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The Boquete Report, Panama

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Written by Matt   
Saturday, 24 January 2009 12:37
Boquete PanamaI've been around Panama now for something like four years, a time in which I've traveled like a mischievous sprite to the nation's rural valleys and the barren beaches. I've met and lived with its indigenous tribes, I've explored its jagged coastline by air, land and sea, and I've hiked its most wild and isolated peaks. In a way, I've turned the glove of Panama inside out, enjoying both its well-known attractions and largely nameless hidden gems. I've spelunked in Darien, I've suntanned in Cambutal, and I've driven the treacherous Carretera Llano Carti all the way to San Blas. I've visited pre-Columbian gravesites amidst the jungles of Veraguas, I've hunted iguanas in Chiriqui, and I've bet on cockfights in the heart of Chorillo. But I can't say my relationship with Panama has ever been that in-depth. It's one of those things that's almost as embarrassing as it is curious, visiting the famous town of Boquete for the first time. It's like living in France for four years and procrastinating a visit to the Eiffel Tower. I arrived in Boquete blindly to write a freelance article for a major US news publication and hoped to gather enough information in three days to put together a cohesive and accurate piece. This objective, I soon realized, was paramount to ignoring new neighbors for several years, then showing up unannounced and asking if they have happen to have all the ingredients for a traditional Valencia paella.

You can't carve a turkey in the dark: I've never been a fan of journalists who visit places for several days then write articles making sweeping assumptions and giving expert advice. Unless you're a longtime local or have stolen a longtime local's diary, it's almost impossible to fully grasp the character of a place in that amount of time. But in truth, how can you visit for a few days and NOT make assumptions and get some things wrong? Similar to shopping for a camcorder, I'd hoped to simply gather some useful opinions and get a good feel for the product.

Boquete is like a Vermont ski town in the summertime, all the time. In the days, there's this cool, fresh air that isn't quite chilly enough to warrant a jacket; a polar opposite from the oppressive heat that lingers elsewhere in Panama. That people like this little nook of Panama because of the chilly weather at night seems somewhat harebrained to a kid from New Jersey: like traveling all the way to Florence for a Big Mac. But surprisingly, the afternoon breezes, crackling fireplaces, and morning dew are like Cape Cod in their coziness. Lodges on the main street of dark and polished woods house boutique tour agencies with hand-drawn signs - a testament to its eco-village reputation and reminiscent of grassroots villages in Maine.

There's also a weird aspect of the Swiss Alps about Boquete, with small babbling brooks that run between restaurants and bakeries, a naked yet complex landscape that seems like it should be covered in a layer of snow. Yugoslavian settlers in Chiriqui imparted a theme of steep triangular roofs, which peek up from the forests, reminiscent of Bavarian chocolate houses. The first thing I did when I got into Boquete, in fact the first thing I do when I arrive in any foreign place for the first time, was go in desperate search of a barber shop.

Boquete PanamaBarbershops, no matter where you are in the world, are universal in their procurement of town gossip: perhaps the best possible way to gain insider knowledge without sneaking into a town hall meeting. From Frankfurt to Philadelphia, some of the best travel advice and town scandals I've been privy to come from a barbershop. Plus, I needed a haircut.

The small room with its windows and doors open to the street was empty except for a sixties-style couch that was leaking foam, three old school barber chairs that appeared to have been rescued from wartime USA, and a deep sink that was filled with soapy warm water. The owner of the shop, a withered old man around sixty, stood with his loose white shirt unbuttoned and several combs sticking out from the pocket.

"Sit down in that chair and don't move your head one inch," he said as I entered the shop. It was as if he'd held some sort of grudge against me in a previous life, like I'd borrowed his scissors and never returned. The barber had owned his humble shop for forty years and spent roughly that long on my simple buzz cut explaining the pros and cons, from the perspective of a longtime local, of Boquete having evolved into the town it is today. While the money he makes on a haircut had nearly quadrupled since he began, Boquete had also lost some of its harmony, he said, some of its peace.
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"You see that?" he pointed through the window of the shop, aiming up into the side of a mountain where the green sheen of a massive home protruded from the tree line. "Puro dinero. That guy gives me a two-dollar tip," he said as he cut my ear with the straight edge razor and a small rivulet of blood trickled down my cheek.

