One thing that you will definitely encounter on your trip to Cabo are the street and beach peddlers so having a strategy to deal with them that works for you is worthwhile.
For some visitors they are a real nuisance and for others they are just part of the colorful tapestry that is Cabo San Lucas. They seem, to be fair, to be a phenomenon that is particular and peculiar to Cabo because they are not found in any great numbers in any of the other tourist areas such as San Jose or La Paz, at least not in the numbers that they are in Cabo. Some locals think that it is the "time-share-sales" culture that has encouraged it in Cabo: that in-your-face-constant-pitching seems to have rubbed off on the peddlers too!
Most of them are not aggressively pushy, persistent is probably the best way to describe it, but they will ask you if you wanna go feeshing, you wanna water taxi, you wanna buy cigars, you wanna buy jewelry…and make other, sometimes more unsavoury, offers to you.
Needless to say that if it is plain crazy to buy drugs in a country such as Mexico where the laws are very strict, it would be absolute insanity to buy narcotics from any of the street peddlers who offered them to you: you never know who you are speaking to for a start and you may well find yourself busted. You have been warned!
It is rare nowadays to be offered narcotics anywhere in Cabo, thankfully, although it was more prevalent a few years ago it has to be said. A concerted clean-up by the law enforcement authority seems to have made an impact when it was needed.
The best you can do with all of the peddlers is just smile and say “No gracias”; the fact is that they are a really only doing their job and trying to make a buck here and there. A smile and a little courtesy goes a long way; a frown and some attitude is most likely to get you a similar response. You’re on vacation – why stress about something so trivial?
Peddling reaches a real fever pitch on Medano beach, where every kind of goods and services are offered in an almost constant stream of vendors. It can get a little intense and even the most calm of individuals can start to get a little ratty. Fortunately, most of the bars, restaurants and hotels on Medano have private roped off areas which the peddlers are banned from entering so you will only get bothered if you sit by the rope!
You can understand the attraction to them: so much obvious wealth on display is bound to attract people with little or nothing of their own.
A large percentage of Mexicans are dirt poor and recent statistics say there are at least 52 million living in poverty. That’s 50% of the population right there.
In reality, every town in Mexico has peddlers. Most are part of a long national tradition, but many more compound the problem each year when they are faced with unemployment and lack of opportunities in their towns and villages, particularly during the recent crash.
The annual permit to become a peddler costs about $50 US which is a serious investment for many of these folks and they are fined if they do not have one. Their merchandise is impounded by the tax police, called Fiscales, if they are caught. They then must go to the city government offices to pay a fine, which varies according to the value of the impounded merchandise.
There are also many "golondrinos", or swallow peddlers, named because they come and go with the season. They are in Cabo San Lucas mostly during the winter and trek back to their homes on the mainland during the summer months, when there aren’t enough tourists here to make it viable to stay. Most of these golondrinos, it goes without saying, work without permits.
Children selling trinkets and gum
The darker side of all of this is the number of working children you will see on the street. In recent years, it has to be said, the problem has been reduced significantly, but you will still see small children selling trinkets, whistles and chicklets well past most adult’s bedtime never mind a 5 or 6 year old’s.
The advice is simple: DO NOT BUY FROM THEM. It is tempting to think that you are helping, but in reality you are not. The more you buy from them, the more they will be put out on the streets to sell: it becomes a vicious cycle because they become too valuable to their parents NOT to be sent out to sell things and earn money for the family.
Working children are actually part of Mexico’s culture, but nowadays it has become a significant social problem throughout the country, but particularly in tourist areas.
Most low income, uneducated families have four of five children, which they can’t support. Hence the need to send them out to work to help bring food to the family table. The older kids are often pulled out of elementary school to care for the younger kids while their parents are at work. Some actually take the little ones with them to work on the street; the look of those poor, dirty children tugs at the heartstrings of tourists, who often then buy their trinkets. Anything to get you to stop and look.
In Cabo San Lucas, the Amigos de Cabo San Lucas association, whose more than 70 members own businesses downtown, have been pushing for some years now to get the kids off the streets and into school, with some success.
In some cases, the DIF has found children who work for people other than their parents. These are rented kids. Their parents on mainland Mexico send them to Cabo to work for a friend or relative, as they are unable to support them. Their handler in Cabo promises to take them to school, work them just a few hours a day, and send money back to the parents. Several children were caught in this situation a couple of years ago and sent back to their families on the mainland, only to return a few weeks later. Many of these, the authorities say, end up in gangs, consuming and dealing drugs and hired by prostitution rings at an early age.
The Medano beach business owners association has been more successful at pressuring the city. After some peddler kids started robbing tourists there a number of years back, the local business owners lobbied the government to increase police presence and control access to the beach to only the existing 680 authorized peddlers. (Yes, you read that right. There are 680 legal peddlers on that half mile of beach - who knows how many are illegal).
Medano is a much safer place because of this and incidents of petty crime are now rare.
So our advice is simple:
- Be polite and smile when you say “No gracias” to the peddlers: it costs nothing and will lighten your own mood
- If you do buy anything from them, by all means negotiate but don’t push the price so low that you are being cheap: after all 10 pesos is less than a dollar but it means food for a day to the peddler and his or her family
- If they are really bothering you take a time-out and go behind the rope at a beach bar or go into a restaurant for a sit down and a drink or a snack
- Do not buy anything from the kids or from the peddlers with kids