First the introductions. I’m Cindy and my husband is David. We live in S. Florida and are both teachers at a local high school. We are also 15 month and 19 days from retirement. We have been mentally planning for life after work several years. My entire family lives in Florida but we are looking for more adventure in Chapter 3 of our lives. We have traveled to most countries around the world so spending our retirement years outside the US is something we have considered.
We both love Costa Rica but there were things missing. First, Costa Rica does not have a large, modern city. Most ex-pats are closed-in behind gated community walls. Last year, someone suggested we look at Panama.
Panama City is just a 2 1/2 hour flight from Miami. I read somewhere that it is “just like Miami except more people speak English.” As a Miami native, I now know there is some truth to that. Panama City is lively and modern – but hot, hot, hot.
Last summer, David and I made our first exploratory trip to Panama. We rented a car and set out. Day 1 in Panama found us in Altos del Maria. Very pretty mountain community about 1 1/2 hours outside of Panama. It’s beautiful and quiet. Too quiet for us even though the proximity to Panama would be great. It’s about 30 minutes downhill just to get a cup of morning coffee. So we moved on….
Heading west. The Pan American Highway is a good road but the speed limit changes quickly with a police officer ready to pull you over. I’d hate to think they look for foreigners, but it seemed likely when we got stopped. No ticket though. A Panamanian miracle.
Next stop was Boquete, about 5 more hours of driving. Boquete is a beautiful, small town about 30 minutes north of David (not my husband, but the third largest city in Panama). We ended up staying in three different locations in town to get the feel of some of their well-known micro-climates. Each one was gorgeous. Birds and exotic plants everywhere.
Big news – We bought a phone! Our own Panamanian telephone number. Seems like a big step if you really want to feel like a local.
When it was time to come back home, we both said it felt like we were leaving home, not going home. That’s when the day dreaming and planning began. We decided to make our home in Boquete, Panama.
What’s the attraction?
Things we loved – Climate, more walking and less cars, coffee, active expat community, fertile soil for gardening, fresh air, proximity to David, mountains, proximity to scuba diving, hiking, flowers, and Panama’s Abuelo Rum is pretty good too!
Things we liked – Small, family owned businesses, helpful expat community, fresh food, local population of many ethnicities.
Things still in question – Permanent housing, distance from Panama City (airport), health care, living there every day, banking, the “manana” culture, bureaucracy.
What we already learned – 1. It is not a cheap place to retire as advertised in many magazines and online sites. 2. Electricity and internet are not something you can depend on having 24/7 so candles, flashlights and patience are required. 3. To become part of the community, you need to know Spanish. I’ve been studying Spanish for almost a year and hope to be semi-fluent by August. David is lagging a bit behind and can barely asked for the location of the bano.
So with high hopes, we are making our second trip to Boquete in 3 weeks but only for 10 days. This is in preparation for the longer visit this summer when we will stay for 2 months. Car rentals are very expensive so we are buying a car in March and will sell it in August. We have lots of people who say they want to visit, but a plane trip followed by a 7 hour bus ride and then another 30 min. trip north may deter some of the less traveled.
If all goes well, we will end the summer by getting the legal paperwork needed for our pensionado, banking, driver’s license, etc. We will also have to sell almost everything we have accumulated through 3 children, 3 careers, souvenirs from millions of miles of travel and other useless junk that fills our 4 bedroom home.
As we get closer to the ‘big move’, I plan to record our progress. I hope it is an amusing tale of successes but imagine some frustration and agonizing mistakes will creep in. We are in for a huge life change and look forward to it.