New Year’s Eve! Bocas Style

posted by Tamara Sikes
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It is a party that spans the globe.  All around the world people celebrate the ending of one year and the beginning of another. In New York, New York over a million people gather in Times Square to watch the crystal ball drop. In Rio de Janeiro, Brazil millions of residents and tourists line the beaches to throw flowers into the waves as a tribute to the African sea goddess Yemanja. In Madrid, Spain the tradition is to swallow 12 grapes, one for each stroke of the clock and tens of thousands gather together at the clock in Puerta del Sol Plaza for the festivities and if they can complete the mission they will have good luck for the upcoming year. But if crowds are not your thing, Bocas del Toro has just the party you are looking for.

Bocas Del Toro, Panama celebrates the arrival of a new year like many cities or towns around the world.  Of course Bocas is unique not only because it is a small chain of islands with a population of only a few thousand, but because of the many cultures who call it home.  

I have spent six New Year’s Eves in Bocas each one different. I have celebrated in Old Bank, the main town on Isla Bastimentos, where there are no cars or roads, the people there walk up and down the main sidewalk stopping into neighbor’s houses for a rum drink or two, eventually making their way to the Rancho for dancing to true Caribbean music. I have been to a secluded Eco-Resort where they build a big bonfire on the beach and use solar power to have a world class DJ play music to dance to under the stars and in the sand. I have also chosen a rooftop bar to spend the magical night watching revelers walk through the streets finding New Year’s Eve celebrations that are a mixture of traditions. I have been to street parties with Tipico music playing, and big stages where Reggae is the vibe, and even one private VIP party as well. But no matter where I am, at midnight my eyes are on the sky over the main island, Isla Colon for the annual fireworks display and friendly “war” of fireworks that the Chinese community puts on. 

It is of course appropriate that our neighbors from China are the ones to display the vivid, brilliant rockets that light up the night, after all Fireworks were invented and first used in China.  It is rumored that a cook who was preparing a meal accidentally spilled a seasoning, called saltpeter, into the cooking fire which resulted in a different kind of flame.  They went on to experiment and found when putting the salt in a fire which was fueled by sulfur and coal, the flames were intensely beautiful.  They then harnessed these ingredients and put them in a bamboo tube, and when lit it exploded into colorful glowing pieces of fire.  These new found celebration tools were first used in China to bring in the New Year.  They believe that by lighting the sky with these glimmering rockets that the evil spirits would be kept away. So each and every year the Chinese community blesses Bocas Del Toro with hours of fighting off the evil spirits through the glittering, radiant loud booming fireworks.

At exactly 12 midnight on each corner of Main Street and around the block the different Chinese families take part in a friendly war to outdo each other’s display.  Tourists and residents alike stop what they are doing, wander out to the sidewalk and look up to the skies to see waterfalls, flowers and flags all produced with sparkling explosives. You can hear the whistle as the rockets take off, the loud boom as they explode high in the sky and then witness the twinkling, iridescent, flashing colors as they fall to the ground in their perfectly planned patterns.  It is an incredible sight that sometimes lasts longer than an hour.  The crowds applaud at each big encore and return to their parties through the smoke filled air. Bocas may not be a big city with millions of people crowding together for an expensive pyrotechnic show like Sydney Australia, but we can still put on quite a show!!  Pick a year and join us for one of these incredible events, there is no celebration like a Bocas Del Toro Celebration!!! From all of us at bocasdeltoro.com Feliz Ano Nuevo!

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