27 March 2010

Market Mayhem

I've been planning a trip to the Dominican Republic recently. It costs just about as much to fly there from here as it does to fly back to the United States - far too expensive - so I've been looking into stowing away on the Dominican fruit boat that comes periodically. It's considerably more complicated, though, and I can't really plan ahead.

I talked with the captain of the boat when they were here two weeks ago to let him know I was interested in going. He told me, "no hay problema" (there is no problem). He even offered that I could stay on the boat during the stop at Grand Turk. When I asked how much it would cost, he said again, "no hay problema." That made me a little wary. What was he going to do, take me there and then say it cost $500? But my Ecuadorian friend reassured me that in Latin cultures it was a good sign, that it meant it would be very cheap or even free. I had gone with that crew before when I went to Grand Turk and they wouldn't accept payment then, so I decided they were worthy of trusting.

For the last two weeks, I've been keeping an eye out, waiting for the boat to return. My plan is to go in the second week of April, but it depends entirely on the boat's unpredictable schedule. Today it returned, but with an entirely different crew (I think the owner of the boat must lease it out to several customers). I was considering going earlier than planned because it doesn't look like their schedule will match up with what I had in mind, but this group was far less "tranquilo" (relaxed) than the crew I'm familiar with.

We went down to the dock first thing in the morning, shortly after they arrived, to see if we could buy some fruit and talk about going with them, but it was complete mayhem. There were loads of people there (mostly Haitians, but also many Belongers) trying to get first pick of the fruits and vegetables, and the crowd was getting impatient. Eventually the customs officer shouted that everybody had to leave because it was getting too out of control (the area is actually supposed to be secure). As we were leaving, a local guy (presumably frustrated by the whole scene) sped through the area in his truck, spinning wildly and throwing gravel into the air from his tires. It's lucky nobody was hurt.

The Storefront

We decided we'd return to the shop later, after things calmed down, to get the information I was looking for. I realized in the meantime that this crew does business primarily on South Caicos, whereas the one I know only comes here as a side stop after doing full business on Grand Turk. That was why it was such chaos. They had much more to sell.

After lunch we went down to their shop, expecting things to have calmed down, but if anything they'd gotten worse. I was highly entertained by the scene and entered if only to watch (there was no way to have a discussion about riding with them back to the DR). They had a guy stationed at the door as a way to manage the crowd. He'd let you in, but he wouldn't let you back out until you'd waited to get through the checkout line - that way people couldn't just walk off without paying. It felt a little bit like being trapped inside though, and some of the local people voiced (quite loudly and forcefully) their displeasure at this. The husband of the Russian doctor wasn't buying anything and he started shouting and pushing his way through to get out. It's surprising it didn't break out into a fist fight.

A woman was shouting ahead asking the price of some cookies. The man holding the crowd back told her they were $5. She protested fiercely saying she could get 3 for $5 in Provo and that they only charged her $3 last time. The man, however, had turned his attention to another customer and didn't respond. The woman continued to shout about how high the prices were, worked herself into a frenzy, and eventually threw the cookies (and what I think was a bag of onions or avocados) across the room. She didn't stop there though. She was determined to raise hell and began rallying the others around her. By this point, we'd moved to the front of the line and the doorman let us out. I paid for my watermelon (which I'd found buried beneath some trampled vegetables), and backed away before I got caught in the riot. It appeared, however, that things didn't escalate any further.

My Watermelon

After all the rowdiness, I decided that going to the DR two weeks earlier than planned wasn't really necessary, and that I'd just hope the next boat would come (with the preferred crew) around the time I need it to.

A Haitian woman carrying to goods away on her head.

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