David and Boquete –
While in Panama City I spoke at length to Nancy, a teacher from the US, who is into the second year of a two-year teaching contract. She says, “I have a big decision to make – with the great weather, lower cost of living, and loving everything about Panama, I am swaying towards going back to the US to sell my house and moving here permanently.”
Nancy, who had been all over Panama, mentioned how much she favoured two popular places for North American retirees – David (Da-BEED), 450km west of Panama City, and the smaller town of Boquete (Bo-Ke-te) in the mountains north of David. We want to see more of the country anyway, so decide to hop a bus and check these communities out.
Our David and Boquete Photos
When we arrive at the bus depot we are flummoxed at the block-long-line of people waiting to purchase tickets to David! Our hope of catching the 11 o’clock bus evaporates when Rick goes up to the front of the line to find tickets are now selling for the 4 p.m. bus. Plan B…should we stay another day in Panama City? Or Rick’s idea, take a taxi to the nearby domestic airport?…to which I respond, “I’m not leaving my place in the queue unless you find a WIFI and book a flight.” Rick comes back with a report of “no WIFI available” but also that there is another bus line that is selling tickets to David, with only eight people in line. We hustle over and purchase tickets $10.60 each for an 11 o’clock bus! The big red, white and blue bus looks decent and Rick says, “the tires look good” – we will never know the reason for the difference in popularity of the other bus line (they both take 8 hours).
It has been quite some time since we bussed between destinations and had forgotten what fun it is: delving into a good book, snacking on our stash of treats, rushing to get in line for a hot meal at the mid-way stop, and just watching the scenery go by while lost in thought.
After stashing our luggage in our roomy and comfy junior suite at the International Hotel David, we go to check out our hood. The temperature soars to 33degrees Celsius (91F). We figure Saturday must be shopping day for David citizens, judging from the vehicle traffic and the pedestrian packed streets and shops. Loud music, drummers and flag waving processions of people fill the main square promoting candidates for local representation and for that of president. They really start early here – the election is six months away!
Many ladies and young girls bopping around town are dressed in colourful gown-length loose dresses edged with embroidered designs. Known as Ngöbe Buglé, the name is based on the union of two indigenous peoples, whose territory was formally established in 1997. They live mostly near rivers, where they hunt and raise livestock. The men now wear western clothing…too bad as their traditional dress was comprised of exotic bird feathers, which they still don along with face-painting in geometric shapes during “Balseria Ceremonies”, in which the strongest man wins.
We instantly succumb to David’s charm, which turns into a love affair after we find the best $3.00 lunch on the planet at MultiCafe. Each day we choose from divine selections, such as a scrumptious “hombre-sized” lightly breaded fish with a heap of seasoned rice, or creamy chicken lasagne with a mound of crispy cooked veggies.
One morning we see the street next to central park set up with booths promoting developments in Chiriqui Province. We wander over and pick up a dozen brochures from different projects. The prices for newly built homes range from $39,000 to around $100,000 (some in David, some rural, differences in number of bedrooms, baths, etc.).
We found information on the benefits of applying for Panama’s “Pensionado Retiree Program” (passed in 1987). Qualifying for this program is minimal, and basically involves showing an income from a pension or Social Security of at least $1,000 per month, which allows discounts/tax exemptions, such as 25% off airline tickets, 50% off closing costs for home loans. International Living details this program well.
After a few days in David we take a refurbished school bus to Boquete – tickets can’t be purchase ahead for the 37km distance – just file into the Boquete line at the bus depot where a bus leaves approximately every half-hour – $1.75US per person.
Boquete, in the Caldera Valley of the Chiriqui Higlands is 1000m above sea level – which means an average temperature of 24 degrees Celsius (75F) all year round! It is surrounded by coffee plantations, orange groves and flower gardens, the hilly terrain becoming rugged peaks – the highest being Vocán Barú, which is a strenuous day’s walk to the summit (if one had a mind to).
We are content to just walk around the post-card pretty little town, which takes about an hour. We notice loads of companies selling tours for white water rafting, horseback riding in the hills, coffee plantation visits, and cloud forest treks – big draws to Boquete. After lunch we make our way over a bridge to where the Annual Flower Festival ended the day before; the crowds are gone but the gardens are still profuse with blooms.
Foreign investment targeting retirees have flooded the area over the past twenty-or-so years, driving up the price of real estate – now ranging from $100,000 into the millions. Tim Wood from Boquete For Sale is a good source for both pricing and rental information having lived in Boquete for six years. But, Rick and I stand our ground in our belief that before purchasing in any foreign country, no matter where in the world, to first rent for a winter or even a year to be sure all aspects of this country fit.
It is back to David for more walks in the sunshine, more delights at the small eateries, and to contemplate the contrasts of our Panama visit, surprising us in many ways. Being our first Central American experience, we can’t wait to see the similarities and differences as we visit more of Central America.
Our next adventure – Costa Rica.