We all know the drill… Mom works two jobs; Dad is on call 24/7. Life is hectic, everyone is trying to make ends meet. Now throw four young, intelligent, and active children in the mix, and you have the Ramon Family.
In their mid-30s both Michelle and Richard were finding that their life in Sarnia, Canada, was not exactly as they had planned. Michelle, a long-time bank employee, found her job shifting more toward sales and less towards helping people.
Richard, who worked in the family business, found his job increasingly stressful. Every time something went bump in the night, as the general manager of the property management company, it was Richard who got the call.
Maybe it was after one too many dead bodies were found in apartments… or maybe after that night spent trying to determine if there really were guns and drugs on a balcony… that the Ramons decided there had to be something better. There had to be a way to spend time with their children, not just their jobs. So they courageously let go of their former lives and looked for a better one together in Panama.
At 36 years old, Michelle and Richard picked up their family, packed up their stuff, and headed to the Isthmus. They had discovered the quaint town of Puerto Armuelles on a relocation tour of the country, and it seemed to offer exactly what they were looking for.
Our New Life In Puerto Armuelles
“We immediately felt the warmth of the people in Puerto Armuelles,” Michelle explains. Puerto is a small laidback town, and many people here compare life to that of the memories they have of growing up in the 1950s…
Children play outside, neighbors stop and say hola, and everyone seems to have a sense of community. Even foreigners like the Ramons feel part of the community. “Everyone wants to practice their English. People have invited us to their homes, to the beach, and even helped get the kids into school.”
Henry, the baseball buff, is 10; George, the one with the great smile, is 9; Claire, who thinks she’s a teenager, is only 7; and Juliet, the baby of the family, is 5. Trying to manage this small brood in a foreign country—where Spanish is the predominant language—might seem intimidating to some, but the Ramons have taken everything in stride.
“We did a three-month trial run our first year, mainly to make sure the kids would be alright.” But they never looked back. After visiting family for Christmas, they packed more stuff in suitcases and returned.
They had already secured a spacious three-bedroom home just blocks from where they had originally stayed. Henry was already part of a baseball team, the children had audited the same public school in San Vicente, and they were familiar with that part of town.
Enrolling the children in school was as easy as submitting previous report cards and showing birth certificates and passports. Much to Henry’s chagrin, they also had to conform to school policies, which included no long hair for boys and the obligatory blue and white uniforms.
With the help of the school and teachers, all four children are attending their first full year of school in Panama. There have been some bumps in the road—cancelled classes, discussions with teachers about grade placement, and trying to convince the children to learn a new language, but the Ramons are confident the kids will be nothing but better for the experience.
The Life Lessons Of Puerto Armuelles
We want our children to learn a second language.” Richard views Spanish as a gateway to exploring the world. “With all of us learning Spanish we could easily go to and interact with the whole Spanish-speaking world—21 countries and almost half a billion people.” Michelle sees a second language as not only a great skill but also as a long-term mental health benefit.
Learning Spanish is not the only thing this family is hoping to learn while living in Puerto Armuelles. They want to learn the culture, even if that means making changes to what they know. “We want our kids to learn to live in a less materialistic world. To know the importance of family and learn a different reality.”
Puerto Armuelles was once considered a well-off town, but when the banana industry pulled up roots, the economic boom fizzled. Many of the locals live off less than US$300 a month and some basic comforts foreigners are used to are out of their reach, making Puerto the type of place that teaches you to appreciate what you have, not what you want.
At the same time, Puerto has everything you need and most of what you want…
Daily Life Is A Bliss In Puerto Armuelles
There are several grocery stores, banks, and places to eat and drink. “But it is not yet infiltrated by McDonald’s and Pizza Hut,” Richard remarks before thinking more about dinner.
“The kids like Big Daddy’s (Beach Club) because of the pool and the air conditioning. Dinner there, for two large pizzas and drinks is about US$36, but we also love the food truck in town. Chicken, soda, and fries for only US$3.75.”
Puerto Armuelles has no shortage of fresh fruit, vegetables, locally grown meat, and seafood just off the boat, which makes eating healthy easy and affordable. “Look at these tomatoes, they are just beautiful!” Michelle exclaims as she roots through her purchases from the vegetable truck that passes her house several times a week—this makes life easy for a family that has not purchased a vehicle.
“We have considered a car… more than once. But when you look at the cost of purchasing, licensing, taxes, insurance, gas, and the occasional speeding ticket, we’re not positive it’s the right step at this point.” In Puerto Armuelles, a local taxi fare is only 65 cents per person and children get a discount. “For us it’s US$2.60 for the entire family to go to town and maybe we spend US$20 a month in taxis.”
The size of Puerto makes walking just as viable an option. The Ramons live two blocks from the beach and one block from the school, a small grocery store, a restaurant, and kid-friendly bar. Henry feels comfortable riding his bicycle to and from baseball practice, and, if the weather is cooperative, a walk to town is only 15 to 20 minutes depending on how many shoes need to be tied.
Life in Puerto Armuelles takes some adjusting, but most of those adjustments are to a mindset of what life “should be.” These days, Michelle does not work, “I have time to be with the kids and watch them grow up.” Richard works remotely for the family business, is now using his degree in accounting, and has many of his days free.
The Ramons easily find time to visit the beach, see the monkeys in Punta Burica, or take a bus ride to the water park in Santiago. Michelle even has time to slice tomatoes, “I never had the time to make fresh salads or slice pineapple for a snack before…”
The Ramons are sliding nicely into their new home and have found the lifestyle they were looking for. All they had to do was face the mixed reactions of their families, pack their bags, and find their personal paradise in Puerto Armuelles, Panama. Check them out on their YouTube channel CanPanKids.