Sunday, January 22, 2012

Settling In - El Valle de Anton

We have arrived in El Valle de Anton, our new home base for the next six months! After a half-hearted attempt to find a used car to buy in Panama City was aborted (Tom and I have decided to try to *gasp* live without a car!), we did as the locals do and took the bus. The public transportation system in Panama is excellent and far-reaching, and many locals and expats get along just fine without owning cars.

The Albrook transportation center, conveniently located near the Albrook Mall, is on the west end of Panama City (in the old Canal Zone). If you arrive at the terminal by taxi and laden with 4 suitcases, two backpacks and 2 laptop bags (as we did), a porter will load up your gear and bring it right to the ticket counter and then to your bus. Once you buy your ticket and board the bus, you will soon be traveling over the Puente de las Americas and onto the Pan-American Highway within minutes. There is a bus to El Valle every 30 minutes, and frequent buses to many other destinations, so you won't be waiting long in the terminal. If you do become peckish during your wait, there are restaurants and shops (tons of mobile phone shops...we are not quite sure why they need so many); we decided to try Nikos Cafe, which is basically what Southerners call a "meat and three". You can also buy dishes and desserts a la carte, and the food is hearty and inexpensive. We both had the meat and 3 veggies (pure de papas = yum!) and the tab was about $11.00.

Important Note: Make sure you have a nickel to get through the turnstyle to board the bus. Also, if you need to use the restrooms at the terminal, you will need a quarter to insert into the turnstyle. Tom calls it the "pay to pee swindle."

The buses in Panama range from the smallish passenger van type (which we rode in), to Diablos Rojos (intricately painted old school buses that primarily navigate the urban areas), to "luxury" buses (the air conditioning is the open window and the toilet is, well, rough), to genuine luxury buses with real toilets and a/c. ALL Panamanian buses feature loud music, so bring your mp3 player or ear plugs if this doesn't suit you! I happen to think it adds greatly to the experience, and you might agree. (Tom said "bollocks" and listened to the Sex Pistols.)

Also present on every bus is the driver's assistant (sometimes there is more than one). The assistant collects the money and tickets, opens and closes the door and helps with packages and luggage. It is very interesting to see the assistants round up prospective passengers at the many bus stops along the Pan-American Highway. I observed that many of the passengers don't line up for the bus immediately when it arrives; rather, they wait for the assistant to come out and announce the bus' destination.

After a pleasant ride of about 2 hours, the bus ascended the mountains surrounding El Valle, and then descended into the extinct volcano crater where the town is situated. Our stop was the "end of the line," near the mercado. Once our luggage was unloaded, we waited outside the very busy Yin market for our new landlady to pick us up and bring us to our new home. We quickly learned that our new home is very centrally located just down the dirt road next to the Yin Market, and across from the big Mercado. Our cottage is part of a small compound, which includes the owner's home, gardens and a lovely bridge across a stream which leads to the stable. The owner is a cat lover, and she has set up the stable as a shelter for "feral" cats.

During our first few days in town, we have been very busy shopping for food at the various markets (which all seem to be Chinese owned), poking around the big Mercado (one of the most famous markets in Latin America), meeting people and assaying various restaurants. Shopping for food around here is an experience - you might have to go to 3 places to find most of what you need! We have been told that the best shopping for "stuff that expats like" is in Coronado, so we will be sure to check out the situation there. You might buy something in the store here, as I did, thinking it is something entirely different. I grabbed what appeared to be a stack of pineapple slices, and opened it later to make a fruit salad. I found out that I had purchased masa,
which is dough that is used to make tortillas and tamales. Guess I will be learning how to make tortillas - but not tamales, as Tom hates them!

A great discovery we made right away is that Ty's Sports Grille is located close to our house. We met Ty and Michelle, the Canadian owners, and had a delicious lunch. My beloved husband does not need to go without his sacred baby-back ribs! Just when I was wondering, "When am I going to see a monkey around here?", in walks Michelle with her pet Capuchin, Mona. So, great food, nice people, close to home, and a monkey...yes, we will be regulars here..!

