Wanting to retire in Panama

Archive for September, 2013

Panama Part 4: Home Time :(

After spending four wonderful days in Boquete, the end of our trip was fast approaching.  We had set up an appointment with E again to look at some properties in Las Barqueta, which is a beachfront community about 25 minutes from David – meeting point ….. “McDonalds”.  Yes, we ate at McDonald’s while in Panama :).  E showed us the development of Las Olas Barqueta, which has a beautiful club house and pool and some beach houses for sale.  This is a huge beachfront development with many beach front lots for sale to build your dream home.   The stretch of beach in this area is about 13 km long and is the grey/black sand as opposed to the brown sand, so it can get very HOT on the feet – so hot that you have to wear shoes when the sun is beating down and the waves are not coming in to cool it off.  The riptides in this area can also be quite dangerous so we decided that this just wasn’t the area for us.  

So back to Las Lajas we went!  We decided to take a second look at a beach house in this area…. the first time we were not able to see the inside … so an appointment was made with the owner to view the interior.  After being back in Las Lajas a second time, it immediately felt like home to us..  The drive to Las Lajas is a beautiful scenic ride with an excellent road right up to the main beach (a little tricky getting to the house though as it was nothing more than a goat path – a road D and I would never have taken if it weren’t for E and C – lol).   We drove to E and C’s home and walked the beach from their to see the house again.  What a beautiful walk and beach – things were feeling good. We met the owner at the house and spent a good amount of time viewing the ins and outs of the home – and yes – we were smitten!  D and I are the types of people who never make a decision on the fly and we need to think everything out very carefully before we make any decision and now had a decision to made – to buy or not to buy? and our time in Panama was fast running out as we were going to be on a plane in two days back to Canada.

We decided to walk back down the beach with E and C and eat a local little restaurant about a five minute walk away.  We had a wonderful lunch prepared by a German lady who moved to Panama and was now running a local bistro/bar on the beach.  D and I shared a hot spicy noodle dish and E and C shared a salad, whilst D and E each had 2 beer, C had a smoothie and I had a two coke and a bottled water – all for the grand total of $21.00!  This would be the cost for just one person back home.  We spent a nice rest of the afternoon again with E and C, discussing all the properties and our options.  They were a wealth of information on the ins and outs of making the move to Panama and I couldn’t thank them enough for sharing and answering a lot of personal questions ….. we were technically strangers after all ….!  

It was now time to say good-bye to E and C (for now) and make our way back to Panama City.  We decided to spend a night in Santiago to break up the 6 hour drive and stayed at Mykonos.  This is a fairly new resort-type hotel right off the Pan American highway where we had a nice dip in the pool and rested up for our drive the next day.  

After checking out the next morning, we were in search of car wash in Santiago so we could give the rental car a cleaning before returning.  This was one of the stipulations of our rental agreement.  I am not sure if this is common practice with all car rental companies, but ours did have a fair amount of dirt on it and we felt it was justified.   I had spotted a “Lava Auto” sign a short distance away the night before so we decided to check it out.  Now car wash bays in Panama are not like they are in North America.  Here they have Panamanians working in a covered car lot type of area with hoses and buckets where they wash vehicles by hand.  We pulled in and asked “how much?”.  The total cost was $15.00 for a complete detailing of the vehicle inside and out which would take about an hour.  Due to the time restriction we had, we decided to go for the $5.00 quick wash.  It took about 20 minutes and what a job he did.  He thoroughly washed the exterior of the vehicle, even shining up the rims and tires as well as car mats, along with an interior vacuum and wiping of the dash board and interior.   It was $5.00 well spent. 

Now it was off to Panama City.  D was very nervous about driving in Panama City and trying to get the rental vehicle back to the rental shop in one piece.  We decided to call up Benny, the cab driver who escorted us out of the city when we picked up our vehicle to meet us and escort us back, then take us to our hotel room.  A landmark area was set up.  After crossing the bridge we were supposed to take the first right exit where there was a PUMA gas station and he would be there waiting for us.  Sounds easy right?  NOT!   Once we exited there was no PUMA gas station to be seen.   Uh oh – now what?  Thank goodness for the Panamanian phone.   I quickly called up Benny only to realize that we had taken the wrong bridge.   Benny spent some time trying to explain to me how to get to the PUMA station to meet him but in the end we ended up at the Miraflores locks and he was kind enough to tell us to stay put and he would come find us ….. Thanks Benny 🙂

By this time it was about 3:00 PM in Panama – rush hour in Panama City – a situation we were so hoping to avoid!  I know it would seem easy to just follow the cab in front of you to your destination – but not so in Panama City!  Like I mentioned in an earlier blog, driving in PC, especially during rush hour, is NOT a treat.  So after a white knuckle drive through downtown Panama we finally arrived at the car rental, with us and the vehicle still intact!   What a blessing.  

