Marvin and Joanne Riddle don’t just enjoy “the best of both worlds”…they enjoy the best the whole world has to offer them.
The couple spend part of every year in Florida, part of the year living on La Barqueta beach, in Panama’s Chiriquí province, and—when the mood takes them—they travel the world, too. So far this year, the Tennessee natives have visited England, Scotland, and Croatia.
“We had a friend, Nina, who owned a place in Panama,” says Marvin. She had bought on the little beach of La Barqueta, just 15 miles from David (the capital of Panama’s Chiriquí province).
“Nina showed us video footage of her condo, which was right on the beach, in a private community.” The small, family-owned affair consists of about 50 homes on the beach and 40-odd condo units, anchored by a resort.
“We rented her condo for a month; but after just two days there, we decided we wanted to buy,” says Marvin. Things just fell into place. “Somebody was selling, I made an offer, and that was it.” And it’s the only thing on which they have splurged, paying $180,000 for a spacious, 1,650-square-foot unit that came furnished.
Their average day may include a leisurely bike ride past parrots and rainbow-billed toucans into the village of Guarumal for a $4 dinner—a paper plate of flaky fish garnished with bright “creole lime” and a side of smashed green plantains.
Marvin and Joanne like the May-to-November rainy season in La Barqueta, also the windiest time of year. The sunny days and cloudy days each have their own appeal.
“When it’s cloudy, there’s this super sea breeze…and when it rains it’s nice and cool, 80 F at most,” says Marvin.
But the people are what Marvin likes most about life here. He says everybody they pass has a greeting and a smile. Most of their neighbors are Panamanians who weekend at the beach, but quite a few Canadians and Americans are resident as well, some full-time. All told, he has several hundred neighbors, and has made friends with folks from all over.
When in residence, their monthly budget is typically $1,200 or less. This includes a club membership of $250 a year, affording them access to tennis courts, a small weights room, and a pool at the resort (which they say they may never use, as their condo building has a “gorgeous” pool).
They also pay $250 monthly maintenance, which includes building insurance and high-speed Internet. “The Internet is better than our service in Florida,” says Marvin. “Fiber optics all the way out to every building.” They also get a 20% discount on meals at the resort.
“The area is very rural. On the drive from David, you can see cattle being herded, along with chickens, goats, and pigs,” says Marvin, but that suits him and Joanne just fine. They’re not city folks—though they admit that it’s nice to come to town for a few days.
That’s the beauty of part-time living in La Barqueta—they fly from Miami to Panama City, where they may spend a few days enjoying the restaurants, and then catch another flight to David. The day I met Marvin and Joanne in Panama City, they had taken a tour to the Panama Canal and had a gourmet dinner.
The next day, they were at La Barqueta enjoying small-town Panamanian life.
Marvin says that between his fledgling Spanish and the few locals who speak English, he manages to communicate just fine. “I want to learn Spanish better and the people here are so helpful; they have no problem correcting me!
“I don’t know where you’d be safer, live this well for so little, or find nicer people,” he says. “I feel so at home here.”