Taxis and Shopping Towns

Every other week the five of us in our cluster travel to Bella Bella (Warmbad) to shop for groceries and whatever else we might need. In my village, we have a few small stores that sell the essentials--bread, milk, etc. There are also a few fruit stands that sell your basic fruits and vegetables like apples, bananas, onions and potatoes. But for a wider selection and a cheaper selection it is better to go into town.

Bella Bella was the closest shopping town to us during training and is thus the town we are most familiar with. However, I am near several shopping towns at my new site and am planning to work my way around to each before picking my favorite.

Getting to Bella Bella is always an adventure. For me the trip requires two taxis. When you hear the word "taxi", drop all of your preconceived notions of what a taxi is and isn't. In South Africa taxis are the equivalent to a 15 passenger van--taxis for hire are only available in the cities. Most taxis are in various states of repair. I've been in taxis with leaky roofs and doors, taxis with holes in the floor, and taxis that you could swear were held together by duct tape and a prayer (except that duct tape is not available in SA and the alternative is not nearly as strong or versatile). I've also ridden in new taxis that are very nice and comfortable, but those taxis are harder to come by.

When you take a local taxi in town or the villages nearby, chances are the taxi will not be full for the entire journey and you will have the luxury of elbow room. This is usually the case with my first taxi to the village where my closest volunteer lives. I typically meet her at the taxi rank there. My village does not have a taxi rank so catching a taxi means you flag it down as it passes.

Once at the taxi rank we must wait for a full to nearly full taxi before we begin the 45 minute trek to Bella Bella. Long distance taxis will not leave without a full taxi in order to make the most profit per day. This can mean waiting for over an hour or more for the taxi to leave. If the taxi is not full or if people on the taxi want to get off before the intended destination, the driver will take the back road to Bella Bella. This means that we forgo the highway in the hopes of picking up more
passengers along the way. This also means a dirt road for half of the journey. As the taxis become full of people and packages, they become hot and cramped very quickly. And as we have often found, fifteen passengers is more a suggestion than a guideline. I've been on a couple of taxis now with more than twenty passengers. And the driver, well, let's just say I think a few of them should have their licenses revoked.

Bella Bella itself is a resort town with a large resort and game preserve. It was originally an Afrikaner town and has a high Afrikaner population. The towns original name is Warmbad so named for the natural warm baths there. Three grocery stores and several smaller shops make up the main streets.

When we go, we make a day of it--shopping for non-perishables when we first arrive, breaking for lunch, and shopping for the perishables after lunch. The key to shopping is to make sure that you don't buy more than you can carry or more than will fit on a taxi with fourteen other passengers. Planning ahead is key.

It is also important to head to the taxi rank by at least 3PM. You may be waiting a long time for a taxi and you don't want to arrive home after dark since you have to walk from the road to your house--a ten minute walk for me. The nice part about coming back to the village is that it is only one taxi ride for me. It is not necessary to go back to the taxi rank in my friend's village as I can get dropped off in my village when we pass through.

It is a full day that can be very long and very tiring, but it is always good to meet up with the other volunteers, enjoy a nice lunch, and buy things like oatmeal and peanut butter. (Not sure if I would have survived this long without peanut butter. It is a staple of Peace Corps life.)

The key to shopping days--patience. It is the key to a lot of things here. Patience. Practice patience always.