Three To Panama

A close-up photo of a chalkboard on a sandwich sign sitting on a sidewalk in an upscale strip mall. Written in white chalk is a saying attributed to Alice Walker: “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.”
“The Most Common Way People Give Up Their Power is by Thinking They Don’t Have Any.” Alice Walker

I dreamt of retiring to the Baja. Years ago I had motorcycled from a friend’s home in Reno down the Baja as far as La Paz. I found a stellar bakery in Santa Rosalia and vowed to retire there simply for fresh morning donuts.

Then, as I motored further down the Peninsula, I vowed to retire in San Ignatius and hop over to Santa Rosalia once a week or so for my sugar donut. Further South, I vowed to retire on the Bahia de Concepcion so I could kayak with the dolphins and snorkel with the stingrays.

And so on. And so on.

Each mile of the Baja I loved more. Hot, unrelenting, sparse, gorgeous.

My wife Ingrid and I excitedly delved into research of expats’ favored locales. We devoured each issue of International Living’s magazine:





We spent evenings fantasizing, plotting, constructing. We believed that

“[t]he most common way people give up their power is by believing they don’t have any.”

I had snapped that photo on a visit to St. Louis around that time. We needed to snatch the power, and not wait for fate to decide our retirement for us.

The Baja, I reminded Ingrid, had it all. Sun, surfing, snorkeling, kayaking, donuts. She demurred.

Her checklist was different than mine. A strong economy, ease of travel, cost of living, and public safety. Drug lords had made a stand in San Ignatius. That made it a no go. La Paz had suffered some bad press as well.

I argued Anchorage was in the national news for drug-related gang activity even though we had seen no signs of that.

But, we were choosing our Paradise. Drugs should not be in the mix at all.

So, down the globe, we went. I set my sights on Lake Bacalar in the Yucatan. I had stumbled upon a blog by a lesbian who retired there with her spouse and mother-in-law. The lake was so large it supported casual snorkeling as well as kayaking. Cenotes, large sinkholes full of ocean water, were snorkeling worthy too.

I started using 3–2Panama! as my go-to password.

Again, Ingrid and my checklists were not in sync. No, there was a drug-related shoot-out in Cancun.

Belize? English-speaking and with a Caribbean vibe that appealed to me. No, Ingrid countered, our son Ramey would lay around smoking pot all of the time. This time, I concurred. That was a probable scenario.

Guatemala? Too much violence.

Slowly, methodically, we spent weeks researching and studying favored retirement locales. We ruled out European countries either because of the cost, cultural homophobia, or the formidable time crated the pets would have to travel.

Others just sounded cold. Sure, we were Alaskans but if you want the best a cold region has to offer, why would you leave Alaska in the first place?

Italy, Croatia, and Spain were nixed because of all four — cost, cultural homophobia, time pets crated, cold.

Panama? Panama.

I started using 3–2Panama! as my go-to password. Don’t worry, no troll will read this and hack into our accounts. I have since changed them all.

Ingrid went through her checklist in her head.


A strong democratic government was more than we could say about the United States at that time. Check.

A stable economy using the American dollar. Check.

The drug trade appeared under control. Check.

Ease of travel as Panama City’s airport. Tocumen is a Latin American hub. Check.

What were we missing?

I would travel to the Lower 48 for an upcoming International Living seminar to try on Panama for size. We were still open-minded if we found any snags in our design.

We didn’t find any.

Some could argue it was an $800 seminar tuition gone to waste, not even counting hotel and airfare. But we chalked it up as insurance backing up our purposefully framed retirement roadmap.

Christmas was coming, time off for Ingrid. We would make a trip to Panama, the three of us, and try Panama on for size. It would be our reconnaissance trip to pick that retirement pueblo.

If you like what you have read here, follow me in my weekly newsletter at I explore more about retiring in Panama and making the most of the 3rd Stage of Life, mainly through intentional living, finding purpose through new work or another avenue, and metabolic fitness.



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Melinda Miles-Lindberg

Melinda Miles-Lindberg

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