Help! I’m surrounded! As I write this, I am sitting among suitcases and piles of papers and bills that need attention, because…I am Panama-bound! Not forever. Just for a couple of months. 

“A couple of months?!” you say, incredulously and maybe a tad enviously. “Oh, what I would give for two months in Paradise,” is a frequent response. 

Well, for just a few moments, come with me — leave your home on Queen Anne, Magnolia, Ballard or anywhere behind and just come.


One vision of paradise

Isla Taboga, 12 miles off the coast of Panama City, is accessed by a ferry that runs twice a day from the mainland, weaving its way through the dozens of boats waiting to go through the canal (yes, the canal). 

Arriving on the dock, one feels like Alice stepping through the looking glass. People smile and greet one another on the crowded, noisy ramp. Cardboard boxes tied with twine are hoisted over the side of the boat and caught by sun-worn men whose appearance belies their strength and age. 

As we make our way up the ramp and down the long, covered muelle, we pass locals sitting in the fresh breeze, dogs wandering freely and children eating ice cream. 

Out in the water, a flower-adorned statue of the Virgin del Carmen greets arrivals, and in the near distance, colorful umbrellas adorn the strip of beach crowded with day-trippers seeking fresh air and beach time. 

Yes, it does feel like paradise. And as we settle in to our routine, the feeling grows. We wake up in the morning as the sun filters through the gauzy curtains and the fan gently whirs overhead. Yoga, coffee, a walk to the beach or, on more ambitious mornings, an early hike before the heat of the day forbids strenuous physical activity. 

Some days, we will snorkel around a fabulous coral reef, walk the puebla and visit with locals, learning new routes around the island that snake their way around town, up and down hills, through jungle and over streams. 

There is plenty of time to write, to go fishing, to pursue hobbies, to create jewelry or wind chimes or sculptures from objects found on the beach or around the island.

There are chores, of course. But after a time, they become mindful acts. Sweeping the patio, for example. Swooshing the dirt off the tiles, imagine the clutter leaving your head. 

Laundry? Put a load in and make lunch. Toss it in the dryer, and write for an hour. Fold it in the breeze, and call it done. 

Even cooking becomes more creative — a willful marrying of ingredients and love to turn out something delicious, eaten outside as the moon rises, the birds get quiet and the bats start their nightly feeding frenzy just a little ways from our patio.

But it’s not all perfect. It’s hot — really hot, 95 degrees or more hot. 

And there are bugs — big, scary bugs. Bugs that bite you and make you itch and scratch with abandon. 

Grocery shopping involves a full day in the city because the stores on the island are small and not very well stocked. And if, God forbid, something breaks, it could take weeks or even months to get it fixed because service in Panama is not exactly what we are used to up north.


Paradise in the Northwest

Here’s the thing: Paradise — as we have come to think of it — is a fantasy. Wikipedia offers what I consider an accurate definition of Paradise: “…a place in which existence is positive, harmonious and timeless…conceptually a counter-image of the miseries of human civilization…. Paradise is a place of contentment, but it is not necessarily a land of luxury and idleness.”

As I see it, that paradise can be anywhere you want it to be. The trick is finding a way to notice what is right in front of you and being content, resting in the present moment and finding your way around obstacles. 

The bugs? We are trying a new kind of bug repellant and anti-itch cream this year, as well as heavy doses of Vitamin B because apparently the bugs don’t like it. 

The heat? Well…we sweat a lot. But isn’t that what our skin is supposed to do? Breathe, sweat, cleanse? After a time, we feel toxin-free, and our skin and bodies feel clean. 

Indeed, we are pretty darn lucky to spend time in a place that is simple, sunny and tropical. 

When we’re not on Taboga, we live on a sailboat in Ballard. The Pacific Northwest is a land of pine trees and eagles, changing seasons and, much of the year, rain. I look out at masts and sky and smell salt air and watch the winter birds migrate. I cook stews and roast vegetables and bake oatmeal cookies. I hike on the gray winter beach, pulling my jacket closer to my body. 

Is that Paradise? Yes — at least it can be. 

Paradise: You don’t need a ticket — you just need the mindset. 

IRENE HOPKINS lived on Queen Anne for 20 years. She can be reached at

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