Panama 8/5-12/2022 Panama Relocation Tours.
We have been thinking of retiring somewhere outside the county. We both have our reasons:
Carol: America isn’t as fun as I used to think it was. The capitalism and meanness that comes from it has worn me down. The political environment is so hostile and it seems the voters keep putting people in who want to take away our rights – the last overturning of Roe and the resulting laws that are demanding women die instead of getting the healthcare they need related to giving birth is the tip of the iceberg and I want to enjoy the last years of my life without feeling like I have to fight for basic decently every day. Also – I want to go somewhere I can retire early – my money can go further and I don’t have to worry about health care the rest of the years I have left. Of course, it goes without saying I need to go somewhere without winter ice and snow. I don’t have that many falls left in me.
John: I am concerned about our small savings not being enough to live out our lives in America as we want to. We are minimizing our lives and its a good feeling. That will be much easier in a foreign country. I love the latin culture and speaking the language. America is great, and I love it, but i would not miss the winters or hot summers and another adventure sounds good to me.
Anyway – we can pontificate on the reasons more in a different space – but I wanted to give the prelude to this trip that wasn’t exactly a vacation. I was sort of a vacation, but more of a fact-finding mission.
We found the Panama Relocation Tour about a year ago. We watched a bunch of the videos from this organization and started looking at Panama more and more. I really couldn’t find any reason not to – and John really just wanted to start looking.
So, we booked. It was one of our easiest booked vacations because all we needed to do was
- Arrange our flight
- Vaccinate – and off we went.
No one could take more than a carry on – which ended up nice. No shopping, no back breaking weight – which is a good set up for how we want to live our life.
Got to the airport early and bought our bottle of Vodka from duty free so we could have a few cheap drinks in our economy seats as well a few nightcaps the next few nights.
We met a guy from Bolivia on the plane. He had met his spouse, as a Peace Corps Volunteer. So, we had a lot in common and discussed ex-pat living quite a while. He gave us the name of his Air B & B if we wanted to go there to check out ex-pat living. Another good sign.
I already started missing Pula and Nina.
We got off the plane in Panama City (Population 3M) and were immediately picked up by Humberto, a tour guide driver. The drive to the hotel was rather disappointing. The tide was out. The beaches looked horrible with black mud everywhere. The buildings were a mix of modern and 1980, which were a little run down. But we didn’t see poverty on the way in – and really saw very little of it during the whole trip.
He took us to the Marriott next to the biggest mall in the country. That was good, because one of the others off our flight had lost her luggage and could easily replace it if came to that. We checked in and started exporting. Not very walkable at all. Big huge highways with no sideway and bad, broken sidewalks with many broken grates and holes. However, once we penetrated the big roads and got on the side roads we found a bunch of small restaurants, bars and shops. We got ring side seating and enjoyed all the city had to offer on a smaller back street in Panama City. We always felt safe. Prices were very reasonable ($2 to $5 for a beer).
Sadly, I did fall down one time, hurting my previously injured hand; John spilled our drinks all over my clothes – but nothing too bad. Overall people were nice, prices good, and people watching great.
I can’t break my American addiction to the madding news, and fell asleep to CNN/English speaking news.
Saturday – August 6th
Our group met with immigration lawyers to discuss the process of getting Visa’s and/or citizenship. This is the first time we met the group and all people seem friendly. The owner of the Panama Relocation Tours (PRT), Jackie, also provides a book on resettling with referrals for lawyers, real estate, doctors, stores, and other necessities of living in Panama. Everyone had a few questions, and most answers were general enough to help everyone.
First destination was Coronado, one of the biggest and oldest ex-pat cities in Panama, only about 2 hours from Panama City. Our guides said the city was expensive and dated, so we looked at very beautiful apartments outside the big city. We saw a beach front condo with all amenities 3 bed/3 baths for $600K. The place would have costs $3M anywhere in the US – but it was still pricey for what this group of people were looking for. We saw several more affordable places that were nice – and worthy – but we were leaving our minds open. We had lunch with several people who had just moved and they also answered questions for us. Everyone keeps saying “my only regret is I didn’t do this sooner”.
