To most people who want to visit a beach, they hope to enjoy some white sand with crystal blue waters.
Where there isn't too many people sharing the same space.
Perhaps a few beers in hand.
And a morbidly obese local harassing you repeatedly with broken teeth: "AYYY TU QUIERES MASAJE, SI SI?!?"
All was fine a second ago.
Enjoying the nice sun.
The sound of the waves coming in and out.
Plenty of beer.
And hot Latinas in all directions.
Then this happens.
You politely say "no, gracias."
"ayyy güero, te doy buen masaje, si si! Solo 100 dolares!"
She squirts some shit all over your body and gets down to begin rubbing.
"Fuck off!" you tell her.
"Ayy tu no like mi masaje??" she responds sadly.
Then she stands up with a grin and says "ah ok, i see. Yes yes. Now you pay me 25 dollars? I gave you mini treatment."
She won't leave you alone.
Then, out of nowhere, some skinny ass Venezuelan dude appears out of nowhere offering little snacks.
Even though you don't know him, he calls you "his friend."
And, before you know it, there are 8 more local vendors in front of you.
All coming over after noticing the first woman complaining loudly about how you haven't given her money yet for the "massage."
They form a group.
And begin approaching you slowly and saying intently over and over again: "GIVE US MONEY GRINGO! GIVE US MONEY GRINGO! GIVE US YOUR MONEY NOW!"
You run for the hills.
The Desire for a Latin American Beach in Peace
While I'm not a beach person, I have been to a few in Colombia as I used to live in Barranquilla.
There were more private and/or public beaches that were isolated that never attracted much of a crowd.
Then you had more well known beaches closer Cartagena or Santa Marta.
While the one by Santa Marta always had people, I never had a bad experience there with local hustlers trying to sell stuff on the beach.
Closer to Cartagena? Well, it's not as comfortable.
For whatever reason, it seems like the people in Cartagena don't know how to take no for an answer and give you shit treatment if you don't want to pay anything while enjoying the beach.
There was a Twitter piece I saw recently that emphasized this as you can see here.
But it's not just Cartagena.
As of recently, I saw this on Facebook about some foreign woman simply asking -- not even complaining -- about if there are any beaches in Mexico without their local vendors.
As you can guess, she got a mixed reaction.
Some people trying to be helpful with suggestions.
Others who were more hostile to the simple question of "where can I relax on a beach in peace without being approached?"
Of course, it's not just a beach issue.
The informal work that these people engage in to sell whatever product is a fundamental part of the economy in many Latin American countries.
As you can see here, those who engage in informal work is quite high in the region.
"En América Latina y el Caribe hay al menos 140 millones de personas trabajando en condiciones de informalidad, lo que representa alrededor de 50% de los trabajadores."
In Mexico, here are the statistics.
"La informalidad laboral es uno de los principales problemas del mercado laboral mexicano: casi 31 millones de trabajadores tienen ocupaciones informales, lo que implica que enfrentan mayor vulnerabilidad en materia de acceso a derechos laborales básicos."
In Colombia, here are the statistics.
"Colombia tiene una tasa de empleo informal de 53%, es de las más altas en el mundo"
Of course, I imagine it's probably less common in Uruguay for example as you can see here.
"Según los últimos datos del Instituto Nacional de Estadística, los trabajadores informales son el 25% de la población económicamente activa, lo que corresponden a 400 mil personas."
And you see these folks engaging in informal work far away from the beach.
In Mexico City, it's quite common to see them selling in the metro trains and Mexico City has tried to ban them as I wrote about here.
If you sit on the outside of a Starbucks, you'll be approached on several occasions throughout the hour for money (be it begging or trying to sell you something).
Even if you sit inside a restaurant or a fast food place, you very well might get approached by little kids trying to sell something as I wrote about here.
Still, I've written about some of the informal workers you see here in other articles like this one here or here.
What about though this recent controversy regarding that woman's question about which beaches are best to relax in peace without being approached?
Anything to be said about that?
Point 1: It might appear that the woman in question simply doesn't like the sight of poor people.
I don't believe that is the case necessarily but she might come across that way to some Latin Americans who have an inferiority complex and think she simply wants them "out of sight, out of mind."
While I have nothing against poorer folks here and even live in many such areas where they live, I wouldn't see it as a bad thing if she wanted that though.
Let's be real: whose idea of a vacation involves being around poor people?
That sounds classist and it is so bite me.
The truth of the matter though is that there is nothing wrong with them personally but the sight of poverty is not one a tourist wants to see.
Especially if it's some kid begging.
Usually the tourist might not have anything against the kid, the single mother carrying her baby or whatever else.