We decided to spoil ourselves and stay at the Trump Tower for our last night in Panama.  When we searched on line to make our booking it came in at $149.00.  $149.00 for a night in the Trump Tower??  Are you kidding??  You can’t even stay at the local budget places in Canada for that price?  So book it we did… and we were not disappointed!  We were on the 33rd floor overlooking the ocean with our own balcony and the room was something out of the movies.  After a harrowing day of driving we decided to just get settled in to our room and rather than go check one of the many restaurant choices they had to offer, opted to just order in room service and relax for the night for tomorrow it was time to go home and start thinking and planning for our next trip to Panama. 

Which brings me to today.  We are now booked to fly back to Panama from December 7-21.  We are planning on moving there next spring after all so need to find a place to stay.  We have not discounted the beach home in Las Lajas yet, and since our last communication with E and C it is still for sale.  D and I just feel that there are still many areas of Panama that we want to explore before making a final decision and one of those areas is Bocas Del Toro which we will be visiting on our return trip.  In the end, when we finish our 2nd exploration tour of Panama and if we decide Las Lajas is the place for us and the house is still available, then it was meant to be.  Wish us luck and let’s all keep our fingers crossed!

 

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Panama Part 3: David and Boquete

After spending a wonderful day with E and C in Las Lajas it was time to head to David for a 5 night stay at Zen Pool Villa.  When booking our itinerary we thought that David would be a good center point for exploring Las Barqueta, Boquete and the city of David to see what it had to offer.   We found the Zen Pool Villa through the VRBO website. D and I have booked other vacation getaways through this site and have never been “burnt”.  However, this time we werent so lucky :(.

We arrived in David about 5:30 PM and had no problem finding the Zen Pool Villa.   This private villa is advertised to make the traveller believe that they are staying in a relaxing private oasis with their own private pool.  Well let me tell you there was nothing zen about the Zen Pool Villa.  The first thing we noticed upon arrival was that there was some filtering, vacuuming equipment in the pool.  The water in the pool was so cloudy/murky that you couldn’t even see the bottom.  What a disappointment!  D and I were looking so forward to going for a swim to cool off after spending a full day in the 32C heat and sun.  The property manager apologized and explained to us that he had been having problems with an iguana who had been defecating in the pool.  He had it filtering for a few days now and proceeded to say that at least we were lucky because it was a lot clearer now than it was for the guests who stayed before us.  Lucky?  You call that lucky?

We did not hesitate to express our disappointment to the property manager and then proceeded to check into our villa.  Upon entering our “oasis” we noticed a funky smell in the room.  After the property manager gave us a quick tour of the property D and I discussed the issues we were having.  Our first thought was – if an iguana defecates in a pool, should you not drain the pool and refill it???  That’s definitely what we would do.  Especially a salt water pool where they don’t use any chemicals for cleaning/filtering – yuck!!!!  Now for some people maybe not having a pool to swim in isn’t a big deal but D and I especially booked this villa so we could have this luxury and there was no way we were ever going to step into the pool let alone swim in it!  So between the problems with the pool and the funky smell in our villa, we decided that we were NOT going to spend another minute there.

We then proceeded to tell the property manager our concerns and about our decision not to stay at the villa.  He was very understanding and, being that it was now late and dark in David, even escorted us to the Hotel Cuidad De David, where we decided to relocate for the night.  He gave us the email address of the owner so we could request a refund.  Unfortunately for us, she was not being very cooperative, stating that the pool was suitable for swimming according the property manager and the previous guests.  What an outright lie!!  At any rate, we decided to not let it ruin our trip and would continue to pursue this issue once we returned to Canada.  (In the end we were unable to get any kind of a refund, but we did get satisfaction in posting a very negative review on VRBO – along with some previous guests who also complained about the pool – which resulted in the ad being pulled from VRBO and, after a little more research, finding out that the villa is now for sale – a small victory for us!).

