Best little ex-pat bookstore in Panama

An English language bookstore in Panama, a largely Spanish-speaking country?

Talk among ex-pats all over the world invariably turns to "the things we miss," or to "the things we don't have."

Realistically, if you choose to retire to another country, there are bound to be a few things you will miss. Good bread seems to be one here and, until recently, I thought the other shortage was a good bookstore in Panama - but no more.

On the Boquete road, in the little community of Dolega, just a few minutes' drive north of David, is the Book Mark, an unimposing place with a small gravel parking area out front.

Tucked away on a secondary road is the best little ex-pat bookstore in Panama. American owner, Harold Demun, has been running his crammed bookstore in Panama for the last seven years. His claim of having over 25,000 new and used books is easily believable because, as you venture deeper into his house, you keep finding room after room stacked to the ceiling with all manner of books.

Many of the books came from the now defunct Canal Zone library. He does have a small Spanish section but, wonderfully, the majority of the works are written for the linguistically challenged like me.

The best is always in the back

Harold's assistant, Michael Ellis, showed me around the store. In the front is a comprehensive selection of books on Panamanian political history. Thankfully, the country is now one of the more stable in Latin America, but it is always interesting to read about the former dark and dangerous times.

The mysterious 'back room' at the best little bookstore in Panama for ex-pats.

The owner was enjoying the midday siesta when I arrived, but did surface later to show me the "back room."

This is the place for true book aficionados as it contains hundreds of out-of-print volumes and those holy grails of the literary world - "first editions."

Many of the spines were aged and the titles could only be read from the inside frontispiece but glancing though a random selection I quickly saw the potential that lay on those overcrowded shelves.

Everything from gourmet to gardening

The selection in the rest of the store was all encompassing, to say the least. There were books on every subject an ex-pat could possibly imagine from a bookstore in Panama, and quite a few on subjects you couldn't imagine.

Fortunately, Michael or Harold can assist in shortening the search; they seem to be able to direct you to the room or shelf or, in some cases, directly to the book for which you are looking.

When you meet someone with 25,000 books in his home, it begs the question: "What is your favorite book or author?" Harold, who admits doing graduate work in English literature, now says he doesn't do a lot of reading. His favourite author? John le Carre.

More books in this remote bookstore. Outside the store was a grab bag table with a lot of George Bush books. Was this an indication of his political leanings? "Not at all," he said. To back this up he pointed out that inside the store in pride of place was the book, Where's my Country Dude? written by Michael Moore.

In the back room, I spied and bought Hemmingway's Farewell to Arms. My wife, ever the devourer of romance and escapist novels, scooped up a few novels by Arthur Hailey and John Grisham.

There was simply too much to see and scout on this one visit, so a return is planned in the near future. I plan to scour the dark mysterious labyrinth that is the "back room", A treasure awaits; I can just feel it in my bones.

So if you're moving to the Chiriqui area, you may just be a few minutes away from probably the best little English-language bookstore in Panama.

Now if only you could sit in the store, sipping coffee and eating a sandwich made with decent whole wheat bread, then we in Panama would have almost everything.
- David Dell

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