Mayra and I visited Santa Fe in Veraguas, it was an opportunity to see the town some people think will become the next Boquete, what ever that means. I had been there before, Mayra, had not. What we saw was little changed from the Santa Fe of three years ago, and I suspect the Santa Fe of twenty years before that. Aside from a spray painted “Gringos go home” sign entering town the community was as gracious as before.
The sign, which I did not photograph, motivated me to ask, “what’s going on here”. The answer was an echo of what I have heard in Chiriqui. It was not interpreted to mean Gringos, generically, go home, but is targeted at those Gringos building a new hydro electric plant outside of town. Gringos, expat, extranjeros, are still welcome and warmly treated in this town that is trying to be an ecotourism center. The people building a hydro project, destroying the very heart of ecotourism in the region, the rivers, are not so welcome.
In Panama we are seeing an effort to do two things that are opposed to each other. Build a tourism based economy and pave the countryside. If you destroy the environment you cannot succeed in building ecotourism, regardless of how much marketing money you spend. People love to see the canal, but besides that, Panama has untold resources for people wanting to see a breed of nature found no place else. In Panama you can swim in both the Caribbean and the Pacific in one day. This idea of two oceans, will soon change the small town of Santa Fe.
Santa Fe is located closer to the Caribbean than the Pacific, the only thing it lacks is a road to the untouched beaches of the Caribbean coast of Panama. The government is building the road, now. Santa Fe, the sleepy town of a few thousand will soon be another roadside attraction on the road from Santiago to the Caribbean. If rumor is correct, Boquete might also find itself with a similar road across the continental divide. Maybe in that way they will be similar. Listening to the voices I heard in Santa Fe the current residents would prefer it if things did not change too quickly, those I spoke with would rather visit Boquete than live here.
While is Santa Fe we stayed in the La Qhia hostel and if you visit I would recommend the hostel. It is walking distance from the center of town, clean, inexpensive and the owner, Stephanie is a pleasure to know. We enjoyed our time there, we in particular enjoyed sitting around the breakfast table talking with other visitors who were there to see a different slice of Panama. Santa Fe is Panama before massive change, it is a time machine back into history. If you visit be sure to fill your car in Santiago, because the next time you will have the opportunity is when you return to Santiago. Santa Fe does not have a gas station, a significant indication of what makes it different.
If you are visiting or even if you live in Panama I suggest a trip to Santa Fe, a day trip is not enough. Spend a a few days, explore the rivers, explore the bordering comarca and meet some of the people living off the land in the mountains.The experience will enrich your view of the world and perhaps change some of your perspective of what is important in life.