Trading in the San Blas Islands
Trading with the natives isnâ€™t all itâ€™s 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 levelsâ€”a boat load of lobster for $8, or two huge crabs for $5. I donâ€™t 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. Iâ€™m sorry, thatâ€™s me. Some people think that itâ€™s naive, but I feel itâ€™s 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 hourâ€™s labor, but which might be several daysâ€™ labor to the locals. Whatâ€™s 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 goodsâ€”and 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 itâ€™s gone.