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Aging Out Of Place In Boquete, Panama

Aging Out of Place in Boquete, Panama

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“I’m volunteering with the Boquete Community Playhouse, doing production and stage managing. There are lots of retired professionals here who used to work in TV and Hollywood.”

Chris Jones hadn’t planned on becoming a croupier, but he was living in Las Vegas and needed a job, so he ended up working in the casinos. Twenty-five years later, divorced and the father of two grown children who he had raised alone, Chris was looking at retirement. Determined to take his time and make a good choice, he took a tour of Panama geared to retirees who are looking for a new place to call home. The Panamanian government’s retiree benefits programs are considered among the best in the world. After visiting a variety of places—from Panama City’s country-club gated communities to little rural villages—he found Boquete.

Nestled in Panama’s mountain highlands about 60 miles from Costa Rica and known for its natural beauty, Boquete has a sleepy small-town feel with a cosmopolitan slant—it’s a favorite destination for American expats (it’s been dubbed “Gringolandia”) and is home to the annual Boquete Jazz & Blues Festival.

The town appealed to Chris, and at age 65 he made the move to a lush, green place with lots of rainbows and a glorious view of the mountains—a far cry from the desert he was leaving behind.

Chris spoke with Senior Planet by phone from his home in Boquete.

Chris Jones on his balcony in Boquete
What appeals to you about Panama?

I was looking for a place that was inexpensive, welcoming to Americans and easy to travel back and forth to from the US..

I’m not pleased with the U.S. government. I remember times when things were more democratic, not controlled by party politics. Panama has a stable government and a strong economy, and with the second canal open, it’s even better. The other factor is that my retirement funds are limited. I’m living on a fixed income with Social Security and a small pension, which isn’t stigmatized here like it is in the US. Panama is friendly to retirees—both locals and foreigners—and the government even has programs geared to seniors. Restaurants have mandated discounts for people age 55-plus.

The Panamanian people are friendly and polite. They’re not hostile because you’re white. They always say hello and goodbye. If you go to the grocery store, you greet each other before you do business, you don’t just blurt out a question. There are many indigenous people from a number of tribes; in fact, the largest indigenous tribe in Central America lives in Western Panama. They wear traditional dress and are dirt poor, but seem happy and not envious.

Why Boquete?

I picked it because of the climate. It’s in western Panama in the shadow of the Baru volcano, which at 11,401 feet is the highest point in Panama. There are around 20 microclimates here, and your local climate depends on where on the mountain you are. My side is a little less humid. Any time of day or night I can go outside in a T-shirt and be comfortable. Everything is lush and green. They have a type of rain called the bajareque, which is a little denser than a mist, but it’s inconsequential and no one pays attention to it. A lot of people move to the coast, but that’s like Florida, way too hot and humid for me.

Besides the climate, there’s a well established expat community here. Boquete has amenities, and what you can’t get here you can get in David, the second largest city in Panama, about 40 minutes away. David has stores like Target, Costco, Home Depot…

Tell us about life in Boquete.

I’m living in an apartment under the terrace of a big house, which is standard. A lot of people build western-style houses with terraces on the side of the mountain to enjoy the view, and under their terraces they create apartments. My apartment is about 1,000 square feet with one bedroom. The windows are all sliders that I can open, so my whole living room is a terrace. I have floor to ceiling windows, it’s beautiful. I often find myself spending my time just looking out the window or walking out onto the porch in front of my house to look at the mountains.

There’s an amazing range of available housing here, depending on what you’re willing to put up with in terms of native-style living or what you want in modern amenities. I have nice appliances, wifi TV, Netflix.

You do have to put up with a more primitive infrastructure here. TV and internet are satellite, not cable. Electricity is not as advanced, so it’s subject to outages much more often than in the US. It’s usually not a real concern, but if a power line gets knocked down by a tree or there’s a severe storm it takes a day or three or more to get the power repaired. Some people have generators.

Food is inexpensive and good—depending on your preferences. If you go into a standard Panamanian restaurant you can get a big lunch or dinner plate with chicken or pork and rice and beans and salad for $3.50. But if you want to eat gourmet style, we have those restaurants as well, and prices are like in the States. In the middle, there are a…

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