Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Dominica's Minibuses

Here in Dominica, public transportation consists primarily of 15 passenger vans that zip along the island roads. I sometimes see a bigger bus carrying tourists up to Trafalgar Falls. I've found the minibuses to be a very reliable and inexpensive way of getting around Dominica. Sometimes there are long waits, as the buses only depart when they are full.

When walking by the bus stops of Roseau, drivers holler out to ask you "Hey, going Portsmouth?" "You want to go Soufriere?" The bus stops are spread out across Town depending on the destination. (Buses headed to Trafalgar meet by Astaphan's market; buses headed north meet by the vegetable market; those headed south gather near the craft market.) If catching the bus along its route, all I have to do is flag the bus down with a wave and ask if it's going my way, and whether I can hop on.

roads of Roseau
Once crammed full of people and all our belongings, the buses jump to life. The drivers maneuver the crowded, sometimes pothole-ridden streets, and only slow down for an upcoming "speed hump" in the highway. Given the unpredictable traffic, many hairpin turns, and weather-worn condition of most roads, I'm really enjoying using the buses, and not having to worry about driving. I still get confused that traffic is on the left side.

Many of the mini-buses and taxis have names stickered to their dashboards. Some display the driver's name : "Uncle Toney," "Eddie." Many invoke religious blessings: "Praise God," "The Lord is My Salvation" (the latter written in tiny print to fit across the window.) Others are beyond me to explain. I've started keeping a list of favorites:

Carrie's Favorite Amusing Minibus Names:
  1. Awesome
  2. Sizzler
  3. Heaven Sent
  4. Patience
  5. More Lonely
  6. Creeper
  7. Solid as a ROCK
  8. Get Use To It
  9. Lizard Lick
  10. Batman.

(Disclaimer: those mentioned are named because I find their names amusing, and have no bearing on the quality of service of said transportation. Never fear, dear readers. Interesting names aside, almost all the of public-transport experiences I have had in Dominica have been excellent!)

If you wish, you can try your luck at "riding" too, a.k.a. hitchhiking. Rather than putting out your thumb, extend your arm and wiggle your hand. Drivers may give you a honk or a wave to tell you they aren't going your way, but wish you well. Your best bet is likely to try flagging down a pick-up and hopping in the bed. Rastas seem the most willing to pick up riders as far as I have seen.

I have only tried riding while in the company of locals. I have heard that it is hard to flag down a ride if not a local. This may be because you are a stranger (small island means most locals recognize each other or know a friend of a friend or distant family member), but I suspect there are other feelings at play. To my other solo female travelers, I've been cautioned by locals that I should take extra care if riding alone, and often expect not to get picked up. Better to take the buses, many locals have told me. Personally, I haven't given riding much of a try, but I know I'd feel safer getting in a car or truck bed that was also carrying other women. I've found that ladies look out for each other almost universally. Of course, many men also look out for ladies, but I'm speaking out of my own experiences of how to look for safe(r) situations.

Using the minibus system has been one of the most obvious examples of the importance of my Grandpa's wise advice. When I left to go abroad he reminded me that two of the most important things to remember were patience and a sense of humor.

Sending you a smile and a deep breath,
(hopefully full of Caribbean breeze, and not bus exhaust),

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