It starts before you get off the cruise ship, but it's barely a hint of what's in store for you. An attendantstood behind a bin of water bottles half buried in ice. Her weak voice droned, "Bottled water. You wantto stay hydrated. Bottled water. You want to stay hydrated."The quiet and rather pathetic sales pitch was hardly convincing. And at $3.95 a bottle most of us didn't bother because we correctly guessed that water was available for much less on shore. Still, she wasconvincing enough for a few disembarking passengers who thought it better to be safe than sorry.As the four of us went through the security station we handed over our Sea Pass cards. The securityguard inserted each card into the reader which indicated a successful translation of the bar code with anunusual
sound. The monitor displayed our pictures in turn so the guard could verify we were eachthe person assigned to the card. Clearing the checkpoint we stepped out to a boisterous and aggressiveonrush of services for sale."Señor, you want a water taxi?""You and your son want to catch some big fish?""Family, you need a glass bottom boat? I take you to the arch. See the fishes in the ocean.""You want to go to the arch? I take you for ten dollars.""Water taxi. Five dollars!""You want to go fishing? You want to go on a tour?""Water taxi! You need a water taxi, señor?"Brown-skinned and wearing sweat-stained hats to shield their heads from the burning sun, a profusionof hawkers waved signs before us. Gaps in stained smiles implored us from left and right in accentedEnglish. I shook my head, "No," and said, "No thank you," over and over to the never-ending inquiries.An ice cream shop selling water for a dollar a bottle gave us a brief respite--from the heat, too. My shirtwas already sticking to me.After paying for our water my family and I paused and took a deep breath as we looked out at thedance of tourists and vendors before us. We reluctantly left the cool air conditioning for the high pressure verbal crossfire waiting for us in the soggy heat. We soldiered on through the entreaties and aswe got further from the ship, the prices started to drop and the atmosphere took a more desperate tone.Several men approached us and one asked, "Family, you want a tour to the arch? I take you for tendollars."Suddenly a man next to him erupted. "FIVE DOLLARS! I take you for five dollars!" Another man andthen another and yet another joined in, each trying to shout over the others. We walked faster in theroasting sun leaving all but a handful behind us."Water taxi. You need a water taxi? One dollar."