We ended up at a huge beautiful resort that was too family oriented for me – but still had great pools, better beaches, well priced drinks and good food. Sort of felt luxurious.
As we were sitting on the beach, we saw a cute black lab start swimming out into the ocean. He got too far and the waves looked to be pulling him further out. Before we could work up a big fret, two guys started swimming out and got the dog, who appeared to be starting to panic. We notice that people treat their animals very nice here. I take that to be a good sign.
Sunday – We are still driving along the coast, with next stop in Santiago. Sunday is the people days off (they work a six-day work week here) and not much is opened. The tour arranged for us to get to see a few nice places along the way. We stopped in a small town and ate at El Presidente. We are getting so much food, with half of it going to waste. So, we arranged to have one meal to share from now on. We walked the town that had little tiny shops and bought a very tasty, huge, squashed shaped avocado for $1.
That night, I fell down again. I hurt my ankle bad and could hardly walk. We threw away the very cute sandals I had been wearing. Since it was Sunday, there was not much open and little I could do. We did find an ace bandage, and I soaked, but damn it hurt. I’m just grateful I didn’t bust my teeth out or something worse.
At this point I find my hand is bruised from the two falls, and by broken finger is hurting more – so I stop taking vacation notes and the rest of the story will be from memory.
We continue West visiting cities, having dinners, talking with ex-pats and making a few friends along the way.
One of the couples with us renewed their vows on the Beach and asked us to join. They said they were definitely moving to Panama now, and they wanted to start the rest of their life with their new Panamanian family. It was very beautiful.
We did find a four-prong cane and buy some very high sturdy hiking boots which was quite helpful to my ankle and walking. I could walk pretty well, except for stairs and hills. John was holding on to me to keep another accident from happening, but I was feeling rather safe with the slowed walk, good boots and the cane.
Monday, we made it to Boquete – the second biggest expat town with 20 percent (about 5000) people being expats. It had many restaurants, stores, a few bars and very pretty houses. It is in the mountains and about 15 degrees cooler. The rest of Panama so far, had been intolerably hot. At first, we were resistant to this city – we wanted a local community and this seemed too Americanized and too suburban. But we stayed for 3 days and we drove all around the city and saw lush beauty everywhere we went.
We learned from the ex-pats that many Americans’ start bands that play in bars and festivals. John is very excited about that.
We do a day drive to Volcan – which is very agricultural and even more lush and beautiful. There are no bars, but everything else a person wants is there. It is sort of spread out, which is appealing. A little more breathing room. We are in love with this place, thinking maybe we will open a bar. We could have live music with Johns new band!
Back to Boquete. Every time we enter the city, we like it more and more. We start calling it Shangri-la. It seems all the local people can speak some English and all the expats can speak some Spanish and it works out. There are plenty of social clubs and resources here and it just seems beautiful. The second biggest city in the county, David, is only 30 minutes away and what isn’t in Boquete is there. Public Transportation seems to work very well.
We visited the “County Club” – which had North American style housing but no golf course. I loved that the ever-present chickens were hanging out at the county club too. One could purchase a 3 bed/3 bath townhouse for $280. Very tempting.
One day we went up in the mountains and saw old churches, homes and streams. It simply gets more and more beautiful everywhere we went. We stopped to visit a coffee plantation but didn’t get to see much of it. I did learn a few more things about making and enjoying coffee which I plan to implement as soon as possible. It made us start to plan to stay a few more days – but it was too hard to do last minute. Our flight back to the US wasn’t leaving until 7PM at night, so we knew we had one more day in Panama City by ourselves.
We went to visit the old city, and saw a few ancient churches. There were equal parts crumbling building and new upgrades as it tried to become a new world hot spot. We went from café to café enjoying the coffee/teas/beers. We sat on roof tops and enjoyed the birds circling up the thermal flows and the massively huge cargo ships going through the canal. We dreamed of our future. All nice thoughts.