Boquete PanamaThe Caldera River acts like Boquete's spine: a beautiful rush of whitewater that varies in width from one end of town to the other, reminiscent of rivers and creeks that flow throughout the Canadian Rockies. Giant displaced boulders from Boquete's recent flood lined the riverbanks and an emanating chilly breeze circulates throughout the majority of the valley. Boquete is a thirty-minute drive to Panama's second biggest city David, and a 1.5 hour drive from Boca Chica, one of the nation's most beautiful up-and-coming white-sand coastal regions. It's altitude hovers around 3,000 feet above sea level.

The entertainment scene in Boquete is small scale, but its locals socialize a lot. The dining scene is limited yet of high quality; my favorites were the hearts of palm salad at the Panamonte Hotel, the hamburgers at Boquete Bistro, the falafel platter at Tammy's, and the fresh trout with tomatoes and mushrooms at Il Pianista, a little Italian place tucked away somewhat obtusely into the riverside hills. Nightlife-wise, the two go-to bars are Zanzibar, a funky African/beach saloon, and Cabana, a gringo owned cliff-based lodge. The small local restaurants are tasty and simple, with a decent plate of rice, beans, protein and salad running around $2.50. The local cantinas charge anywhere from $0.50-$1.00 for a beer.

I heard it a lot from expat transplants: that people enjoy Boquete because it still offers an affordable lifestyle. While the high-end places charge close to Panama City prices (Peruvian ceviche for $7.95), there are certainly still the small bodegas and local businesses that offer inexpensive services. The beef, trout, and strawberries in Boquete are all first-class.

Wandering through the humid wings of Panama City's most luxurious mall, I often find myself uncertain as to why exactly stores dedicate entire sections to winter jackets, sweaters, and heavy wool pants. The answer, I now realize, is Boquete. It gets really cold here!

The closest I've ever felt to Boquete's chill factor in Panama is El Valle and honestly it doesn't compare. People in Boquete, not unlike the Eskimos and snow, have four words for rain, each of which I experienced on my trip. The most signature of these rains is called bajareque: a fine mist that's similar to the mist they spray on lettuce at the grocery store. When it's not drizzling or experiencing a chilly breeze, Boquete temperatures hover around perfect.

Tourism in Boquete is not unlike a healthy newborn giraffe: plenty of potential yet burdened with the realization that not all its infant legs are in sync. There are those who have a vision, and those who have trouble seeing tomorrow. Small (mostly foreign owned) tour operators have popped up offering rafting, tree canopies, hiking, and canoe trips while roughly ten to fifteen boutique hotels handle sleeping accommodations, ranging from $40 rooms to $425 suites. Celebrities both old and new, from movie stars to US presidents have visited Boquete over the past 100 years: it has an old-world historical charm that's irresistible.

Boquete PanamaAs in most parts of Panama, due to the Republic's greenness to the tourism industry, there is a disconnect in Boquete when it comes to excellence in service. This disconnect is represented by weird contrasts: for example, during my three visits to the Panamonte Hotel bar/restaurant, I experienced innovative food and a extraordinary ambiance contrasted starkly with some of the weirdest, most offensive service. Similarly, the views from my ATV tour were stunning, but they were dulled by the guide's affinity for silence (even though he had my last name). These were just two good examples of the same divide we talk about on this site all the time: Panama's search for a tourist service sector that can do justice to the nation's people and natural resources.

The main drag in Boquete is peppered with signs for accommodations, cafes and tour guides, staggered one after another eager like listings in a phonebook. The handful of hotel operators I spoke with showed extremely high occupancy numbers: a positive sign after the recent flood threatened the life of the annual Flower Fair (and the integrity of a town bridge). According to Lisette Rodriguez of the Boquete Visitor Center , tourist demand for everything from sightseeing to scooter rentals has remained high.

