Wanting to retire in Panama

Archive for January, 2014

Why We Chose Coronado/Santa Clara area as our Final Destination!

For those of you who have been following D and I on our quest to find where we want to settle down in Panama, we have finally decided that the Coronado/Santa Clara area is where we want to be.  When we initially set out on our journey to find our “happy” place in Panama, to be honest, this area wasn’t even on our radar.  We have always maintained that we wanted to be close to the beach but felt also that we wanted to be interspersed in more with the locals like some of the other bloggers have done whom we have met and have been following.

Prior to our departure in December, however, during our never ending research on living abroad, we had read a lot about how  “homesickness” and “culture shock” tends to set in with expats once the first few months of vacation/paradise mode have come and gone.  And so …… as you know, we altered our already-in-place itinerary for that trip in December to spend at least one day looking for rentals in this area.  After returning to Canada in December, we felt pretty certain that this was the area that we wanted to be in.  However, we just weren’t comfortable making that decision based on only spending one day in that area, so D went back on January 25 for one more week with three close friends ….. yes he went solo (meaning he left me at home 😥 ….but it was worth the trip. It solidified for us, at least for now, that this is where we want to be.  Please see my list below of why we have chosen to make this area our home.

1.  Not just one, but many beaches in the area.

2.  Many amenities that we are accustomed to are close by.  Some of the areas we checked out during this journey were just too “far off the beaten path” for these two “norteamericanos”.

3.  Many expats in the community.  D and I are planning on taking Spanish classes once we have relocated (after all this is one of the reasons we chose Latin America), but feel it will be nice to be surrounded by many gringos as well so we can still get our “English fix” in.

4.   Panama City is only one hour away.  This is definitely a plus for when you can’t get what you need locally but also for when we want to make trips back home to visit family and friends and vice versa – no extra flight or long  bus commute prior to flying out.

The decision for us hasn’t been an easy one, for we fell in love with every area of Panama that we explored, but for now, to help make our initial transition into Latin America a little easier, it just feels like the right choice….

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Panama Exploration Trip Part 3 – Boca Chica.

After picking up our vehicle from the Thrifty Car Rental centre in David, it was off to Boca Chica.  Friends of our from home were going to be joining us for this leg of the trip so we decided to rent a beachfront house at Rincon Estates.  D and I wanted to check out some property that was for sale in this area, so naturally it felt like it was a smart choice.  This way we would be able to spend a good week here to get a feel for what it would be like to actually live in this area.  After stopping at the local Rey grocery store to pick up a few groceries to tie us over until our friends arrived in two days we were on our way.  The drive took about 1 1/2 hours from the airport and it is a little tricky getting there – but we made it!  For most of the trip, the road is in good condition; however, the last leg is dirt road/pot hole hell!  It’s a good thing we had a 4-wheel drive vehicle!

Beach house rental in Rincon Estates

Beach house rental in Rincon Estates

View from patio!

View from patio!

We arrived early in the evening of the 12th so just spent the evening getting settled in.  The next morning D and I went for a nice long walk along the beach.   It is good to note that the sand on this beach is more the black sand as opposed to the white sand beaches we just came from in Bocas del Toro, thus, very hot on the feet.  We stayed closer to the waters edge where the sand is wet and therefore comfortable to walk on.  It was a very peaceful, relaxed stroll – never saw another sole on the beach that day, and during our entire 8 day stay, only saw a total of 9 other people enjoying the beach/waters of Rincon Estates.   We then met up with the owner of the house we were interested in taking a look at.  After touring his home, we decided that it wasn’t the house for us.  It was one road back from the beach, and although we are not necessarily looking for a beach front property, we definitely want a pool and there just was no place on this property where we would be able to have put one in so we stroked this off our list.

