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.