It’s hard to put into words the ridiculousness that is Carnival. I scored a great deal though for myself and Roslyn, one of the volunteers I’m working with. My host sister from study abroad and her friends rented a house in Las Tablas...aka party central. We were able to get a ride there with three die hard carnivalers and learned all of the appropriate songs on the long drive there. Las Tablas is famous for the on going battle between Calle Arriba (‘Up Street’) and Calle Abajo (‘Down Street’). The normally tranquil town is turned into a heated contest between the two streets to see who can sing louder, play louder music, and who has the best floats and queens. The prepare for the four days of carnival all year long in secret and try to out do each other with more elaborate floats and more beautiful queens. Each street has it’s own songbook that makes fun of the other street and their queen and since we were traveling with people who live and die Calle Abajo we learned all the songs along the way. The queens are chosen at birth and prepare all their lives to be the queen when they’re eighteen.
We stayed outside of the main town in a little village called El Sesteadero and squeezed somewhere around 25 people into one tiny house. People slept in the living room, on the porch, and more often not at all. We spent the days in the ‘culecos’ which consist of crazy street parties with music and fire hoses and the nights watching the parades or out dancing. It was an exhausting 4 days but totally worth it. One of my friends from study abroad who is working in Panama as well came for a day and got to experience carnival in Las Tablas.
The last night of carnival everyone came out in their best traditional clothes, including the famous pollera dresses. These dresses are intricately woven and have a single large pom pom on the front and back. Most polleras are in the thousands of dollars and are highly prized family possessions. We jumped into the procession of polleras and drums in El Sesteadero and paraded around the village watching fireworks. Las Tablas ended carnival with the queens dressed in polleras and a firework battle between the two streets that lasted until 6 am or so when we got up to go back to the city. Definitely check out my pictures online of carnival…the floats are incredible!!