One of the major attractions to Boquete is its coffee, which is grown and processed here, then shipped throughout various places in the world. For the most part those who currently profit from the sector are plantation owners who export to Panama City and abroad, as well as Ngobe Bugle Indians who both live in and migrate to Boquete from their nearby Comarca for coffee picking seasons where they're compensated a few dollars a day. The Indians live nomadically in improvised huts that border on the oppressive: a stark contrast to the now-famous local geisha strain that is reportedly selling in San Franscisco for $10/cup.

For a time in Boquete, real estate stole the show: with longtime landowners selling their dying coffee farms to take advantage of the property boom. But with the onset of a slow property market, the town's four major types of coffee trees are re-emerging as valuable assets and bolstering Boquete's allure as a Napa Valley-type destination where aficionados and connoisseurs are able to visit and buy directly from the source. There is little cohesion pointed out Carol Delonis of Boquete Mountain Safari Tours (one of the only coffee tour operators in town), between foreigners who strive to commercialize or touristify the coffee industry in a way that benefits locals, and the locals themselves who are slow to grasp the widespread trickledown effects of such ideas. Only a small handful of the many coffee growers in Boquete, suggested Delonis, actually buy into the idea of coffee tourism. She gave the example of Kona, Hawaii where guests sample different coffee roasts and estate labels on a bevy of guided tours, as a model for success.

Boquete gets a reputation for being an overpopulated gringo hangout. But a large expat population, according to Paul McBride of Valle Escondido , is actually somewhat of a misconception. Paul pointed out that maybe 10% of Boquete's population is from outside Panama, and one main reason for this false impression was that locals tended to link incoming dollars directly with incoming foreigners: as in, lots of money means lots of people, when in reality it is proportionally few foreigners that are responsible for the injection of that capital. You still see foreigners everywhere in Boquete, from retirees to lots of backpackers, usually running into the same person more than once during your stay.

Like everywhere else in Panama, the real estate scene in Boquete appears to have slowed to a crawl. A small handful of projects that'd once hoped to jump on the "retire here" bandwagon are, not unlike the same sort of projects elsewhere in the Republic, losing steam. Local experts tended to cite three main reasons for this lull: 1) the global financial crisis, 2) overambitious buyers expecting ridiculous discounts and 3) still-hopeful sellers willing to hold out. While the market seems desperate for some third party property assessment, its pricing ambiguity haunts Boquete's real estate offices where several major players told me business was down as much as 75%.

I visited the offices of a few luxury real estate projects in pre-construction mode, all of which seemed depressed. With some prodding, representatives admitted that construction would not restart without a certain percentage of sales which, with the gloomy economy, appears to be an immeasurable amount of time. My personal favorite was the team at Cielo Paraiso who, after reminding me in my undercover bathing suit and Chuck Tailors that sales for this exclusive project started at $700k, assured this out-of-towner business was strong and phase two would begin around June. According to a group of Panamanian locals I spoke with, around half of Boquete's residents are happy about the arrival of gringos - the other half would prefer otherwise.

The infrastructure in Boquete can best be described as "advanced for a Panama mountain town". Far ahead of anything similar (including El Valle, Santa Fe, Altos de Maria...etc), Boquete is still hampered by the lack of several major institutions such as a big grocery store: Romero, it's current only option, is itself a great symbol of the town's growth though, having evolved from aisles of little more than rice and beans in the days before the Boquete boom, to current displays of exotic tea and twelve different types of toilet paper.

Everything seems relatively clean in Boquete. Main roads are well paved whereas back roads are not unlike Littletown, America where poor maintenance isn't a flaw, but rather a cherished design imperfection. My good friend Jim Procter, the Panama Guru , has lived in Boquete for two years and has been flabbergasted by the development activity over the past year: he explained how the town really started to boom several years ago and in the past year specifically were erected about five significant-sized shopping center type buildings.

