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A Residents Story - Paradise Found On Isla Solarte
Comstock’s Business Magazine
Five hundred feet above glimmering, black water, the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge pokes into a clear sky with a cabled top that reaches higher than the largest Egyptian pyramid. Attached to one of its cables, Jan young checks her hook belt one more time. On her 40th birthday, Jan surveys San Francisco from “a perspective that only angels get to see. If her belt fails, she’ll be meeting those angels sooner rather than later.
on the right -
Pathway in Solarte
|On her 50th birthday
Jan took a deep breath and dove into scuba diving, better her life that
her air tanks would not fail. Jan Young is not afraid of failure.
How else could she do something as gutsy as travel to a foreign country
to purchase a lot she’d never seen in a neighborhood she’d never been in
– and come out a winner? Demure in stature, this giant of gumption
relishes the next trip she’ll make to her ‘ticket to paradise” – the property
she and two friends purchased off Panama – a third-acre patch of jungle
on an 1100-acre island called Isla Solarte.
Now marketing director for the Bank of Lodi, Jan produced KCRA-TV programs for thirteen years and The Big Spin (California’s Lottery Program) for another four. She is one of about 40 people in the Sacramento area who learned from ‘a friend of a friend of a friend” about rainforest property for sale with endless sandy beaches stroked by Caribbean waves. “I’m blowing this whole secret because people are careful whom they tell” she says with a guilty smile.
The five-year-old development is in its first phase with 70 out of 176 lots sold. Upon completion, the community will take up one-half of Isla Solarte, which is three miles long and a half-mile across at its widest point. Nine miles of ocean separate it from Panama, which has one thousand miles of Caribbean and Pacific coastline and 1,600 foliage-dense islands. Bocas del Toro – where on his Isla Solarte residents go shopping – is one of those mounds of earth in the water. Discovered by Columbus on his final voyage in 1502, Bocas is on the northwest coast of Panama near the Costa Rican border. It looks like, “Locke on water,” (Locke is a quaint pioneer town that sits on the Sacramento River )says Young. Its stilted buildings stand over gentle, blue-green water abundant with marine life. It is the only wooden town in Panam, built in the early 1900’s. It is also a fun place to hang out.
Bocas’12 square blocks offer a host of bed-and-breakfasts and unique shops where you can ‘find one of everything’ plus grocery stores, a Glidden paint shop and a place where a buck get you hooked up to the internet for 10 minutes. “It’s where I check my email” says Jan. This pedestrian town is within walking distance of a small airport where visitors arrive from Panama City. There are also three water-taxi companies and a number of restaurants and bars where you can run into “a variety of interesting characters from around the world,” according to Tom Neary, a Sacramentan who bought an Isla Solarte lot two years ago with his wife, Susan Dupre. Tom says, “It is a small place so you get to know a lot of people quickly.”
Susan agrees. “It’s like coming back to a small town. People are happy when they see you again.” Susan enjoys encountering Americans she has met on previous visits and keeps in touch via email. Their lot is on a ridge overlooking a strait where banana boats regularly pass and Bastimentos Island, home to rare turtles and mangrove canals, the first National Marine Park of Panama.
“Isla Solarte is a very sensuous place,” Susan says. “The air is the same temperature as your skin, the water at times is glass smooth and you can see the bottom. Your eyes are always peeled for dolphins that pop out and swim around your boat.” The climate is tropical and temperatures range from 72-86 degrees with soothing ocean breezes.
The two tiny islands are a place were, Jan says, lemons are orange and citrus fruit is ‘bigger, brighter and sweeter because of the high sugar content.” She describes a Bocas restaurant built over water where patrons eat on a deck overlooking a variety of colorful coral and dazzling fish that come close to diners looking for a handout.
“The menu is kept in a seawater pen,” Jan says. “You can order lobster, conch or abalone and keep the shell. Then you can go snorkeling while it cooks.” The price- about $10.00 a meal.
Prices are low in Bocas, where hotels range from $10-$70 a night. Jan recalls one whose $45 room comes with a breakfast that includes a “platter of spectacular fresh fruit with papayas the size of watermelons, ham and eggs, quiche, homemade syrup, bread and Costa Rican coffee that tastes better there than here. Leftovers are tossed into the water, which suddenly bubbles with tropical fish. The seem to favor the scrambled eggs,”, she says.
Developer of the Isla Solarte project, Shepard Johnson is turning 600 acres into ¾-acre lots. His intention is not to alter the island’s appearance, but capitalize on the natural beauty by placing pole homes on mostly uncleared lots. Johnson says, “Isla Solarte will be the only private island with telephone and utility hookups. You can own a pole house in a rain forest on a lagoon and be on the Internet.”
Traffic won’t pose a problem – cars are not allowed – only golf carts – and the nearest store is on Bocas, which Johnson says is, ‘two kilometers or five to 10 minutes from the development, depending on the horsepower of your boat.” Johnson hosts a yearly gathering for lot owners that Young attends. She says, “I don’t feel like I’m going to a foreign country because there are so many people from Sacramento. It’s great to be around a group of professionals passionate about ecology and a natural lifestyle.”
Indeed, Panama is a tempting place to consider for a second home. The Panamanian currency is the U.S. dollar (they mint the Balboa coins identical isn size and weight to U.S. coins and are the same value). Foreigners can own property with few restrictions, and titles property is treated similarly to U.S. real estate law. Construction costs average $35-$50-per-square-foot and there are no real estate taxes for 20 years on new construction. This and bird watching, beach combing, camping, hiking, sport fishing, diving, snorkeling, sailing, kayaking, white water rafting and more, await visitors and residents .
These benefits are not what attracted Jan, whose dream of owning waterfront property has finally become a reality. “I loved Cancun 10 years ago, but today it is over-developed with McDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken and who know wyat around every corner,” she says. In Bocas you can “lie in bed in a hotel built on stilts and hear the water lapping below you and the patter of rain above. This, to me is paradise.”
“My challenge,” continues Jan, “is keeping my backyard from going to jungle. Banana and plantains are everywhere.” Young owns a lot with Sacramentans Butch and Kimberly Cox. The three are actively planning their pole home that will stand “eight feet off the ground to take advantage of the tropical breezes.” All homes in the project are constructed this way. Across the lagoon is the protected Bastimentos Island, so Jan’s long distance view will remain unspoiled.
Johnson describes Jan’s
neighborhood as one where, “You can walk through the rain forest on your
way to the beach. Time moves slower there. You seem to need
less. Twenty-four Indian families live down the way from the development.
Children passy by in their starched white shirts on their way to school
in dugout canoes that cut through 83 degree water with 90-foot visibility.”
There are no scary jungle beasts on Jan’s island. The sloth is one of the only mammal, to her knowledge, though there is an abundance of bright red frogs as big as your thumbnail. Her friends Dave and Linda, from San Diego, own 40 acres on the mainland nine miles away in Panama. On the mainland they encounter howler monkeys, margays, servals (small tiger-like cats), jaguars, snakes and iguanas. Dave takes a machete where he goes on his property to clear the brush and ‘just in case.”
This does not appeal to Jan
whose Island of Solarte offers no big cats or snakes, but does have its
share of birds. Occasionally, parrots flying overhead pester her.
“They make quite a racket and are the noisiest birds I’ve ever heard.”
Not a bad trade for the commotion of city life back home.
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