Living the Dream

Jane Walker and Barry Robbins, Panama

Summary: In the height of the 1990’s, Vancouver residents Jane Walker and Barry Robbins were fed up with their urban, high-stressed lives, and decided to leave it all behind to take a long car drive south. Their drive took them to Panama where they have now created a personal paradise they call their own. But this paradise is not for the faint-hearted and now they live with a different kind of stress - one that is centered on their gardens, farm and inn.
Garden Contact Information:
The Garden: On a lush mountainside, 1,300 metres above sea level in the shadow of a dormant volcano, you will find La Montaña y el Valle - the Coffee Estate Inn, the little piece of paradise developed by Barry Robbins and Jane Walker.

When Barry and Jane started over twelve years ago, locals called them the “crazy Canadians” because they were building on a steep mountainside, where neither builders nor guests could access. “Evidently they had never heard of stilts” quips Jane. Nine months later, after the three guest bungalows and their home were completed, they quickly turned their attention to landscaping and the gardens. Surrounded by coffee plants, orange trees and dense tropical mountain forest, Barry and Jane offer locals and international travellers a great experience in a fantastic location.

Barry and Jane use the oranges and bananas from their gardens to supply the guests with daily fruit baskets. They also pick and roast their own “Arabica” coffee, offering guests the freshest roasted coffee possible. In the beginning, they sold their coffee cherries to a local processor. Now twelve years later, they harvest and roast all of their own coffee onsite using a small batch roaster. They have also created their own coffee liqueur named Barubica, (merging the name of the nearby volcano “Baru” with the type of coffee “Arabica”). The liqueur recipe is kept a tight secret by Barry and the concoction was originally only served to guests of the inn as an after dinner drink. Next year, they will produce over 500 bottles.

In Boquete, temperatures are usually between 70 and 84 degrees Fahrenheit, creating a year-long springtime. Over 120 species of birds are seen on Barry and Jane’s estate. Flowers of every variety, color and texture, notably native orchids, roses, heliconias, gingers, begonias and hisbiscus bloom year round throughout the estate. Fresh exotic flowers and plants from the gardens are arranged in bouquets for the enjoyment of guests in their bungalows.

Barry and Jane’s two and a half hectare estate is not just a stunning spot, it is a fully functioning farm available to guests through an extensive trail system. Barry and Jane also offer bird and tree lists and escorted tours of the coffee estate, explaining to people how the coffee they enjoy is produced. They will also boast of the increased bird and mammal population that has happened during their stewardship by encouraging forest growth and re-growth.

La Montaña y el Valle – the Coffee Estate Inn is renowned for its ultimate privacy, creating a feeling of the perfect mountain retreat for anyone who enters the gate. Guests, equipped with remote control units, come and go from the estate as they please. On Internet, you can find scores of reviews, newspaper and magazine articles extolling the virtues of Barry and Jane, the ultimate hosts.

The Gardeners' Story: In 1994, Jane Walker and Barry Robbins left their comfortable, yet stressful lives in Vancouver, British Columbia to begin a journey that led them to a new way of life.

For 27 years, the couple had both worked in Information Technology related fields. Their passions for gardening were restricted to their yard and frequently became a rushed chore rather than a joy. The twelve hour day, six day week routine was only broken with the occasional weekend escapes to their property on Cortes Island, B.C. or a yearly tropical holiday. In what is now remembered as a crucial conversation with a hotel owner in Costa Rica, Barry and Jane were asked some of the most important questions of their lives: “Do you have kids or ties to Vancouver? No?? Then, what’s the big deal? Why don’t you just change your lives if you are unhappy?” Why not, indeed... Barry and Jane had previously sold their heritage home in New Westminster and were leasing a condo in New Westminster Quay. They returned home from Costa Rica determined to take a sabatical and reassess their lives.

Although one of the options was to relocate to Cortes Island, B.C., their urge to travel was stirred and they packed their bags and headed south. For eight months, they drove through Mexico and Central America, camping, taking photos and learning about the Latin culture and the people.

In a conversation with another hotelier in Belize, they learned that there were opportunities for substitute innkeepers. Later in Costa Rica, a temporary innkeeping stint landed right in their laps! After running the small inn for two months, Barry and Jane realized that even though it was challenging, they would consider building a similar business somewhere themselves.

Their sabatical journey eventually took them to Boquete, Panama, where they immediately felt was “home.” After a couple of months of travelling thoughout Panama, Barry and Jane returned to Boquete and purchased a two and a half hectare coffee estate with orange trees and mature forest. In spite of local opinion and disbelief, they built and opened the mountainside La Montaña y el Valle – the Coffee Estate Inn in December 1996, only 9 months later. It was the first luxury inn in the area.

As travelers themselves, Barry and Jane “talk the talk” to their traveler guests and provide guidance to help them make the most of their vacation time in Panama. Guests enjoy Barry’s coffee, garden and nature tours. Barry and Jane are excellent cooks. Barry bakes fresh breads daily and the two prepare and serve candlelit feasts from a mouth-watering menu to guests in the privacy of their bungalows. Barry and Jane created a coffee and coffee liqueur business using their estate coffee and recipes.

The couple may not have rid themselves of a full work load but they have traded it in for one that satisfies them to their core. Jane and Barry are not retired.

Today, their inn business is booming and they employ five fulltime staff. Their clientele has grown from curious locals to international visitors who book many months in advance. Many guests return. After living for over twelve years in Panama, they are now eligible to apply for Panamanian citizenship which they are pursuing. Barry and Jane have no plans for traditional retirement. Their hope is to change the scope of the enterprise and live out their days in the piece of paradise that they have created.

Behind the Scenes: Executive Producer: Merit Jensen Carr
Producer: Merit Jensen Carr
Creative/Line Producer: Donna Gall
Executive Producer, VisionTV: Joan Jenkinson
Director: Jeff McKay
Writer: Donna Gall
Researcher: Donna Gall
Narration Writer: Robert Lower
Editor: Jeff McKay
Director of Photography: Charles Konowal, CSC
Narrator: Bonnie Dickie
Music: Shawn Pierce

Date: 2007

Return to Season 05 Episodes