…and it seems like we just got here. We planned 1 adventure per week and have hardly scratched the surface. The thing we have done is made some decisions for where we will live. We know now that we will reside 1 – 2 hours west of Panama City on the Pacific. We have looked at houses and condos. Our first choice is an ocean front condo; we just have to find the perfect community for us. People here all have opinions about what makes a community perfect. We know that perfect for us is not necessarily perfect for others. We love Coronado Bay, but it is small, loud, and hot in the afternoon. We know that having a west facing balcony is out of the question because we enjoy our balcony to much to be kept off it in the afternoon and early evening. We also need a big balcony, because we would practically live out there if possible. We love to cook, and eat at home so the kitchen is important. We need a garage or covered parking because the sun is hot here and it is hard on the car to be baking in it 12 hours per day. We will be living there as our primary residence so we need a little more space than a glorified hotel suite. These are our minimal needs and you may be surprised to know that these minimal needs allow us to rule out many places. We are trying to find a place that is further away from the tourist and resort areas while close enough to find a clinic, grocery store, hair salon, and a dentist when needed. We also do not want to be more than 2 hours from the International Airport in Panama City. Currently that is the only place that has nonstop flights into Panama. There are other airports that have international service from Canada or by connecting through Panama City, but we want travel to/from the States to be easy.
This past week I had an appointment with a local dentist. He cleaned my teeth and did an exam. He spoke perfect English and his dental office was state of the art. His equipment put my dentist in Michigan to shame. The total cost here was $42. We would be happy to share his contact information with anyone who messages us. We have shared the names of many of our professional contacts privately here and most everyone is reporting similar good results. We also met with an insurance professional to discuss our insurance needs here in Panama this week. Our health coverage will go from $1267 per month to $383. Our homeowners insurance will be less than $400 per year and our car insurance (full coverage) less than $500 per year for a small 4X4 SUV. We are going to have insurance physicals on Monday morning. We will share that experience as it unfolds.
Next week we will also look at a few more condos in projects that we have not yet seen. We will also, return for a 3rd look at our current first choice. It checks off all the boxes plus has a golf course, children’s water park (grand kid thing), miles of walking and bike paths, pools, beach club, restaurant, and much more. Our other goal for the week is to open a bank account. Opening an account here is one of the hardest parts of integrating into the local society.
We are going to wrap it up for now. Our time for the next couple of weeks is going to be busy. We will be wrapping up our research for daily life and taking at least one more adventure. We are anxious to check out the jungle and go to a village of indigenous people in the Darien region between here and Columbia. Please continue to check back, follow and comment. If you’re following on social media, consider subscribing to the blog by e-mail. E-mail delivery is much more reliable.
We departed Coronado early on Sunday morning for our 402 Km drive to Boquete’. Our navigation system said it would take right at 5 hours with no stops. At Santiago we found that the brand new InterAmericana Highway was complete and the drive from that point was nice. There were very few places to stop. It was almost like an interstate highway in the States. Somewhere between Santiago and David we did find a truck stop where we had a nice lunch for $6.
After lunch, we continued to David, the second largest city in Panama, and it is where our journey turned north into the mountains. David has an international airport and a hospital with world class healthcare. This area was one of our of possible relocation considerations. There are beach homes and resorts on the ocean about 20 minutes south. We wanted to see some places which we heard about so our plan is to stop on our return journey. About 40 minutes to the north we reached our destination. Boquete’ is half way between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, high in the mountains, about 60 Km from the border of Costa Rica. There are a lot of expats there and we had no trouble finding people who spoke English. Our plan was to find a coffee farm and take a tour before finding a hotel.
Our navigation system took us to a coffee farm. We found the gate locked and nobody around. We would later learn that the tours of coffee plantations are only arranged by a tour guide. We had a nice drive through the mountains on roads not meant for safe passing, before returning to the downtown area to find a hotel.
We settled on a lovely place just out of town called the Inn at Palo Alto. We were surprised to find many places were already full. Boquete is a tourist destination, and the streets were packed with people visiting from all over the world. The Inn Keeper was able to sign us up for tours on Monday afternoon and suggest a hike for the morning. She also suggested a nice casual dinner place in town. We enjoyed dinner and went back to the hotel to rest for our day of adventure. The climate is cool and we were actually pleased to find a fire on the patio of the hotel bar where we enjoyed a drink.
