I closed my eyes for just a moment as the gentle, soothing rhythm of the train lulled me into the arms of Morpheus. I could feel the inside of his warm wrist against mine through the crisp cotton of his blue oxford shirt. Within seconds, it seemed, I was unwillingly dragged back into wakefulness by a fierce, hot shot of adrenalin pumping all through my body. The first thought to enter my brain was “I know I must have been asleep because I have that slight metallic taste on my tongue.”
It was during the next burst of reality, when I had really no idea where I was, an esoteric farrago so tumultuous, so loud crashed and banged its way into my foggy brain.
The powerful noise was in fact The EL Tamborito band, The Little Drum or Tamborito that is the music and dance of Panamanian Folklore. I forced my eyes open and stretched my neck to check out its restricted movement. First this way and that before realising that the percussion section, and particularly the man with the cymbals, was warming up just behind my head. Then, out of the mist I finally remembered where we were.
We were on a train journey between Puerto Colon, near the Caribbean entrance to the Panama Canal, and Panama City on the Pacific Coast. The Panama Canal Railway is one of the great unknown train rides of the world. The railroad follows a picturesque path across the Isthmus of Panama. The carriage was so evocative of the nineteen century but comfortable with a cool breeze playing across the warm air.
. Our journey on the scenic railway line flanked the Panama Canal. The train swished through lush rainforests, cruised alongside the Canal’s locks, through the historic Gaillard Cut and passed over the slender cause ways in the Gatun Lake.
The band and dancers were dressed in the national costume of Panama. The women’s dresses are called Polleras and are handmade and the adult girls dress should last them for life. There are designed in beautiful colours of pink and blue with animals and flowers on a white background. The dresses normally take a year to make and can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
The gold and pearl Mosquetas and Temblques head dresses are generally passed down as heirlooms through the generations. Men wear the traditional Montuno outfits with traditional hats that recall life in the country side.
The dancers played and sang their way up and down the corridor of the luxury train. They handed out sweetmeats and local drinks and told stories of their ancestors and their quest for wealth during the California Gold Rush. The trip took about two hours which gave us lots of time to explore Panama City.
Taken from my new book The Lotus Generation due out December 2014