January 21, 2015

Chitre, Panamá

Filed under: Art,food,travel — Frederick Noble @ 6:16 pm Share RSS

Headed out of Boca Chica, we stopped to photograph a few of the effigies set up along the road. In Nicaragua the year before, the locals burned them in the streets to celebrate the New Year. We had doubts we’d see much of that in the city proper. The simpler ones are below, but we spotted a few larger ones along the highway with entire groups of figures.

Happy Old Year

Happy Old Year

The sign hung around this one’s neck reads “Osama Bin Ladez.” I have no idea.

Jutting south into the Pacific is the Azuero Peninsula, sort of the Florida of Panamá. We made our way down the more populated, eastern side to Chitre. The once-small town is now a sprawling mess of fast food chains, strip malls, gas stations and traffic jams. If you can make your way into the center of town, however, Chitre has a somewhat charming square.  We checked into the Hotel Rex and admired the view from the huge balcony/patio (Note: you might want to zoom in.) Also on the balcony was a couple from the States that had been visiting the town every New Year for years. The town celebrates with bands, dozens of beer vendors, and trucks that spray water on the crowd to keep everyone cool. “Like twenty thousand people dancing and drinking and never an incident. No fights or nothin’,” said the guy.

We walked down the block to get a peek at the church, an elegant yet simple Spanish Colonial affair of dark wood and gold accents.

Chitre church

Chitre church

Chitre church

Chitre church

I love that their stained glass windows open to allow a breeze through the place!

It is difficult to get a good photo of its façade because it faces a narrow street, but later that night I managed to snap this picture without getting run over.

Chitre church

The couple we’d met at the hotel recommended a restaurant, just a couple of blocks off the square (the name escapes me and I can’t find it via google.) The place had a large patio, nestled between an outdoor dance floor and a kids’ playground, and featured a mix of surf and turf. The food was just okay.  Even the guidebook writer confessed he couldn’t find much good to say about food in the area. Across the street stood a large baseball stadium, one of the cultural artifacts left behind by the U.S.A. We had spotted basketball courts in lots of towns, an odd sport of choice for a people not exactly known for their height. Soccer is only recently catching on here, thanks to a few good showings by the national team of late.

Back at the square, we admired their creative use of plastic bottles to form Christmas décor. (In a neighboring town we spotted an entire Christmas tree made from plastic bottles.)

Chitre Christmas

Chitre Claus

Chitre choir

A choir from the church belted out Spanish versions of the same Christmas tunes you’re already sick of, some of them sounding very out of place in the 90 degree heat. Have any of them even seen a one horse open sleigh? (I suppose I  haven’t either, but I have at least seen snow.) We settled onto the hotel’s balcony with a bottle of rum, enjoying the free concert.

In the morning, we trekked around town search of a genuine Panamá hat. The streets just off the square were bustling, thanks to many markets, sometimes making the sidewalks crowded to the point of impassible.

Chitre

Panama hatEventually we found a few vendors selling traditional style hats on blankets right on the sidewalk, a traditional style rather than the made-in-Ecuador, fedora style you’ll find in the city. They started at around $65, and the vendors were not anxious to haggle.

Chitre has a small museum dedicated to some Native American finds in the area, as well as random bits of more modern history. Like many museums we visited in Panamá, the place is small and could use a fresh coat of paint, but it’s worth the few dollars’ admission.

Chitre museum

Chitre devil masks

The pottery designs on display are replicated by some of the local artisans, though we couldn’t find any of it we particularly wanted to lug home.

The town had already cordoned off the square in preparation for the festivities. We made our way through the traffic to the neighboring town, Villa de los Santos, just to see another non-touristy locale.  They’ve got yet another pretty church, done up in white, on town square lined with crumbling but pretty Spanish Colonial buildings. The village itself felt almost deserted, however, perhaps a result of the looming holiday weekend.

Villa de los Santos church

The day before, we’d stopped in Parita, just north of Chitre, and admired their church and sleepy streets as well. The real reason to stop, however, lies just across the highway from the village proper. Dario Lopez makes paper maché devil masks, used for celebrations, in his home/studio. Some of his work is pictured above in the museum. He sells stuff out of his house at absurdly low prices. Unfortunately, his stocks were low, despite his multiple children aiding in the business, so we agreed to return on our way back through town, by which point he would have one finished for us.

Dario Lopez

We tried to talk him out of a second one that looked close to completion but apparently it had already been promised to someone else. We piled back into the rental and sped north and east, arriving as a massive line of cars fled the city for the long New Year’s Eve weekend. Explosions and skyscrapers next episode!

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