Panama Stories and Tips

Peeing on Blankets, Traffic, and Other Semana Santa Customs

The Coronado beach area is THE place to be during Semana Santa, as 2/3 of Panama City (that's a million people) proves when they drive out here to spend their four-day weekend.

We went into Coronado early on Thursday morning and were surprised that the traffic hadn't built up yet. We later heard that there was an accident on the bridge coming out of the city, and they had to close the bridge, slowing everything up. My boyfriend had the misfortune of taking someone to the airport later that day, and the usual three-hour round trip turned into almost eight hours, even though the bridge had cleared by the time he went through.

We laid low on Good Friday, and our long-time Panamanian resident friends shared with us some of the unique Panamanian customs and beliefs.

First of all, no alcohol may be sold -- or, apparently, consumed -- on Good Friday. The no-selling part is an actual law, infraction of which is rewarded with a $3000 fine; the no-consuming part is, I believe, a rule that is self-enforced by the good Catholics. Also, no music may be played. Our friend who owns a restaurant hosted a comedian on Good Friday last year, to avoid playing music, and she still received hate mail from residents who were upset at the frivolity.

Despite the huge influx of people who wanted, I presumed, to spend their weekend at the beach, the beaches were empty. We were told that this is because of the belief that if you go swimming on Good Friday, you turn into a fish.

The last and most eye-opening custom we learned about was this: if someone gives you the evil eye on Good Friday, the next day you are supposed to go to their house with a blanket to seek forgiveness. The offended person pees on your blanket, and you wrap yourself in the blanket to clear the slate.

I don't mean to share false information, so I verified these stories with a couple of people before writing about them. I still find them hard to believe, but friends of ours who have been here a long time say that they are very real.

On Easter Sunday, we drove to Chica for Easter Brunch. It was morning, but traffic was already backed up on the way back into Panama City. It took us awhile, but we arrived at La Joya de Chica and had a wonderful time. We left at about 4:00pm, and when we got back to the highway we discovered that they had taken all four lanes -- two of which are traditionally for traffic going toward the city, two of which are for traffic going away from the city -- and opened them up only for traffic toward the city. The car in front of us had been waiting at the turn for an hour for the police to change the direction of traffic back to normal. Thankfully, they opened one lane for Coronado-bound traffic just five minutes after we pulled up.

Next year, we're going to rent an apartment in the city for Easter Weekend.

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