Clinic-type labs accommodate patients in Boquete but still serious medical work must be done in David. Beautifully paved two-lane roads wind throughout the mountains and new real estate developments are bolstered into the hills: construction that is great for the region but also a detriment to its ecosystem: wildlife like howler monkeys and quetzal birds, once a regular sight near and around town, are now mostly relegated to the high mountains.

Boquete PanamaBoquete-proper seems to have been affected by the recent flood, but not to the fatal degree that was portrayed in newspapers. Those who were affected to the degree of tragic were Ngobe Bugle Indians who experienced landslides up in the mountains. The flood was not a total surprise, with one of similar proportions dating somewhere around the 1950s. Though that didn't seem to stop the construction of new restaurants and hotels perched directly in the flood's death path and now seriously in need of renovation attention.

As far as safety, people in Boquete feel overwhelmingly safe, especially compared to Panama City where crime is on a steep rise. It is possible in Boquete to feel earthquakes that originate closer to the Panama/Costa Rica border, but damage is never anything more than a few broken windows. Crime has increased notably here, characterized mostly by home robberies and is thought to be the work of outsider maliante, making trips into the valley to target gringos.

Conclusion: I like Boquete. I like it a lot. I like it enough to go back regularly. Being a young, city guy, I'd probably limit my Boquete trips to about three or four days for fear of getting bored. Its real estate market is pioneering for Panama, its tourism sector is blooming, and its people, both foreign and local, seem to be amazingly happy and calm. Like any other great town, Boquete faces challenges: challenges of development, of balance, and of synchronization.

Its climate is unbelievable and its location - close to David and the southern Pacific coastline - is both and convenient and strategic. I don't know why it took me so long to visit, especially since flights are back down to reasonable rates and the drive from Panama City is only about six hours. Boquete is a cool mountain town, best for older people and lovers of nature. Although it's long been a Panama staple, those of us who took a while to get there are having fun experiencing it for the first time.

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Wow
written by Stephan , January 24, 2009
Matt, this is a looong article! But so great. I live here in Boquete and you have certainly portrayed it in a accurate light. I am going to send this to all my friends at home, it perfectly describes our new home smilies/grin.gif
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Boquete Sucks
written by Panama Warrior , January 24, 2009
I hate Boquete. Expensive real estate and boring
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Boquete restaurants
written by nigel , January 24, 2009
Matt, how could you eat at the Panamonte for 3 nights? And Bistro Boquete? You really only wanted the Gringo Boquete experience?

Man, you really missed one of the great things about Boquete.
OoLaLa! Anayanci's new place, the Oasis (where she stole the chef and head waiter from the Panamonte), Las Delicias de Peru. Machu Pichu. About 4 or 5 more. We do lack a good Asian place - Thai, Vietnamese, Indian. But, there is a good German bakery and a french boulangerie.
And, you didn't try out the funky bars where on Saturday night the Indians get drunk and their wives/girlfriends wait for them outside on the street?

Also, speaking of Indians, they get paid about $1.50-$2.00 per can of coffee, not $1.50 per day. A good picker can pick 4-6 buckets per day, a bit higher than the average pay for unskilled labor. Though I agree their living conditions are deplorable.

Speaking of coffee, you also missed out on some info there. There are several different groups conducting coffee tours. One of the largest is of course Cafe Ruiz. Many of the small fincas are going organic, and hosting live/learn tours on the fincas. Finally, most people seem to feel Valle Escondido is the perfect example of Gringo Excess, and it's owner is an asshole. There's a big difference between the Valle Escondido type of gringo (and the other wanna be developments) who build huge 6,000+ sq ft houses for two people, drive $40k HiLux (on their paved roads), pull out their Jubilado card for a $2.25 lunch, speak only in English and the other gringos who build modest individual homes integrated into the community, take classes to learn spanish and don't pay for everything from a wad of 20's.

come back soon while Boquete is still fun.
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Response
written by Boqueteer , January 25, 2009
Nigel, while yes many of the small fincas are going organic, there is little to no encouragement for them to do so, so the process is slowed. It's less profitable to hold an organic farm in Boquete so those that are doing it simply do so for other reasons.
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organic
written by nigel , January 25, 2009
so true, about the pressure to stay organic. I was told the cherry yields are 40% lower for organic fincas.

