Little Town’s Big Weekend

To say that Boquerón is a small town is almost an understatement.

boqueron satellite

Some 1,200 people live here. About the same as lived in Orleans, Mass., where I grew up on Cape Cod, but Orleans was much “bigger” in some respects than Boquerón. Orleans was the shopping center for what is known as the “Lower Cape.”  People bought their groceries at the First National or the A&P, did their drinking at the Land Ho, the Orleans Inn or the Packet Landing Inn. If you got sick you went to Dr. Burk (his entire phone number was the numeral 6, though all you had to do was tell the operator you wanted to talk to him and you’d be connected) and you took his prescription to Livingston’s Pharmacy. There was Snow’s and the Smith Brothers for your hardware needs and Nickerson Lumber for the things you needed to build with. There was a bank and a savings and loan, three churches, several real restaurants, the Catholic grammar school, the public grade school and the high school for kids from Brewster, Orleans, Eastham and Wellfleet. We even had a movie theater and “summer stock” theater in town.

Boquerón’s not like that. At ALL. There aren’t any grocery stores. There are two “Chinos” that are like Seven Elevens in the States where you can pick up a limited supply of food staples, a few hardware odds and ends to tide you over until your next visit to David or Bugaba. There are also several “Tiendas” which offer an even smaller selection of goods. They’re building a Banco National office which will be the first in town. You can get something to eat at a couple of “fondas” which are unregulated eateries where you can get a lunch plate meal for three dollars or less including a soft drink. If you want a beer with your meal and go to Las dos Katherines you can buy one at the Chinos next door. There’s one grammar school, and one bar that you really don’t want to go into for a drink. There’s a Catholic Church, a Kingdom Hall and two other evangelical churches in Boquerón.

Downtown Boquerón is the Palacio Municipal, a covered basketball court and the town park with benches to sit on and a bandstand. Almost exactly three years ago I wrote this post about the town.

This past weekend the little town of Boquerón held a BIG celebration. It’s called a Festival Patronales. My good friend Omar in Panama City who writes the wonderful blog,  tells me, ”

“Fiestas patronales or festival patronal are celebration held in towns, cities and hamlets celebrating the day of different saints or figures of the Roman Catholic Church.  For example, Bugaba celebrates “La Feria de la Candelaria”, and David celebrates la “Feria de San José”.  Both are celebrations of the church’s saints.
“Almost every town in Panama celebrates a day in the name of a saint, also called “el patrón” of the town.  I don’t recall what is the name of the patron of Boquerón.  I’m sure there must be one.”
I believe the one here in Boquerón is named for San Miguel. It was a three-day event starting on Friday with the coronation of the “Queen” or “La Reina” of the festival. I didn’t know what the Friday schedule was since it’s a work day, and it started raining in the early afternoon and continued on into the evening, so I didn’t go. I know from a banner about the festival down at El Cruce that there was going to be “Discoteca” music up at the town center. And there WAS. So loud that I could easily hear it at home nearly three quarters of a mile away, and it lasted until almost 1 a.m. Saturday morning.
Saturday started off gloomy and stayed that way with light rain showers throughout the morning and early afternoon. No big surprise since it IS the rainy season. In mid afternoon I caught a cab and went up to the town park. There were horses everywhere.
For my geographically-challenged readers, Panama is a long, narrow country that runs EAST AND WEST, not north and south as many people think. Chiriquí Province where I live is the western-most province, and like the wild west of the States, this is cattle country so there are real cowboys (and girls) here. Not only that, horses are STILL a form of transportation in rural Panama. What was going on was what is known as a “Cabalgata.” Officially it’s a horse parade. Actually it’s a chance for horsemen/women to get together and drink beer as they ride their horses.
IMG_0379The young man in the gray shirt behind the couple is a neighbor of mine.
Several women in a pickup truck passed out small plastic bags filled with “dulces” to people along the route. Try THAT in the States.
And if you ran out of beer, a quick stop at the Chinos would solve that problem.
A couple standing near me with their children offered me one of the bags of sweets they’d gotten from the ladies in the truck. I declined, not that I was afraid there was anything wrong with it, but their kids had ravaged their packages almost instantly and I said to give it to them. They told me that Sunday’s events would feature a big parade with bands from around the area. They said it would start at 9 a.m. I said, “is that regular time or Panamanian time? If it’s Panamanian time that means probably 10 or 11, but most likely noon.” They laughed and said it would definitely be Panamanian time.
Sunday morning broke to sunshine and blue skies. I headed out for town about 9:30. I waited at the bus stop for an hour and a half trying to get a ride up the hill. Every taxi coming up from El Cruce was jam packed. Buses from all over headed up towards town filled with kids and their drums and instruments. The one Boquerón bus headed that way was packed like a can of sardines and didn’t even try to stop. In my time at the bus stop it started clouding up and there was one, brief, shower. I could hear drumming going on in the distance.
If there was any way I was going to see this thing I’d have to walk. Now, that’s not so easy for me. I have emphysema and from the bus stop to the town park is the equivalent of walking up the stairs of a ten story building. Hell, I didn’t even do THAT when I was younger and in good shape! So, I plugged into my iPod and started the slog upwards. About a third of the way up it started to rain again so I sought shelter beneath a large mango tree and rested, dry, for the fifteen minutes the rain lasted. Two thirds of the way up, just short of the Chinos it started raining again. A bit harder this time and lasting for almost a half hour before letting up. All along the way people had parked their cars and pickup trucks along the side of the road, set up chairs and tables and dipped into their coolers for soft drinks, beer and snacks. Just like along St. Charles Avenue on  Mardi Gras Day.
I got up to the park, eventually, and it was crowded. I found a bench near the street, wiped off the rain water that had collected there and then pulled out a plastic garbage bag from my back pack (never leave home without it) and sat to watch the passing scene.
At noon the beginning of the parade approached the park, led off by the Queen of the Festival.
Then came the marchers.
IMG_0386The Bomberos (Fire Department) Band from Bugaba
IMG_0391The first of the many schools participating
IMG_0392There’s always a tribute to Panamanian culture, the Pollera
IMG_0393The fight against breast cancer knows no national boundaries
IMG_0402Panamanian kids like pounding on things. For the boys it’s drums
IMG_0399-1For the girls it’s glockenspiels
IMG_0407-1Posing so mom can snap a photo during a pause in the action
Of course no celebration would be complete without someone overdoing it and passing out in public.
What would a festival be without plenty of food?
In the Palacio Municipal parking lot a small collection of children’s rides were set up though I didn’t take any pictures of them. Most looked as though they’d been purchased fourth- or fifth-hand from carnivals in the States.
Then the parade was over I headed back down the hill as it was seriously clouding up. It started raining, hard, about a half hour after I got home and it continued well into darkness though I could hear the disco music and drumming until close to midnight.



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3 responses to “Little Town’s Big Weekend

  1. Capt Dan

    Wonderful narrative Richard! Your skillful weaving of the photos and the text really gave me a feeling of being there.
    Thanks, Dan. It really WAS fun, especially if you’re a people watcher like I am. I think over the two days I was there I fell in love no less than 14 times.

  2. Wow, you really had it going on in your little town over there. Thanks for the photos and description, almost as good as being there!
    Like I told another commenter, Kris, it was a LOT of fun, especially for a people-watcher like me. I fell in love at LEAST 14 times in the two days I was there.