What is paradise? If you found it, would you want to buy a second home there or perhaps even move there permanently? Is paradise determined by having a sunny climate year round, where the temperature only varies by 30 degrees, never going below 50 or above 80 degrees; or by living in luxurious accommodations coupled with a low cost of living, and having servants who work cheap and also happen to be nice happy people, living in an area of spectacular natural beauty with incredibly low crime and virtually no air pollution?
The online e-zines, travel brochures, even AARPs Modern Maturity magazine often have seductive stories of life in exotic locations outside the USA
|Boquete River Valley
Boquete (which is Spanish for gap) is just such a place. It is located at 4,000 feet above sea level on the eastern slope of a dormant volcano named Volcan Baru in the Chiriqui (pronounced Chee-ree-key) province in the Republic of Panama. On a clear day, from the summit of the 11,000 foot volcano, you can see both the Pacific and the Caribbean. The province of Chiriqui, which is mainly rural, extends from the Pacific Coast to Volcan Baru on the west, the Continental Divide to the north, and more mountains to the east which descend into the Caribbean Sea. Boquete is situated at the tip of a valley made over the centuries by the Caldera River flowing south through magnificent cloud forests and spilling into the ocean.
Click on video below to see the town of Boquete from the perspective of a guy on a motorcycle.
Recently, Boquete was selected by Modern Maturity, the AARP magazine, as the “fourth best place in the world for Americans to have a second home.” This scenic mountain town is easily accessible by car, thanks to the newly paved road system that stretches into the farthest corners of Panama.
|Waterfall near Boquete
High up in the mountains, the pristine water in the rushing streams is crystal clear from the daily rainfall, then turns to mud as it passes through various Indian vegetable farms rising up at severe angles on the surrounding mountain slopes.
|Boquete hillside farm
|White and purple Orchids
|Yellow and orange orchids
|Tin roof shack
The Indians live in tin-roofed grey wooden shacks, with dirt floors and no electricity. In front of each shack is a garden of wild flowers, over time grown tall in order to obscure their humble homes. The Indian women are dressed in brightly colored shifts, the men wear clean white shirts and black trousers, and the children are neat and tidy, dressed as miniatures of their parents.
|Big house outside Boquete
|Bambito Hotel where we stayed in Volcan Baru
Let’s compare Boquete, the rural Panamanian town referred to by Modern Maturity as paradise, with what some people refer to as an urban paradise, the city of Baltimore, Maryland.
|Baltimore at night
|Lyric Opera House
|Meyerhoff Concert Hall
To understand why anyone would consider Baltimore paradise, it’s important to really look at what Baltimore has to offer. Culture abounds in the form of several major museums, the National Aquarium, and a beautifully redesigned inner harbor. It is home to the 110 year old Lyric Opera House and the Meyerhoff concert hall is located on the next block, and home to the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Both facilities are well supported by the community.
|Baltimore’s Mt. Vernon neighborhood
There are several charismatic neighborhood communities throughout the city, such as Mt. Vernon in mid-town and Fells Point, established before Baltimore, with its ancient buildings, commercial docks, and secluded quays. Every type of food can be found in Baltimore, with over 1000 restaurants in the city.
Baltimore is home to two major sports teams, the Ravens and the Orioles.
|Baltimore Catholic Basilica
The lifestyle in Baltimore is quite different from the sleepy breezes, crystal clean water and fresh air in the highlands of Panama. In Boquete, the buildings are all run down and crumbling, the restaurants are plentiful and unclean, and the nights are pitch black. There is no noise, no place to go, nothing to see, no library, cinema, museums or sporting events to attend. Everything on TV is in Spanish with the exception of HBO, which has Spanish subtitles. There are very few Americans or Europeans in the area to talk to, and those that are there are often missionaries sent by their churches to work with the Indians. The majority of the population in the area has little or no education and they live in the most appalling conditions.
Is it possible that paradise is more than the right climate, spectacular natural beauty, luxurious accommodations, and a low cost of living? Imagine just how comfortable could a person feel sitting alone on the veranda of a lavish house in the middle of magnificent rain forest surrounded by colorful neighbor’s living in extreme poverty?
The concept of paradise goes beyond the material world and into the psyche of individuals. For paradise to exist people need to feel connected to the essence of the community in which they live, to something greater than themselves, and that their lives share a common purpose, be it in the highlands of Chiriqui or downtown Baltimore, it really doesn’t matter.
(Note: I wrote this after Bob and I took a trip to Panama in May of 2004. Additional pictures and video added August 2013.)
This piece, written by Pat, was originally posted on our website on October 23, 2008.