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Nice article
written by jP , January 25, 2009
Nice article, very positive.

Normally I think your articles or blogs are too wordy, this one was too but
this time you had more to say.

You are a writer and schooled in that process so I may be way off the course
here, BUT.

Have you ever thought about doing a three or 5 day blog on one subject? Kind
of like you would have chapters in a small book or a TV series, giving the
last paragraph that day a cliffhanger to make sure the reader "not want to
wait" until tomorrow and subscribes to your blog so they don't miss the
outcome.

Hey you are the pro and I'm a novice it's just that some days there is so
much to read and I like to get a little bit of a lot of things as opposed to
a lot of one thing. Sorry just an idea.

Later,
jp
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...
written by Boqueteña , January 25, 2009
Your article reads like a travelogue that you will be submitting to the Pulitzer folks in the poetry category. I've lived in Vermont, Napa Valley, Maine, Cape Cod and been to the Alps...no way, José, (er, Matt) does Boquete resemble them. Think Taos and Santa Fe in the 30's and 40's before they became "in"...when the prices were just starting to rise so that the locals couldn't afford to go into the markets as often for the foodstuffs they normally ate; when the roads were starting to be paved so that the ritzy cars wouldn't become ruined in the ruts; when the really big money was starting to come in to tempt the sale of the generational land -- and now the locals don't live there anymore -- too expensive... That's Boquete. Let's talk about that wonderful paved road that goes from Boquete to David - NOT. Let's talk about how everyone in the Boquete distrito has potable and year-round running water - NOT. Let's talk about the Spanish word for infrastructure matched to community needs - NOT. Let's talk about the poverty rate of the Panameños and indigenous populations - NOT. Let's talk about that supermarket and its putrifying stench - NOT. Let's talk about pollution of those babbling brooks - NOT. Let's talk, really talk, about where the money goes....NOT. If you stick with the tours and the gringo joints and come here with tourist eyes - and not the eyes of the true traveler - you will always write the kind of drivel you did. Next time, take off your poetic tam and put your reportorial hat on - stay in a hostel, eat only locally (which you did not - since it is clear from your rhetoric that you are using someone else's descriptions of those restaurantes), talk only to locals and find out what Boquete is really like. Its heart (until it's completely ripped apart by gringo greed) is still that of a charming, old-western, Panamanian town - where people earn respect and are given it in return, including the gringos who choose to live here - not because it is a chi-chi place to be, but because, for all it's new-found gringo warts, it is a great place to live and become part of the community. I've been a resident guest here for almost 4 years, and I wouldn't be anywhere else...but I'm also one of those that understands that in order to meet, as you put it, the "challenges of development, of balance, of synchronization" the needed vision that has been blinded by greed needs to be corrected rapidly. Essays like yours do nothing to bring reality to the problems of the town, which needs to happen in order to provide solutions so sorely needed by the community. You need to get your hair cut more often - the barber gave you all the clues....
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Ouch!
written by Mateo , January 25, 2009
Nigel, thanks for commenting and clarifying those few points. I'm definitely coming back.

Wow Boqueteña, those are fightin' words! But hey, at least you put me in the category of Pulitzer. If you have some work you'd like to submit to the site which highlights the community problems facing Boquete, we'd be more than happy to publish. (And sorry about the drivel.) Thanks for your comment!
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Correction
written by Bob Elwood , January 27, 2009
Matt, there's also something else you forgot to mention about Boquete, elucidated by Boquetena above. There are A TON of crabby gringos living here who, after thinking they "discovered" the place themselves a few years ago, make an effort to bitch and moan at anyone who owns an SUV. Having been here (in and out) for about that same out of time, I have seen these folks set up modest homes and hiss like hermits at the influx of gringos into what they've come to think of as their own "spoiled paradise." The article was good Matt, don't let anyone tell you otherwise.
- Robert
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Thanks for the update
written by Edward , January 27, 2009
Well written article Matt. It has been almost 3 years since I visited Boquete. Your writing challenges me to revisit. It IS interesting how few Panama City foreigners get to the Boquete area at all.