They just want to relax without seeing shit that might depress them.
You might say it is being in a bubble.
That she wants to be in Mexico without "really being in Mexico."
And that very well might be the case.
But I'd also ask "what is wrong with being in a bubble?"
If you are just a tourist who wants 5 days in Cancun, you aren't coming to learn about Mexico.
You just want a nice beach.
Especially after you finally get a week of vacation after years of working and are spending hundreds or thousands of dollars.
And you are mad or confused as to why that person would want to have the nicest experience possible?
A vacation to a nice beach doesn't need to involve learning about the socioeconomic inequality, informal labor and other social issues of a country you are not from and, quite possibly, don't care that much about.
As I wrote here, I have no problem with gringos who want to be in a bubble (be it tourists or those who live here long term).
If it makes them happy and as long as they aren't harming anyone, then cool.
Go enjoy your bubble.
And I say that as someone who very much hangs outside of the bubble for those not familiar with the rest of my content.
Point 2: Having said that, I don't have any personal issues with the local vendors selling stuff on the beach, in the metro or anywhere.
As long as they know how to take a no without being an ass about it or harassing me.
Like that tweet I showed earlier of some random chick not accepting a no and then literally squirting shit onto the dude's back while then insisting on payment afterwards.
It reminds me of the "ketchup scam" that I wrote about here where a local might squirt ketchup (or bird shit?) onto you and then pretend to "help you" clean up while digging into your pockets.
If the person in question goes that far by squirting shit onto you at the beach, I'd argue you have the right to punch them in the face.
And, if they don't touch you but keep insisting on you buying their product, then that is just annoying obviously.
Point 3: I find those at the beach though to be more convenient than those in a Starbucks, metro, etc.
Mostly because the vendors selling in the cities don't usually have anything I want (outside of maybe some cheap 1 dollar headphones every few months).
On the beach though, I can see the benefit of having these folks around obviously.
What if you want a beer?
All out of beer and need another?
For that reason as well, I don't mind these folks.
That and because they are just trying to earn a living and it is a public beach after all.
Which goes to the next point.
Point 4: It is a public beach.
What would you expect?
In the same way you might have some dude blasting banda music at full volume.
You can complain about either without question.
It annoys you? Fair enough.
But have reasonable expectations for the place you are spending your time in.
Point 5: From what I've read online about this topic, it sometimes seems like some Mexicans talk nicely about these vendors as if they prefer them due to nostalgia.
To feel better about their own culture, talk about the negatives as positives and remember them as things they have always known since childhood.
"We've always had informal vendors harassing us on the beach. Good times, good times..."
Obviously, part of that is likely an insecurity complex about what many (including many locals) see as a negative and you only want to talk positively about your own culture and find SOMETHING good about a clear negative in the eyes of most people.
But part of this type of response might actually just come from nostalgia from the Latin American who has spent time elsewhere and simply misses "how things were back home."
Even if those things were not as nice as he remembers them.
Point 6: What I found funny too is that I noticed that some Mexican on social media tried to turn this into a "you see? gringos being bad again" situation as I found here.
Of course, plenty of Mexicans were reasonable in their responses in agreeing that it's just a question and that the vendors can be annoying.
Or making fun of those who find the chick's question annoying.
Like with any nationality, you have those who are unreasonable and get mad at any flaw pointed out in their country and others who are reasonable.
Point 7: What is ironic though about that one chick's question is that, in case you haven't seen a map recently, Mexico has plenty of coastline.
Of course, nothing wrong again with just asking.
She might not know Mexico well assumingly and wants someone familiar with the topic to give some tips.
But the point is that, with Mexico anyway, it's not as difficult as you'd imagine to find a beach that isn't too touristy (or touristy at all) where one can enjoy a nice afternoon.
It might not have very good Wifi though and other amenities being not as easily found.
And there probably isn't a single road taking you to many of them.
But it'll not have as many (or any) local vendors trying to sell to you.
Here's some ideas I found online.
PLAYA EL COCHORIT SONORA
ISLA BLANCA CANCUN
CERRITOS POR LA MARINA MAZATLAN
Point 8: One thing that should be said though is that, as we return to the "bubble" topic, I do think some of the locals who bitch about this woman asking this question are just resentful.
Resentful of a foreigner who has more money than you and who can enjoy one of the nicer parts of a country that your job working at a local mattress store could never give you a big enough salary to enjoy.
The resentment you find does explain anyway some of the xenophobia that some Mexicans have and also can be seen even in how Mexicans bitch about each other (especially in relation to "white Mexicans" that tend to have it easier as I wrote here).
Are you crying, Mexican? No Cancun for you? 🙁
It's now the beach of the gringos. We're taking over!
