Guararé is a backwater town that holds a few surprises even when no festival has invaded the place. While there’s not enough to justify an overnight stay between festivals, those with a spare hour or two should consider exploring the town’s modest attractions. At the top of the list is the chance to see a master pollera (hand-embroidered dress) maker at work.
Casa-Museo Manuel F. Zárate
Two blocks past the church as you head into Guararé from the highway, the small Casa-Museo Manuel F. Zárate (tel. 994-5644, 8 a.m.–4 p.m. Mon.–Sat., 8 a.m.–noon Sun., US$0.75 adults, US$0.25 children) folkloric museum was installed in the home of the late Manuel F. Zárate. He was a chemistry professor who, along with his wife, Dora Pérez de Zárate, and a few colleagues founded the Mejorana Festival in 1949. He is nationally known for his work to revive and preserve Panama’s folkloric traditions.
The museum’s offerings are, as usual, meager. Displays consist mainly of folkloric costumes, including some old but not especially fine polleras, as well as photos of traditional homes, a few impressive devil masks, and so on. It’s worth a very quick visit.
The Art of the Pollera
It takes her six months to make a pollera, Panama’s heavily embroidered national dress, and each sells for US$1,500–2,000. She takes orders, but be prepared for a long wait. Those just curious to see an artist at work are welcome to stop by for a visit.
La Enea is about two kilometers past Guararé on the way to Playa El Puerto. Look for the church steeple in the distance on the right. That’s where the town square is.
Once in La Enea, look for the house with a green-tile front right on the town square, near the statue of the Virgin Mary. Don’t be shy about asking for directions—everyone knows Ildaura and will probably point her out without prompting; she’s the main reason out-of-towners stop by. She’s gracious and happy to show visitors her work. She’s now in a wheelchair and looking a bit frail, but she still spends her days making beautiful costumes.
Another area famous for its polleras, by the way, is San José, a tiny town near Pocrí. If you find craftswomen the world needs to know about, please let me know. Happy hunting.
© William Friar from Moon Panama, 3rd Edition