I visited Boquete twice back then and found myself somewhat UNDERwhelmed by it. Perhaps the prehype I had read set me up for disappointment. From your article I can tell there have been lots of changes. I WILL visit soon.

While I'm sure Boquetenas comments are qualified, I would encourage them to understand it takes more than 3-4 days to get the full insiders view on an area such as that. AFter all, it took me a whole year to understand what a bad deal Costa Rica was while living there.

Keep up the traveling and good journalism. By the way, a good journalist is many steps above a plain news reporter...which I think Boquetena was looking for.
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well done
written by Katrina , January 29, 2009
Matt, good article (and I like everyone's comments too)! I have only read one other article that captured some of the issues I have seen in Panama (and specifically in Boquete). Check it out -

http://www.heraldtribune.com/article/20080403/NEWS/804030408/-1/RSS

You touched on a lot of interesting points. I first visited Boquete 7 years ago when I studied abroad in Panama. I took home a boqueteño souvenir from that trip and have been back many times since (My husband is part of the infamous Landau crew that makes up roughly 5% of Boquete, including your ATV guide). Even 7 years ago there were a lot of gringos in town but nothing compared to the influx of visitors and changes the town has seen since then. I agree with many of the comments clarifying the difference between new residents who make an effort to mix with the community and learn Spanish and those who send a different message. There seem to be a lot of both. One special thing you did not touch on is the access to Volcan Baru (the one place on Earth where you can view both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans at the same time). I hope the over-development of Boquete slows down and that the simplicity of this incredible place can stay in tact! That is one of the reasons I love San Blas so much - because it was exactly the same this past summer when I visited as it was 7 years ago.

Boquete is an amazing place and I am intrigued by what is happening there (both enlightened and disheartened at different moments). Thank you for publishing a more rounded portrayal of Boquete as opposed to all the tourist literature that paints the town as something that it is not.
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More feedback
written by Lee Zeltzer , January 29, 2009
Your post has been generating some discussions on the mountain tops in Boquete. It is an excellent first impression but like all first impressions misses some of the rice and beans of the current realities. You might want to check out http://www.boqueteguide.com for several years of contemporary impressions as the town has gone through some of it's growth.
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Surely You Jest!
written by Reality Check! , January 31, 2009
Hmmm...

Sounds like a Chamber of Commerce pitch to me!

Here's the untold truth:

1) 200+ inches of rain per year! And they call it "The Land of Eternal Spring". WTF??

2) A byproduct of the rain is unimaginable mold and mildew that attacks EVERYTHING, especially leather and anything that is "black.

3) Wanton littering! It's not uncommon to see bottles and wrappers flying from school buses and taxis.

4) Filthy streets with packs of wild dogs running free.

5) Deficient water supply. Where I live "Las Trancas", water is rationed. Yep, you heard it right! The supply goes off at 5:00PM and back on at 8:00AM - Imagine no showers nor toilet flushes. A quick remedy is plunking down about $1,000 - $2,000 for a reserve tank and mechanicals. Oh yeah, you best check the water quality for microbes and parasites. An additional $700 - $1,000 for a UV filter will take care of the problem.

6) Exhaust emissions out of control!! Imagine breathing in copious quantities of diesel smoke - and I mean clouds of black icky smoke - while lumbering 5 MPH behind cattle or swine laden pickup trucks. Sure we have emission inspections (what a joke) - they snap off a partial photo of your vehicle (license plate included) and you're on your way. They never even lift your hood. What a windfall for the government!