Well now we were in a bit of a dilemma….. where were we going to stay for the next four days.  We had heard many great things about Boquete and were going to take a day trip to visit this area while staying in David so we decided to just spend the next three nights there and we were not disappointed!  According to Wikipedia, “Boquete is a small town on the Caldera River in the green mountain highlands of Panama in the western-most Chiriqui Province.  Because of its altitude some 1200 meters above sea level its climate is cooler than that of the lowlands.  Its scenic location, temperature, and natural environment make it extremely popular with Panamanians and attracts tourists from all over the world.”  After surfing the net and making a few phone calls we were booked for our three day stay at Isla Verde in Boquete.

The drive to Boquete from David took about 1 hour.  There were a couple of detours along the way due to the twinning of the highway. When we were first pulled into Boquete, it literally took our breath away.  No wonder so many expats choose Boquete and area as there retirement destination!

Our first day in Boquete we spent exploring the different villages in the area and just walking through town, getting a few groceries and driving through the mountains to take in the beautiful scenery.  Prior to leaving Canada D and I had been corresponding  with another couple who had recently relocated from the USA and decided to give them a call and as luck would have it they were home.  So a dinner date was set up.  We met Holly and Scott at Big Daddy’s Grill for some fish burgers and seafood tacos and the food did not disappoint.  We had a wonderful evening of chatter and set up a date for the next day to go for a hike to some nearby waterfalls.

The next morning, however, we woke up to rain and after talking with Scott and Holly, decided to do a tour of a coffee plantation instead (please see earlier blog by Holly and reblogged on this site).  I just want to take this opportunity to again thank Holly and Scott for taking us for a tour of the mountainous area of Boquete and surrounding areas and for suggesting the coffee plantation tour.   It was truy interesting and the owner/host was very entertaining ….. and this is coming from someone who doesn’t even drink coffee!!!

Our three days in Boquete went by very quickly and then it was time to check out and meet E once again in David to see some properties in Las Barqueta and although we found Boquete to be absolutely stunning…… alas, the ocean and hot weather were calling us ……. and realized that ultimately  the sand and beach was where we needed to be…….!

Panama Trip Part 2: Boca Chica/Las Lajas

After spending four days in Pedasi, we were back on the road again to Boca Chica.  The drive took about 6 hours and the highway was in great shape, until we hit the outskirts of Santiago.  Once we left Santiago we ended up on a portion of highway that was concrete and quite rough.  We have to remember that we are in Panama where road signs at the entrance and exits of town/city centers are almost non-existent so after driving for about 45 minutes on this section of highway, we decided to pull over to talk to the next radar police officer that we saw (and believe me there are a lot of them) to ensure we were on the right path.  He reassured us that we were going in the right direction and after wishing us “safe travels” we were on our way once again.   This section of road lasted for about an hour until we hit pavement again.  While we were driving we saw a lot of surveyors out and about doing their thing because there are plans in the near future to twin this section of highway as well.

We decided to spend three nights at the Bocas Del Mar spa and resort in Boca Chica to spoil ourselves a bit during this trip and we did.  This is a an absolutely beautiful resort, with nice rooms and gorgeous grounds.   However, the menu only had a few select items and it is the same menu for lunch and dinner so our third night there we decided to eat elsewhere.

View From Room

View From Room

Pool At Bocas Del Mar

Pool At Bocas Del Mar

Another View from room

Another View from room

Our room

Our room

D sitting outside enjoying scenery.

D sitting outside enjoying scenery.

We arrived around 7:00 in the evening so our first full day we just enjoyed relaxing by the pool and exploring the grounds and shoreline.  It was a beautiful sunny day in Boca Chica, despite it being the rainy season, so we thought we would take advantage of the weather.  The next day we decided to check out the boat tour that they have to offer and explore three of the surrounding islands and beaches.  This is a small charter boat so there was only one other couple from Austria with us.   On our way to the first island we were lucky enough to see a whale surface about 20 meters from our boat.  I guess they are in this area at this time of year, but unfortunately it was rather rough the day we went out, and this was the only visual we got of the whale.  Further on, during the trip, we met up with a school of dolphins!  Pretty cool just to sit back and watch them swimming alongside our boat.  We passed many islands along the way until we docked in at the first island.  It was absolutely stunning with the most incredible white sand beach!   We docked here for about 30 minutes and tried to do some snorkelling along the small reef area that was there but the water was too cloudy that day so were unable to see anything spectacular – which was fine – it was still a great place to get out of the boat and cool off.