The next day we went back to the Thrifty Car Rental in David to meet our friends who were arriving from Panama City.  Welcome to Panama Sheldon, Laura, Brandon and Amanda!!  We went to the Rey grocery store once again to stock up on food for the week and rather than buy our fresh fruits at the grocery store, decided to stop at one of the many fruit stands that we passed on the highway between David and the turn off to Boca Chica.

IMG_0227

As you can see from the picture, we scored quite the bounty of fruits and vegetables.  We picked up a 50 lb bag of oranges, a huge bunch of bananas (which I might add are much sweeter than the ones we are accustomed to back home), two papayas, one pineapple, one whole watermelon, a full bag of vegetables which contained 6 heads of lettuce, 3 heads of cabbage, cucumbers, carrots, potatoes, beets, onions and some other stuff we couldn’t put a name to for a total of $18.56.  We were now all set!

Our next six days flew by in the blink of an eye!  We checked out the local fisherman’s hangout in Boca Chica where we bought some fresh lobsters ($5.00/lb) and fish (fresh red snapper and bass) for our evening meals, spent two days with our wonderful new friends Holly and Scott (see the post I reblogged from Holly’s  blog – Let the Adventure Begin), spent a day in Boquete where we checked out the Tuesday market as well as a wonderful lunch at Big Daddy’s Grill and once again did a tour of the coffee plantation.  We knew this would be right up Sheldon’s alley being that he is a coffee connoisseur, what with his own roasting machine and all!

Having lunch at Big Daddy's in Boquete.

Having lunch at Big Daddy’s in Boquete.

Coffee Shop in Boquete.

Coffee Shop in Boquete.

Boquete market

Boquete market – Can you see the excitement on their faces!!!

Coffee Tour - Cafes de La Luna Plantation

Coffee Tour – Cafes de La Luna Plantation

Coffee beans laid out to dry on dry bed.

Coffee beans laid out to dry on dry bed.

Amanda pounding the coffee beans.

Amanda pounding the coffee beans.

Coffee bean plant.

Coffee bean plant.

Raw coffee bean.

Raw coffee bean.

 

Local fisherman retrieving lobsters from barrel at Boca Chica.

Local fisherman retrieving lobsters from barrel at Boca Chica.

Boca Chica marina

Boca Chica marina

 

Mmmmm - lobster

Mmmmm – lobster

 

Amanda can't wait to get hers back to the house and in a pot!

Amanda can’t wait to get hers back to the house and in a pot!

 

I'm not much of a lobster girl.

I’m not much of a lobster girl.

 

Nice and pink and ready to eat!

I don’t know who’s cooked more – Laura or the lobster?!

 

 

Local fish weigh station!

Local fish weigh station!

That east coast girl knows how to handle her lobster!

That east coast girl knows how to handle her lobster!

Amanda digging into the feast put on by Scott and Holly.

Amanda digging into the feast put on by Scott and Holly.

Scott cooking up a storm!

Scott cooking up a storm!

Fresh gazpacho - yum - thanks Scott!

Fresh gazpacho – yum – thanks Scott!

Enjoying a great meal with a great bunch of friends.

Enjoying a great meal with a great bunch of friends.

 

Cooling off in the warm Pacific waters.

Cooling off in the warm Pacific waters.

All in all, we had an absolute amazing time with a great bunch of good friends, but in the end D and I have decided that Rincon Estates and Boca Chica in general, is not quite the place for us.  We found, after spending eight wonderful days in this little piece of heaven, that it is  a great vacation spot, but just a little too isolated and off the beaten path to make it our permanent home.

Panama Exploration Trip Part 2: Bocas Del Toro

After spending a whirlwind of a day on December 8th, we were taking the 6:30 AM Panama Air flight out of PC to Bocas del Toro the next morning. We had hired Benny once again to pick us up from our hotel at 5:30 AM to bring us to the Allbrook Airport and as usual, he was right on time :).  At this point, D and I are pretty sure we do not want to make Bocas our permanent home but we had read so many wonderful things about Bocas that curiosity got the best of us, and we just had to check it out.  If nothing else, it would be three days of R & R.

