Anne Gordon de Barrigón didn’t want to come to Panama the first time she was invited.
“But it was a period of transition in my life and I was restless,” she recalls. “So my friend convinced me and I just fell in love with the country and the people. I knew it was the right place for me and I’ve been here ever since.” That was in 2004.
Today Anne, age 57, lives in the leafy and tranquil Ancon neighborhood of Panama City with her husband and together they own and operate whale-watching and indigenous village tours.
They have it all…the convenience and amenities of big city living in the nation’s capital, and regular visits to jungle nestled villages or out on the open water in search of awesome marine creatures.
Anne and her husband rent a two-bedroom apartment in an area that was once part of the U.S. military housing for the Canal Zone and pay $650 a month for rent. With utilities, groceries, and other necessities, Anne estimates their personal monthly expenses at $1,200 to $1,400 a month.
When they’re not working they might take in a movie at the nearby multi-cinema, or visit a casino and try their luck.
“We like to go out to eat now and then and have a few favorite spots,” Anne says. “The seafood at Mi Ranchito on the Amador Causeway is always fresh and a full meal costs about $15. The Balboa Boulevard Café has a huge menu, it’s always busy and boisterous and their food is good. And when we’re in the mood for an American-style burger or a tasty salad, TGIF is our pick.”
Anne operates her whale-watching and village tours business out of her home in the city along with her husband, who is a member of Panama’s Emberá tribe. With the success of their business they have set up a sales office at a hotel on Contadora Island off Panama City.
“Even though the whale-watching season is July through October, we have staff on duty at the hotel year-round,” Anne says. “We offer snorkeling and kayak trips, dolphin sighting trips, outings to other islands, and five-day retreats when the whales are here…and of course our village tours.”
Anne’s first business in Panama was tour guiding to the local villages.
“I came here to work on a film. The filming took place in an Emberá village outside of Panama City and I was fascinated by the indigenous customs and way of life,” Anne explains. “There were a few companies offering tours to the village and I started working with them as a freelancer.”
It wasn’t long before Anne set up her own business, created a website, and realized she could make a living in Panama.
Once her village tour company was established Anne saw the potential in boat trips to watch the whales.
“Humpback whales come here to give birth in the warm water. My husband and I started doing whale and dolphin watching trips in Panama Bay. Once we got the word out that there are whales in Panama the business took off,” she says.
By remaining open to possibilities and recognizing opportunities Anne has parlayed her skills, knowledge, and experience into becoming a successful tour operator.
“The key is to be willing to take a chance and not be afraid to do something different. I’ve always followed my heart to do what feels right for me, and I have no regrets,” she says.
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