Penonomé is not the type of city that will be found high on the list for expats’ relocation. It does not have a beach, a famous historical site, or any major natural attraction. So how did this sleepy little town become my tropical paradise?
The stars aligned as a number of unforeseen circumstances put me in position to discover what I had not been looking for. In other words, I got lucky!
I came to Panama looking for the city life. Expecting to find something in or near Panama City. In fact, a two-hour drive from Panama City was my outermost limit. Penonomé was being promoted as one-and-a-half to two-hour drive. (It is actually a three-hour drive.) It became the last point of consideration on my initial list.
After a couple of visits to Panama City and attending a relocation conference in Panama, I decided to come down for a year. My first rental house fell through and I ended up in Santa Clara. This place was farther out than I had intended. Midway between Penonomé and Coronado, I began to explore these locations as I evaluated Panama for my future home.
Ten months after my arrival I made the decision to make Panama my new home. Alternating my shopping those first months had given me a good comparison between these two cities. Coronado is nice, and it has a strong expat community. Penonomé is more Panamanian.
The provincial capital of Coclé, Penonomé, in the geographic center of Panama does have a few unique features that I found attractive. Access to all the government offices provided an alternative to going into the city. The way pickup trucks from the local farms come to town and line the street in the mercado (market) is a big plus for me.
The mixture of supermarkets, big stores, family businesses, and a good assortment of restaurants filled all my needs. An unexpected attraction was the sense of community felt in Penonomé. There were parades for holidays, for schools, for political parties, and even for protest marches.
The final element in choosing my home in Penonomé was luck. Finding the right house at the right time in the right location is pure luck. I found a 3,000-square-foot, ten-room house on a small lot that was bigger than needed or wanted. Location, location, location screamed at me. Only one mile from downtown Penonomé. Atop a cliff overlooking Rio Zarati. The location was beautiful and convenient. At only $120,000, I could not turn the bargain down.
At this point I had made my decision about living in Penonomé. The things that I began to discover were wonderful confirmations of my decision. The small-town feeling grew rapidly as I became a part of the community.
The workers on my house recommended a hardware store for my materials. My first order was rather large. They gave me a discount and free delivery. Soon I discovered I was regularly getting the discount, and delivery is always free. When I needed something in the middle of the job, they delivered after a quick phone call, and told me just come back in the next day or two to pay.
My neighbor gave me a note with his name and phone number on it. It was six months or more before I discovered his last name was Flores. On the note he had written Rubén, vecino (neighbor).
The people here are more than tolerant as my slowly improving Spanish fails me on occasions. They are willing to repeat things as I struggle to understand. And help me with a smile when I do something like ask for helado agua (ice cream water) instead of heilo agua (ice water).
There were a lot of reasons to move to Panama. The weather is incredible. My concern about storms in other locations is not relevant here; we are south of the hurricane zone. Panama uses the U.S. dollar, so I have no problems with currency exchange. The U.S. presence for the last 100-plus years influenced all the infrastructure standards, so the infrastructure here is good.
My reasons for moving to Penonomé are much more personal. The tranquility I feel here is like nothing I have ever felt before. I wanted to experience a new culture. What I found was more than I expected. People regularly greet me wherever I go and treat me as a friend. I have no reason to ever leave Penonomé. I am part of the community here. Life cannot get any better than that.