“Bird heaven.” It’s often the first phrase that comes to mind when I’m in the El Valle region, just two hours by car from Panama City. On the western edge of the popular crater town is Potosí—a green oasis dotted with palms and flowering shrubs.
It’s late afternoon, and the surfers are making their way on to the shore. I’ve been working and enjoying the view from under a restaurant’s thatched roof.
Colorful birds swoop in and out of the trees of the rainforest landscape. Combined with a blue sky, it makes a soothing palette—perfect for days that flow like honey, slow and sweet. We sit on the large terrace, sipping wine and chatting about life in small, sleepy El Valle, Panama.
I’m sitting at a pub eating proper U.K.-style fish and chips, sipping a local microbrew, and watching the beautiful people (and cars) go by. This is Panama City, so it’s lovely and warm. It was clear skies all afternoon so, as soon as the clock hit 5 p.m., I headed out for a bit of sun and social time.
About a month ago, I packed up my things and left Panama City for a rented house in the countryside…and it was glorious. I wrote to friends about the peace and serenity of “my little Quietville.” And when my one-month lease expired, I got teary-eyed…
Earlier this evening I walked across a plaza to meet a friend. There was an elegantly outfitted brass band playing for a group of dignitaries. The centuries-old Hotel Central—newly restored to its former glory—was the perfect backdrop. Locals hung out in the gazebo and on benches around the plaza, enjoying the impromptu show.
I wake up to the sound of birds, the sun shining through the windows that line my bedroom. It has become my habit to get up and throw open the front door before doing anything else. All day long that door stays open, the terrace outside seamlessly flowing into the interior of my wood cabin.
When artist Cynthia Hass Bishop met her now husband, Fred Bishop, she had an important question for him: “Would you consider living outside the U.S.?” “When I was 10, I told my parents I wanted to go the University of Mexico City,” she says. Exploring has always been in her blood. And Panama was on her list early on.
I'm sipping a golden ale nano-brew and looking out over the peaks of Panama's Coclé Province. It's a broad vista. Beyond the bright, grassy shades of mango and banana trees are mountains, richly carpeted in a deep, velvety green.
“Rent before you buy.” I’ve been interviewing expats in Panama since I began writing for International Living in 2006, and this may well be the phrase I hear (and repeat) the most. It’s good advice when moving to a new community…whether it’s across the country or across the world.