Upon returning to the boat, the captain and his mate had cut open some fresh coconut with their handy-dandy machete for us.  Too bad there was no rum readily available :)!  We then headed out to sea for our second stop.  There was a real surprise waiting for us at this next island – crocodiles!  Upon disembarking we were met by one of the native village people who, just over the berm at the end of the beach, low and behold, there was a small lake, for lack of a better description, full of crocodiles.  The local villager had a pale full of crabs and proceeded to throw the crabs on the shoreline to entice the crocodiles to come out and eat – and come out they did!  Who would have thought we would see crocodiles in the middle of an island in Panama!

Our third and final stop was another beautiful island with yet again another beautiful white sand beach.  We docked on one side of the island and as we explored the beach, we realized that the other side of the island was mere steps away with yet another beach.  So many undiscovered little islands in Boca Chica – it was absolutely breath-taking!

Island #1

Island #1

 

Our captain and our ride!

Our captain and our ride!

 

D enjoying his coconut!

D enjoying his coconut!

 

One of our new friends!

One of our new friends enjoying lunch!

 

Our captain and the local villager.

Our captain and the local villager in blue!

Our final stop before heading back to the resort.
Our final stop before heading back to the resort.

 

Now that we had our fun in the sun days, it was time to get back down to business and the real reason we came to Panama – to find a place to call home!  After we checked out of Bocas Del Mar, we met up with a realtor who lives in Las Lajas to see some properties in Boca Chica and the Las Lajas area.   He showed us numerous lots for sale and beach houses in Las Lajas.  First, let me tell you that Las Lajas wasn’t even on our radar when coming to Panama, but once we got a look at the 17 km of nothing but beach and almost no people, not to mention the drive to Las Lajas which is beautiful in itself, we immediately fell in love with the place and the area.  In addition, Las Lajas is a very safe beach which does not have rip tides (like Las Barqueta which we also checked out with our realtor, whom I will refer to as E), and there are no jellyfish or stingrays to worry about.   I wasn’t sure what the big deal was with stingrays until E explained how they like to burrow in the sand when the tide comes in and when the tide goes out and you are walking along the beach you have to be careful not to step on them!  Hmm – something I had never thought of before!

Now to tell you a little about E and his wife C.  We hooked up with E via the real estate website – http://www.chiricquicoastal.com – and as it turns out – they are also from Canada and chose for their own personal reasons, to head for the tropics 5 years ago.  They initially spent 3 years in Costa Rica, then moved to Panama.   E and C went over and above what any realtor would do here in Canada.  Not only did E spend hours with us, driving/showing us around the different areas in Las Lajas, but then he welcomed us into his home to meet his wife C and have a few beer along with a locally grown fruit/vegetable?? known as Pifa which grows in clusters in trees in Panama and look like mini coconuts.  You boil them for 2 1/2 – 3 hours then peel them and snack on them with mayonnaise and salt.   Another nice thing with E is that even after spending all day with him, we never ever felt any pressure from him to buy anything – he knew what our story was and that we still had other areas to check out and told us to take our time and to get a hold of him if we had any other questions, or anything that we wanted to take a look at again.   What a nice way to end our day of house/property hunting!   We did not come away with a property yet, but the Las Lajas area has moved into first place.  Now it is time for D and I to head to David, where we are going to check out the hills of Boquete, Las Barqueta beach and the city of David in general to see what it has to offer.   Adios …… until next time.

 

 

Panama Trip Part 1: Pedasi

Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana” – Groucho Marx

Time Flies By So Quickly! I can’t believe it has been almost six weeks since my last post.  Where has the time gone? What have I been doing for the past six weeks you may be wondering??

I have been meaning to put a post on for some time now of our trip to Panama, but our schedule has been ridiculously busy since we arrived home.   We arrived back on Canadian soil on August 1 and immediately had a family reunion to attend to that weekend.  It was my parents 60 anniversary – wow 60 years and counting…. But, alas,  this post isn’t about that so all I will say is that we had wonderful weather and an even more wonderful time.   The next four weeks were spent finishing up the basement of our son’s home in Edmonton so our daughter would have a place to stay when she went off to university.  All while trying to pack up our house for our big move at the end of the month.

Well, I am now so happy to say, we got everything accomplished!   Our daughter has settled nicely into her new home and new routine (albeit not without some tears shed by both parties – lol) and we are settling into our new, temporary home.  With all those responsibilities finally behind us, we can once again, start focusing on our move to Panama.

