Retirement Fun in a Tiny Chiriqui Town – Boquete Panama
By Larke Newell
Many people who have made the decision to retire to Panama choose the largely ex-pat community of Boquete. There they can continue to speak mostly English, meet new like-minded friends, and retain their own customs, food, and traditions.
However my husband and I were adamant that, if we were going to make the drastic decision to relocate to a new and different country, we preferred to integrate wholly and completely. We wished to learn their language, customs, traditions, and general way of life.
Consequently we bought a property which is nestled into a tiny Panamanian area known as Caimito which is five minutes from the small town of Dolega and approximately fifteen minutes from the city of David.
We love our Panamanian neighbours, who have accepted our moving into their midst. At this point our Spanish is far from fluent so we struggle to communicate beyond the basics but they laugh good-naturedly and we bungle our way through.
We have been invited to church services and family gatherings and feel honored to know that we are well thought of here.
In Panama there are tiny towns (which back home would be called villages) all along the highways running between the larger centres.
Recently we heard of an elderly lady in Dos Rios who weaves sun hats from dried grasses grown along the river banks.
Since this tiny village is less than a mile from Dolega, and since we had yet to go there, we arranged with the granddaughter of this lady and her husband, who is American, to visit.
What a wonderful experience and what a delightful little town. Nestled in the lush vegetation, it is off the beaten track, and away from the main highway. It contains two churches, a small school, and one or two local “fondas”, which are tiny Panamanian eateries, usually operated from people’s homes, but no other commercial establishments. Almost bordering on Dolega it is easy and convenient to utilise the businesses there, or catch a bus to David. Buses here are so convenient, plentiful, and cheap.
Dos Rios consists solely of small, well kept, colorful Panamanian-style homes, all of which are surrounded by a profusion of vibrant red, purple, yellow, and pink flowers and shrubs of every species. It is almost like a competition to see who can have the most beautiful and well cultivated yard
As the name implies, two rivers wind their way through town, providing shady, scenic areas for picnicking and swimming. The local children can be found shrieking with laughter as they dive in and out of the water, cavorting like porpoises.
The inhabitants love their town and their pride in it is apparent. Some of them have lived here for three generations or more, as has the lovely granddaughter, Graciela, who kindly drove us on a sightseeing tour on our way to visit her abuela (grandma).
Consequently there are not many houses for sale here, although there is land aplenty for building. Rent is quite cheap, however. Graciela and her husband Patrick have a brand new rental house that rents for $350.00 per month. It sits on a lovely three quarter acre lot containing mango, orange lemon, banana, and plantain trees and provides an outdoor shed and extra water storage tanks. The house is small but beautifully finished and boasts a lovely covered terrace.
Abuela Tina’s house is small but immaculate and has a tiny attached verandah. This is where we found the eighty-nine year old hat maker patiently weaving one of her famous hats. Family members gather the grasses and dry them. Then Abuela Tina sets to work. This exacting and highly specialized method was passed down from her own mother. The hats are beautiful and well made. It takes Abuela a little over a week to complete one hat. Unfortunately this lady is extremely shy and speaks no English so we were unable to speak with her at length but my love of history was crying out to hear her life story!
Later we discovered that this amazing lady is also involved in the historic making of sugar cakes from sugar cane that is fed into a wooden device which extracts the sugar and liquid. The wheels on the wooden “machine” are turned by two oxen. The liquid is boiled at a very high temperature and then allowed to cool so that it can be made into the delicious sugar cakes which are sold for fifty cents each.
A few days later, we were so honored to be invited to their annual culture festival being held locally in Dos Rios called the Festival of Antano. Numerous ceremonies and festivals are held here each year as these people are proud of their heritage and try hard to preserve it. The most well known of the festivals are Festival of the Brown Sugar Loaf, Festival of the Orange,and of course Holy Week.
One more fascinating experience for us ensued. Traditional dances, stunning historic costumes, and traditional food delighted our eyes and our senses. The most popular dances, which originated many years ago right there in the Dolega region, include Cumbia Tropichara, Grove Sugar Cane, and Point.
What a fun-filled, yet educational day for us and these joyous, friendly souls accepted us into their midst amicably and without question. My husband and I came away that day with a renewed sense of why we live in this community of proud, big hearted people and reiterated to each other how very glad we are that we made the decision to dwell among them.