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Expat Life In Pedasi, Panama

All Thanks To The Good-Looking Surfer Guys

“I just can’t figure out where all the money comes from…for all the road work. Everywhere we travel, new roads are being cut, old roads are being repaired, dirt roads are being paved. Where can the money come from for all this?”

Lief and I spent the past couple of days on the east coast of Panama’s Azuero Peninsula. Traveling south down the edge of this peninsula, you come to Chitre, then Los Santos, Las Tablas, Pedasi, Playa Venao, Tonosi, and, finally, Cambutal, all the way down at what feels like an end of the world.

Yet even here, in this edge-of-nowhere spot, the ongoing investment in infrastructure is evident everywhere. Roads, bridges, street lights in some places…

“The cash cow that is the Panama Canal,” Lief replied. “That’s where the money comes from. The Canal throws off a half-billion dollars in profits each year. In a country this size, that much money goes a long way.”

It’d been three years since Lief and I had spent time in this part of Panama. Our focus for this return trip was Pedasi. We saw Pedasi for the first time seven or eight years ago. Back then it was little more than a village. In the three years since our last visit, Pedasi has grown up. In a most charming, most appealing way.

We write about Las Tablas often, because it offers such a low-cost beach lifestyle. Pedasi, about a half-hour farther along this peninsula’s coast, is not quite as low cost, but, after having spent time there this week, I’d say it offers maybe a more interesting lifestyle choice. While no one has been paying any attention, Pedasi has become hip.

“It’s thanks to the good-looking surfer guys,” explained one new friend we made during our visit, a good-looking surfer guy who’s been spending time in Pedasi for years.

“We surfers find the cool spots,” he teased. “Then the pretty girls follow us. Then everyone follows the pretty girls. That’s how it works.”

Indeed, the surfing world has discovered this part of Panama. Billabong has hosted two international surfing tournaments in Pedasi in the past two years. Our new surfer friend took us to see the beach where the competitions took place, which, even this low-season weekend, was full with surfers of all ages.

But it’s not only surfers you find in good and growing numbers in this beautiful, breezy part of Panama. You meet all kinds of expats here, and this is a big and important part of the appeal.

“Our neighbors are from all over the world,” one of our hosts for the visit, an American woman living and running a business in Pedasi with her husband, explained. “French, Italians, Dutch, South Africans, Israelis, plus Americans and Canadians, of course. This isn’t a typical overseas retirement community, because the expats migrating here aren’t typical retirees. Most of us are far from retirement age. We’re entrepreneurs in search of opportunity. We’re artists. Architects. Bakers. Businesspeople. There are three really great bakeries in Pedasi now. Plus cafes, shops, restaurants. The vibe here is incredible. There’s such great energy in this place.

“I think of it as some kind of Latin American version of Mayberry. Pedasi is very much a small town. Safe in the way that a small town used to be safe in the States, back when we all were kids…or even back when our parents were kids. We don’t worry about crime. It’s just not a concern.

“You feel safe here…and free. Much freer than in the States at this point. Free to come and go, to do your own thing. I drove past one of the local police officers the other day. It was a hot afternoon, and I was drinking a beer. Drinking a beer while driving home. Open beer can in my hand. I saw the police officer, who I know well, and I thought, hmm, what do I do? So I raised my beer can to him, kind of apologetically. He looked at me and shook his head. But that was it. No big deal. He knows I’m a careful responsible person who just happened to be drinking a beer while driving home one hot, sunny afternoon. Not a big deal, because, really, it shouldn’t be a big deal.”

Lief and I planned this visit to this part of Panama we hadn’t seen in some time because we feared we were overlooking opportunity. And we were right. We wanted to see for ourselves how Pedasi and beyond have been developing, so that we could better represent this region of the country at our Live and Invest in Panama Conference taking place in Panama City next month. We’ve got much to report now for attendees at that event, and, more important, I’m pleased to be able to say, that several of the new contacts we made in this part of the country have agreed to join us at the conference. Expats and businesspeople with firsthand experience living, investing, and doing business in one of Panama’s most appealing regions, these folks will add a great deal to the program.

Kathleen Peddicord

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