Azuero Province

We drove southwest out of Panama City, crossing the Bridge of the Americas.  We spent a couple a days in the Azuero Peninsula learning the culture of this area.  We stopped in La Chorrera where we visited a “drive-by” vegetable market.  Cars do drive slowly down this street and buy vegetables and fruits.  We bought 3 pineapples for $2.00!  (I forget the name of the red fruit pictured; I just remember that it can be made in to a drink.  Anyone help me?)

We proceeded to the home of Edita where we participated in making and eating twice-fried green plantains and once-fried ripe plantains plus some fresh pineapple and pineapple drink.  The green plantains were cut, fried till nearly soft, smashed, and then fried again.

We then briefly rode a “chicken” bus – one of the normal rural buses – just for the experience.  Also called “Red Devil” buses; they are individually owned.

We stopped in La Pintard where we saw the Panamanian Painted Hat.  These are the REAL Panamanian hats!  They have been made for 200 years and are all hand-made – there are no factories to make them.  They use 4 types of plants (though we have photos of only 3) and weave the fibers.  There are about 60 different styles of braids, each having a different meaning.  The hat maker was also an artist.

Sally Jo went on an early morning hike to a fascinating National Park that might be considered a desert.  On the route she felt like she was driving on the rural roads of Kenya to visit student teachers.  The narrow dirt bumpy road with lots of acacia and eucalyptus trees and cattle.  The area was very dry and one could see the results of dry wind and lack of water.  They have started a shrimp farm which helps stop the strong winds and some areas are slowly being restored.  Saw interesting formations which had hard volcanic rock in the center but the dry dirt around it is “dissolving the rock.”

We went to Iguana Island which has a beautiful sandy beach.  It was a windy day and the boat rides both to and from the island were quite rough.  The photos don’t really show the high waves.  We got wet!  (Of course in the cove of the island it was calm.)  The island was a beautiful relaxing spot.  We took a walk across the island through the jungle to a smaller rocky/sandy beach on the other side.  We also saw the indications of where the US practiced bombing in case they needed to protect the canal.

Another day we stopped at a a lovely peaceful chapel in Chitre before going on to Las Tablas.  Las Tablas is recognized as the center of Panamanian folk art, music, literature, culture.  Las Tablas has the 2nd or 3rd largest Carnival of Latin America celebration.  200,000 to 300,000 people descend on the town with a population of 9,000.   “… the city splits into two competing factions, “Calle Arriba” (Uptown, literally “Street Above”) and “Calle Abajo” (Downtown / Street Below), both centred on two streets of the same name. Each faction will have a carnival queen, a parade, fireworks, music, a decorated plaza, food stands, presentations, concerts, surveys, games, contests, etc., all attempting to overpower the other faction’s efforts.” (Wikipedia)  A queen is chosen for each side.  There are contests between the floats which she rides and the clothes that she wears.  A parade happens twice a day for three days.  The queen wears a new outfit each time and rides a different float each time.  Extravagance!!!

We stopped at a workshop where grandiose Carnival floats are created.  Each side keeps secret their theme until the float appears.  The person designing the floats devises a way so that people working on various parts of the float do not have an idea of what the final result will be.   The creations are made out of Styrofoam.

We stopped at the home of a person who designs and makes headpieces for the Carnival and other celebrations.  We stopped at another home where they design many of the polleras or dresses for celebrations.  The lavish embroidered pollera has been adapted as the national costume of Panama.  Traditionally, polleras are white with a full, two-tier skirt, and are hand-embroidered with details that increase the value of the garment from hundreds to thousands of dollars.

We saw leather sandals being made.

Children demonstrated some of the folk dances.

We visited a man who makes masks for the “Red Devil” dances which are held especially during the Fiesta del Corpus Christi in June but also throughout the year.  The dances impersonate the fight between the devil and God.  He starts with molding the clay.  (Two of the tour members worked along with him.)  He sun-dries the clay mask, covers it with vaseline and then covers it with paper mache.  By using vaseline, when everything is dry, he can carefully cut the paper mache and use the clay mold again.  Takes about 4 days.  A young man then demonstrated the dance showing us the costume plus the mask. The costume must be red and black having a tail with a bell.  The dancer carries a stick, has castanets in each hand and wears leather sandals.  Dancers perform 4-6 hours at a time.

Our last visit in the Azuero province was to a fishing village.  On the way we passed the largest salt farms in western Panama.  Ernesto, our fisherman, said that he remembers when there were a lot of fish, and also dolphins and sea turtles near the beach.  No longer.  There are government regulations but they are not enforced.  Ernesto makes his own nets by hand—takes 2-3 weeks and can be 150 metres of netting.  We also observed  large wind turbines.

Our hotel that night was near the International Jazz Festival.  A small group provided a free hour of music at the hotel.  Our room at the hotel looked out over the first set of locks of the Canal.




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