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“There is amazing diversity
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There is surfing,
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Tropical Island Escape – Vacation - Retirement - Investment
Isla Solarte in the News
Bocas Del Toro - California Family of
Four Follows Its Rainbow To a Remote Island in Panama
Johnson is no ordinary, developer of dreams. The Roseville man is taking
25 years of California real estate experience and using it to build his
dream development in Panama on an island called Solarte. Johnson, 48, and
family – wife Monte, an Encina High School teacher, and young daughters
Robin, 13, and Halley, 9 – got their feet wet in Costa Rica, where they
lived from 1992 to 1995. The idea in Costa Rica – to use his California
experience to build a residential community – fizzled when that country
hit a recession. But it’s blossoming one Central American country to the
south, on Isla Solarte.
“He was in a daze for three months after, all he could do was talk about it,” said Johnson.
The family took a long, two-day drive from San Jose into Panama, traversed the continental divide and went to Chiriqui Grande to catch a ferry to Almirante and then a boat that zipped them over glassy seas to Bocas. “Trained in architecture at Berkeley, I was always interested in the concept for a planned pedestrian community,” said Johnson, “When we stepped off the boat in Bocas, we saw first-hand a fantastic pedestrian community. The main street was a block from the airport. All the services were in easy walking distances. There was a park and a grandstand, and the provincial government seat was in a classic Spanish building.”
“We fell in love with it.”
These American girls are on Isla Solarte. You'll meet people from around the world in Bocas Del Toro, some of whom had come to Bocas on their own as travelers, and others who were part of an expatriate family. These two loved Bocas Del Toro and Isla Solarte. The area also has a large international surfer community, with young people from around the world.
|They loved it so much that
they bought a lot in town on their first visit. Actually, it was a lot
in the water. All of the beachfront buildings were built on stilts over
the water because of the calm seas and small, 2-foot tides. The Johnsons
spent 10 days in Bocas and made a decision. This was a place they could
live. The question, of course, was how.
Over the course of the next
two years, Johnson kept returning to Bocas and got to know the caretaker
of nearby Isla Solarte, a smaller island a few miles closer to the mainland.
On one of the trips back, they met a Florida businessman known as The Colonel,
who had bought about half of Isla Solarte years before and needed help
surveying the island. As Johnson helped map the land, snorkeled in the
pristine water and observed the indigenous peoples’ peaceful life, his
attachment to the island grew.
“I didn’t want to build houses,” he said, “I want to build a community.”
The community, as Johnson
envisions it, is an extension of the existing stilt construction of the
area. Only he is taking the building a step farther, intending to build
the largest over-water, pole construction community this side of Bora Bora.
The houses, connected by a string of walkways, will be clustered in a 500-acre
planned development and will range in size from 500 to 3,000 square feet.
Prices will range from $40,000 to $180,000. A portion of the island is
planned for Sausalito-style houseboats, while another section will be set
aside for stilted land huts.
The character of the indigenous people who live on the islands of Bocas, says Johnson emerges in small ways.
“Every day, you see Indian children, some no more than 5 years old, paddling to school in Bocas from different islands, dressed in freshly starched white shirts and spotless blue pants and dresses. These kids are coming from thatched huts and their parents are struggling to survive. But it is important to them that their children be presentable and clean.”
The Johnsons have been back in Granite Bay since the summer of 1995, working on permits and plans for developing their dream on Isla Solarte. They are now selling lots for the 300-home development, and will soon begin cutting access roads. Johnson is planning a mostly pedestrian community with a few small hotels and grocery stores included in the overall architectural plan.
The indigenous people living
on the island have their own land and thatch-roof homes on neighboring
property. “We’ve been working closely with them to maintain the character
of the island,” Johnson says. Solarte is also spitting distance from a
huge national sea park that draws snorkelers and scuba divers from both
hemispheres. Recent improvements to the small airport on Bocas has made
it much easier for visitors to get here than when Johnson first arrived.
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