The One-Year Adventure That Turned into a Lifetime Overseas

When I think of my life, I think of it in two parts…the first part of my life was spent in Abbeville, Louisiana, a small town, where I was a high school teacher. And then there’s my life in Panama. There’s really no comparison. I visit my family at least twice a year in the U.S., and it’s wonderful to be there, but then I come home to Panama and it’s even more wonderful to be back.

I’m a gypsy at heart, I love to travel. When I was 23 and earning a miserly teacher’s salary, the United Fruit Company sparked the call to adventure with an offer to teach in one of their schools in Latin America, specifically in Bocas del Toro, Panama.

What was supposed to be a one-year adventure has turned into a lifetime of no regrets. There, I met my husband, who also loves to travel. We were married in the U.K., and then moved back to Panama. We spent 35 years living in Panama City where we watched it grow from art-deco suburbs to a booming, sprawling metropolis.

Today I live in Boquete. My first visit here was back in 1969, when it was still a sleepy little farm town, and everything opened and shut down with the chickens. My in-laws, who were both from Chiriqui, moved to Boquete, and my husband Ibu and I would visit often.

We always knew we wanted to retire here. People greeted each other on the street…all warm, friendly people who made us feel welcome and part of the community. Though Boquete is no longer sleepy, it still has its charm, especially when wood smoke fills the air and low clouds cover the mountain tops.

And even though Boquete is now a bustling farm town, everything is still small scale. I can run all my errands in under 30 minutes, on foot.

And keeping occupied here is easy too. When I left teaching, I started a bilingual children’s publishing company, Piggy Press Books. I market them both online and at the weekly Tuesday Market, which keeps me busy. But I can also pick and choose other activities to do, from classical guitar concerts to the yearly blues and jazz festival to the annual flower fair.

My favorite time of the day is the late afternoon when the sun is setting beyond the mountains. I sit on the back steps with a stack of books, a cup of tea and the cat, or just admire the blooming flowers and gaze on a stunning vista of Volcan Baru.

But when we need to get away from the peace and quiet, David is only 40 minutes down the hill and sunny beaches a bit beyond that.

I’ve lived more than half my life in Panama, six of those in Boquete, and I’ve seen a lot of change in that time. In recent years, many of the places in Panama have been “discovered” and so change is inevitable. But I’m glad to say it’s mostly good: city infrastructure, road repairs, new housing, local employment, and language development.

When I first arrived in Panama, there were no skyscrapers in the capital. Now I’m awed by its skyline. But Panama is a metropolis, a crossroads literally, and it always has been. It’s a healthy mix of cultures with a wonderful mañana attitude…which is why after all this time, I still love living here.

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