Getting up early on Monday morning was no problem, because we had a chicken next door that kept us up most of the night. The first income source for this community is agriculture, followed by tourism in a close second. It is interesting to see the two co-exist to create a solid economy. We took it all in stride. By 8 a.m. we were having breakfast so we could get in the hike up the Pipeline Trail before our 1:30 p.m. coffee and cloud forest tour. The drive to the trail-head was a repeat of our drive on Sunday. The roads were narrow and often steep, with very little room to pass. The drive took us more than 30 minutes and we found the trail-head deserted with nobody to point us in the right direction. This hike would take about 3 hours and we were supposed to see monkeys, waterfalls, and rare birds. With no direction and no obvious sign of where to start we opted to forgo the hike. Neither of us wanted to be lost in the jungle, with nobody really knowing where we were. Upon our return to town we found another interesting opportunity for adventure, but I was unable to convince Jen to zip-line. The photos below are from bumming around waiting for our 1:30 p.m. tour.
We ended up at Boquete Tree Trek. Zip-line adventures, hanging bridges, hotel rooms and restaurant. We did not have time to do anything more than eat lunch. During lunch we watched the last 2 legs of the zip-line finishing there near the restaurant. We talked to a guy who had just came from the hanging bridge tour and it sounded great. Jen absolutely would not zip-line, but we nearly decided to do the hanging bridges. It would have to be Tuesday morning prior to the Market. Following lunch we made the drive back to our hotel where we were to meet our tour guide.
Jorge showed up at 1:30 p.m. and off we went to our coffee tour. The coffee farm was roughly 19 acres and employed 6 people. The coffee is all hand picked and processed (dried) to the green bean for shipment to the customer. The wholesale coffee customer will roast the beans to his own specification. The farms that grow coffee are very low tech and this farm was no exception. All of his drying processes were done with equipment made from recycled parts. The farm we visited has a very small roaster for demonstration and roasting beans which he sells on the tour. We found the entire thing very interesting and learned a great deal about the coffee industry in Panama. This coffee grower produces an award winning coffee and we were pleased to buy a couple of pounds at the end of the tour. He also grows the famous Geisha coffee which we opted not to purchase.
Once we finished the tour of the Coffee farm we had a very nice tour of the area up into the mountains and saw amazing views of the Baru Volcano. The summit on a clear day is the only place in Panama that you can see both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans from one place. It is, also, the only place in Panama where you may find snow. A hike to the summit is a full day adventure and we probably will never have that experience. For now it was enough for us to see the Volcano from a distance.
We spent the rest of the afternoon taking in the sights with our guide by jeep. The pictures below are just a couple from that part of the adventure.
We always believe that there is a reason for everything in this life. We decided to have dinner at a grill that was a 5 minute walk from our hotel. Georges Grill was the name on the sign and once inside we met George. There were two other couples in the small smoky place (George was cooking on an open fire). One of the couples was from Michigan and the other from Colorado. Both have spent considerable time in Panama over the past several years. We quickly became acquainted and had a great dinner together. The couple from Colorado, as it turns out, are staying at the Rio Mar, just a few minutes from where we are staying near Coronado. They were on an adventure of their own and headed to San Blas, once they left Boquete. We visited for a while and arranged to have dinner with them next week. We are anxious to get better acquainted. We also hope that they will share some of their experiences in Panama here on our blog. They are professional photographers, by trade; and we have already seen some of their amazing pictures on Facebook.
When we woke on Tuesday morning it was raining. This is the only rain we have seen during our nearly 2 months on the ground here in Panama. Given the weather we did not think it wise to do the hanging bridge tour. We will save that adventure for another time. We enjoyed the Tuesday Market. It is entirely under roof, so even if it had not stopped raining, we would have still went to it. The market is a must see for any visit to Boquete. We bought a few things, and met a few people before embarking on our journey. Our return trip to Coronado was uneventful. We made a stop at PriceSmart in David to pick up a few supplies, then continued to the beach to look at a condo. The condo turned out to be horrible so we easily ruled out living there. We wanted to see one other, but we were not able to find it. We got on the highway and made one stop in Santiago for dinner. By the time we got home it was after dark so we kicked back and enjoyed the evening. Since our return to Coronado we have enough material to easily publish another blog post. We have continued to research our impending move and are learning every day how the economy here will benefit us for years to come. This post was long, and we fear that posts of this length will lose some of you. If you read to the end…THANK-YOU. Check back in a couple of days. We will bring this thing up to date.