We booked our three night stay at the Bluff Beach Retreat on the main island of Isla Colon and this place did not disappoint.  It is about a 20 minute taxi right from the main town.  The road starts out fine, with good pavement, then gradually starts to decline, turning into beach, then sand gravel, then pebble, then sand/gravel again but in the end we arrived safe and sound.  We had breakfast ready for us when we arrived which was a nice touch.

60 foot pool at Bluff Beach Retreat.  If you want a pool with your stay on Bocas, this is definitely the place to be!

60 foot pool at Bluff Beach Retreat. If you want a pool with your stay on Bocas, this is definitely the place to be!

Having morning coffee after our arrival at Bluff Beach Retreat - and I don't even drink coffee!!

Having morning coffee after our arrival at Bluff Beach Retreat – and I don’t even drink coffee!!

Upper deck of B & B

Upper deck of B & B

Beautiful grounds!!!

Beautiful grounds!!!

This is a beachfront retreat.  Ocean can be seen in background.

This is a beachfront retreat. Ocean can be seen in background.

I had to include a picture of Cassius Clay, the Boxer "guard dog" for the retreat - and another new friend!

I had to include a picture of Cassius Clay, the Boxer “guard dog” for the retreat – and another new friend!

Our first day we decided just to stay put and enjoy the pool/beach and  relax – we were ready for some R & R and that is what we did!  On our second day we decided (or should I say I decided, D wanted to take a cab) to use the bikes that were supplied by the B & B and take a ride into Bocas town for the day. We were told that this ride would take about 1/2 hour.   So we picked two bikes from the choice of 10 or so that they had, grabbed a lock and headed out.  The first part of the road/trail is nice sand so the ride was pretty smooth.  However, when we hit the pebbly part of the path, things got pretty rough and my chain fell off, not once, not twice, but three times!  By the third time, we had been biking for about 20 minutes and hadn’t even hit the beach part of the road, so we knew we had a ways to go yet.  My hands were getting pretty oily at this point from always having to replace the chain and D, well let’s just say he wasn’t happy but I wanted to keep going – we had come this far already hadn’t we, we couldn’t turn back now!?!  I won that discussion again and onward we went.  After a few more minutes of biking I happen to look down into my basket and notice that the key had fallen out of the lock that we were supposed to use to lock the bikes up in town!  Uh oh – D is not gonna be happy about this!     Needless to say, we did turn back at this point (and found the key along the way I might add!!) and decided to just stay put for another day at the B&B.  It was a beautiful spot after all!

Bikes supplied by the B&B

Bikes supplied by the B&B

On day three we decided to do a horseback ride.   The owner of the B&B also has a farm and does trail rides and his horses needed to be ridden so we were offered a half-price deal.  We were told we would most likely see sloths and howler monkeys.   The ride in total took about 2 1/2 hours and we had a great time.  At the end of the ride before we headed back we took a swim in a lagoon and on the way back saw a sloth (we had seen a couple already during our stay here but this one was in plain view).  Unfortunately, we didn’t see any howler monkeys.  After talking to the B&B owner he said that he hadn’t seen them in over two months which was very unusual – hmmm :(.

Yes, this is me on a horse!

Yes, this is me on a horse!

My Cowboy :)

My Cowboy 🙂

Cooling off in the swimming hole.

Cooling off in the lagoon.

Now you may be wondering where we had lunch and dinner during our three day stay.  Glad you asked.  About a five minute walk down the beach there are two beach bars.  The 2nd one came highly recommended so this is where we headed!  We loved this little beach bar, so much that we ended up having all of our lunches and suppers here (although I have to admit I was ready for a change of cuisine after three days – lol).  Every one of our meals ran in the range of 20 dollars which included a menu item for both of us along with 3 drinks each.

Mmmmm - fish tacos and home made nacho chips and salsa!

