This post is personal and will not apply to everyone, in fact I doubt 100% of it will apply to anyone except me. Like the previous post on budget, these reasons I stay in Boquete will not be the reasons anyone else might choose to live here.
“The longest journey begins with the first step”
I needed a change in life. I was wearing down, too much work, too much stress and a bad feeling about the future. However the primary motivator for my wife and I to leave Arizona was physical and emotional fatigue, a need for a change and an opportunity. When my youngest daughter completed High School and chose not to live at home for University, we decided this was the opportunity.
In exploring options for a change my wife and I looked at Europe and Latin America. We explored Costa Rica and then Panama. I spoke very little Spanish, she none. Neither of us wanted heat or beaches, we needed cool and wet after almost forty years of Arizona. We discovered the expat mountain community of Boquete Panama and it was perfect for me, she reluctantly agreed.
After a year and a half the charm of Boquete wore off for my wife, it grew for me. This point is important to people considering a move to any new place for retirement. Retirement is difficult, instead of a couple sharing a few hours a day suddenly they are sharing all day and all night. Toss in a new environment and it can either forge a new stronger tie or drive a wedge. Many people arrive here as couples and some leave uncoupled, others arrive single and find new loves.
What drew me was a change. Life in Boquete was less expensive than our life in Arizona, with less stress. The climate of Boquete is perfect for me, I love the clouds and year round temperate climate; no air-conditioning, no heating. Here in Boquete I discovered fishing as a recreation, it is not my favorite thing but a couple of times a year I find myself on a boat with a group of friends angling for tuna. i discovered tropical beaches and learned to relax, something new for me.
As a city boy looking for a change in life, I bought a small farm. I grow my own vegetables, raise chickens, have citrus trees and coffee. Food was one of the motivators for the move. The food chain in the US is broken, the food production by a handful of companies in the US has destroyed the family farm and the quality of food. Yes, prices on food in the US can be lower than what we see in Panama, but the food itself is also lower quality. That is changing here, in October 2012 the US Panama free trade agreement will open the floodgates to US government subsidized exported foods. I suspect that as in Mexico and other countries many small local farmers will lose their battle for survival. Still, at this moment the quality of food is better in Panama. Because I have my own farm my tomatoes will still ripen on the vine, my chiles will still be harvested and roasted by me, I will still pick my own bananas and my eggs and chickens will not get antibiotics or hormones.
As all new immigrants to any place learn, immigration is not easy. You can learn a new language or be isolated from the mainstream culture. You need to deal with a different form of government and entirely different and ineffective legal system. You will need a lawyer for property purchases, immigration and who knows what else. I have been learning Spanish for six years, a little classroom time and a lot of immersion. Slowly I am getting both the language and the culture. It has been said that learning a second language as an adult is difficult, for me it is. However it has also been said that learning a second language as an adult helps prevent dementia, maybe, but even if that is not true it does stimulate the little grey cells, I like it.
When I arrived the healthcare system was not something of much concern, I was still twenty years old, in my head. Later as I used the healthcare system both for my wife, for my daughter when she visited and for myself when my heart decided to be testy, I learned a lot. I and my family received better healthcare in Panama than we received in the US. Doctors here are not yet caught up into the insurance company assembly line process. I have the cell phone number of my doctor. I feel better about medicine here, with some exceptions, than in the US. Medicine is also more affordable if you are forced to go out of pocket you can for most things. I do pay for a high end international health insurance policy, but I would pay almost as much for far less coverage in Arizona at todays inflated health insurance rates.
I like the people in Panama. Many of the expats I have met here are people, not sheep, and they are from all around the globe. They took a risk leaving their native countries, those who stay are open to new ideas and new cultures. I try to avoid the carpet baggers who are also here being parasites on the new comers, in time people learn who they are and learn to avoid them. I like the Panamanians I know, I have developed some excellent friends who were born here, live here and work here, they also help keep me here.
Then there is the opportunity to grow personally. City boy turned farmer, businessman turned writer and at times a social gadfly. These are all positive changes for me. Many of my peers came here to retire and created new adventures either in business or for the good of the community. Just like any community in any country there are vast needs in Boquete Panama and both expats and locals have banded together to tackle some of those needs. We are a community.
The summary for me is that I moved from the city to the country, I could have done that in Arizona.I found a perfect climate in the mountains a couple of hours from tropical beaches and fishing, not possible in many places. I can swim in both the Pacific and the Caribbean in one day, if I wanted to. I forced myself to learn and grow intellectually both with a new language and a new culture. I learned patience, any Type A personality coming to Panama needs to learn patience or die trying. I enjoy the diversity of geography, language, culture and opportunity. Those are the things that attract me to staying here. Equal are things going on in the US that repel me from returning, but that is another story.