Part 3 On distant dirt – Boquete, City of Eternal Spring
Boquete distinguishes itself from the steamy coastal climate with its temperate weather, albeit on the wet and cool side – at least when I was there.
Boquete is famous for ‘bajareque’, an extremely fine mist that hangs in the air. The constant delicate spray makes you feel like you’re living in a facial – enjoyable if you don’t crave sunshine.
Bajareque mist on flower
In sunshine, I understand, seeing the magnificent frame of mountains that circles this town is said to be breathtakingly beautiful. The vista includes Panama’s highest land point, Volcán Barú, a dormant volcano that soars 3,475 metres above sea level. I never did see the volcano. And only fleeting patches of blue occasionally appeared from above the cloud. I did find fabulous, brooding light for photography.
Boquete sits in Chiriquí, the most northwesterly region of Panama, where much of the agricultural production comes from, including fruits, vegetables, coffee and livestock.
Boquete appeared to be fairly prosperous and its people, industrious. It is close to the Ngäbe-Buglé comarca, so the town has an indigenous presence.
Retirees, particularly from North America, comprise about 15 percent of the population.
“Clean water, clean air, clean environment, inexpensive living and lots of retiree benefits,” one British ex-pat told me. I met her, her American husband and her sister enjoying capuccinos on an outdoor patio. They were under an umbrella. And I was wearing rain gear.
She and her husband fell in love with Boquete and retired here about 15 years ago. About 12 years ago they invited her sister to visit from England. She also liked it so much, the three built a duplex and now they all live in Boquete year round.
Indeed, retirees get a really good deal in Panama, including 25 per cent off national flights and 30 per cent off buses, boats and trains; substantial discounts on already inexpensive medicines and hospital bills. Plus, plus, plus.
“Why wouldn’t we live here?” the wise retiree queried, arching a well shaped eyebrow. It’s also really easy to get by without speaking Spanish.
Flexing the lengua
Boquete was one of the few places in Panama, where I really had to hunt to use the language. I stayed at Mamallena hostel, a fabulous, inexpensive place to stay right on the plaza. The young dude at reception was from the Czech Republic and couldn’t speak or understand Spanish. And anyone in the service industry spoke excellent English. So, I poked my head into various businesses and ho mes to exercise the language and take some photos.
Boquete’s the place to jump off to explore the mountains and sits right at the border the the international Peace Park that Panama shares with Costa Rica. I’ve wanted to go there for a long time because it must be fabulous and in the right time of year, if you’re lucky you can see the emerald green Quetzal, a bird with mythical status to the Mayans. But I wasn’t all that eager to tramp about in the cloud forest in the mud and rain. So, it’s one of those “next-time” destinations. I hung around town mainly, shooting and chatting.
I liked Boquete. It’s sweet. It’s simple. I found a small unpretentious restaurant frequented by locals, right on a corner of the plaza where you can get a fabulous down-home set lunch menu that includes a piece of chicken, lentils, rice and cole slaw and fresh papaya juice for $2.50. The coffee’s good everywhere you go. The people are really friendly and open.
Would I retire there? No, I wouldn’t. But then – Retire from what?