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Trading With the Locals

Aug 4, 2008
Sailing around the world for six and a half years and visiting 56 countries, meant we had to buy food and other necessities in almost all of them. Because we deliberately sought out-of-the-way places, shopping for food and other necessities was mostly directly from the local producers, or at local markets.

The local pearl farmers on a small Tuamoto atoll told us we were the first yacht ever to visit, invited us to dinner every day, and gave us handfuls of black pearls. The farmer's wife and children had just returned from a four week holiday in California, they had satellite TV (100+ channels) and international satellite phone. Remote they may be, isolated and uninformed they are not.

We did trade in many countries, and found the most acceptable trade good was currency, local or U.S. Where trading with goods was possible, the goods (Tee-shirts, baseball caps, cosmetics) had to be new. Fish hooks were often requested. Ballpoint pens were always, needed, and we usually gave these as gifts to the children. Crayons, paper, pens and children's books are welcomed by every school, but it is best not try to use these as trade items. As gifts, they often bring greater rewards than you might expect.

In most countries, bargaining was the order of the day for all purchases from fruit to carvings. Ryan was no help in this regard, as he tended to say things such as, "I really like that Dad," "That's cheap," and "We wanted one of those." Most prices get inflated by several hundred percent as soon as an alien face appears, which is fine by me. I like to bargain, but Carole hates it. She bought some large paw paws (papaya) with the following exchange:

Seller: 3,000 Rupiah
Carole: 1,000 Rupiah
Seller: 2,000
Carole: OK (then hands him 5,000 Rupiah and says to keep the change)
Seller: (Speechless, nods head)

In one Tongan anchorage, a young lady and a young girl paddled out in their patched outrigger canoe to sell baskets and shells. As we were talking to them, their canoe started to fill, eventually stabilizing some six inches underwater. Naturally, we rescued both distressed females and, after hauling up and emptying the canoe and engaging in lots of sympathy buying (all at asking prices of course), we towed them back to shore. A few days later we were talking to a local chief and recounted the story. "Best salesladies in Vava'u," he said.

The point of the above stories is that the local traders know their business and know the real value of what they are selling and what you are offering. That barefoot, bare-chested fruit seller may have a satellite TV in his house, and even if he doesn't, you aren't the first person he has bargained with, and you won't be the last. If he is at a regular cruiser stop then he probably has a good grasp of English, a fact which will be very carefully kept from you.
About the Author
Lawrence Pane circumnavigated with his wife and young son, and his expertise in the areas of sailing, cruising and travel, expressed through two books, numerous magazine articles and very popular seminars, has informed, assisted and entertained a wide audience of sailors and non-sailors. Visit Chasing Sunsets to enjoy the photos, buy the books, and check up on coming seminars.
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