Carnival is the Central and South American answer to Mardi-Gras. While ostensibly a celebration for Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday which signals the beginning of Lent. This all pertains to the Catholic Church. However, whether you are Catholic or not, you celebrate Carnival. In fact they have gone so far as to make it a verb. You can go ¨carnivaling¨ or ¨be all carnivaled out¨. In the Azuero (the peninsula of Panama) carnivaling is taken very seriously. The big thing is Culecos (water parties) during the day and Bailes (night clubs) all night. They also have a Regina (Queen) competition. The picture at right is a culeco at Pananome.
We decided to opt out. Our January was just jam packed with stuff, so by the time Carnival rolled around we thought we would just chill out in our tiny community of 26 people. We couldn´t have been more wrong. There are five families in El Valle. Every single one invited all their friends and relatives to come to El Valle to party in a more family friendly environment. How does one party in the Campo? By having a Matanza - killing party. In this case one family killed a cow and another a pig. So Jeff and I helped with the butchering.
Being a women, I went down to the river with the women and washed and prepared the mondungo. We washed out all four cow stomachs and then let them stew in their own juices in a bucket, while we washed out the intestines - both inside and out.
Then we scraped the inside layer off the stomachs. It looks a lot like fur. There were many jokes about making a fur coat. It was actually a fairly fascinating process. Jeff helped cut the meat into long strips to slow cook over a big fire. There was no distinction between the meat. No roasts, steaks, rib eye, rump it was all just rez (cow meat).
Jeff and I and the ladies of the family also made bollos (pronounced Boy-ohs). Bollos are a plain corn tamale. We ground corn into a paste then mixed it with salt. There were several different types made, coconut and corn,molasses and corn, and butter and corn. All were very tasty. After making the corn mixture, the dough is rolled into fat hot dog shapes.
The fat hot dogs are wrapped in sugar cane leaves and then boiled in a huge pot over a fire. Once cooled they are ready to eat. We must have made at least a hundred bollos and they were gone by the next day´s dinner.
Besides being stuffed silly, I also brought out all the markers, crayons and pencils that were gifted by Business Brigades and we had a big coloring table for the kids. There was also a Catholic mass at the school for Carnival to remember how it all got started. And to scold people for drinking. This didn´t stop the men from drinking large quantities of saco (sugar cane alcohol, like bad rum) every night.
I was actually, really happy when it all came to an end. We were due for some rest.