Saturday, September 13, 2014

Bus Experience-Grenada and Dominica Editions

In September 2013, there was a PEPFAR funded conference for all Peace Corps Volunteers in the Eastern Caribbean concerning gender-based violence.  For volunteers serving in St. Vincent, we got to travel to Grenada for the conference. Since we already had our flights paid for by the Peace Corps some of us decided to stay an extra few days to visit other volunteers and see part of Grenada. Unfortunately, we could not stay as long as we wanted due to some policy changes concerning vacation time.
Nonetheless, Grenada was amazing.  It was much like St Vincent.  People were nice and friendly but it was just a bit more developed.  In order of increasing development and decreasing hospitality I would rank the countries in the following order: St. VincentàGrenadaàDominicaàSt. Lucia. I would rank Grenada and Dominica equally.  People there were very helpful and friendly, however, it was more developed than St. Vincent. St. Vincent has the friendliest and most welcoming people, in my opinion, but that’s probably because I live here, but is the least developed.  While, St Lucia is considerably more developed, I find people there to not be as helpful or warm and welcoming.  Grenada was a nice medium.
This applies to the bus experience as well.  In St. Vincent every van has a conductor which is responsible for alerting the driver of stops to pick up/drop off passengers, collecting money and helping passengers with packages and bags or small children. However, it is rather difficult to identify the correct van going to the village you want to travel to, as there are no labels, only van names. In addition, the vans tend to be very overcrowded sometimes holding as many as 21 passengers in a 14-passenger van.  Most times you must be a contortionist to ride in a van.
In St. Lucia there are no conductors at all, which slows down the process significantly, as drivers need to make change and cant drive at the same time.  It is also more difficult when you are traveling with large/heavy bags (as I most often am when I am in St. Lucia).  While the vans are marked for easy identification of routes, they also usually play no music.  In St. Lucia they are strict on the number of passengers they carry.  Hardly ever more than 14.
Grenada was kind of a mix of the two.  Sometimes there were conductors, sometimes there weren’t. There was a very orderly and organized bus terminal, something that St. Vincent is lacking entirely. Some vans played music and some had names, while others didn’t. Some had no problem helping us with our luggage while others insisted we could not travel on a van with it, which is crap because we had already been traveling a few days on numerous vans with all our bags. Grenada also has nicely paved roads and a road that goes all the way around the island, unlike St. Vincent.  Additionally, there is a road that goes through the interior (which vans don’t run on).  This road and surrounding areas reminded me a lot of most of St. Vincent.
In St. Vincent, since there is a conductor, you alert the conductor as to where you are getting off.  The conductor in turns uses a system of clicks from the door handle to communicate to the driver that the van will be stopping.  In St. Lucia, a passenger simply yells “Stopping Please” to the driver.  In Grenada, the passenger knocks on the ceiling to alert the driver of their bus stop.  Each island has its own system that works for them.  It’s interesting to see the differences and similarities.
Over the Easter holiday 2014, I traveled to Dominica.  Unfortunately/fortunately, I had the pleasure of having a friend from the States join me who rented a vehicle.  Therefore, I did not get to experience the bus system in Dominica. However, Dominica is approximately twice the size of St. Vincent with half the population.  This means, that communities are much more spread out.  It is rather difficult to travel in Dominica. Buses are far and few in between.  Most people have vehicles or hitchhike. Dominica has the most amazing roads I have seen in a very long time.  They were recently paved with no potholes, every one, rural or not had lines and reflectors.  There was adequate signage denoting speed limits or other road hazards.  These are all things that are lacking in St. Vincent.

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