Dresses and Devils
Every year, round about late August, the small highland city of Volcan hosts a PARADE of FLOWERS. This festival was an idea started by local business people in 2015 to boost tourism and trade. Mid-summer is normally a lack-lustre time of the year. 2018, so far seems to be the most successful festival year to date.
The parade starts off with the first flower float pulled by a wonderfully restored 60 year old JOHN DEERE tractor. The driver "Nacho" Gonzales is one of the founders of the parade. This area of Panama boasts the production of 80% to 90% of all of Panama's fresh vegetables and milk. "Nacho" runs a milk farm near Volcan and together with his wife and family run the town's largest pharmacy.
I was told that the parade would start at 9:00 am on Sunday morning, sure enough at around 11:15 the parade started from the center of town. If you choose to come and retire in Volcan be sure that fresh flowers will be available year-round. And also be assured that any advertised parade or happening will not start on time-any time-year-round.
On previous festivals there were many bands that basically featured a lot of drums and the only musical instrument was a Xylophone- not so this year. Every band had a full compliment of full musical instruments and several had large Sousaphones (the big white horny things).
Inclusiveness is the word here. Even this stray street dog decided to join the local fire fighters and happily marched a block or two down main street.
The inclusiveness also extends to the many forms of ethnic dresses.
This is the first time I have seen and Indian Sari on parade.
The previous day there was a small parade showing Panama's famous Enagua and Pollera national costumes.
A firm favourite every year is the DANIEL CRESPO band from Herrera. They are Panama's number one marching band and have even played in the famous PASSADENA TOURNAMENT of ROSES in the US. This event brings bands from all across Panama and shows the truly national nature of this festival.
There did seem to be less gigantic flower floats this year. Perhaps because the cost of covering a semi-trailer in flowers can run to several thousands of dollars.
My award for the most innovative float was this entry from the neighbouring city of Bugaba- a genuine old wooden ox cart pullled by well . . .genuine old Oxen.
Where the devil these guys came from I don't know. Perhaps they were there to ward off evil rain spirits. Normally we expect to be deluged at around 11:30 on most parades but on this day - apart from a few tiny drops - the parade passed by dry. At 1:30 the skies opened up with the expected tropical thunder, lightning and fire-hoses from the sky.
This devil was pretty scary- even some of the kids in the crowd seemed a little subdued.
I am informed that it can take days and literally thousands of flowers to decorate a float. And then you have to pray that the flowers don't wilt on route to the parade.
Some of the flower arrangements are simple and striking and grace the heads of the traditional dancers.
The crowds came early to guarantee a good seat on the parade route. Local restaurants and ice cream parlours were doing a brisk business. Last year several of Volcan's eating places actually ran out of food. Hotels were booked up months in advance, a testimony to the success of the festival and validation to the original idea of the founders.
Although there is no sign of the much promised 4 lane highway from the Inter Americana, some of the roads in Volcan ARE undergoing a major renovation.
A 10 million dollar fund is helping to refurbish and asphalt many of the back roads and lanes in the town. So in future, getting to and from the parade route will be easier