An Amazing Adventure Is Waiting For You! Leave All Your Worries Behind... Let Us Take Care Of Everything For You! Experience You Can Trust SINCE 2010! We're Your Panama Relocation Experts! Our 6-day, 7-night ALL-INCLUSIVE Panama Relocation Tour™ will introduce you to the affordable and … Get the Details
by Richard Detrich, author of Escape to Paradise
After a night in Santiago and a hearty breakfast we headed West to the province of Chiriqui, home to David, Boquee and Volcan. The stretch from Santiago to the Chiriqui border checkpoint is the roughest section of the Pan American Highway in Panama. Two lane, full of potholes, a road that is always cracking and shifting due to the geology of the area, so we bounced along. All the bouncing necessitated a bathroom stop, and although the drive is spectacular there are few places, aside from lots of trees, where you can stop along the way. We found a tiny restaurant with basic accommodations for 25 cents a person (included in the tour!!) and the lady even provided toilet paper. The group is getting very good at adapting and realizing that, hey, “This is Panama!”. The key to successful expat living in Panama is to accept early on that it is NOT the USofA and that things are different, so you adapt.
Having a small group enables us to answer lots of questions while at the same time seeing and experiencing Panama. There is a lot of hype that you don’t have to know how to speak Spanish to live in Panama. And although true, the group has quickly picked up that once you get outside gated, guarded communities like Valle Escondido, not everyone understands English. In fact . . . Panama is a Spanish-speaking country. It is not “Press one for English; press two for Spanish.” You can struggle along in English, but the more you know or at least try to speak in Spanish the better things go. Because it is a Spanish-speaking country all official documents need to be translated by an official translator into Spanish.
Pipa Fria is a Latin American tradition. This is REAL coconut juice, not the knock-off, highly diluted stuff sold in the US for $3.50 for a little bottle. We stopped along the way to sample freshly cut coconuts and sip the juice. Panamanians say that if you have one coconut a month you will never have intestinal parasites.
After a typical Panamanian lunch in David the group headed off for a boots-on-the-ground tour of the shopping available in David. We visit David every other week to shop at PriceSmart, sometimes called by expats “Costco Light”. It’s a scaled down version of US “big box” shopping. The group visited Chiriqui Mall next door where there is a multi-screen movie theater and where you get your driver’s license, saw David’s hospitals, all the construction of additional retail stores going on, and then visited Plaza Terronal, the giant, relatively new mall with several department stores, Do It Center, a number of stores selling appliances, and a giant Rey supermarket.
After the shopping adventure and feeling confident that pretty much anything anyone could want is available in David, about 30 minutes from Boquete, the group headed up the mountain to Boquete and settled in at the Oasis Hotel, nestled in “downtown” Boquete. After freshening up, everyone was off to dinner at the Art Cafe on Avenida Central in Boquete. We had the restaurant to ourselves for a private party and began by hearing the experiences, observations and recommendations from two expat couples.
By Richard Detrich, Author of Escape to Paradise
After breakfast at Sheraton Bijao overlooking the pools and ocean, the group boarded our bus to get on the Pan American Highway and head west. Remember, the Isthmus of Panama runs east – west connecting Colombia with Costa Rica. As we passed the new Rio Hato airport and under the main runway we talked about some of the beach developments on the Pacific side, like Bijao that attract expats to both high rise beach-side living and condos, and some exclusive projects like Ventura that have large, individual beach side properties.
We headed out the Azuero Peninsula toward Chitre, another Panama town that is booming. Along the way we stopped at the little, historic Spanish colonial town of Parita and were able to get in the beautiful old Spanish colonial church there with a ceiling of hand hewn pegged timber and amazing altar pieces and sculptures from the Spanish period.
With no bathroom facilities in Chitre we made do with what was available. A kind gentleman who was cleaning the local cantina let us use the restrooms. Like I’ve said before, this is a boots-on-the-ground tour with a chance to see the real Panama!
Now on an “authentic” roll, we had lunch at a “fonda” restaurant where everything is fresh and cooked outside over wood fire. In the outdoor kitchen chickens are being plucked, corn is being husked and soup simmers in giant pots over open wood fires. The result is amazing taste and a great culinary experience!
The area around Chitre and Las Tablas, the center of Carnival celebrations in Panama, has been increasingly attractive to expats because of the availability of stores and services. We drove by the giant new hospital under construction, and then on to one of the many beaches near Las Tablas. Although it was a weekend, we had the beach virtually to ourselves.