Point 9: One could wonder if gringos get more harassment on the beach than locals?
I haven't been to a beach, ironically enough, in years as I write this as I'm not much of a beach person.
But obviously sometimes there might be that resentment, the gringo might be more likely to feel sorry for the poor vendor and give some money than a local who looks down on him and the gringo might be more easily taken advantage of for various reasons (lack of Spanish ability in some cases, getting harassed by a larger group if the harassment escalates for whatever reason, seen as having more money, etc).
Point 10: There is a certain argument I always found funny when it comes to these local vendors (be it beach ones or whoever).
That argument being that "give them money so they don't resort to crime."
If they can't earn enough money begging on the beach, then they'll get a gun and start robbing people on motorcycles in the streets!
There's a few things to add here.
For one, it's well known that some of the products these people sell are stolen like I wrote about here.
So they're already engaged in crime.
Also, it sounds a little condescending, doesn't it?
You have so little faith in their ability and intelligence to earn an honest wage any other way that you think they will all just resort to crime.
Putting that aside though, I do agree that probably some of them would resort to crime (or crime more frequently) if they were not making this money this way.
Not justifying it but people have to eat and sometimes desperate people turn to desperate measures.
Point 11: I just want to clarify that, in my experience, most vendors I encounter are pretty chill and accept a no. Granted, I've been in Mexico for a long time and not Colombia or the Dominican Republic. Nor have I met a Venezuelan vendor in a while.
That might have something to do with it.
Point 12: You also have the informal workers who are not selling anything but they choose to play music or sing for money.
They never ask though if you want to hear their performance.
Instead, they just perform and ask for money afterwards.
Most of the time they are chill.
Other times they might get rude if you don't give them money.
Regardless of how rude they are or not, we all get why some people would find it annoying to have someone play music in front of you and ask for money afterwards on a beach.
It doesn't take much social intelligence to figure that one out.
It happens elsewhere outside of the beach too.
Like this one example here where a dude tried mugging me in Mexico City when I didn't like his beat boxing skills.
And, in some cases, it feels like some of these people just want to annoy the living fuck out of you in hopes that you'll pay them to get the fuck out of your face.
Like this example I wrote here or some couple playing the trombone to wake up a whole neighborhood in hopes someone will give them money.
Be it on the beach or not, it can be annoying.
But definitely more annoying on the beach.
Point 13: There is also the values question.
As you can see here, one Mexican tried arguing online that the issue isn't with the chick's question but more of his impression that people like her want to change Mexico.
Even though the chick in question didn't say she wants to change this habit in Mexico. She just wants a quiet beach.
It reminds me of this article I once read here.
"It’s not a right or left issue, because in some situations the “conservatives” would push our values, while in others the “liberals” would, depending on the situation.
In your own life, will you try to implement gringo policies if you, say, open a business and hire local employees? Which policies?
"I have found in my personal life that pushing gringo values is like pissing into the wind. But I have to insist on some. Picking your battles is the tricky part. And I don’t have the answer."
Above all, one simply needs to accept that immigrants in any country might change it over time.
Most often they do.
Be it the Mexicans in the US who change aspects of our culture up there or the gringo "immigrants" or expats that live down here.
Don't like it?
Change your laws to stop foreigners from immigrating there or shut up.
On top of that, sometimes the changes are needed.
Every culture has shit things about it (including the US) that could use some changing and, if foreigners happen to encourage the change or bring momentum to it, then good!
That's just how it is.
And, like I said before, it's not like only gringos complain about informal vendors.
As you can see in this video here, there's Mexicans who hate them too.
And that vendor was in the metro.
So let's not pretend this is some sacred part of Mexican culture that every Mexican loves.
Point 14: One last irony about all of this though is that sometimes you have locals who portray their area as a tourist destination but then get bitchy when gringos from "the first world" expect higher standards at the beach.
Said local might then say "well then don't come back if you don't like it!" instead of taking the advice to heart and working to improve the area they market as a tourist destination.
Whenever I see that, all I can think of are those videos or pictures on Twitter I saw of Costa Ricans working in tourism starving after Covid restrictions kicked them in the teeth.
While none of these countries are dependent on tourism, you do have no shortage of families dependent on tourism to feed themselves and so it's a bit short sighted to act like an insecure bitch about tourists pointing out flaws and hoping for a better experience.
Anything to Add?
Anyway, that's all I got to say.
The main thing that comes to mind though is that, as I said, I don't mind these folks on the beach whenever I go there once in a blue moon but I do understand why some people don't like them (especially if they are literally harassing you).
But that's all.
If you got anything to add, drop a comment below.
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Thanks for reading.