My name is Oscar Peña Sanchez. I was born on June 9, 1980 in Cali, Colombia. I’m the youngest of seven kids, between my parents, and two younger half sisters from my Dad. My parents are originally from Bogota, Colombia, but the majority of my family now resides in Cali, the third largest city in Colombia. I come from a family of entrepreneurs. My parents started a mechanic garage rebuilding CV joints and suspensions of cars, which is where I worked from the age of 14-25, completing high school through night classes. At 22, I studied hotel management and tourism for four semesters at a technical school, where I began to realize my passion for tourism and a desire to learn English. At that time in Colombia, there was not much international tourism. I knew I had to leave to find new opportunities for myself, so in March 2006 at the age of 25, I left Colombia and moved to Costa Rica.
On my journey to Costa Rica, I passed through Panama and, call it curiosity or intuition, but something told me that I would be back in Panama one day. Arriving in Costa Rica, I didn’t have much of a plan. I worked various jobs for a while including cook, waiter, barista, selling homemade arts and crafts, selling street food… anything to be able to eat something that day and maybe have a little bit left over to send back to my family in Colombia. One sweet memory from those days was my 26th birthday; I literally had just enough money in my pocket to get a sandwich and small orange juice. I was sitting on the beach watching the waves and, being aware of my situation or what I had in that precise moment, I thought hmm.. how many times have I wanted to spend my birthday on a beautiful beach like this one! These types of thoughts kept me going and working with my best attitude. In fact, finding moments of gratitude, especially in tough times, has become a daily practice for me.
During this time, I was living in Manuel Antonio, which is known for some of its high end beach hotels and resorts. Every week for one month I went to one of the most exclusive resorts and asked the owner to give me a chance and allow me to work in the restaurant. Finally, the owner told me that, because of my persistence and attitude, he would give me a shot. He sent me to the general manager, who let me start working as a back waiter. This job was one of my biggest learning experiences. I was trained in expert customer service, became more fluent in English, and learned about the North American market. I eventually worked in every single position in that restaurant and after that job, I worked in other resorts at the front desk and as concierge and bartender.
In August 2009, I saw an opportunity to move to Panama. Costa Rica built me in many ways and I felt ready to take on the next adventure. I moved directly to Boquete, Panama and began running the bar at Valle Escondido, where I had the honor of meeting the owner and founder of the resort, which is still one of the most successful and exclusive resorts and gated communities in Panama.
After that, I worked as a volunteer coordinator for one year with a local organization. In this job I further learned how to work with people from all over the world. I also got to work with many local expat groups and organizations. During this time, I got to know the Boquete community and I started to see the need for certain expat services that would allow them to have a smoother transition into life in Panama. In 2010, I had an eye-opening experience when I attended for the first time an International Living seminar in Panama City. At this event, I saw first hand the huge interest in Panama as a retirement destination. In 2011, I started working as a private interpreter and offering private transportation, to help expats do tasks such as getting their driver’s license, paying bills, signing up for cell phone plans, helping shop for specific items, private shuttles, etc. Simple things like these can become very complicated when you move to a country where you do not speak the language.
Little by little, I began to see how I could be the bridge between North American culture and Latin American culture in order to not only make the relocation process easier, but also enjoyable. Doing this work, I met Rod, who had just moved to Boquete in 2012. In 2014, we first went into business together, opening a tour operator in town. We planned and executed adventure tours all over the country. After that, I went back to providing expat services and, in 2017, Rod and I decided to create Retire In Panama Tours. When we created this company, I wanted to incorporate my knowledge from working in luxury resorts in Costa Rica, by providing that same quality, customized experience for our clients.
For that reason, we decided to do tours with a maximum of 10 people, so that we get to know everyone in the group and can personally assist them throughout their entire relocation journey. Many of the people from our tours, we now consider to be like family and regularly stay in touch.
For me, this has always been a dream. I have done private relocation tours since 2011, but now I get to do monthly tours, with groups of 8 – 10 people, showing them this amazing country. I feel I am leaving a beautiful legacy for my two children, Valeria and Phoenix, I get to work with my fiance, Megan, and my brother from another mother, Rod. I also am able to leave a positive impact on my community. Over the last 10 years in Boquete, I have worked as a Sinaproc (Panama’s Civil Defense) volunteer, a Boquete Chamber of Commerce board member and have been involved with Boquete Community Players. Rod and I currently monitor and create content for Boquete Ning website. Also, I am the administrator for the Facebook group “Expats in Boquete,” which aims to connect and inform past, current, and future expats in Boquete. I love to share different aspects of Panamanian culture with newcomers and my goal is to help bring new residents to Panama who are well-informed and well-prepared to take on an exciting new chapter of their lives. I am so grateful to get to do this kind of work.
I am currently writing this article from quarantine in Boquete due to the coronavirus and I am genuinely missing my job and the interaction I get to have with potential new expats. However, I am really looking forward to doing tours again soon once this is all over. Hopefully, I will get to meet some of you reading this article later this year. Stay safe, stay home, and stay positive.