Just Back…from a Panamanian Summer
March 16th 2015
It’s been a frigid winter here in NYC. Summer has seemed so far away that I decided I’d figure out a way to make it come sooner. For me that meant a trip to one of my most favorite places: Panama.
In Panama, summer means trips to the river and long dirt-path walks home at twilight in wet shorts and t-shirts because, here, even a one-piece bathing suit shows too much skin.
Summer means steaming pots full of white rice dressed up for the season with the pale green guandu pea, picked off the bush and shucked by hand. It means seemingly endless hours spent on front porches and stoops with neighbors watching everything and nothing at the same time. Summer means futbito en la cancha (soccer on the basketball court), though only the little kids seem to want to play these days and the over-18s would rather shoot pool at the bar than kick around the ball.
Summer in Panama means a sun so bright and so strong that it picks and prickles at the skin, and never fails to pass a hot-cold chill tingling up your spine. It means bike rides and Bingo and baraja (gin rummy). It means days of shaded, brisk mornings that end in late afternoon breezes, sometimes windstorms so strong they blow towels off the clothes line and curtains off their rods and cause doors to slam shut, only to be opened again to reveal a sky set ablaze in the most pure golds and most brilliant oranges with wisps of cotton candy pink and if you’re so lucky, a rod-like flash of deep red every now and again.
In summer, when the dark drops and that breeze picks up, Panamanians are ready, once again, for fiesta, of which there are plenty leading up to Los Carnavales where they spray visitors and locals alike with water from huge fire hoses, and where young girls dressed in sequins and feathers become queens lauded by fans as they parade through town on their tractor-pulled floats.
Here, summer means flowers that pop with such forceful yellows and purples and fuchsias that they could actually be fake. It means taking a trip via puddle-jumper plane and then by boat to the most remote of deserted San Blas Islands in the indigenous Kuna Yala region of the country. Here, you stay in thatch-roofed huts and eat only the fish caught that day, and you play volleyball as the sunsets with the most unlikely of teammates – the colorfully clad and always proud Kuna women.
Here, summertime is like nowhere else I’ve been. A magical time in a place that time threatened to forget or leave behind as has been the case with so many small pueblos in Panama.
And even though I’m back now in NYC and the 30 degree temperatures today tell me it isn’t quite summer yet, I’ve been revived by Panama’s sunshine, its palm trees and its people.
By Silvie Snow-Thomas