The entrance to Casa Verde

Here I am, relaxing in the yard - Aaaahhhhh!

Our doesn't have a name, so just turn at the Yin Market and keep going until you see Casa Verde.

The end of our street, where it meets Avenida Principal. You can see the mercado on the left, and La India Dormida straight ahead. There is a legend that goes with that name (of course), which we will blog about soon.

What we see when we walk to El Valle Gourmet Coffee Shop.

Michelle and Mona.

My monkey, Tom with Mona.

Pekin Plaza, which has shops, restaurants and a hotel. It kind of makes you wonder if you somehow got on the wrong bus and ended up in China!

The Mercado

Kuna Yala lady working on a mola (MO-lah) at the mercado.


  1. Dang. Wish we could get masa here! And I'm not about to make my own. Send some down, will ya?

  2. Ha ha! What's your address? I am dying to get rid of this thing and save face.

  3. Great Blog! I'm looking forward to reading about your adventures. My wife Suzanne and I were in El Valle in May 2010 for about 4 days. We'll be back in July 2012. Looking forward to reading more, Thanks, Steve Kramer, San Diego, CA

  4. Wow Susan, it looks so wonderful! TJ

  5. carol.talbert@yahoo.comJanuary 27, 2012 at 12:44 AM

    Thanks for taking the time to share with us. We are going to come down blind, you know not coming to check it out then go home and bring all our stuff with us. We are going to pack and just come expecting to check out where we might want to live. Then we will find a permanent place to live, we have our heart in Boquete. It is cooler there and since we are from the North West USA , where it is rainy and cold most of the year. Rain will not be surprising but the sun will be a nice change..I will be following you in your journey

  6. My husband and I are looking to retire in Panama. We have never been there but were attracted to El Valle or Altos del Maria or possibly Boquete. What made you pick El Valle? We are also looking forward to reading more about your experiences. Did you go there and or, rent this place you are living in sight unseen? If so, how did you know you were receiving reliable information. I found your link on the Panama blog but as you know, people send in mixed reviews on their experiences. This is why I believe your site will be helpful to all of us.


  7. Carol and Kathy:

    Thank you for readng our blog and we're glad to answer your questions.

    First of all, Tom and I came here for the very first time when we moved here! So, sort of "blind", but not really, because we did a lot of research. Still, a place is never tha same way you pictured it. The reason we chose El Valle is that it has cooler weather than the coast, but not as cool and rainy as Boquete. We like warm weather, but having lived in AZ, we are both partial to dry heat and humidity actually makes us lethargic. EV is not arid, but it is breezy and less humid here than on the coast.

    We have not yet been to Boquete, but from what we have heard from folks here in Panama, it would not be a good place for us. Rain and cold tends to depress us! I think we would enjoy visiting Boquete though, being the coffee and garden lovers that we are! We have an American friend who is moving from the El Cangrejo area of Panama City (THE place to live in PC!) to David, which is downhill from Boquete. It is about 30 minutes to the beach from David and about 40 minutes to Boquete, and it is inexpensive to live there, so I really think David is worth checking out.

    Another reason we chose EV is that, even though it has lots of restaurants and nice guesthouses, it also has a lot of indigenous people. This means that the chance of being charged "Gringo Prices" is much less than if we were living in an expat "hot spot" like Coronado. Our budget is very important to us, as we are only 47 (and not drawing any sort of social security or pension income) and actually sold most of our possessions and quit our jobs before leaving the US. We also have 2 children in college, so we did not come down to Panama with bags of money by any means! Our rent here in El Valle is $400, including all utilities and internet and cable TV.