7) Gasoline is always more expensive than the U.S..

smilies/cool.gif Land prices are INSANE!! AT $35 per square meter - you're paying $141,645 per acre!! Hell, I rather throw that kind of dough at a spectacular parcel next to a world class beach side destination like Cabo San Lucas
- which I'm in the process of doing!

9) If you're thinking of building your dream home here, think again! This willl scare the BA JEEZ UZ right out of you: http://richarddetrich.wordpres...n-palmira/ and this: http://richarddetrich.wordpres...l-service/

10) Don't come here if your concerned about personal safety. Home invasions and serial murders are in full swing. Five recent unsolved
vicious murders and rapes in Alanje. Where's Alanje you ask? Why that's the the tranquilo area of La Barqueta beach. Closer to home, the so-called safe havens of Valle Escondido, Los Molinos and Santa Lucia are frequent targets of home invasions. And forget relying on the local authorities to support and protect... they are a joke!

11) EMS (Emergency Medical Services) is a joke! God forbid you have a vehicular incident on the InterAmericana highway, Boquete or David! There's no med evac choppers here.

12) Boquete is the furthest fringe of Panama. It is Hootersville. The folks are simple minded - very simple minded.

13) The locals only cotton to the "Gringos" for the dinero.

14) Lying is the national sport of Panama. Panamananians loathe confrontation, so they will lie to appease you.

This is just a "short list"... shall I go on?
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...
written by Mambo , February 01, 2009
I remember the city after the last flooding...and more rain for a few weeks, then I decided to relocate. I loved the beaches and mountains but what about the landslides, the sharks, the thieves? People do not take care of their own garbage, chickens, dogs all over, problems with electricity when it's raining, lack of water, robberies during the night so we had to stay at home with three dogs and an expensive alarm. I do not blame people but there is nothing to do in town, people from US, Canada, UK would be bored. How about good hospitals nearby? Weird, this is not what realtors tell in those fancy ads..Bye Panama.
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Let's bring Trump and Home Depot to Boquete!
written by Katrina , February 03, 2009
Oh.... Boquete doesn't provide you with Walmart and night clubs and endless conveniences and entertainment. Boo hoo. Go home then! Boquete was a gem until everyone started moving there. If you had bothered to spend some time there before moving, maybe even met some locals, you would have gotten a better picture. I do agree that there is a lot of false advertising. Boquete does have a lot of problems but in my mind, most of them are caused by all the development. For example, all the water problems have been caused by the jump in population. Yes, the local clinic is good and some of the local doctors are fantastic but serious medical care is far away (like in all third world countries). Crime was very rare in Boquete 10 years ago. It is no surprise that would-be criminals might move to Boquete, where seemingly rich foreigners are buying up land daily. When you move to another country, you have to do like the paisanos do... learn Spanish, relax, get to know the locals... If you hole yourself up in a place like Valle Escondido, that is almost impossible to do... All the locals see that place as an anomaly. I have been all over Panama and hands down, the nicest people are in Chiriqui and in the mountains near Boquete. If you spend much time in other parts of the country, you can see that the Chiricanos have the most pride and I can see why. If you think that Boquete needs some advances, you should learn Spanish and work hand in hand with the local comunity to make changes (and I do not mean meeting other gringos at the Panamonte on weekends to plan all the changes for town). Boquete is such a special simple place but may not be for long...
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Boquete retired
written by Livin N Boquete , February 11, 2009
Thanks Matt. Great writing. It was a Panama travel article of yours several years ago that brought us here. You were 100% accurate. You described the Panamanian people to a tee. I said to my husband...wow Bill, read this. I think we want to live with these people. We moved here and will be here til we die. These people are the salt of the earth.
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A City of Contrasts
written by Gary Jones , March 05, 2009
While your article did come off as a tourism board piece in some ways, you did capture some of the essence of the town. It's unfortunate, although understandable, that you spent an inordinate amount of time at the Panamonte. Not many locals can afford to spend any time there, so you missed an important local resource.

