked it off by that time if it was in England.

At 7.15am the DJ said he had to stop and everyone should go home bla bla bla, people started heading towards the exit. As we were just leaving the dancefloor, some people were running back in screaming with really panicked looks on their faces. A local girl called Sol who I was walking with at the time grabbed me and we ran to the toilets. I didn’t really know what was going on but I followed her because she obviously knew better than me.

Lots of other people were also hiding in the toilets and other people were running around shouting things. She told me the reason we were hiding is because there’s a fight with guns outside. The next thing I was told (still in the toilets) was that the fight had now come into Barco and was beside the bar, so then I did get quite scared (although it still kind of just felt like a movie). We heard a gunshot so stayed in the same place.

After about 5 more minutes everyone started heading for the exit again. The exit is really thin so only one person can leave at at time so there was a queue/huddle of people waiting to leave, when we heard another bullet from the road outside so obviously everyone stood still, not wanting to go onto the road. The owner was shouting that everyone had to get out of his venue. I couldn’t believe it! He’d rather we went out into their firing range so he could close for the night than we stayed safe in there!

One of my friends went to have a look on the road and he came back and reported that the fight was just to the left of the exit, so we should get out of the bar, turn right and then run and turn off the road at the first available turning, so we did. I saw on the left one massive black guy being held by a policewoman, and another man about 10 metres further away to the left waving his arms around and shouting with about 20 people around him. I guessed those 2 guys were the ones fighting but I don’t really know.

I was a bit scared when we were going down that road because they could shoot in our direction, and we heard another bullet when we were still on the road, but I turned off and got home safely by walking the long way. I walked down a road parallel to the fight road on my way home and I saw that there were still (like 10 minutes after I left) about 20 people crowding round shouting etc. I don’t understand why they didn’t go home!

I still haven’t left the house today but I’m sure tonight I’ll hear about 10 different versions of what happened. A friend came over earlier and his version was that it was a drunk policeman who was shooting. I’m kind of doubtful about that but we are in Bocas so anything is possible to be honest. At least I started off my new year “with a bang”.

(By the way before any of you start thinking Barco is a dangerous club or Bocas is really dangerous, stop being silly and remind yourself that these things happen all over the world, and this is the first real problem I’ve seen in the 3 months I’ve been living here.)

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