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Gilad and Sara-Lee

Updated: Jul 10, 2023

''Whoever feels it will come, whoever loves it, will stay''


Gilad was one of the first humans of Venao whom we interviewed back in 2020, during Covid, before we even had a clear understanding of what Venaolife would be. We really were not sure what to expect but had a calling to do it. Needless to say that not only were we surprised and touched by this story, but we also related deeply with the thoughts and feelings about Playa Venao.

playa venao, hummuseria

Gilad’s description of Venao in three words: “free”, “wild” and “life”.

When Gilad and Sara-Lee decided to leave everything behind in Israel in 2018 and move to Venao, they already felt free in their minds and connected to the energy of the people here, of nature and wildlife. “Everybody has a part of wildness inside”, exclaims Gilad, adding that this is what Venao is: LIFE.

Before living in Venao, Gilad had discovered Panama in his former job while directing a commercial about "Opportunities in Panama" for real estate company's investors. Gilad and Sara-Lee started talking about moving outside of Israel, to a slower and more peaceful place, long before that. The question was just "where to?". The commercial was quite a trigger to check out Panama.

"We were looking for a virgin place, but at the same time that was already in some kind of development.

We did not want to be the first, but to arrive somewhere we could easily jump on the ongoing wagon”, explains Gilad.

When Gilad first got to Venao, he describes feeling sheltered:

You feel like breathing, you have space and you feel safe and protected in the bay”.

playa venao beach

He had planned to explore more beaches and places after Venao, but after 3 days here, surrounded by nature, he describes: "I knew we had found our new home"

He was both amazed and overwhelmed by a beautiful bay that looks like an eternal picture, “straight out of a fairytale”, remarks Gilad. He found mountains and beaches that may not be the prettiest ones out there, “but as you listen to nature and watch the wild it’s amazing”, concludes Gilad. For him, Playa Venao brings together people with the same DNA.

“At Playa Venao you find different people looking for the same thing: a nice, beautiful, peaceful little cove, and we found it”.

Sara-lee and Gilad choose everyday not to be overwhelmed by the mass negative news and world's stress anymore. "We came to focus our minds and energies on new horizons, much more positive ones, for sure"

“It was easy to fall in love with Playa Venao”.

When you get to meet the people of Venao, the locals, the travelers, the international community, simply everyone welcomes you like a little home away from home…

But not everything was easy.

Despite that initial good feeling that both Gilad and Sara-Lee had, moving with two young girls required some thinking because you need to understand about health and education systems. They did not have a clear plan of what they would do professionally at Playa Venao but nothing was stopping them.

We knew it was a risky bet, but somehow, my gut feeling was giving me the green light

so they risked everything to make one of the most important decisions in their lives for what inspires them the most: their family. So they moved to a remote beach, 5 hours away from Panama City to start a new life.

Entrepreneurship was a dream at Playa Venao. Probably still is. But you keep going and make it happen.

So time passed and six months after their arrival to Venao as a family, they decided to open - La Hummuseria - a one dish restaurant in the house they used to live in.

playa venao, hummuseria

I always dreamt to open restaurant and Venao made it possible

Gilad started to look for the ingredients and product needed to make it happen and invited israeli friends to come over and taste it. Casa Blanca, their house, became an open house to all their friends: they would come over, try out the hummus, play a game of backgammon, listen to music and drink his famous turkish coffee.

The dream started to see the light when both mothers of the couple came to visit them and they literally “turned our home into a business, and the Hummuseria became official”.

While Gilad manages the restaurant, Sara-Lee conducts workshops and individual & couples sessions of Rebirthing, a special breathing technique that changes lives according to what she says. At the same time, she sells lands and houses and thus enjoys nature and discovers many magical corners in the area

Stop being afraid of change.

Gilad doesn`t need to inspire anyone to come to Playa Venao - the place that he finds to be a precious treasure. "If we had to inspire people, we would tell them to think outside the box, to stop being afraid of change". When asked what impact Playa Venao has had on them, they answer they can just be themselves - their true selves.

That's one thing that inspires us all about Venao, the space we have found to be our truest, most authentic selves.

''Whoever feels it will come, whoever loves it, will stay.''

Today, La Hummuseria has evolved and grown, with professional staff in the kitchen, with the introduction of new and exciting middle eastern flavors, family friendly games and decorations galore, but rest assured that the heart and essence of Gilad and Sara-lee lies in every corner, making this an unmissable jewel during your stay in Playa Venao.

playa venao, hummuseria

P.S. If you haven't heard about The Diablo, make sure you ask for it. Don't let them tell you about it later and don't forget to say you heard it from Venaolife =)

The present and future of Playa Venao

Nature and wildlife in Playa Venao is what the family loves most, it is what keeps surprising them every day. “The ocean, the waterfalls, the birds, the monkeys, the whales, the turtles…” But every magic comes with a price. There is a difference between coming to Venao to surf one week, and actually living here.

If something is missing at Playa Venao, it's a representative, a head of the community, says Gilad and emphasizes that they miss having one common goal: our beach.

“Everybody came here with different intentions, but we all decided to stay here because we love the place, and we need to unite our forces to protect it and make it an even better place, all together”.

Gilad believes that there is a good intention for building a real “community” for everyone in Venao. For the Israelis, the feeling of community, belonging and family is extremely important and this was a determinant factor when taking the decision to move to Venao.

He finally concludes that the good thing that came out from the coronavirus situation is that it brought us closer, stronger as a community. “Pandemic gave us the time to get to know each other and understand each other better”

(c) co-written by Alejandro Schoffer, Cristina Maduro, Gilad Sivan.

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