The beaches of Tamarindo are filled with locals, visitors and people selling stuff to the tourists. On any given day you will find no less than 50 “beach vendors” walking the beach, peddling their wares. These vendors are not regulated (from what we can tell) at all, and thus walk into the restaurants, approach you on the beach and interrupt conversations to ask if you want to buy something from them. In less than an hour you will get approached with pottery, jewelry, cigars, pipas (coconut water) and bird whistles. At times it feels like there are more people selling than there are buying.
For the first month or so, we were consistently approached by all the vendors. I felt like I spent almost as much time enjoying the beach as I did repeatedly saying “No Gracias.” After the first month, there was recognition between us and a number of these different vendors. When recognition turned to casual conversation, we began to ask these familiar faces basic questions. One of the very first vendors we “met” was Antonio. He sells pottery. It started as a simple conversation, “Where are you from?” “What’s your name?” etc. The next day when Antonio walked by, we were no longer a sales pitch opportunity, we were someone he knew. He was curious about us, we were curious about him. In that moment we realized that if we formed any sort of relationship with these guys, we were no longer a sales opportunity.
Since that moment, we have made friends with a number of the beach vendors and it has changed the way we experience the beach. Our new friends come and see us, but they no longer ask us to buy anything.
Almost every beach vendor we’ve met is from Nicaragua and the majority of them have families in Nicaragua that they are supporting. Antonio has a wife and daughter. His daughter just turned 3. We’ve seen pictures of her and his wife. We know where he lives in Nicaragua and a little about his life. He talks with the kids, and also knows a little about us and our life.
Benito, another friendly, familiar face on the beach, is an older guy that walks the beach all day with a small cooler selling beer and water. We’d seen him for months walking the beach and one day after a surf session we finally gave in and bought a few beers. Later that week we saw him again and bought a few more. This time we started chatting. He only speaks Spanish, so it’s been a hard relationship to form, but we’ve become friends over the last few months. He always stops by to say hello when he sees us. He asks how the kids are doing with their surfing, we talk about the weather and his sales for the day. It’s easy for us to support him with a couple bucks for a cold beer on a hot day.
Last week, we flagged Benito over for a cold beer and quick chat. Quickly realizing that we were out of cash, we apologized and tried to send him on his way. He immediately responded, “You’re my friend now, it’s all good, just pay me tomorrow.” As silly as it sounds, it was a moment. We were getting Beach Beer on Credit. All because a few months earlier we started a relationship on the beach with the nice old man carrying a tiny cooler of beer.
We’re still not immune to the sales pitches of the vendors, but I feel like the majority of them at least recognize us now and walk by, and some of them are now friends that swing by to chat. It’s one more level of this town that I can’t help but love.
Except for the bird whistles. They will forever be annoying.