Much of what you wrote on the positive side is true, albeit a little embellished, and some of the negative comments from others, although certainly overstated and more than a little ignorant, "the folks are simple-minded" (ouch!) are also equally true. Not that long ago Boquete was a sleepy little mountain town and it is struggling with the rapid growth and influx of expats. Although the Mayor has come out in favour of controlled growth there is a lack of clear direction on exactly what this means.

In a recent interview, the Mayor stated that the population was now around twenty thousand, with, suprisingly, about a thousand expats. If the total expats in Panama at around 30,000 is correct, this is a miniscule percentage of the three million plus people in the country, so Boquete has a much higher percentage, obviously.

This puts huge demands on both the local infrastructure and on local businesses as to who they market to. Locals? Tourists? Expats? Although most of the "gringos" who have moved here did so to get away from the frantic pace of life back home, they are very frustrated at the lack of basic services here. Our recent power outage, which for some lasted eight days, is a clear indication that the infrastructure is broken and needs huge investment. The Mayor was quoted as saying he needed ten million dollars to fix the water distribution system. Boquete is unique in all of Panama, with the only private water systems, seven of them! Not only does this result in frequent outages, but the water is of questionable quality. 50% of recent water tested positive for E Coli. A widespread outbreak is a heartbeat away and no one has the money to avoid it.

Yes, Panama is a poor country. Boquete is a clear example of rapid growth putting incredible strain on local budgets. When our local emergency vehicle sits parked because there is no money for new tires or even to put gas in the tank, where does the money come from to make major improvements in infrastructure? This situation is made all the worse by Panama's ill thought out twenty-year tax exemption. At the very time when local government desperately needs additional funds to make much needed improvements, the till is empty. House prices and the cost of living here are already much lower than anywhere else. No taxes for twenty years was not only not needed to attract people here, but it is a long-term recipe for disaster. Where is the money to come from?

The one negative comment I will agree with is how poorly we all look when people refuse to learn the language. I have seen my American friends actually get frustrated when the locals don't understand them. Hey guys! This is first and foremost a Spanish speaking country. YOU are the guests. Make an effort, at the very least. It's insulting to do anything less.

For me, at least, I believe in Boquete enough to have spent a great deal of time building my HelloBoquete.com website. Please check it out. Sorry, Matt. A plug for sure.
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Eco-Tourism
written by Roger5 , May 13, 2010
There's a new eco-tourism service in Boquete - Panama Gold Adventures! We've identified hidden, secret places where we've found gold and are offering memorable, fun adventures to these spots, weather independent. Many include meeting and interacting with native Ngobe-Bugle Indians. This is family-friendly, but you must be in good physical condition. www.PanGoldAdv.com.
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Great article!
written by Boquete Real Estate , July 05, 2010
Great Job Matt! Unfortunately I am just now getting around to reading it, but your article was spot on. Keep it up pal!
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...
written by Reynaldo Duarte , September 02, 2010
Good article,

Just one question people. For how long can a perpetual traveler get away with staying in Panama for, lets say 87 days, then taking the Tracopa Bus from David to Costa Rica, staying there 4 or 5 days, then going back to Panama to start over wioth a new tourist visa? I have been doing this with Costa Rica for about a year now. I would like to switch it around and do this with Panama. For how long could I do this Until Panama gave me a hassle?

Many Thanks,

Reynaldo
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Visit and make up your own mind!
written by Dianne Heidke , May 11, 2011
There has been a lot of hype about Boquete over the years that i have lived here. Having run three businesses here ( there) and lived here for almost 6 years, my advice to retirees or others wanting a new challenging start....COME VISIT! Spend some time, get to know the place and the people. There are many advantages here, but it is not paradise and not everyone can cope with the differences.
A few months is a good time to get know what is going on here.
buena Suerte!
Dianne Heidke
www.theboquetehandbook.com
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Last Updated on Monday, 03 May 2010 19:50
 
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