Lief and I moved to Panama in 2008 with a focused doing-business agenda.
We’d chosen to relocate from Paris to Panama City specifically because, while Paris (indeed, all France) is a generally miserable (expensive, inefficient, highly taxed, and enormously hassled) place to launch or operate a business, Panama City is perhaps the best place on Earth right now to base yourself if your agenda, like ours, is that of the entrepreneur.
In the 11 years since, we’ve not been disappointed. As residents of Panama City, we’ve been able to establish the infrastructure, hire the staff, and manage the operations of the electronic publishing business we’ve conceived efficiently and cost- and tax-effectively.
Lief and I are noses to the grindstone. We’re up before dawn, at our laptops early, “doing” lunches, scheduling meetings over drinks, over dinners, and coming and going regularly through Tocumen International Airport.
We’re working to build something and appreciate the services and support that this country is offering to aid our efforts.
That’s one experience of Panama. But only one.
For, beyond Panama City—beyond the high-rise banking towers, beyond the chic restaurants and the trendy nightclubs, beyond the special investor incentive zone called Panama Pacífico, beyond the chaotic traffic, beyond the downtown rush hour (that some days seems 12 hours long), beyond the young men and women hurrying from business meeting to business meeting in their business suits—is “the interior.”
That’s how Panamanians refer to the rest of their country beyond the capital. Anywhere not in Panama City is in “the interior.” And the interior is a different place entirely.
Panama City is a steamy concrete jungle, a place aggressively, ambitiously open for business.
Travel as little as an hour outside Panama City, however, and the landscape changes in every regard. No more high-rise condo buildings. No more bank towers. You leave the concrete jungle and enter (depending which direction you travel and how far you go) the actual jungle. Or the beach. Or the mountains.
For such a small country, Panama offers a tremendous diversity of lifestyle options… and, outside Panama City, they’re mostly all to do with small towns. Small communities on the Pacific. Fishing villages on the Caribbean. Little colonial towns in the highlands.
Panama City is home to about 1.5 million people. That’s more than a third of the population of the entire country. Next biggest area is Colón (population 250,000), followed by David (population 150,000), and Santiago (population 100,000).
Panama’s remaining two-million inhabitants reside in small and unassuming towns where everyone knows everyone, foreigners stand out, and, maybe, nobody speaks English.
These towns boast something that is increasingly difficult to find anywhere in the world—a sweet and simple life far removed from the worries, the troubles, and the threats of our age.
The good folks enjoying life in small towns throughout Panama’s interior are more concerned with local gossip than they are with daily Dow averages or the latest on Twitter.
A life among them holds out the promise of absolute escape and peace of mind.
The kind of calm contentment Lief and I have been enjoying in residence at Los Islotes.
Los Islotes, as I’ve been reminding you, sits in Quebro… and Quebro, we’ve been realizing this visit more than any other, is a blissfully separate place to call home.
I haven’t seen a television screen, read a cable news chyron, or heard a talking head remind me of all the reasons I should be worried in two weeks.
Could I live this life full-time? Not right now, no.
But maybe sometime down the road, when I’m ready to replace my current doing-business agenda with a less demanding one, maybe then, yes, I could imagine settling into little Quebro, spending my time reading, writing, playing in my gardens, meeting up with fellow townsfolk in the early evenings, as the sun begins its descent, to catch up on the day’s chatter…
I sure appreciate knowing the option is waiting for me whenever I’m ready to opt for it.