Can You Play with Monkeys in the USA?

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Girl in the class I’m subbing for: “I would be a bad President, I’d just let everyone do whatever they want”.

Me: “No, that would make you a good President”.

There are plenty of things wrong with the governments in some Caribbean countries, but one thing they seem to get is economics surrounding tourism. Why do people like visiting countries like Mexico, Honduras, and Belize? The weather, the price of goods, and opportunities to do fun things, among other reasons. But what you see is no obvious regulation in the tourist areas, because tourism is so important to these economies. The fear is that anything that would restrict the free market in these areas would strangle tourism which accounts for in some instances 90% of the economy. The fears are justified.

And what if tourists were dying all the time because of the lack of regulation? Do you think my cruise ship still would have stopped in Roatan if each time they did, a passenger was lost? The few deaths and disappearances over the years associated with the Norwegian Dawn (which I had the pleasure of cruising on last week) happened while on board the ship, and I could find nothing of passengers being harmed or going missing in the port cities the ship frequents. The lesson here is that economic opportunity is a better regulator of behavior than an overbearing government with excessive regulation.

I’m not sure I would have been able to play with monkeys in the United States. Maybe there would have been medical forms and waiver forms and consent forms and a 2 hour talk before being allowed into the cage with the adorable happy little creatures jumping onto your shoulders and eating sunflower seeds from your hands. You can bet the price would have been a lot more than $10 per person; after all in sue-happy U.S. the business would need to purchase excessive insurance for the unlikely event anything went wrong. Really these Caribbean countries the Dawn visited expect travelers to take personal responsibility for their actions and decisions. What a novel concept!

That’s why when some of my travel mates went on a “Snuba” excursion, the preparation was ten minutes instead of ten days. And guess what, they all made it out just fine. A couple people decided not to go to the bottom of the ocean with a hose attached to the top, after already paying for and attending most of the excursion. That’s fine, it was their choice. It’s empowering to be treated like an adult, and its a bit sad that sometimes we need to go to Mexico for that to happen.

On a side note everyone at these ports spoke excellent English, because it benefits them to be able to speak to the tourists. Who was the worst English speaker I met? A police officer in Roatan. He had his government job, so he apparently saw no need to learn English. I wondered who ever gets arrested on the island anyway; our cab driver said, “sure crack those beers in the back seat, the cops don’t care”, and the dreadlocked Rastafarian smoking weed didn’t seem to bother the officer much either.

So to get back to the subject of the girl in class who thought that Presidents must be controlling or make a lot of rules to be effective, I disagree. People are quite capable of making their own decisions. I am very grateful I didn’t have someone telling me I had to attend a week long zoology class in order to play with monkeys. I was thrilled that the decision was my own, complete with risk assessment and cost benefit analysis. And of the people whose livelihood depends on ships stopping in their port, and tourists feeling safe to walk through the towns, eat the food, drink the drinks, and get in a taxi–you can bet they regulate each other better than their government or ours ever could.

It is in the best economic interest of that business in Roatan to make sure their monkeys aren’t going to bite me, and make sure their parrots aren’t going to spread disease. It is in the best economic interest of the entrepreneurs in Costa Maya to make sure the ice in their margaritas doesn’t make me sick, and the chicken (or iguana?) in their tacos is just fine for human consumption. Somehow I made it out of there without the USDA’s boots on the beaches of Cozumel, obscuring the beautiful view of coconut trees and crystal clear water.

As Americans we might be conditioned to demand authority, to think of a leader as someone who restricts us for our own good. I’m starting to think I may too have been brainwashed by this mentality. I was worried getting off the ship at the first port, yet my fears quickly subsided as rationality took over. There’s nothing like the free (and perhaps somewhat under the table) street markets of the Caribbean to clear your head.

2 thoughts on “Can You Play with Monkeys in the USA?

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