One of things I love most about South America are the street vendors. You just lost your flip flops? Just buy them from the next vendor on the street! You are hungry? Just get a snack from one of the million food stands down the road. You are desperately looking for a converter? The vendor two blocks down from your hostel can help you… you get the picture! You can get almost anything on the street for pretty cheap and I love it!
However, the street and beach vendors on the coast in Colombia have gone way and beyond being helpful and friendly – they are all over you, trying to sell you something you don’t want or need, at all times. Watches, massages, food, drinks, tours … you name it, they’ll try to sell it to you. Don’t get me wrong, I support anybody trying to make an honest living, but these vendors are not honest. Each type of vendor has his very own scam tricking you into paying for something that you never wanted to buy in the first place.
Take for instance the massage ladies. So here I am, sitting in a beach chair, perfectly content until Inés shows up. “Massages, massages,” she says, looking tentatively at me. “No, thank you!” But of course, nobody takes no for an answer here. So she goes on: “You will love it, try it!” – “No, really, I don’t want a massage, thanks for offering.” “Okay, well, just in case you change your mind, my name is Inés, I’ll be here tomorrow.” -“Alright, I’ll keep that in mind. Thanks. Bye.” With this I hope she’ll move on. But Inés wouldn’t be a real costeña if she gave up so easily. “Señorita, l’ll just give you a free neck massage, just so you get an idea, you’ll see how much you will like it!” And this is your clue. Whenever a costeño vendor offers you something for free, you will definitely have to pay for it. The massage trick is that the neck massage might be for free, but before you know it she’ll move on to your arms and your back – and you’re already getting the full treatment that you will have to pay.
Or take Juan. He sells oysters. As soon as I get off the boat, he extends his arm to help me down. Before I know it he is holding an oyster in front of my face urging me to try it. I REALLY don’t do oysters, so I say “no, thank you.” Again, these three words seem to be the magic formula for any vendor around the Colombian coast to keep insisting. “But señorita, try them, they are sooo delicious!” -“I bet they are, but I really don’t like oysters.” “Just try them. Here it’s a free sample.” There it is again, the “free” sample. I get away as fast as I can, only to watch him going through his selling routine with the next tourist getting off the boat. This time the man is trying the free sample. And falls into the trap. As he eats the oyster, Juan is already opening the second and third one (that will not be for free!) and handing them to him. One minute later, Juan holds 7 shells in his hands, shows them to the surprised man, and demands money for them.
Inés, the massage lady and Juan the sea food vendor are only two examples of the many, many scams vendors at the coast have prepared for you. So be warned! Stay firm unless you REALLY want something, or the scam is so impressive that you want to pay for the theatrical show. Most importantly though, keep in mind that nothing on the Colombian coast is ever “free”!