Posted by: rosyroadsadventures | June 5, 2012

The Market Experience

N 12° 34.93′   W 61° 26.25′

Frigate Island.

Farm lands carved out on the St. Vincent hillsides

One of my surprises here in the Eastern Caribbean is the availability of fresh local produce. My vision of “island food” came from our past bareboat charters in the BVI’s. They are not the lushest of islands and they import just about everything. Fresh produce there can be hard to come by and expensive. Guadeloupe, Dominica, Martinique and St. Vincent have terrain and a climate that support farming.  Everything from tomatoes, pineapples, bananas, papayas, avocados and mangos to coconuts, sugar cane, lettuce, cabbage, various potato-like root vegetables, fresh herbs and spices can be found along this route.

Most of the towns have what they call the “marketplace” or “covered market” where produce vendors display their bounty. Saturday is often the biggest market day in most towns, with more vendors participating. In Portsmouth, Dominica, they close several streets on Saturday mornings and market tables cover several blocks. Interestingly, many market vendors sell the same products, and at first glance their stalls often look very similar. You could probably get 70% of needed items by making one stop.

I had been warned that the market experience could be intense as we headed south but really hadn’t felt that so far. The French islands are pretty mellow and in some towns they even post their prices in the markets. My biggest challenge there was communicating. The large, spread-out Saturday market in Dominica made it easy to interact with one vendor at a time.

My most challenging market experience to date came as we passed through Port Elizabeth, Bequia, part of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. I ventured into the covered market to check it out while Bob got some dinghy fuel. The market had a beautiful selection of produce, much of which was grown on the St. Vincent mainland. I quickly realized I was the sole potential customer in a sea of hungry vendors. Yikes. I started a conversation with a vendor at one stall about his avocados and another vendor came up asking me to look at his green beans. Then another brought a pineapple for me to look at and another wanted me to sample his mangoes. I felt like I was being pulled in all directions.

St. Vincent and the Grenadines has more than their share of poverty and farmers are still recovering from past hurricanes and a disease that wiped out their banana farms. I sensed desperation in the eyes of the vendors. Remembering the advice from another cruiser that it is considered correct market etiquette to spread out purchases among multiple vendors, I firmly told those who approached that I would come visit their stall when I was finished discussing avocados with the first nice gentleman. Whew, it worked and they backed off. Bob rescued me in the nick of time after I had made my promised visits and was searching for a few more EC dollars to complete the last purchase – some red peppers.

After we left I realized that I had rewarded the more aggressive vendors and had not visited a very quiet woman with a stall in the back of the market. Wish I had that one to do over. I can see why some people might just stick with shopping at Doris’ Fresh Foods, the local gourmet yacht provisioner, where pleasant Miss Doris leaves the shopper in peace unless you ask for help.

I’ve decided that market visits need a firm strategy and ideally a longer list of needs. Next time I will set aside at least an hour, make sure I have plenty of small denominations in my pockets (better than thumbing through a wallet), visit ALL the vendors to hear about their products and prices before making any purchases, and try to spread my purchases around as best I can. Probably best the Captain doesn’t come along.

A typical market vendor stall

We have arrived in Union Island, its distinctive jagged peaks in the background. Looking forward to friends Chuck and Dustin arriving on Thursday. Glorious day – out to explore in the dink. Anchored off deserted Frigate Island.

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Responses

  1. I have experiened those aggressive vendors and can usually deal with the situation fairly! But, my worst encounter was Jamaica, where they just won’t back down… Glad to hear that you were able to get them to listen! As for the “quiet one”, maybe she was better off than the others and did not need to make a sale on that day. Love the first picture of St. Vincent, the countryside looks amazing! ENJOY!

    • I hear that Grenada has some interesting markets, so guess I will get more experience. Definitely requires an attitude adjustment. Was tempting to say “Never mind, we’ll eat the canned peas on the boat” – but the stuff just looked too good!


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