Street vendors are a very common sight around here, and we’re not referring to booths with canopies along a busy sidewalk, like you might see at a fair or farmers market in The States. We’re talking about people who are walking on foot, sometimes with huge baskets, bags, or displays that are in some way attached to their bodies (or occasionally attached to a cart or bike that is being pushed). Many times these people are even barefoot!
I’m usually the first to be curious, and often must fight the urge to be the first to run up and see what treasures may be found. The sky is truly the limit on this, and you just never know what you might find. However, I’ve learned over time to hide my excitement and wait for others to act first, or for my husband’s go ahead. For a few reasons, eagerness will surely get you a higher price tag. And secondly, I’m a gringo and a female, both of which might warrant a tourist price. And 3rd, the locals know who to trust, who brings quality goods, and fair prices. And finally, they know if the seller is not local, and who might be competing with the commerce of our village. All of these are elements are pretty important to life here. We always do everything we can to support local businesses, yet we live in a small, rural town, but sometimes we are desperate to get products that are in short supply.
Desperation is not a good thing, and sometimes we ignore the elements that lead to a successful purchase. Yesterday was good example, when we bought phone chargers and memory card from a man on the street. A man we didn’t know, but who emphatically guaranteed his products and he seemed very smiley, and genuine, even negotiating on his price. We were thrilled and chatted excitedly about what a great deal we got. Until we got half way down the street, and realized that the memory card did not work. We spent the next 20 minutes scouring the street of our tiny town, to find the man. Of course, he was nowhere to be found. So, there you have it $11 down the drain. This isn’t the first time either. We have had less an ideal experience a few times now, with a fanny pack that fell apart within a few days, and with some bootleg DVDS that must’ve been burned by a toddler. However, we have had numerous wonderful experiences, such as $4 beach towels, $3 flip-flops, and 9 new outfits for Monkey for just $20. And of countless wonderful experiences with food.
Funny enough, food is the safest thing you can buy from a street vendor. While, this seems completely backwards at first thought, in reality it is not. Many times we see boys and men, walking the streets, from ages 6-106, selling something delicious tucked into a covered basket. These delights are ALWAYS homemade and usually come from a grandmother’s kitchen just down the street. We regularly buy “pan de yucca” aka yucca bread, from a 12-year-old boy that sells it most afternoons when he returns home after school. We have also bought empanadas on the street, on several occasions from many different sources. But, the best thing to buy is the sweets that this man sells on the weekends. There are 3 different men who sell these sweet baked goods and I suspect that they all come from the same source, as the baskets and goods are identical. The container is filled with cookies, caramels, and nut-type confections. The flavors are absolutely like nothing I’ve ever had. They are uniquely Manabitan (Manabi is the name of our province) and we have all come to love and crave them, as much as any Christmas cookie that we cherish back in Iowa. Cookies are not as sweet here, and it’s taken some getting used to. Frosting and sprinkles are rarely used, and many of these cookies are filled with either coconut, dulce de leche (a type of milk based caramel), or marmalade.