Not all expats follow the beaten paths to Boquette, Volcan, El Valle, Panama City, Coronado and other heavily promoted retirement areas. I have always been amused when I encounter an internet site for expatriates. The first thing that amuses me is the number of people desiring to relocate to another country, but seeking a Key West or Tucson type atmosphere where they can limit the differences of living in a foreign land and/or not be without the comfort of fellow citizens and peer groups. The second thing that amuses me are the agendas preying on these people. Granted a certain amount of 'help' is desirable, but the sheer volume of services, amenities, and developments designed to capture and guide the expat is mind boggling and would be laughable except for the inflated and artificial price tags. Because, for many, price is not the biggest issue, venders and developers are emboldened and the cycle of promoting, indoctrinating, and steering expats continues.
Except, as the famous poet Robert Service once wrote, 'There's a race of men that don't fit in, who roam the world at will.' Throughout Panama you will find retired expatriates (jubilados) happily living off the beaten path. These people are energetic, independent, inquisitive, and adventuresome. They are not sitting around in a retirement community playing checkers. You will find them enjoying many of the finer things which Panama has to offer, or running small businesses to get by. Up and down the rivers, along the coasts, and throughout the countryside foreigners live and rub elbows with Panamanians daily in a friendly, cooperative, and respectful manner. This is the other path to living in a foreign country, the path I find more fulfilling.
Ten years ago, against all the guidebooks' advice, I bought an overgrown lot on the edge of a small village on the upper coast, 40 km from Colon. As I built my new home, I got to know everyone in the village. Gradually I became acquainted with other Americans living on this stretch of the coast. There were only three, and that was fine with me. I learned Spanish and started a second family. We attend Panamanian matanzas, family reunions, birthday parties, and other events. We work on hobbies, projects, and other endeavors. We ride the 4 wheeler into the countryside, up shady, shallow rivers, and on jungle tracks under monkeys and toucans. We fish, dive the reefs, and snorkel the shallows. We experience Panama each and every day. Yes, there is a downside. We take plenty of precautions for our safety, deal directly with third world bureaucracy and backwardness, keep alert for shady characters and scams, shut our eyes to trashy areas, and cringe over the scroungy dogs and horses. We suffer with electrical outages, slow internet, and long grocery runs, but we live large, free, independent, and unfettered.
While life off the beaten path won't appeal to or be viable for everyone, the advantages are manyfold, ranging from a cleaner air, closer to the land, gratifying experience, to freedom from the routine and a wide variety of options with reasonable prices. Give the other path some thought before you opt for a traditional "retirement" area. Travel around and get to know the other expatriates living out in the real Panama. You may decide that even though you're ready to take life easy, you're not ready to just sit back and let the world go by.