Friday, September 26, 2008

Street Venders

I have wanted to do this post for a long time. I have lots of pictures but I don't know if pictures can ever give you the true flavor of what the street vender situation is like here. There are both good and bad aspects to this whole enterprise from my perspective and there are political issues that I am not a part of, nor do I appreciate all of the complexities nor do I understand the whole situation. The Venders are both an asset and a liability, they fill a need but can create problems. There are several different types of venders. Let's start with the upscale food cart venders.

There are two on this corner just down from us. There are well over 1000 (could be as many as 2000) people who work in the offices of our little 4 block stretch. Each morning these two help to feed them. The closest one is a juice vender and makes the juice right on the spot (fresh juice is one of the wonderful things about this city. There is an abundance of fruit of all kinds and many restaurants, and families as well as street venders make fresh juice. The guy behind him specializes in fresh cut fruit. You can buy plastic glasses full of a large variety of fruit. Mango is particularly difficult for Darwin and I to keep in our apartment because it has a strong smell when just sitting around even if it is fresh, not rotten and ripening. So although we love mango we don't buy it from a store and peel and prepare it ourselves. We buy it already cut and ready to eat from a vender when we want some. The first picture below is of two plastic cups of mango. It cost us a little less than .50 a cup. A little less then $1.00 for the 2 cups.
The picture above is of a snack food vender. For every one regular food, fruit or coconut, or hot food vender there are 5 or 6 snack food venders. They sell chips and cookies and candy and sometimes pop. Also nearly all venders of whatever kind sell cell phone minutes. There are even some venders that have cell phones on chains and sell time on them to make calls right on the street at the vender booth. The cart behind this vender is a supply wagon. It is on a bicycle and you can see these guys resupplying some of the snack food venders through out the day.

The above two are two of our favorite venders. They have a cart under a tree right on the corner of 100 and 11th just in front of the Chevrolet dealership. There are several other venders on that corner but this pair sells arepas filled with beef and mushrooms and cheese kept hot by a charcoal grill and they do a very good business. The arepas cost 3 mil (3,000 pasos) each. That is about $1.50 each. Darwin and I usually stop and get aprepas and take them to our apartment to eat about once every other week.

These guys now know us and greet us like we are regular customers along with all the rest crowding in to buy. They have a great repeat business. One of them does the cooking and the other one handles the money. The cook always has gloves on and the operation is very clean. When they see us coming all we have to do now is nod and they know exactly what we want and how we want it.

The spots where venders put their carts are an interesting story. There is kind of a code among the venders. You have to have your cart where it is supposed to be by a certain time but if you do, no one else is going to try to take your spot. Spots are actually bought and sold (and that is one of the problems that the government is trying to control- keep reading to find out more about that little situation)

What follows are several photographs of the more upscale food type carts. Hot food, cold food and everything in between can be found on the street. I have not yet seen live chickens or cuts of beef or pork, but we have seen live snails. (see below)

In addition to food, all kinds of hand crafts and convenience items are sold on the streets. It is like a cross between a farmers market and the stuff at the checkout stands at walmart or home depot. These venders sometimes use carts but more often display their wares on pieces of plastic or a blanket on the ground or on card board display racks that are leaned against a wall. This type of vender is found mostly in high traffic areas. They make walking on the street interesting because you are constantly avoiding the venders wares.

In addition to venders who really are trying to sell a product there are the assorted beggars and street people. Most people here are extremely clean and wonderfully open and friendly whether they are well off or poor. However, there is a group of beggars and street people who are not clean and can be very persistent when begging to the point of invoking a curse upon you if you don´t give them something. Others on the street are less aggressive and just seem lost and confused much like the street people in the US some of whom are mentally ill. The same situation exits here. There is one man on our way home who begs and struggles with voices at the same time and one woman who has made kind of a cave out of construction debris. I keep wondering what will happen to her when the construction project finishes and they move the stuff that she has used to make a house.

Below are some pictures of venders that actually vend in the street between the cars. When ever a taxi or car or bus stops for a light, or for whatever reason, there are venders in the street trying to sell you things through the car, bus or taxi windows.

The round blue things that the guy in both of these pictures is carrying are world globes. They vend anything and everything on the street and in the street.

The government can see that a thriving business is going on in the street and they have no way to regulate it or collect taxes on the items sold. The food you buy on the street is cheaper than what you can get in a restaurant because the venders don´t pay taxes and charge less. For that reason and many others (including that the venders can be a nuisance and danger on the street) and other reasons that I am sure I don´t understand, the government is trying to bring the venders under control. They have installed Kiosks on all the main streets and many back streets. (picture of Kiosks below). Each Kiosk will have place for at most 4 venders and will be locked up at night so they have a place for their stuff. However, there are many more venders on the street than the kiosks will accommodate and we are not sure how the space in the kiosks is being allocated. It could be that the venders currently on the street will be moved out and not have a chance for a kiosk spot. However it is done, they are saying that they want it accomplished before the end of Oct. because, in places, the venders double or triple during the Christmas season and they want it accomplished before this happens again. We are somewhat ¨preocupado¨ ie worried about what is going to happen and how it is going to happen and how it will affect us. (Will it be dangerous to walk or ride the buses, will our favorite venders get the boot, will the streets be the same without all the smells and tastes and interesting things, will the price of things rise?) We are not overly worried or cowering in our apartment, in fact we are out and about waiting and watching with the rest of the city. We will keep you informed.

1 comment:

benandkiki said...

What a different live style than what we're used to. It reminds me of being in Chile. I rarely see street venders. Ben gets to see them on the walk from BART to his office. They do add a fun aspect to things. Although, there are the good and the bad. Love ya both.