A nice stroll through Merida’s Plaza Grande is something that most visitors enjoy. They take photographs and “selfies” with the Cathedral, the Municipal Palace or the letters that form the word Mérida as background.
Everything is fine until they start to being stalked by an army of street vendors offering hammocks, cigars, hats, fans, coins, blouses, dresses, handbags, etc.
The sellers do not give up to the first “no gracias” and insist vehemently, extending their products before the tourists and pondering their characteristics and benefits (even if the tourists don’t speak Spanish).
Many travelers end up buying something, just to get rid of them, but that only makes it worst, because when other street vendors see that one of their “colleagues” has succesfully made a sale, they literally surround these visitants, making them feel harassed.
But there is another group of “predators”, the so-called “enganchadores” (enganchar means “to hook”), they observe their “prey” from afar and study who could be a good candidate to get “hooked up”. Once they detect a “potential customer” they proceed to make their first approach.
“The enganchadores are a special group, most speak English or some other language, such as French or Italian, and that helps them to get closer to their ‘clients’,” said a police officer stationed in the Plaza Grande.
“They usually operate on the streets that surround la Plaza Grande, the Cathedral, La Sorbetería Colón, the Municipal Palace, or other squares such as Parque Hidalgo, Parque de La Madre and Parque Santa Lucia,” he said.
According to the officer, their strategy is to start a “casual conversation” informing the tourists about a product or service, giving them directions of how to get to a museum, restaurant or bar, sometimes they even offer their services as a tourist guide. And once they gain the tourist’s confidence (foreign or national), they offer to take them were they can buy textiles, clothing (mostly guayaberas), hats, handcrafts or souvenirs at a “good price”, and direct them to the business that will give them a commission.
Obviously, the business owner has to raise the price of the goods, in order to be able to give a percentage of the sale to the “enganchador“, who is nothing but a middleman, an intermediary that wants the make an easy dollar or euro out of a naive traveler.
If you’re spending your summer vacation in Mérida, be careful with these people (they are not dangerous, they just want to make an easy buck), they’re easy to spot, basically they come out of nowhere as you’re walking the streets of downtown, and their first question is always: “Hello amigo, where are you from?“… A friendly but firm “No gracias amigo, we don’t want to buy anything”, usually scares them away quickly.
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