Open Border

For those of us in the southern zone of Costa Rica, a quick trip to Panama yields cheap groceries, household supplies and booze for less than half the cost at home. From Ojochal the drive to Pasos Canoas takes approximately two hours.

Less town than sprawling bazaar, Canoas is a twisting procession of shops and malls that straddle the open border. With their front doors in Costa Rica and back doors in Panama, they sell tax-free goods for prices less than half of that in Costa Rica. Shoes, clothes, furniture, appliances, electronics, food, car parts, tools, you name it, it’s there.

Last week some friends and I made the trip down to load up on groceries and booze for their restaurant. Like most countries, Costa Rica limits the amount of alcohol you can bring in and there is a 50/50 chance of encountering a highway check on the way back. To deal with this we stuff all the bottles into grocery bags and, when we do get stopped, send out one of the girls to open one or two of the bags without anything suspicious in it. The distraction works every time.