Mmmmm – fish tacos and home made nacho chips and salsa!

Fish burrito and chicken/mediterranian salad!

Fish burrito and chicken/mediterranian salad!

Me lounging at the beach bar!

Me lounging at the beach bar!

Beach bar at night.

Beach bar at night.

D in front of tree (sorry can't remember name of it) on path to beach bar!

D in front of tree (sorry can’t remember name of it) on path to beach bar!

Path to beach bar.

Path to beach bar.

Picture of bamboo tree/bush on trail on way to beach bar.

Picture of bamboo grass on trail on way to beach bar. 

Beach bar by day.

Beach bar by day.

As our three day excursion to Bocas del Toro was coming to a close, we thought we would not be seeing howler monkeys after all (oh well at least we got to see a few sloths) when low-and-behold, the B&B owner started calling us and wouldn’t you know it, a troop of howler monkeys made their way to the Bluff Beach Retreat!  There were literally dozens of them right over our heads.  We watched with fascination as they made their way from tree to tree but were warned not to stand right under them, for they will literally put their hand up their butt and throw their feces down at you for fun – thankfully they weren’t in a “playful” mood while we watched.

The next morning was checkout day.  At about 5:00 AM we heard this “awful, screeching kind of roar from literally right outside our door”.  The best way to describe it would be the sound of a lion in pain.  As it turns out, these were the howler monkeys!!!   Yikes – now I know why they are called howler monkeys.  What a perfect way to end our stay in Bocas, not only seeing the monkeys but waking up to them as our alarm before we headed out!

Our next destination was to Boca Chica.  There are no flights from Bocas to David yet (although we were told that they are going to start these flights  in January), so we had two options – take a local bus (which is about 5$ each) or hire a private taxi ($120).  We decided to take a taxi and had the owner of the B&B set us up.  We had to take a taxi back into Bocas town where we had to then board a water taxi to Almirante where our final chariot awaited us.  The drive from Almirante to David was about 3 1/2 hours and it is a beautiful scenic drive through the mountains and it was nice having our own personal tour guide.   We had the driver drop us off at the David Airport where we had a rental car waiting for us.  Next stop – Rincon Beach Estates beach house in Boca Chica.

Panama: Exploration Trip #2 (Part 1)

Now that the holidays have come and gone and I have settled into somewhat of a normal routine  again, I am finally finding the time to sit down and write about our second trip to Panama.  Again, I am going to have to break up this trip into sections – so as not to make each blog to long.  D and I left on December 7 and returned to Cold Lake on December 22.  The first thing I would like to mention is that it was -30C when we left Canada and +30C in Panama and -30C when we returned.   That, in itself, was enough to convince us that we are making the right decision :).   OK, enough about the weather – lol.

Our first full day in Panama was December 8, which happens to be Mother’s Day.  This is a big deal in Panama (so much so that the following Monday is declared a national holiday) so it was really nice of Benny, our driver we hired (yes this is the same Benny from our first trip to Panama), to agree to spend the day with us to take us to various towns close to PC in search of property to rent (although we had to assure him he would be home before dark because the mother-in-law was visiting and he did not want to spend the night in the doghouse – everyone out there with mother-in-laws knows what I mean :).   That being said, Benny is a wonderful driver who works independently in Panama and also speaks good English.  I would highly recommend his services to anyone who may be travelling to Panama City.  His email address is benny.panama@gmail.com.

In total, we looked at property rentals in five different areas – Nueva Gorgona, Coronado, San Carlos, Santa Clara and Altos Del Maria.   I have put a brief description of each of these areas below, verbatim from different sources on the internet.  

