In spite of the name, it does not have anything to do with pollo – chicken. The pollera is the traditional Panamanian dress. It is a spectacle of colors, fabric, beads and ruffles. The look of the pollera depends on the geographic origin of it’s wearer – much like the Norwegian bunad.
While lounging on – and around – Playa Venao, we heard about a festival that was to take place in Las Tablas, about an hour or so away, on Saturday. Nobody seemed to know exactly what the festival was about, but mentioned that it would involve dresses. We debated back and forth whether it was worth the drive. In the end we figured we had already spent sufficient amount of time on the beach (for now) and decided it would be great with some cultural input.
After packing up Honey; taking down the pop-top, rolling in the awning, driving off the leveling wooden block and moving stuff from the front seats to the back, we got on our way. The kids in the back (Ellie and Todd) fell asleep a little past Pedasi. Still wondering if the drive would be worth it, we trucked on. As we rolled into Las Tablas an hour and twenty minutes later, we were pretty quickly, pretty certain az the drive was worth it. The town was absolutely packed with colorful and happy people! We found great parking close to the action, right next to the paddy wagon. From there it did not take long to find the festivities. An enormous parade, involving more people than there were spectators, soon began. Each town had put together a group consisting of girls and women, boys and men to dance with them, a band to play music to dance to and occasionaly a rather spectacular float, for the parade. The girls were wearing the pollera and intricate, fancy head pieces. The original head pieces used to be made of fish scales and pearls. The newer ones are more commonly made from plastic beads and fabric due to the lower price and lesser labor involved. The boys and the men were wearing pants and different types of fitted shirts. Some of them had an excess amount of colorful buttons on them. They ran all along the front and some also had them all along the back. The typical head wear for the men was a certain type of straw hat. The hats were small on top, sort of like a quarter gallon hat, as oppsed to a ten gallon cowboy hat. The brims could be bent up as the hat bearer pleased. Some wore them with only the front folded up, some folded up the front and the back, and some wore it as is.
The parade snaked its way through all of town and we walked around so that we could take it in from several different view points. We were four out of approximately ten foreigners in town for the occasion and people were very happy to let us in on the celebrations. Todd was asked to dance and swung a woman and her polleras around to much applause. In the heat of the festivities Ellie became in dire straits of a handheld fan and got one for a dollar. I had enough work keeping my (fairly short) dress from flying up and decided it would simply be too much to keep track of. That was until Travel Panama handed them out for free and I could no longer resist. We finished off our cultural travel input with a refreshing glass bottle, real sugar Coca Cola, some meat on a stick, fresh batidos (fruit smoothies) and a dance outside the van, before returning to our camp spot at Playa Venao.