Trading in the San Blas IslandsSep 5, 2006
Trading with the natives isnât all itâs cracked up to be, at least not here in the San Blas. The lure of the mighty dollar has replaced almost all interest in trade goods, though sometimes hunger makes our offerings of rice, oil, and other food stuff more interesting. Some boaters seem to get great pleasure in beating down the price to ridiculous levelsâa boat load of lobster for $8, or two huge crabs for $5. I donât get any pleasure out of paying less than something is worth to me, even if it is a lot of money to the locals. I would rather strike a fair bargain that both sides are happy with. Iâm sorry, thatâs me. Some people think that itâs naive, but I feel itâs better to pay a little too much than to gouge someone supplementing his subsistence living by bartering with cruisers. In the end, I lose a few bucks, which to me is usually less than an hourâs labor, but which might be several daysâ labor to the locals. Whatâs even less pleasant is that a lot of locals paddle out to ask us for stuff: food, line, fishing gear, clothing, even make up. They obviously need the stuff, but in most cases so do we. Our boats and gear represent unfathomable riches to the locals, and they are used to sharing whatever they have with each other. So, when we say no to a request, it seems odd or rude to them, because we have so much. We try to give what we can, particularly food and necessities, but inevitably we have to say no to many requests, which leaves us feeling less than generous. On some islands the people are very friendly and polite during all of this, but in other places they seem demanding and pushy. We admire the mola ladies who sell beautiful embroidered goodsâand they bargain hard. They are learning to survive in the dollar world. The dollar is undermining the foundations of this hunter-gatherer society. Come see it before itâs gone.