  “Nueva Gorgona is 79 km west from Panama City on the Pan American Highway (about one hour drive). It´s located between the towns of Chame and Coronado, 5 minute drive from either town.  Gorgona is a peaceful, relaxed town of about 1,400 people.  Gorgona is the closest beach to Panama City. Its proximity to the city, its beautiful beaches and its allure are being noticed by developers who are knocking at the doors.  Gorgona has 4.2 km long beach with white / black sand and turquoise waters. Gorgona possesses one of the best surfing beaches (Malibu) in the area, and a fish market. The beach is mostly calm, but have to be careful of the tide change, which causes in some areas undertow.”

“Coronado is a coastal city and resort located about an hour from Panama City. It is a vacation town visited yearly by thousands of national and international tourists. Coronado was Panama’s first resort development, and for this reason has several years of advantage over other surrounding beach towns. Currently, the town has such amenities as full scale supermarkets, pharmacies, restaurants, ranging from low cost fondas and fast-food restaurants to beachside bistros, medical and veterinary clinics, a hospital, gardening centers, hardware stores, banksapparel shops, outdoor markets, a shopping plaza and a new shopping mall.

“San Carlos District is a district of Panamá Province in Panama. The population according to the 2000 census was 15,541.The district covers a total area of 337 km². The capital lies at the city of San Carlos.”

“Santa Clara is a town of 1,302 people in Panamá Province, Panama. The United States Peace Corps uses this community to train new volunteers before they are sent out across Panama.  The beach at Santa Clara is one of he most appealing beaches along the Pacific Coast, and the best for swimming”.

“Altos del Maria is a gated mountain community located in the Mountains of Sora roughly 30 minute´s drive from the nearest beaches and golf resorts of the Pacific Coast, and approximately 1.5 hours west of Panama City.”

As you can imagine, this was a very busy day and in the end we got Benny back to Panama City just as the sun was setting – he dodged a bullet there!

And so here it is – our opinion in a nutshell of all these places visited that day.   Gorgona is a nice little beach town  but it just didn’t speak to us so this was crossed off our list immediately.

Gorgona Beach  - Coronado in background.

Gorgona Beach – Coronado in background.

Next stop was Coronado.   Here we looked at a house to rent (which is also for sale) owned by a young couple who relocated to Canada four years ago and have decided, for personal reasons, to return.  We immediately felt a connection with this house.  It had everything we were looking for and it was close enough to the beach so that we could enjoy long walks along the beach everyday by just stepping out the front door.

Beach at Coronado

Beach at Coronado

Another Coronado beach shot

Another Coronado beach shot

Coronado beach again

Coronado beach again

Our third stop was to look at a house in a gated community in San Carlos.  Although the area itself was nice enough, again there was no connection for us here.  So onto Santa Clara we went (stop number four).  Benny suggested a nice beach front restaurant for lunch where we met up with some Canadian friends he had who relocated to Panama three years ago and were in the real estate business (and who also happened to own the restaurant).  We had a wonderful lunch and I absolutely fell in love with the beach here.  We were shown one property for rent here as well which had everything we were looking for but wasn’t within walking distance to the beach :(.

Sea bass - lunch at Santa Clara.

Sea bass – lunch at Santa Clara.

Santa Clara Beach

Santa Clara Beach

Our fifth and final stop was to see a development in the mountainous region about 30 minutes from Coronado called Altos Del Maria.  Although this is obviously not a beach front community, D and I had read a lot of great things about this area and wanted to have a look.  The house we looked at was on 1 1/4 acres in the gated community and the views from the property were absolutely breathtaking!  We also fell in love with the house and now had to decide, beach or lush green mountainous scenery to wake up to every day.

In the hills of Altos del Maria

In the hills of Altos del Maria

It was now 4:30 pm and we had to get Benny home quick!  Alas, Benny got us back to our hotel in time but more importantly in time to spend the rest of Mother’s Day with his family.

Now it was up to D and I to make some decisions ……. but this was the only the first day!!!    Tomorrow we were off to Bocas Del Toro and then back to Boquete and Boca Chica in the province of Chiriqui.  How were we ever going to make a decision.?!?!