I am writing this in Barbados. It is a beautiful island with wonderful people. I am staying on a resort that is relatively far removed from Bridgetown — the main residential and commercial center. Traffic, therefore, is light and so are the street and beach hustlers.
Most islands in the Caribbean have a sharp divide between the rich and poor. The rich, primarily, are tourists and, the poor, are residents.
Some islands do have affluence, such as Barbados, the Caymans, and the Netherlands and French Antilles. But, even on those islands, the hustlers congregate.
All tourists know that they are marked to be hustled. Most don’t mind a little hustling. (It’s not like we don’t get hustled back home.) You are rich and over-paying for some trinket is akin to a tax on sun and warm weather.
But it is the cruise passengers that are the true target of island hustlers. There is a big difference between staying for a week on an island versus a visit of a couple of hours. If you are staying longer — and you are seriously hustled — you just might complain to the police or other security personnel. On a cruise ship, however, your home and sense of security is always moving from port to port and it leaves with you or without you.
Cruise passengers are also more susceptible to hustling because cruisers know that they are human cattle. Everything about cruising reminds you that you are not unique and that you are essentially a prisoner in a luxury floating jail. You are lucky to get the small privacy allowed to you in your tiny cabin and most days you have to dodge catching a norovirus when trying to get something to eat.
But a hustler, who is good at his craft (it is always a he), tries to make you feel very special. And that hustler knows he only a few moments to make a connection and deliver the pitch. Cruise passengers also know that they are susceptible. They yearn to be treated special. They, like all of us, ache for it.
You can witness this quasi-mutual predator-prey relationship as cruise passengers are vomited from their ship and dropped on to whatever foul and smelly port their ship has chosen to deposit them. These passengers wander the port terminal somewhat dazed and confused and try desperately to get their bearings. While doing so, they are being bombarded by someone (seemingly everyone) trying to sell them something.
And like chickens, the passengers look dead-ahead and try to ignore the pitches that surround them, casting furtive sideways looks with their eyes at the wall-to-wall predators, while seeking some point to exit safely. But you know you are lost and you have no idea which direction to turn. You will break down eventually. And you will have to talk to someone and you pray, whomever that is, that they will not hustle you too badly.
The pitch is always the same. The hustler is friendly and will guess which country you come from. He will ask you if you are having a good holiday and will try to shake your hand and ask your name. This is an awkward moment if you are a typical well-mannered middle-class person. You know this friendliness is superficial but you do not wish to be rude. Friendliness, even the faux kind, can quickly turn to anger and this is neither your country or your customs.
So you offer up your name and country-of-origin. The hustler, you will note, rarely offers his name or, if he does, it will clearly be a noms-de-guerre. Then comes the pitch — always something just for you and for no one else. Something special, something unique, and always time-limited.
Sometimes you bite, sometimes you do not. If you do not bite, the hustler moves rapidly from you to the next chicken. It is a moment of relief but also a moment of deflation. You cannot help but notice that the next chicken gets the exact same pitch. So, perhaps, you are not so special. Your money is. You, on the other hand, not so much.
I speak from experience. This is not my first time in Barbados. My first time I was one of those cruise ship chickens and I bit on a taxi hustle that, for $25 USD, he would take us to the beach we wished to go (Crane Beach) or for $50 USD he would take us for a tour of the island and then drop us off at our destination. We decided on the tour. Our driver, who was very nice, did take us for a wonderful tour of the island and even stopped to get us a drink at a small store. He stopped at a small plantation and we had lunch. It was about a two hour tour.
However, when it was time to go to our beach, he said he had talked to another driver and he said that driver indicated that the seas where a bit rough at Crane Beach and we might be better off going to a more calm beach closer to the cruise terminal. We reluctantly agreed. The beach — on Carlisle Bay — we ended up at was fine but a little crowded and it seemed to be full of our fellow passenger cruise ship passengers. We also knew that we could have taken a $10 shuttle directly from our ship to get to this same beach.
We figured we might have been hustled.
Right now, I am at the Crane Resort, and the Crane Beach is scant meters or feet away from me and my hotel room. The beach is rough. But it is always rough — and fun if you like three foot/one meter waves. I certainly do. I have also learned that everything is expensive on the island and the cost of a taxi from the cruise terminal to the Crane Beach is about $25-30 USD one-way. It is also pretty far from the cruise terminal and the one road into Bridgetown can be slow and crowded. I realize now that when we were on our cruise ship holiday, and if we would have stayed with our original plan, we may have missed our ship’s departure.
So, all-in-all, we were hustled a little by our taxi driver but it was probably in our best interests.
A friendly hustle I can live with. It makes you feel a little special.