|This was, perhaps, the clincher!|
After nearly a week in the sticky, dirty heat of Panama City, we knew it was time to pack up and head for the hills! We debated between two different mountain towns, one that everyone raved about but inevitably said was overrun with expats, and the other, closer to the city, still beautiful, but less touristy. In the end we decided to rent a vehicle for a week, check out the closer town first, and if we liked it we could settle in and still have wheels with which to explore for a few days. If not we could continue our search and not be at the mercy of the bus system. I inquired about several rental properties and one by one was told they were all full. We were looking for a small home or apartment to rent for our remaining month in Panama and use as a base for exploring as well as a place to settle down and relax.
There were two places I'd found online that were available, and I knew that once we were here there would be other options, probably at better prices. Arriving in the small, mountain town, we instantly appreciated the cooler air and refreshing breeze, as well as the quietness and lush vegetation all around. We went to look at the first apartment, which was on the third floor of a small hotel. Other than the fact that it opened onto a large terrace filled with hammocks, it was small and overpriced. The owner said all his other properties were rented and called another friend with rentals who reported the same thing. (This is summertime in Panama, the children are out of school, and so of course things are more booked.) We felt a little discouraged, but we'd only just arrived and planned to get a room for a few nights while we continued our search. There was one other place that had said they had availability so we thought we'd check it out, but I didn't think it would work as there was only one single and one queen bed.
We entered the property through beautifully painted wooden gates and were immediately welcomed by the kind hostess. Erik got out to look while I stayed in the vehicle with the kids. After a few minutes he returned with a smile, nodded, and told me to go take a look. The grounds were beautiful, the apartment was simply furnished but tastefully decorated and clean, and the price was significantly less than the hotel apartment. Erik informed her that we had four kids and she wasn't at all put out, offering to bring an air mattress and extra bedding. The kids piled out and we all walked up to the open air terrace on the roof. Have I ever mentioned how much I love rooftops? They are such a nice place to hang out, and this one is particularly lovely, clean, and safe for small kids. The weather, which was breezy, had been dry, but as we walked up to the terrace we were met by misty rain. Looking out toward the mountains, we saw a vibrant rainbow and I knew we'd found our "home".
Here's a little tour of our casa:
|The welcoming gates!|
|This is our front door and the stairs leading up to the rooftop.|
|Artistic details throughout the property add to its charm.|
|There are banana trees and all sort of tropical vegetation. There's even a small stream running through the yard, and chickens running about.|
|This is the view through the front door into an airy entrance where the dining table is.|
|The kitchen is spacious. After cooking in my tiny RV kitchen for the last several months, it's nice to have all this room! Counter space! Four burners! A big oven! Oh, the things I can cook!|
|This is the bedroom... isn't it pretty? The two little ones are sleeping on floor beds with us, and there is a nice, sunny little alcove with a day bed, complete with "princess" netting for Poppy. Peregrine is on the air mattress.|
|The entry room opens onto a gorgeous courtyard. I like courtyards nearly as much as I do rooftops. I know not all places have abundant sunshine, but I still think comfy outdoor spaces are a great addition to any home.|
|This is the rooftop terrace, fully walled and with two bohios for shelter from sun, wind, and rain. I love it up here!|
|There are three hammocks for relaxing. Or swinging in wildly if you're part of the younger crowd.|
|From the rooftop you gaze out on the mountains. We're in an extinct crater, and as such the small valley is ringed with verdant, jungle covered peaks. It's a stunning setting.|
|These large fans are tucked into the ceiling of the bohio atop the roof. They are woven from a single palm leaf and I like to lay in the hammock looking up at them.|
|She was orphaned as a baby when her mother climbed into power lines and was electrocuted. Our hostess adopted her and she's now a beloved house pet! She's about a year old and only awake four hours a day.|
We feel so blessed to have found this place, and were amazed that it was available, a reasonable price, and that we were welcome here!
A friend asked if I could try to include some tips to help other families learn to travel on a budget, and one of them is to avoid hotels as much as possible! We were spending between $60 and $100 a night in Panama City for one room, where we were all cramped together and ate most of our meals out. Our rent here is $800 for the month, and we have plenty of room to spread out, plus the rooftop and yard where the kids can play. Being able to cook most of our own meals also saves a lot of money. (There are definitely cheaper rentals around too!) A few sites that are useful for finding furnished, short term rentals are airbnb, homeaway, flipkey, enrout, and wimdu. Even if we're just going to a city in the US for a few days, it's usually costs about the same for me to rent a one or two bedroom condo with a kitchen than it is for us to cram into a hotel room.
My friend Jen, a traveling mama with four kids, recently wrote about how they go about finding rentals, so if it's something you're interested in go take a look. She shares a lot of good info, questions to ask, etc. And check out their blog in general; they're in their fifth year of traveling with four kids and are full of inspiration!