In February 2010 we visited Panama for the first time. I was BLOWN AWAY in the first couple of hours but that’s a different story that I’ll tell you about in a future article. I wanted to share what happened on our last day. We spent the night in El Valle. The plan was to drive to Panama City in the morning so we’d get to the airport in plenty of time to turn in our rental car and catch our 2:30 flight. The B & B owners in El Valle said we may have a problem getting to the airport because Balboa Avenue has been shut down for Carnaval.
Carnaval? What’s that? We found out it’s the biggest party/celebration for the whole year in Panama. It last 4-5 days and is just one big party in the whole country. We were told they even shut down schools, banks, and government offices. The biggest party is in Las Tablas but there are other parties in every town in Panama.
As we drove back to Panama City we discovered it was bumper to bumper traffic LEAVING Panama City. We assumed they were all going to Las Tablos. Traffic IN to Panama City was light. So, we thought ” no problem! those people in El Valle must be crazy thinking they would shut down the MAIN STREET that goes through the middle of Panama City and which leads straight to the airport.
But, when we got to Balboa Avenue is was indeed shut down. They were setting up big concert stages right on the street and there were food vendors set up on the street.
Traffic was hectic in Panama City. The only map we had on how to get to the airport showed that we had to get on Balboa Avenue but it was blocked off.
We saw a policeman and tried to ask him how to get to the airport. He didn’t speak English and we don’t speak Spanish ( yet). But he got another policeman to come over to try to tell us how to get to the airport. It must have been obvious to him that we would never be able to figure it out so he said “follow me” and he walked over to where the barricades where and just moved them and told us to take Balboa Avenue straight to the airport. He radioed to the police on the other side to let us through.
We were the only car on Balboa Avenue and were driving right next to the huge concert stages and vendors. Amazing!
In 2011, I want to be right in the middle of the Carnaval party and I hope to be living in Panama by then!
(UPDATE: I moved to Panama full time in early 2011!)
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