Small-Town Living in Panama’s Cool-Weather Highlands

“While I loved the U.S., I find day-to-day life here is less complicated,” says Barbara Rabkin, who teaches art from her home in Boquete. “Boquete is a small town. I can live more simply here. I spend much less time in a car, and most things I need are within a few miles’ radius.”

Barbara and her late husband Morton discovered Panama in 2007 when they were looking for somewhere they could retire to affordably. “We made an exploratory trip to Panama, and discovered Boquete,” says Barbara. “We loved the temperate climate and charming setting in the highlands. Boquete is small but still a bit cosmopolitan, and has access to big-city attractions and healthcare in nearby David, which is only a 30-minute drive away.

“We have a couple of general practitioners and physicians in town, and there are specialists in David. My dentist is only a six-minute walk up the street and he charges $30 for a cleaning. So I have mostly what I need here in the way of healthcare.”

Mort had been an amateur bread baker for 25 years prior to moving to Boquete, and was known for his Jewish rye bread. In 2013, at the age of 76, Mort decided to open Morton’s Bakehouse, an artisan bakery and baking school in Boquete. The Rye Guy—as Mort was known—introduced San Francisco sourdough, Jewish rye, and other European breads to Boquete. “It didn’t take long for his reputation to grow, not only among the expat community but the Panamanian community as well,” says Barbara.

“It’s been very rewarding living in a new culture,” says Barbara. “Opening a bakery wasn’t part of the plan. It evolved as we allowed ourselves to evolve. I am certain this would never have happened in the U.S., as we would have been stuck in an old mindset.”

Barbara says she was overwhelmed with an outpouring of support following her husband’s passing. “Friends brought meals, offered to go shopping and do errands, and helped with fix-it tasks around the house. Though we had been living here for only eight years, the friendships we developed are both deep and meaningful.

“It’s so easy to make friends in a town like Boquete. The expat community is friendly, outgoing, and supportive of one another. And the Panamanians I’ve met through the years have been equally friendly and gracious.”

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