    As for finding a place to live in EV once we chose it as our base: I spent about 4 months building relationships and getting the word out that we were looking for a rental here before we secured our place. There are some "residentials", such as Don Pepe right here in town, that often rent by the month, which is another housing option we considered. Buying a house is not an option for us at this time -firstly, we aren't ready to commit to any area long term, and also, we are budgeting much of our money to traveling around for the next year or so.

    As for Altos de Maria - it is a perfectly nice place, however, it is too remote and homogenous for Tom and me. There is not real "town" there, like there is here in EV. Also, it is very expensive (at least for us), and it appears to have mostly expats and the only locals are the gardeners and maids. I may be entirely wrong about this, so if any Altos people are offended, I apologize in advance and I would welcome your comments.

    One last thing about El Valle; I got the impression from my research that we would really like it here for some unexplainable reason (the "ambiance" for lack of a better word), and this has proved to be the case. Sometimes a place just has a feeling to it, and EV has been that place for us. We felt at home right away, people ar friendly and we have settled into a comfortable "routine" here that suits us. We never feel rushed here, or stressed in any way.

    Hope that helps!

  8. Love the pictures! We are moving to Panama next year! We have never been, we picked a few places to research and Panama seemed most achievable. This November will be our first trip down there to do some research!
    Our family of four plus our dog will be hopefully opening a business when we move. Any advice??
    Or any advice on where to live? We've heard Boquete or Capira are good places for ex-pats to move. We are from Canada, and really don't care much as long as there is sun! We barely get any and hate the snow and freezing cold temperatures. Look forward to reading more.

  9. We love reading about your adventures.Continue to have a great time and we will continue to read.Plz add to your email

  10. Great to hear your experiences. My sister and I just got back from a trip to Panama. We plan to move there in a year when we are retired. We stayed in Boquete, but on the way back to the airport we went to Valle de Anton and fell in love! We'll be back in April. Would love to meet and talk to expats.

  11. Pam & I are attending the International Living Conference in April and will be staying at Altos del Maria April 1st-4th and are very interested in meeting expats who have made the move. We are staying with a couple that rent out a room and would like to hear from residents like your self before making a decision on our move. We have communicated with numerous expats in Boquete where we will spend 3 days before arriving in your area. We also hope to look at the beach areas outside of Coronado as proximity to a nice beach would be nice. Like you we are not big fans of constant heat and humidity.I grew up in Toronto and Montreal before moving to Kentucky. The last entry on your site was 13 months ago so not sure you are still following it. Our email is Dave.
    P.S.very much enjoyed your site and the pictures brought a smile to our faces.

    1. Hi Guys! Thanks for finding our blog and we're glad you got some info and a smile!

      We did stop posting on this blog a while back...we had to come back to the states a while back to deal with some family stuff, and then we ended up staying in the states. We loved our time in EV...the weather is great and so are the people...expats and locals alike. Be sure to go to the market and find Cleo...he is a Kuna Indian who speaks English and Spanish. Wonderful guy. Of course you have to make the "pilgrimage" to Ty's..Ty and Michelle are from the Toronto area, by the way. You will meet lots of expats there, usually in the early evening.

      We aren't as fond of Coronado, except for the shopping and beach every now and then. Too hot, and there has been a rash of crime down there. If you live in EV, you are only 30 minutes from the beach.

      Tom and I hope to get back to EV soon...we made amazing friends there. We can't afford to retire yet, and we are currently building a house in Belize. We love Panama, but we decided that we will base ourselves in retirement in Belize. Several reasons...English is the primary language there, and since we aren't fluent in Spanish, communication becomes a big deal when you really can't! Also, we found a nice community near the water (Orchid Bay) where it was reasonably priced but with good amenities.

      Tom and I are both from the NE US, but we have lived in warm places for most of our lives...TN, AZ, CA and currently, Houston TX. It is only a 2.5 hour flight from here to Belize, 3 hours to Panama.

      We never made it out to Boquete...we plan to go at some point and check it out. Please let us know how your trip was, how you liked it, etc!

      Warm regards, Susan and Tom Brace