Anyone who has been to Panama knows that Panamanians are partiers. They seize any opportunity to get together with friends and family, eat, drink and there’s always music. Santiago Patronales is one of the wildest parties in Panama, and it can almost be too much for a foreigner to bear.
I am certainly no wet blanket when it comes to enjoying a good party (I’m usually the one trying to convince my friends to stay out just a bit longer), but I think sometimes Panamanians take it a bit too far. This weekend’s Patronales festival is a great example. Tens of thousands of Panamanians head to the capital of Veraguas for the weekend long party and most start planning for it months in advance.
Upon my arrival late Friday night a group of us headed to the PH (outdoor nightclub). We paid our $12 cover charge and walked in to what felt like a crowd of 40-thousand raging bulls trapped in a small cage. There is absolutely no where to move around. As people walk by you get shoved out of the way with your (or their) drink spilling all over you. You will rarely hear someone say “excuse me”. You just get shoved and jarred out of the way. Even worse is when someone grabs your waist and pulls you out of their way. The girls are the worst culprits of this. Panama is not a huge country, but there certainly is enough space for everyone, I don’t really understand why it’s necessary to constantly be rubbing up against the sweaty bodies of strangers.
The PH supplies port-a-potties for patrons to use, but I guess making your way to the bathroom is a bit of an inconvenience for some. More common is to see guys relieving themselves on the wall two feet away from you. The crowd of party goers are now dancing and drinking in a giant toilet. The smell confirms the fear. However, it doesn’t seem to bother anyone but me.
If attending a Panamanian festival, don’t expect to get home before five the next morning. It’s almost a crime in Panama to go home at a decent hour during a much anticipated festival (or any weekend for that matter). Of course drinking for hours on end takes its toll on a person and that was evident when a young girl, completely unconscious, was carried out of the PH on the shoulders of two of her friends. Hope mom and dad don’t catch wind of that!
If you can survive the first night of the festival, it starts up again the next day. Some get started earlier than others, but most people will have a beer in their hand before noon, even though they arrived home not six hours earlier. On Saturday afternoon ominous black clouds were rolling in but that didn’t stop hoards of people from gathering in the streets to drink. The torrential downpour began, followed by jagged bolts of lightening, but many revelers didn’t even bother to seek shelter.
The streets were lined with trucks loaded with gigantic speakers. Various types of music blared from each speaker, even though they were set just 3 feet apart. At that point I started feeling like I was in the twilight zone. Just walking past these speakers at a 20 foot distance made my chest pound and every joint in my body vibrate, but dozens of people figured the best way to enjoy the music was to be dancing 6 inches in front of them.
While gathered with a group of friends on the street Saturday afternoon (once the rain stopped), I ran in to a friend who had consumed a little bit too much liquid fun. She admitted to me that she drank all the previous night and began drinking again early that morning. That usually conservative friend then informed me that she doesn’t really like drinking and partying that much, but she’s Panamanian and it’s Patronales so she HAS to. The festival lasts for 4 days and the same scene is played out day and night.
I love Panama and I love the people here, but festivals such as carnivales and patronales leave a bad taste in my mouth. I feel like I am watching a bunch of animals run wild. Fights break out on ever corner, people behave rudely and it seems like common sense goes out the window. This behaviour would make a little bit more sense if there was only one big event per year. But there are many of these parties and most of these people attend all of them! It’s not just young students who take part in these all night festivals. Age and education are not factors. I was there with radio personalities, doctors, dentists and even a neurosurgeon. I also got to meet Celestino “Pelenchin” Caballero, the world champion boxer, and Match and Daddy, of “Pasame La Botella” fame. These festivals bring out ALL types of Panamanians.
Two of the people I was with this weekend were victims of petty crime as well. One girl had her Blackberry stolen from her pocket (duh, don’t bring anything of value with you) and another friend was held up at knife point while walking back (so drunk he was barely able to walk, and his pants were undone and nearly falling off) to the house where we were staying (this was the neurosurgeon, go figure). Luckily he wasn’t hurt but he did lose $60. I also got to watch a girl beat the crap out of her boyfriend, which was kind of entertaining!
Maybe from birth Panamanians are taught that during festivals they must behave like parolees tasting freedom for the first time in decades. I somehow doubt that, but the behaviour eludes otherwise. When I first came to Panama I really enjoyed experiencing this part of Panamanian culture. Now I have gotten to the point where I dread such weekends. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, or maybe it’s because the novelty has really worn off, but it never seems to wear off for Panamanians. Maybe it’s in their DNA. As much as I hate such celebrations once I’m there, you can bet I will forget it all by the time the next one rolls around, and I’ll be paying my $12 cover for the PH and then wanting to leave 10 minutes after I’ve realized what I’ve gotten myself in to once again.
|Written by Rebecca Tyre|
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