The Road to Panama
While visiting with expats in Panama, one frequently-asked question focused on whether to move with all, part or none of our belongings. The temptation was strong, at least initially, for us to sell or give away everything we owned, pack a couple of suitcases of essentials, and start anew. New life, new things. No baggage with no baggage.
We learned that expats take all approaches. Our friends Holly and Scott packed and shipped a HUGE shipping container of items, including loads of tools and equipment that Scott knew he would need and want for the construction of their casita, home and to use daily in his workshop in Boquete. Others started virtually from scratch. Still others suggested a middle ground approach of leaving much and taking some things, particularly those of sentimental value. The things that would make us feel at home in our new home.
The middle ground approach appealed to us as we thought about our new start. We knew that some things are inexpensive in Panama and worth replacing; other things were going to be harder or more expensive to replace. So we met with an international mover (recommended by others in Panama), got estimates and proceeded with the plan to pack much of our house for shipping to Panama once we settled.
In order to ship our belongings and import them without costly import fees, I need to have my pensionado visa in hand. This leaves us with relocating with a minimal amount of our stuff while we wait the months (and maybe years) before the visa is granted. What to bring?
While visiting in Panama, we lived in a beautiful furnished apartment in Casco Viejo that was very comfortable. It had most of the conveniences of home but there were definitely things that we missed: a good knife, a whisk, large bath towels, our Apple TVs. You get the idea. So, our first thought was to bring 2 suitcases apiece, one of clothes and one of stuff. Small electronics. Kitchen gear. Computer equipment.
What to do about the bikes? Ship them with the household belongings and do without for many months? Bring separately? Sell here and buy new? Consider what YOU would choose to bring to your new homeland when limited to a couple of suitcases.
We decided we would sell our cars before leaving for a couple of reasons: shipping them (or even 1) would be very expensive. Could we find parts for an Audi in Panama? We saw Audis in Panama City but were told that often models of cars available in the US are modified when shipped to other countries so there was no guarantee of being able to maintain either of the Audis in Panama. Further, would an Audi be an appropriate vehicle for Panama?
While the roads are decent throughout Panama, there are definitely places where having a 4-wheel drive would be preferable. We also learned that rain showers — showers is definitely a euphemism for downpours – can come on quickly and leave inches to a half a foot of standing water in the road before it drains off. While plenty of Panamanians drive small sedans, it looked to us that vehicles with decent clearance off the ground would be helpful in Panama.
Intending to settle initially in Panama City, we knew that having a car for daily use would not be necessary. Panama has a metro system, buses and a fleet of cabs that put NYC to shame. Once we figured out that cabs were cheap when flagged on the street (as compared to hailed by the hotel doorman), we traveled everywhere we needed within Panama City inexpensively. And for times when we wanted to get out to the beach or elsewhere, renting a car would be easy and affordable.
So, the plan was to pack our house for shipping, sell or give away what remained, pack up clothes and some household essentials, sell the cars, hop on a plane to Panama City and start our new lives.
Change of Plans
Recently, Roque shared with me the news of a young Argentinian family with kids in tow who decided to drive to Philadelphia to meet with the Pope. Are you kidding me? If a family with young kids and an old van felt safe enough to drive from Argentina to the US, why couldn’t we do the drive from the US to Panama? Or, better yet, why couldn’t we do a major US road trip before heading south through Mexico and Central America? After all, Roque’s father and mother, with Roque’s brothers, Alpha and Gil, together with cousin Marcella, had driven from Panama to New York for the 1965 World’s Fair, in a Peugeot through the American South, as persons of color, in the mid-1960’s, for gosh sakes. ! DC to Alaska to Panama? This felt like the trip of a lifetime and a chance to finish Roque’s father’s dream of an Alaska to Panama drive.
I posed this idea to Roque who was unsure and suggested I research the idea and off I went. Within hours, I learned that there are countless scores of people who make the journey from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego along the Pan American highway, crossing off a major bucket list item in the process. These travelers actually have a NAME: Overlanders. And they have websites, and expos, and publications! Such richness of resources. I was hooked.
Much like my Panama expat bible, “Let the Adventure Begin,” I stumbled upon an Overland resource that provided a virtual step-by-step guide to crossing borders, connecting wirelessly, navigating road maps, campgrounds, packing lists and more: this second bible, “Life Remotely,” has become the digital version of a well dog-eared book in our household.
Now convinced that we could do this trip, I turned my attention to convincing Roque to make the trip to Panama — an experience in itself. Advantages: equipped with the right vehicle, we could take our bikes (!), camping gear and daily travel needs as well as more of the basics that we would want to have once we reach Panama. Like our decision to expatriate to Panama, the road trip ticked off many boxes.
As my research continued, my enthusiasm increased and Roque’s doubts began to evaporate and yield to excitement. And, contrary to our beliefs, family members and friends responded (mostly) favorably. Once blessed by those who count, we started to plan the road trip and the stops along the way – a task that evolves with each conversation. More on the itinerary later.
Birth of Boots and Coffee
Grateful for the resources we discovered, having received so many lovely comments from Facebook friends when we’ve posted from various travel destinations, and wanting to pay forward the bounty of information we found from expat and Overlanding bloggers, I started this blog. Through Boots and Coffee, we will share our experiences, decision-making, and resources for those who may use this information to further their travel planning. Because we found that most Overlanders are young people, not heading to a destination like us, who will resume work and life once the trip is complete, and because we found that many relocating expats are retirees, packing up homes or starting over in a new land after arriving by airplane, and because of who we are, we hope to bring different insights to these pages to inspire others to follow their dreams.