Steve Doane is a guy’s guy. A retired member of the NYPD, this keen surfer has an athletic physique and likes his rock ‘n’ roll. So when he describes his new life in Panama as “like falling into a Walt Disney movie,” there are no raised eyebrows. Rather, there are nodding heads.
“What I mean is everything’s so intense…the sights and sounds,” he says. “When I go back to New England, it’s like someone changed the film to black and white. February on the East Coast looks gray after all the brilliant colors of Panama.”
Steve lives in the dream house that he and wife Adele built in the Pacific Coast community of Punta Barco. “Looking out my window, even now, I’m amazed by the colors, and it’s like this all year. You can’t improve upon the beauty here. And everything grows—our garden is full of the prettiest flowers that just pop up like weeds.
“Breakfast always features juice and fruits from our property, maybe mango or papaya or pipa (coconut water), depending on what’s in season or what we froze for later use. Our gardener is a wealth of knowledge, and he helps us make the most of our bounty.
“We grow lemon grass and healthy noni leaves for our tea, sweet yellow bananas and pineapple, and we have more lemons than we know what to do with,” he says.
“There’s a little old lady we’ve become friendly with: I give her rides whenever I see her walking along, and she gives us little gifts from her catch of the day. A few days ago she turned up with some fresh oysters. I fried them and had them with champagne. This is life… You’d have to drag me away, kicking and screaming.”
Though Panama has a prolonged wet season—generally from May through November—Steve’s home is in the Dry Arc. (You’ll enter this crescent-shaped region after about an hour’s drive west from Panama City). It’s sunny nearly every morning, with few afternoon showers.
Steve had always dreamed of living near the beach, but he and Adele knew that they couldn’t afford to in the U.S. “I’ve been surfing in Latin America since the mid-’70s, and about 10 years ago Adele surprised me with a surf trip to Panama.” Though Steve didn’t realize it at the time, Panama would stay in his subconscious…
“After I retired, about 11 years ago, we lived in Asheville. It was a great city, but too far from the beach for me. Adele loves mountains, so we wanted to live somewhere that had both.” They mulled over their options, but all the U.S. locales they liked were out of their budget. And then Adele said: “What about Panama?”
So they visited Panama several times, and eventually settled on Punta Barco. “Now we’re a short walk from the ocean, and there are three wonderful breaks that I can surf. Our property is surrounded by acacia trees that burst into orange during the blooming season. In the U.S. a home like this, so close to a nice beach, would cost upwards of $7 million and we spent nowhere near that.”
There are hundreds of expats living in the area, particularly in the growing town of Coronado, about 10 minutes from Punta Barco. “We even formed a band,” says Steve, who is the lead vocalist.
“We met a guitarist from Southern California who played with Bruce Springsteen’s early bands, so we were able to create a real rock n’ roll sound. Now we have a big local following,” he says. “We’re having a lot of fun.”
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