D and I had an absolutely spectacular time exploring the beautiful country of Panama from July 18 to the 31st and made some amazing new friends along the way. We arrived into Panama City late the night of the 18th and took a taxi to our hotel.  On the recommendation of some fellow bloggers, we stayed at the Country Inn and Suites so we could see the Panama Canal and visit the Miraflores Locks the next day.  This is definitely a must see for anyone travelling to Panama.  What an amazing feat!!   We then went to the Allbrook Mall to purchase ourselves a cell phone.  We heard a lot from people about how cheap it was to get a phone in Panama.  So we went to the local cell phone store in the mall (Digicell) and purchased ourselves a phone!  And for the grand total of $28.00, we bought a phone which included a $10.00 pay as you go card, which even gave us 200 free minutes to Canada!!  You won’t find this kind of deal in back home!

After spending two nights in Panama City, it was time for us to get our rental vehicle and head out to Pedasi.  Now, I am not sure how we got this wrong, but for some reason we ended up renting a vehicle from Budget Rental on Balboa street (downtown) instead of the one at the Allbrook Airport (which would have made things much easier for getting out of Panama City being that the Country Inn and Suites was practically walking distance away and extremely close to the Pan American Highway).  After experiencing the crazy traffic of Panama City (and I mean crazy insane – lol), D was not looking forward to navigating his way out so we hired the cab driver and followed him out of downtown and to the Pan American highway.  It was smooth sailing from here on in.

On a side note – although we did have insurance through our credit card company and through our insurance policy back home – on the advice of others we had corresponded with (apparently even with this type of insurance, the legalities are an absolute nightmare in Panama should you get into even the smallest of an accident) we opted to pay the extra for their full package insurance. Did we get swindelled??? Maybe …. But after seeing the traffic in Panama City, it definitely gave us piece of mind (although it practically doubled our bill….. cost -> $1088 in total for 13 days rental of a Toyota RAV4 SUV) .

The drive to Pedasi from Panama City took us about 4 ½ hours and we stayed here for 3 nights.  There was a festival going on in Las Tablas so we had to take an unmarked detour ….  and got lost.  Of course, we had heard about how poor the signage is in Panama, and our experience with the detour in Las Tablas and driving in general, definitely confirmed this to be correct J.  But some nice locals were able to send us back in the right direction. .  We then managed to get lost again in Chitre, and once again, another nice local was able to get us back on the right path.  From here on in, for the remainder of our trip, we managed to get around with little to no difficulty.

Now back to our time in Pedasi.  Pedasi is a quaint little town in the Azeuro Peninsula in the province of Los Santos with many beautiful beaches close by.  Upon checking into the Casa de Campo B&B (this is a beautiful B&B and we would highly recommend anyone to stay there), we met another couple from Canada who also stayed at the Country Inn and Suites and had just arrived also – what are the odds!!  As it turns out, they are from Ontario and are also retiring in Panama and have chosen Pedasi as their retirement destination.  They are building a home in the gated community of Costa Pedasi and are going to be in their new home for Christmas.  We also checked out this gated community as well as other properties in the area and this development definitely topped our list; however, this was only our first stop after all and we couldn’t make a decision yet, there was still a lot of Panama to see.   We were also torn too on whether we wanted to live in a gated community or not????  Initially, we felt we didn’t, but after visiting this area, we realized you never know what is going to come screaming out at you – and if we find the right gated community, this just might be where we decide to settle down.

During our second night in Pedasi, we went out with another couple we had met online who happen to also be from Canada…. Edmonton to be exact!   She is an amazing blogger – check out her blog at http://indacampo.wordpress.com/.  They have been living in Panama for over a year now.  We met them at Smiley’s restaurant for some dining and music.  We did, after all, have to give them their “bendy” straws from Wal-Mart and screw bits for removing stripped screws from Canadian Tire that just can’t seem to be found anywhere in Panama.  How can one enjoy a delicious tropical fruity drink without a bendy straw!!

So after spending three glorious days in Pedasi, meeting some wonderful new friends, driving along the highway to Playa Venao and checking out various properties with the local realtor as well the Costa Pedasi development, we had some good information in hand, and were ready to move onto our next location – Boca Chica here we come.

The following quote says it all for us …. “We all have our time machines. Some take us back, they’re called memories. Some take us forward, they’re called dreams” J