This is a great group and our “Girl Power” group manages to keep things lively! From the Azuero we drove back to the Pan American Highway and on to Santiago, another rapidly expanding area of Panama. We stayed at a funky, Mexican-themed Panamanian hotel and casino where we enjoyed relaxing in the pool and having dinner together.
If you are thinking of maybe moving to Panama, there are “tours” which consist mainly of “conferences” where you sit in the ballroom of a giant hotel in Panama City and here various presenters, some who pay to participate, presenting various “opportunities” for you to invest. There are other real estate tours where real estate sales people and developments, again some of whom have paid to participate, try to sell you properties. Panama Relocation Tour is neither: it is an opportunity to see and visit some of the places expats call home, to meet and get the straight scoop from real expats, and to get an overall feel for Panama. It’s a busy, boots-on-the-ground tour, but in my humble opinion it is a better way to decide if Panama is for you, or if it remains on the list of countries you may be considering.
Maybe I was ready to be “taken” when I arrived in Panama to study Spanish ….but I sure didn’t think I’d be living there within the year. After being “liberated” from a position I thought I’d be in forever or at least until retirement, I suddenly had the “gift of time.” So why not have an adventure, learn a language, see the world? Panama is where I started. I found an inexpensive Spanish school that offered a home-stay with a Panamanian family and booked the flight. Three short weeks later I was hooked on this small country. I went back home put my house on the market in June, it sold in July and I moved to Boquete in September.
Why Panama? The long and short of it is, I fell in love with the country and its people but it was Boquete that captured my soul. A 45 minute flight from Panama City brings you to a whole different world here in the Highlands; a beautiful respite from the torrid, tropical heat of the capital.
Boquete is surrounded by hills studded with the lush landscape kept green by all the rain, especially the soft afternoon mist. Where else do you find giant green pine trees, palm trees and cactus all together in one spot? They make up just part of the 60 shades of green, as do the coffee “fincas” or farms that dot the hills as they stand in the shadows of Volcan Baru, the extinct volcano that looms large above the town. While the hills are green there are explosions of color at every house with flowers everywhere – after all Boquete means bouquet.
85 degrees F for a high and an average of 65 degrees F at night is not a bad way to live – no heat or air conditioning needed but with 100 inches of rain a year, you do need an umbrella.
But if you’re wondering about the seduction part, this is how it happened:
I got up early one day and walked around town, I looked up to see the pink tinged mountains as the sun came over the volcano, it was stunning. Everyone I passed said “Buenas Dias” or just “buenas” – and everyone smiled when I answered them back in Spanish. Everyone! It was right then with this backdrop of lush, green beauty that I felt something whispering softly in my ear.
Then I met the Gringos or I should say the Giving Gringo’s because they never really stop giving. A nice climate AND giving, caring people? Yes! You see it’s not only the ferocious beauty of the river which runs through the town but the river of kindness that captures the heart of people who come here.
I don’t know anything about real estate or starting a business or stockpiling gold or silver, but I do know what I like and I like what I see.
The woman who became my landlady is an organizer of something called, “Bid 4Boquete,” a United Way type organization but with a stronger heart. Bid4Boquete supports 11 different agencies which vastly improve the lives of those they touch. And it makes Boquete one of the best places in the world to live.
I met a woman who knits hats for newborn infants, another who sews blankets and takes them to indigenous families in the hills. I know a former marine who brings school supplies and protein for the 9 children of a man who is a quadriplegic who lives on a hill with no road and no car and just a jerry-rigged sling to get him up and down the steep incline. I met a lot of people for whom Boquete means devoting a Sunday to the “Animales” clinic to spay and neuter hundreds of dogs and cats so they don’t starve to death. Or those who spend their Saturday’s at the Handicapped Foundation teaching English or giving massages or just helping out.
This is the kind of community where Bid4Boquete puts Gringos and Panamanians together donating goods and services all year long for its big auction that supplies the grant money that does so much for so many here. And so it was much more than the weather and the beautiful flowers that stole my soul and seduced me, it was the soft whisper that said, “This is a good place to live, no, a great place to live, and these are good people.” They seem to live by the old adage: “to those whom much has been given, much is expected.” I like that. And so, from Bid4Boquete to all its supported agencies and beyond, it is the open hearts that abound here that make this a vibrant, vital community I’m proud to call home.