Louise Orr finds it hard to stay in. Though she retired early at the age of 53, she doesn’t have much free time. “There are days when I say, thank God I don’t have to be anywhere,” she says. “Days when I can just work in the yard, or read a book.”
It’s not that Louise is tied down to a business or a job…it’s just that there are so many fun and worthwhile things to do.
“I was working in the wine industry when I decided I was ready for a new chapter,” says Louise. Though she considered other countries, Panama kept “popping up” on her radar as a good place to live. Panama offers excellent flight connections, which appealed to Louise’s desire to travel. “I just flew direct to Amsterdam via KLM,” she says, as she enthusiastically describes her visit to Europe. “And Panama uses the U.S. dollar, which makes it a bit easier for people from the States.”
Panama’s stable government was also a plus in her eyes. She read about areas like El Valle, a valley town near Panama City, and the pristine beach of Boca Chica. But once she got boots on the ground in 2005, it was the mountain hamlet of Boquete that grabbed her attention.
“My first impressions were very positive,” she says. “I found Panama City’s heat and humidity to be too much for me, since I was more accustomed to Charleston, where I had lived last.” Boquete, on the other hand, is relatively cool, with spring-like temperatures in the 70s to low 80s F on most days.
Though she wasn’t initially looking for a gated community, Louise saw quite a few “up-and-coming” developments that caught her fancy. Eventually, she settled on a mountain-view community called Los Molinos. “I moved in exactly five years ago this week,” she says. “And it’s one of the best decisions I ever made in my life.”
Louise has thrown herself into the community and has both expat and Panamanian friends.
Today, she is chairwoman of the local branch of a charity called Buenos Vecinos (Good Neighbors) that provides food to over 100 families a month. Her charity and several others benefit from an annual fundraiser, in which she is involved for a good eight months of every year. The initiative is a two-day affair, with wine tastings, live and silent auctions, and a fair. “Last year we raised $68,000,” says Louise—a real feat, considering the average salary in Panama is about $400 a month.
There are plenty more charities to get involved in, but that’s not all by a long shot. There’s a yearly jazz festival, a new theater and community center with shows in English (where you’re likely to see Louise on stage), a single expats club, birding clubs, golf greens, beach trips, and more.
“We call it playing in the sandbox,” jokes Louise. “We have a lot of fun.” And yet she manages to live on an average budget of about $2,000 a month. “I keep close track,” she says, “and I account for everything, from a glass of wine to my car maintenance to my monthly homeowner’s fees (she has no mortgage debt). You could live here on less, but I am used to a certain lifestyle,” she explains. “I like to dine out and entertain, so I keep the bar stocked.”
Factor in the cost of cable television, Internet, occasional games of golf, a gardener twice a month, and maid service once a week, and you get the picture…the lifestyle is pretty sweet.
With so much to do at a low cost, it’s no wonder the 63-year-old is hard-pressed for free time. And when a new expat asked her, “Will I be bored here?” Louise’s answer was simple and straightforward: “Ma’am, if you are bored here, that is your fault!”
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