Haggling for Dinner in San Blas

By Tracy on (with 2 comments)

The last day of our passage from Columbia was an exhausting, seemingly never ending trudge for everyone, yet already it feels like a long time ago. The following day we awoke in a tropical paradise, surrounded by a festive party of impossibly pretty islands, each dressed in a petticoat of pure white sand, crowned with coco-palms and all dancing on a sea of turquoise. These are the exact islands, some incredibly tiny, that decorate millions of computer home screens around the world, the ones people find themselves dreaming of; be assured they are indeed real, they do exist.

Typical island image from San Blas

This group of islands, the San Blas, an extended archipelago stretching for over a hundred miles, is a surprisingly well preserved holdout of Indigenous culture not yet overrun by westernization, modernization or globalization. The locals do use cash, however they traditionally value coconuts and the trees that produce them as true capital. Given the state of paper money these days, it's not out of line to consider the coconut a legitimate form of hard currency! The Kuna people grasp tenaciously to their traditions, and over the centuries they've somehow managed to remain resilient to outsiders. Many still live in palm thatched huts, and it's still common to see them getting around using hand made dugout canoes and small sailing craft.

Giamma and Art went in to clear customs, there were two separate layers of bureaucracy: first the requirements for the nation of Panama, then a separate office run by the peoples of the San Blas, which includes a separate briefing on how to properly conduct oneself amongst the Kuna and a laundry list of forbidden activities such as unauthorized photography of the locals, fraternizing, spear fishing, or scuba diving. Honest commerce and trade of course are always welcome: the Kuna are classical free market capitalists.

Early this morning I looked out across a vast turquoise reef to see a single fisherman paddling a small hand-hewn wood canoe. Within a few hours he'd arrived at our boat offering to sell his catch; a sack filled with eight huge red crabs still very much alive. Andrea began haggling in Spanish, the haggling is very important, it's as much a sign of respect as a means of price discovery.

San Blas channel crabs We were nearing an agreement in cash when the fisherman took a shine to the T-shirt I was wearing and asked to throw it into the deal, this one happened to be a crew shirt from the Southern Wind yacht Windfall. This particular T had traveled extensively, it had been given to me by a delightful Italian gentleman named Alberto when Art and I were in South Africa at the shipyard. As much affection as I have for dear Alberto, the opportunity to trade the shirt off my back for five kilos of fresh crab was irresistible, and with our shared passion for food, I'm certain he would agree!

Price discovered: twenty five US dollars, and the shirt off my back. I quickly ducked below, pulled off my T-shirt, and handed it up to Carmen, Andrea made the exchange and everyone left satisfied. This is the essence of commerce, the purest form of capitalistic activity: two parties reaching an unadulterated agreement of exchange, but for me it was much more than an interesting exercise in microeconomics, from now on nobody can ever question the seriousness of my passionate commitment to fine food.

It was hours of work cleaning these particular crabs, however, the meat is amazing. First we steamed them, then chilled them, then painstakingly picked out all of the tasty bits. Carmen used the bodies and legs for what turned out to be a fabulous bisque, she also made crab cakes fried in Panko bread crumbs. I had intended to make photos of Carmen's fabulous "Menu di Granchio" but it was so amazing, and everyone was so excited, I totally forgot!

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  • comment from Alberto&Patrizia Alberto&Patrizia on February 28, 2015

    Lobsters will be next bargaining? I hope so. English people says Business is business!

  • comment from Marie Marie on February 28, 2015

    try to taste the chineese lobster! very good to...besos a todos