Travel to Panama – An Off the Beaten Path Story From an Expatriate’s Perspective – Travel Development

Travel to Panama, get off the beaten path and take the back roads and by ways and you will really begin to understand the charm of this little country. The preferred vehicle here is a 4 wheel drive to find many of the beautiful hidden places only the locals know about and you might as well leave the map at home. Experience Panama first hand; feel the breezes, hear the wildlife, smell and touch the countryside and taste the local foods. We journeyed back and forth for 2 years from Florida and ultimately landed here in a town just 1 hour and 40 minutes from the go-to city of David across the mountains.I am writing from my outdoor “office” as I enjoy the sounds of the forest and the feel of the cool river cascading by. Yesterday the river water was a curdled brown from the tropical rains and today it runs crystal clear after just a few hours and I wonder once again – how does it cleans itself so quickly. The morning is cool from last evenings cleansing rain and I can hear some of the local woman slapping their clothes against the rocks in the river to clean them. A toucan flies by, hummingbirds are flitting around from flower to flower and songbirds serenade as they enjoy the clear morning and feast on their bounty of insects. This place is truly unspoiled countryside where some of the most beautiful country in Panama can be found near the coast of the Chiriqui Bay in the Caribbean lowlands. Surrounded by The La Fortuna National Forest and lying close to the La Armistad International Forest; the joint project of Panama and Costa Rica; these mountains and surrounding areas have been left mostly to nature. They are filled with birds, monkeys, butterflies, “tigres” and native Indian Tribes who travel the rivers and the bay in their cayucos.This is the Panama I have grown to love in the small town of Punta Pena. When we meet Panamanians elsewhere or pass through a check point with our van they always assume we are from either Boquete or Bocas Del Toro and when we reply that we live in Punta Pena, even the locals are surprised. That’s so far away, they say in David, but most of them have never even crossed the exquisite mountain range to visit. Punta Pena is located in the Bocas Del Toro Province, a village consisting of about 1000 people in the lowlands of the Cordillera mountain range on the as yet undiscovered Caribbean side – mainland. The land here is still very affordable and the challenge is to find the smaller parcels. Our first purchase was almost 100 acres of the most beautiful forest we have seen with outstanding views of the Caribbean, 2 lovely streams and the tropical breezes were included for free. Much of the land here is not titled but that is changing as the property owners realize that their lives can be made a bit easier by registering, titling and selling off some parts of their huge farms. Most of the families still work the farms every day raising a few cattle, chickens and vegetables and a little influx of cash can often help improve their lives. Heleconia similar to Birds of Paradise grow wild in the forest and I am amazed at the many different uses for bamboo. There are hardwood trees so large it would take 4 or 5 people to stretch their arms around them and the tree canopies are teaming with birds. The mountain streams are so steep they are more like small waterfalls and the water so clean you can drink straight from the stream. Bright blue, red and yellow butterflies cruise just above the water and the hummingbirds surprise us with their mini helicopter sounds as they zoom past our ears. Clear cutting of trees has been minimal in this part of Panama. Farms consist of a few cattle or water buffalo, plantains, and pineapples fresh and ripe can be purchased 3 for a dollar. Lemons, yucca and avocado are typically brought by neighbors as gifts. Vegetables are sold daily from a pick- up truck with a loudspeaker on top and the local butcher charges $1.50 per pound for a good cut of beef. There are no chemicals or hormones in this meat and as our Panamanian friend says “it’s organic man.” Water coconuts are abundant here and after you drink the delicious juice, you can eat the meat inside with a rustic utensil the locals hack off the side of the nut (with their ever present machete) and that is shaped like a primitive spoon. Each day someone introduces us to a new fruit, herb or vegetable and regales us with its health benefits. The culantro grows wild and is used in many local dishes. Last nights rice mixture at our friends’ party turned out to be a delicious rice concoction made with Iguana meat. Truly tasty and fresh caught with lots of great spices to make the rice more interesting! In Punta Pena people walk around or use bicycles and horses more often than not. Families can be seen crossing the rivers with their shoes atop their heads and babies on their hips or backs depending on the height of the water. In the afternoon the rivers are often swimming holes and gathering places for teens after school. We often walk in the cool evenings to meet and greet the neighbors in the street. In a few short minutes by car you can be at the docks on Chiriqui Bay and rent a boat to travel to Bocas or just to explore the bay. Traveling along the coast you will see new homes starting up and some investors are beginning to purchase large parcels for development and for marinas. The coastal road from here to Almirante and Changuinola has only been in place for a few years and the occasional waterfront towns along the coast will soon have electricity. There still are many places along the coast that can still only be reached by boat as no roads exist yet, just footpaths. The towers for the power for these towns are in process of being built and new buildings are springing up along the road.This is a quiet place that attracts and brings out the nature lover in us all. The locals seem to have few ideas about change and like it just the way it is and has always been. But like most Panamanians they are warm, friendly, and accepting of us.We know the word will travel about our lovely area and already we see many tour busses passing through and birders coming to the area. But for now we are the explorers and we are a local curiosity. There are a few others like us scattered in the mountains and some investors along the coast who live in nearby towns. Always when we meet other “gringos” new friendships are formed and numbers exchanged for the chance to socialize and speak English for a while.Many of the young people and young adults in town have already asked for help in learning English and we have enjoyed our first chance to help grade graduating adult students taking English night classes at the school nearby. For us this is a wonderful opportunity to reciprocate for the kindness this community has shown us. As we begin the planning stages of developing our eco-tourism project the young people talk of it in the town as if it already exists as they are so excited for something new. We encourage them to keep practicing their English to increase their job opportunities. Visitors really are made to feel welcome here. For excitement we take our kayaks into Chiriqui Bay and paddle around, climb our small mountain and photograph the wildlife, swim in the rivers, rent a boat to fish or attend the local rodeo. Here you won’t find any malls, restaurants or theatres yet, and the grocery stores are small neighborhood markets and very basic. Everything moves slowly here but in spite of that the days pass by quickly as we struggle to learn a new language. This undiscovered mainland Caribbean side of Panama is full of exceptional beauty in the land and the people. This area with its Caribbean style is a place we will love and learn to call home.