In the early evening, as the sun starts to sink over the coffee farms and flower plantations, Robert Lawrence likes to stroll along the river that bisects the town of Boquete. A tall, 67-year-old Texan with silver hair and a friendly smile, he has made his home in this mountainous region of Panama for the past four years. As he meanders along the cracked walkway, he notes the flashy new condos sprouting up on the hillsides, built by foreign investors to meet the influx of American retirees.
The numbers of migrating retirees have swelled in recent years, transforming this scenic hamlet of 20,000 in fundamental ways. For years, Boquete’s primary business was agriculture; today it is also tourism. As many as 20 percent of the town’s residents are “expats,” as they call themselves, although they are more accurately described as immigrants or economic “refugees.”