Our good friends Ray and Diane left to return home on Tuesday, but not before we showed them a couple of more of our top picks for retirement residences. We have made the decision to make a permanent move to Panama. The real estate market is tough here. Supply and demand are badly out of check and it is a buyers market. We will not buy a home here until we have had 12 months to fine tune our must haves and have not list. Our first step to that end is to find a top pick community and try to rent there for a year prior to completing the purchase. The buyers market is likely to continue because there is a huge supply of new build condo projects on this stretch of the city beaches 1-2 hours west of Panama City. Once we move down here we will be in a better position to find a bargain. Rio Mar was the top choice for quite some time until we faced the reality that the price was above our comfort. Our second choice is Casa Mar and it lies just to the west across a river from Rio Mar. Casa Mar provides almost all the same benefits at a lower price point. In addition there is a 9 hole golf course, walking trails, a children space (splash pool with water slides), and increased privacy. The entire project is on 190 acres and has a future shopping plaza at the gate. It is also closer to Rio Hato where we will find lower prices on groceries and other daily needs. It is close enough to Coronado to easily make the journey if we would need the clinic or a visit to the dentist. We also showed our friends Bahia. Bahia is a 2 building high rise in Nuevo Gorgona which lies just to the east of Coronado. We were able to look at the condo directly next door to the guys from Dallas who bought their condo on International House Hunters. We did not meet them, but you can check out the YouTube video of their house hunt. We shared it previously in our post titled We survived Carnival . We do feel like a real life episode of House Hunters. Our episode would be more like Beach Front Bargain Hunt though. Seriously, The Bahia was a bit loud and lacked privacy. The unit was a bit smaller than we wanted and, while beautifully decorated, it was dark. We have ruled out Bahia. We will not maintain 2 residences even though we will be renting here in Panama. Before we make any decisions here we will be selling our house in the States.
We spend a little time at the pool and/or on the beach every day. We also continue to have our hour with the Spanish tutor weekly. Our Espanol is coming along well and we try to use our skills daily with one another. We plan to continue meeting with the tutor weekly by Skype once we return home. We are making arrangements to meet with an insurance agent in Panama to get actual insurance quotes for health insurance. We are currently paying $1267 per month for health insurance in the States. We think once we get settled here in Panama we will cut that cost by about $1000 per month for similar coverage. We can cover our monthly expenses here with that savings alone. We will share our actual expenses in future posts. One of the biggest reasons for our move is to save money. Everything isn’t cheaper here, but if you get out of the tourist areas you will find the cost of living to be less. I got the best haircut ever in a Barbaria for $5 (I was the only gringo in there). I also have an appointment on Thursday with a dentist for a routine teeth cleaning. It will cost 1/3 of my dentist back home. More about that next time. Jen had her hair done at a very high end salon, that caters to Americans and Canadians, yesterday. Her cost was less than her salon back home and she was thrilled with the result. We had Chinese take out for lunch yesterday. It was delicious and priced about the same as we would pay in the States. Tonight our friends and family back home will be changing the clocks for daylight savings time. In Panama we are only 9 degrees from the equator. The result is that we have 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of night every day, so daylight savings time doesn’t happen here. We don’t change our clocks.
We had a former co-worker of Jen’s here Thursday with her family. Her family was a delight to meet and we enjoyed sharing our afternoon entertaining them on the beach and at the pool. They are staying in the mountains northeast of Panama City. It sounds as if they have had a great vacation here in Panama.
On Sunday we are planning to take off for our next adventure. Boquete and David are about a 5 hour drive northeast from Coronado. We planned this adventure and posted what we are likely to find there in December of 2017. Check out that post in our archive or click the link #InSearchOfEternalSummer . We will be returning to Coronado on Tuesday after we go to the Tuesday Market in Boquete. We also hope to check out more of the country along the way. Panama and its people are beautiful and very welcoming.
Please continue to follow along. A great deal of time goes into this blog, and we want to share our experiences. Please drop us a note or comment if there is something you want to see or learn about Panama. Today’s Spanish lesson is two simple words…Se Vende. Translated it means For Sale. When we return to Michigan we will be putting our home on Gravel Lake up for sale.