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Exotic birds chirp in the trees, which are currently being buffeted by strong winds. I’ve just bought milk, cheese and yogurt from a woman who stops by every few days to make sure we have all the dairy we need. A small dog refuses to understand that he’s not supposed to be in the house and whines pitifully when I put him out…again.

This is our life in Santa Fe, Panama, where we’re halfway through a three-week housesit, and where we’ve just agreed to spend six months later in the year. Rural life is suiting us so far: we’ve made some new friends and established a good routine, and the three dogs and one cat we’re looking after have accepted us as adequate substitutes for the humans they really love.

Gorgeous views on the way to Costa Rica.
One benefit of an early flight: gorgeous views on the way to Costa Rica.

Getting to Central America

Getting here was less of a hassle than we’d expected, though it certainly took a long time! From Guadalajara, Mexico, we hopped on an early-morning flight to San Jose, Costa Rica (and weren’t asked for proof of onward travel, despite my considerable stress over this point). On arrival we changed some pesos to colones at a terrible rate of exchange and caught the bus into town; an early arrival meant plenty of time to explore the city that afternoon.

Green church in San Jose Costa Rica
San José did have some pretty buildings… like this church, the iglesia La Dolorosa.

We weren’t enamoured with San Jose, and it’s a pity that we didn’t have time to see more of Costa Rica. As it was, we spent just two days in the country before hopping on a bus to David, Panama.

The Costa Rica/Panama border

We’d read a lot about crossing the border between these two countries, and while it’s certainly worth having your documents in order, we found it easier than expected. We paid our $7 departure tax at the bus station before we left San Jose, and were surprised to discover a $1 entrance tax to get into Panama — luckily we had a small stash of greenbacks with us! We weren’t asked for proof of funds or onwards tickets, but signs everywhere indicated that both of these were essential, so we were glad to have printed them out in advance.

There was an hour-long wait on one side of the border and a half-hour one on the other; we were taken into a small room with our luggage and the other travelers on our bus to engage in some communal form-filling. Although the process was long, it all went smoothly, and we arrived in David no worse for the wear.

David was just a stopping point on our journey; we didn’t see much of it even though we stayed for two nights. From there, we caught a bus to Santiago and another to Santa Fe, where John the homeowner collected us from the centre of town.

Bermejo waterfall in Panama.
Bermejo waterfall.


John and Janet had some friends staying with them, so our first couple of days were full of company and excursions: we went out for dinner twice, headed out on a night hike up a local hill, swam in a nearby river. It was sad to say goodbye to them all on Saturday, though we stretched it out as long as possible by heading into Santiago to have a final lunch together.

Back home, we settled into a routine of work and dog-walking, interrupted by visits from Janice providing us with milk and cheese and the fish guy selling fish off the back of his truck, plus conversations with Victorio, Janet and John’s employee. We’ve also spent a bit of time with Kim, Denny, Avril, and Derek, who are all local expats: first an evening of dinner and Farkle (a hilarious dice game), later a hike to the Bermejo waterfall.

Group hiking in Panama
Once again, all the women were wearing blue shirts…

We’re already feeling at home here, which is great, because this will be our home for a good six months later in the year. It’s quite different from the bases we’ve chosen in the past, so should be an adventure in itself!

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