The boys in the photo above live at the end of Calle La India. They play around there and volunteer their services as guides for anyone visiting either La Piedra Pintada (the Painted Rock) or La India Dormida (the Sleeping Indian, a local mountain). Any one of them can take you to La Piedra (it's a short walk), and then give you a long explanation of all the pre-Columbian petroglyphs carved on the rock. $1 is the usual fee for this service.
A reader recently asked me if there were any downsides to living in El Valle de Antón. The truth is that El Valle is a beautiful, special place and I could go on for hours about all the joys of life here. I must leave for personal reasons that have nothing to do with the quality of life here. But yes, there are a few downsides.
Downsides to Life in El Valle
- Annoying weekenders. El Valle is a resort town. Many wealthy Panamanian families have weekend/summer homes here. It's been this way for decades. They arrive here in force on Saturday morning, rolling into town in their big SUVs. That's great for local restaurants and stores, but the problem is that the weekender kids all have ATVs and dirt bikes and they spend the weekend roaring up and down the streets with no regard for safety or peace. The older kids, in their teens and twenties, zoom up and down at all hours in their SUVs. I like to walk in the evenings but I don't walk on Friday or Saturday nights because it's too dangerous.
Why don't the police do something? Because these are wealthy, influential families and the small town cops know better than to interfere in their affairs. Aside from the fact of their status, these families support many local facilities such as the public library and the nursing home. So, like the locals, I put up with it in silence. This is one of those cultural differences that gringos must accept.
- No hospital. This is has not been an issue for me, but for many of the elderly retirees here, it is. El Valle does have a clinic that can treat common sicknesses and offer limited emergency care, but for comprehensive medical care one must go to Panama city, 90 minutes away. In a life or death situation, that's a long ways to go. El Valle has an ambulance that was donated by Japan, but it will take you only to Penonomé, which is one hour away and has a hospital but not of the quality you would get in Panama city.
- No private school. If you have school age children, this could be a problem. There are public schools here but they are underfunded and the quality of instruction is not stellar. I have heard of a private bilingual school in Penonomé but I know nothing about it. It's possible that within a few years we may see a private school in Coronado. So at the moment you'd better be prepared to home school if you want to live in El Valle with children. You might consider a combination of public school and home schooling.
- Insects. This is the tropics, and in a mountain town like El Valle you feel it. The battle against the six-legged kingdom is never ending. Be prepared to live with mosquito bites and noseeum bites, and to take extraordinary measures to keep ants out of your food. Other insects such as beetles, termites, spiders and cicadas can be a bother but are tolerable.
- No quality grocery store. This is a minor complaint. There are several local chinos (Chinese-owned mini-markets), but they don't carry higher-end or gourmet items. For those kinds of things you must go down the mountain to El Rey in Coronado (45 minutes away), or for real specialty items to the Riba Smith stores in Panama.
- Higher construction costs. I have no direct experience with this, but I've heard that construction costs can be higher here because materials (and often crews as well) must be trucked up the mountain.
- No paying jobs. Again, not an issue for me since I work over the internet from home. This is a small town. If you are not retired or rich, then you must have a source of income or be prepared to start a business. I do believe there are business opportunities here (I've been saying for ages that an ice cream shop would do well here, and we'll see since the owners of Pinocchio's Pizzeria just opened one last week).
- Life is slow. Everyone is different and I happen to enjoy the easy pace of life here, and like I said I work full time and that keeps me busy. I like going to the market and talking to the vendors, going out to eat, and taking long walks in the evening. But some may find life here to be dull. The important thing is that you have something to occupy your time and enrich your life, whether that is volunteer work, writing a book, or starting a business.