Too Hot, Too Cold....Still Looking for Just Right

Trip Start Nov 13, 2010
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Trip End Jul 20, 2011


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Flag of Panama  , Chiriquí,
Saturday, January 29, 2011

After Costa Rica Louise and I headed to the town of Boquete. It has been deemed a retirement haven – voted the world's best place to retire by many publications and has been forefront on the expat radar for a number of years.  Panama’s very generous 'Pensionada" program allows for expats who have a small minimum guaranteed income to apply for a special status which grants them the ability to live in Panama full time, and receive the benefits of retired Panamanians.  These include things like huge discounts on travel – for example hotel prices are 50% of regular price for all "pensionadas” from Monday to Thursday, bus tickets and train tickets are 30% or something like that off always, restaurant meals are hugely discounted, all entertainment is like 50% off.  These percentages are mandated by the government so once the card is produced – the discount has to be given.  This, the weather and the reasonable (cheap by our standards) real estate prices has put Panama at or near the top of the list for many years.  And Boquete has scored as the top place in Panama to retire because of its ‘eternal spring’ type climate.

After being hot hot in Costa Rica and in David, we headed up into the volcanic based mountains to discover what all the fuss was about.  Seems the masses had arrived and the place, at first glance, looked less than charming to me.  Louise had been here eight years ago and remembered it as a lovely little mountain village in the shadow of large Volcano Baru.  Today it certainly is no sleepy little village – it is a bustling centre for commerce and real estate offices and restaurants.  It does have a pretty town square and as we came in on a Saturday and the place was packed with the indigenous Indians, dressed in their ‘going to town’ best clothing.  They come in en mass on the weekend to pick up supplies as they live very remotely in the surrounding mountains.  Many work picking coffee in the nearby plantations.  They are small in stature, mostly very young families with interesting colourful dresses on the women and girls.  They are also very friendly and shy at the same time. 

We booked into Hostel Mamaellen, right on the park and it was perfect – lovely huge room and perfect location to people watch and explore the town. 

We were lucky to find a realtor to take us around and show us properties.  I decided to see stuff under the $200,000 cap – the sky is the limit here as the first wave were Swiss and Germans and they built some spectacular mountain homes.  Since then many gated communities are in the making and we went to see a few.  For me the weather is Boquete is not perfect.  I found it too cold and windy.  The altitude and location bring misty clouds in daily – not exactly wet but kind of like Vancouver Island in the summer.  The nights were down right cold.  Weird thing is that just a few miles down the mountain are many micro climates and we saw some beautiful condos, houses and apartments with spectacular sweeping canyon and mountain views, located in the warmer zone between Boquete and David.

I am so glad we went out with this guy to see a wide variety of places because Boquete had been on my retirement place radar for a long time.  Not for me – too cold, somewhere closer to David maybe, David – too hot.  These two towns are only 30 minutes apart by car so that is how distinctly different the microclimates are her.  Interesting.  I met a guy on the bus who had arrived in Boquete, fallen in love with the place, bought a lot immediately – (this scenario, although it seems irrational – more people spend more time deciding on a car or a vacation than they often do on buying a second home, was told to me over and over in Ajijic and Boquete and Costa Rica), built a big place up in the mountains and now finds it way too cold and windy.  Lots of the Germans and Swiss who came en mass are gone after a few years – they loved the place but just could not adapt to the Latino ‘manana’ laid back attitude.  Latin America lifestyle is sooooo different from German/Swiss precision.  I totally understand that cause and effect.

So we headed back to David to warm up in the searing heat and to meet up with Carolyn who was attending a conference on MicroCredit there, – the heat suits me better, and we lucked out in a cheap Hotel, on the park, and met an interesting collections of characters who are living there.

In the Hotel, we met three older guys: all three had lived in Costa Rica for long time; one is still living there but was on a house hunting trip to Panama.  All three had found Costa Rica’s changes the reason to leave.  The huge increase in the cost of living and the huge increase in crime were the driving forces behind their moves to Panama.  We had lots of interesting conversations over $1.75 bottles of rum.  Panama is the place to be for cheap living, especially cheap to drink and smoke – booze is less than $2.00 bottle and cigarettes are $1.25.  Movies are $4.00 – half for seniors or ‘pensionados’, bus across the country is $12.50, hotel room - $25, dinner - $5.00.  Compared to Costa Rica, from where we had just come, my thoughts are Panama is around half or less than half of the Costa Rican prices.  Properties are very reasonable – we saw nice huge condos with sweeping views, in gated communities for around $150,000.  Differences here is monthly living expenses – condo fees -$50 month, taxes - $200 year, utilities - $50 month.  Cheap cheap.
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