Panamanian Paradise Found
It’s a sunny day in Boquete, Panama. The temperature is in the mid-70’s with a light breeze. Simon and I are working at the round table on the patio at the casita that has been our home for the past two months. Otto, as usual, is basking in the sun in the grass just off the patio. In other words: another beautiful day in paradise.
We leave for our next adventure – Jordan, Israel, Spain and Portugal – tomorrow evening. And this will be the last installment in this series. There are several reasons for my decision.
- It has taken me three years to get this far, and, even though I’ve also written about Panama in the Weekly WOW series, there is still a lot more to tell.
- I’ve learned this format doesn’t do anything to help my SEO (search engine optimization), Googles way of letting folks find this blog on the internet.
- As with the Weekly WOW series, the format has become confining.
- There have been far too many long gaps between installments.
- Because I want to. So there!
But fear not, I will be writing more about this laid-back, unpredictable, friendly, exquisitely beautiful country. There are many delightful experiences still to share with you.
Very few will argue that our planet is undergoing climate change, but Chiriqui Province in general, and Boquete in particular have their own version of the phenomenon going on. The provincial capital of David is almost as hot and humid as Panama City, while 40 minutes away in Boquete, the weather is mild and dry.
Depending where you are in Boquete, it could be raining, sunny, sunny and raining or windy enough to tangle the sturdiest wind chimes. In other words, Boquete is made up of microclimates. So, if you don’t like the weather, head for another part of town.
Then there’s the phenomenon known as bajareque (pronounced ba-ha-recky), which I will attempt to describe. It’s somewhere between a mist and a drizzle. You can feel it, but a true bajareque will leave your skin, clothes and – most important – hair dry. The sensation on the skin is as if you’ve just walked through a natural spa treatment. Who says the best things in life aren’t free?
Double, and even triple, rainbow sightings are common in Boquete, especially when it’s been raining torrents in the mountains. Also, when the clouds come in from the Caribbean, they move remarkably fast. You never know if they’re going to dump rain on you, or just keep moving.
During the dry season (December through April), temperatures in Boquete range between the high 60s and mid 70s during the day, and mid-50’s and low 60’s at night. It does rain, but rarely for more than a couple of hours max. January tends to be windy, which keeps the bugs away. February and March are calmer, so the little bastards tend to use me as a bug buffet. Trying to work outside can be a challenge, when I’m forever having to stop to swat at flies and mosquitos. I can’t tell if I’m killing the winged devils or simply slapping myself around.
The rainy season (May through November) is somewhat of a misnomer, or so I’m told. Permanent residents have said it rains most days, but mostly in the afternoon for a couple of hours. Sometimes it also rains at night. Sounds like the rain coincides nicely with siesta and bed times.
If you’re looking for anything but snow, you’re sure to find it in Panama.
Politics As Usual
This is my understanding of Panamanian politics after three years.
When it comes to food, you can find just about anything your heartburn desires. Even in little Boquete: Italian, German, Chinese, Peruvian, seafood, burgers, wings and of course, Panamanian.
In spite of our love for anything spicy, we gravitate toward Panamanian fare, which goes easy on the heat. We also prefer to support locally owned Panamanian businesses. The food is fresh, flavorful and reasonable. At most “hole-in-the-wall” Panamanian eateries, you’ll pay less than $4 for a big plate of pork, chicken, fish or beef served with rice and salad. A hearty soup with meat, yucca (like a waxy potato), corn and rice will set you back $2.
If you are one of those folks who can’t stand the taste of cilantro, you might want to go for an option other than traditional Panamanian. Local cooks use this herb in almost every savory dish: chicken, fish, salad, rice. They don’t overdo it, but there seems to be a hint of cilantro in almost everything. Personally I love the stuff, and won’t cook rice without cilantro, garlic, chicken stock and lemon rind.
The herb itself is very different from what we are used to in the U.S.. Instead of long thin stems with several leaves at the top, Panamanian cilantro has short stems that form a vein in the center of a long, wide leaf. And the flavor is superb.
You won’t find fast food chains in towns like Boquete, which is fine with us. If you have to have your fix, there plenty from which to choose in David and Panama City.
We prefer to cook at home from fresh ingredients we buy from local fruit and vegetable markets. While our friends back in New Bern are making do with mushy winter tomatoes, we’re enjoying vine-ripened love apples, red, yellow, orange and green peppers, sweet pineapples, lemons the size of tennis balls and luscious mangos.
Produce and fish is far less expensive than it is back home, while meat and bread can be a bit pricy. But it’s the freshness of the chicken, eggs, fish and produce that make food preparation and consumption a pure joy.
Cerveza (beer) is ice cold and cheap in Panama. The most popular national brands are Balboa and Panama. To me, they are slightly better than Bud Lite, which my British brother-in-law refers to as gnat’s pee. The good news is micro-breweries are popping up all over the country.
This year, a friend introduced us to Boquete Brewing Company, a Panamanian-owned business producing several varieties of more expensive, but much more flavorful cerveza. As if this isn’t good enough, they also make some of the best wings I’ve ever tasted.
Of course, you can find just about anything you want to drink in Panama. Abuelo rum is inexpensive – about $12 a liter – and a great mix with fruit juices such as pineapple-guava, strawberry-banana and peach. For an overproof sipping rum, nothing beats Panama Red, which is now available for purchase at several locations in Boquete. Thirty dollars may sound like a lot for a bottle of rum, but the flavor, served with a single ice cube is well worth it.
South American wines are inexpensive and taste decadent. Try the Carmenara from Chile. At under $5 a bottle, it’s a frugal wine lover’s nirvana.
Then there is coffee. Some of the best beans in the world are grown on coffee fincas in Chiriqui Province. We became so hooked on the stuff on our first visit, we have been mail ordering Panamanian beans at home ever since.
What We Love
- The climate
- The coffee
- The food
- The Boquete Jazz and Blues Festival
- Volunteering for La Fondacion Pro Integracion
- The stunning scenery
- The Caldera River running through the center of Boquete
- Spectacular birds
- The rainbows
Double Rainbow in Boquete (©firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Indigenous women and girls walking past our casita wearing their traditional colorful, beautifully accented dresses
- And, above all, the friendly, generous people
What We Are Prepared to Tolerate
- The potholes
- The idiots working in airport security – mainly women on a “power trip” who invent the rules as they go along
- The dust blowing into the casita, which needs cleaning at least once a day
- Whiny expats who barricade themselves in gated communities who don’t like or trust Panamanians. Go home, why don’t you?
The Last Word on Our Panamanian Paradise
It was Simon’s need for affordable dental work that brought us to Panama in 2014. It is all the aspects mentioned above and more that have been bringing us back.
We had considered relocating to Boquete, and even looked at some houses and lots. But, although not off the table, a move to Panama isn’t in the cards for us right now.
To us, Panama has become a life within a life. We arrive, connect with the same friends, volunteer projects and activities we left behind the previous year. It’s like putting a book marker in this part of our lives, and finding our place again for another two or three months before replacing it.
Panama has become an integral part of our lives, and a piece of my heart is always there. Every morning we say, “Another beautiful day in paradise.” There’s no need to search for what was there all along.
Penny’s Panama Wall of Fame
Throughout this post, you will find photos of some of the people who have made our time in Panama more interesting, enjoyable, educational and just plain fun than we possibly deserve. It is to them, and those whose photos we forgot to take, that this post is dedicated. They have our admiration and gratitude for who they are and what they have done to enrich our lives.