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Home Panama First Impressions An expats' Christmas in Coclé

An expats' Christmas in Coclé

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 Our Christmas started off so well... until it became a comedy of errors.


Our intentions were good. This year we would get a head start on Christmas, and plan ahead.

We met a full week early with Jose, who owns 'El Mexicanna'  the tortilla factory in Santa Clara. It was Jose's suggestion last year that we expand our Santa Claus parade beyond our local area and help out some of the poorest villages in Panama. We were on top of this thing - or so we thought.

Jose was organizing our annual dinner in the tiny mountain village of Guzman, which is 38 kilometers north of the InterAmericanna, about 20 kilometers west of Penonomé. This was to be our second visit to one of the poorest villages in Panama.

Last year we had organized it all - Santa arrived with a trailer full of candy-tossing elves and Christmas music ringing out. We served a full Christmas dinner with all the trimmings, including pinatas and wrapped presents for each child.

This year Jose assured us his former university students had arranged everything - all we had to do was show up.

Our planning meeting took over an hour, each of us struggling to communicate, but we got it all figured out.

As I shook his hand, I said "Mira tu 23" (see you on the 23rd).  He looked puzzled - "No 23 - manana - (tomorrow). The panic began.

We spent the afternoon racing around, hauling out decorations, finding and attaching the roof rack that would hold Santa, do the decorating and buy the candy that the elves and Santa would toss.

Santa would be played by Dan Brown (my brother) - this year - and he spent over $200 buying candy (dentists - you can send your donations to Dan next year). My wife Yolanda would once agin do her impressive imitation of Mrs Claus (If Mrs Claus had an Irish accent that is - I am not sure why a Dutch woman would choose to try a fake Irish accent - but her acting is indeed impressive).

 Santa Dan and Yolanda as Mrs Claus

Friends, hearing about the plan, started kicking in donations - thanks to Del and Pam, Sean and Jessica, Richard as well as Ed and Inese - all the way from Picton. 

The Guzman trip was very nice, but the locals had organized their own Christmas party this year - which we were very happy about - but it left us with less to do, and feeling a mite unrequited.

Not to be deterred, Jose suggested we do another, even poorer, village - further up into the mountains. It was in fact, all the way over the Central Divide - almost to the Caribbean coast. It was an experience none of us will ever forget.

This year Henk Van Der Kolk and his wife Yanka joined us - so it was to be a "Film Festival Founders Field trip". Henk left ahead if us driving the Galloper with the sleigh on the roof, and we followed behind with our four-way flashers on.


As I said, our intentions were good, but the fates would have fun with us just the same.

A half-hour later, Santa suddenly remembered putting all the presents in the back seat of his car - however the problem was we were not driving his car. We were in mine.


We raced ahead to stop Henk, and told him to wait there while we went back to the house to get the presents. On the way back home we were stopped by the police checking licenses - I had none, as I was wearing my elf costume - but a handful of candy convinced the officer to set Santa free. As we met back up with Henk, he discovered the Galloper was now out of gas. I had no money with me (the elf costume again) but Yolanda (Mrs. Claus) came to the rescue as Santa filled up the sleigh - (and no - we have no idea what gas milage the sleigh gets)


 None of us knew what was in store when Henk offered to drive - little did he know it was to be a feat that would require all of his courage and off-road driving experience (which up until now had been zero).

Then... the rain began, turing a treacherous dirt road into a sea of mud. In order not to get the truck stuck, Henk had to drive hard, plowing head-long into the river - almost bouncing Santa right out of the sleigh - Mrs Claus ended up on her butt on the bottom of the sleigh - the kids loved it!

  Mrs Claus makes a graceful entrance as Santa almost becomes airborne.

Once safely on dry land, the little school in Tucuecito became abuzz with excited kids, clamoring for the candy toss, eagerly awaiting their present from Santa. Some were shy, others were just excited to meet Santa - (this one was white, and spoke English - he was the Real Santa).

The town mayor and his wife laid out a spread of the best in the house - sancocho (the national soup of Panama with chicken and namé) and pollo arroz (rice and chicken with fresh orange juice. Jose gave us a gift of oranges he had grown to take home - along with memories that will last a lifetime. 

We will be back to this beautiful village next year, and hopefully be able to do more for the children of Tucuecito.


Last Updated on Saturday, 25 December 2010 19:46  

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