Sunday, August 8, 2010

Going Native... Sort Of.

We arrived in Freeport late last Sunday night.  When we awoke the next morning, buses were running and stores closed early as it was a national holiday, Emancipation Day.  This meant that Charlie and I could be as lazy as we wanted on Monday, as shopping, taking buses, and getting groceries was not an option.  We enjoyed the beach and ate lunch and dinner at the delicious poolside restaurant downstairs.  We feasted on coconut curried shrimp with plantains and rice, a fish burger (grilled fish sandwich) and chips for lunch; dinner was broiled conch with vegetables and bread, a delicious wrap and Greek salad, and our personal favorite, coconut conch fritters.  There may or may not have been some Bahamian beer (Kalik and Sands) and pina coladas.

On day 2 we decided it was time to brave the buses and get groceries, as we no longer had the excuse of a national holiday at our disposal.  We had heard various things about the bus system:  that it was laid back like the culture and didn't really run on a schedule.  We had a list from the school about which buses went where with bus numbers on them, but from what we'd heard these were sort of suggestions.  Basically, it sounded like you can get on a bus, state where you need to go, and see whether or not they will take you there.  This is pretty much correct.

Charlie and I both donned our backpacks (yes, we scream American) and walked a few minutes up to our bus stop.  Cars drive on the other side of the road here.  The sun was scorching and we waited about 15 minutes for a bus, with no sign of any traffic.  Finally, we saw a local who chuckled as he watched us waiting at the bus stop.  He gives us some sage advice: "Buses don't come down here very often, so you are better off walking this way and then a bus will pick you up if it sees you walking."  Good to know.  So, even though this man is walking in the opposite direction than we need to go, we follow him down the side of the road since he seems to know what he's talking about.  After about 15 minutes Charlie and I are both dripping with sweat.  A few cars and tour buses zip past as we walk single file down the shoulder of the road.  I turn to Charlie and we confer that we have been walking a long time in the wrong direction to no avail.  We shake our heads in stupidity and turn around, to walk 15 minutes back to our original spot at the bust stop.  Finally, our bus stop is in sight, and we are only 2 minutes from reaching it, when what zooms by? Not one, but 2 buses (which actually look like beat up VW-ish vans), which do not, in fact stop to pick us up.  We run after them and flail our arms, but they keep driving.  Fabulous.  We are fools.

We reach our bust stop and sit down in exhaustion, dripping with sweat.  Charlie finds a Bahamian coin on the ground.  We are pitiful so this excites us and we take some pictures.  We wait for about 10 minutes, and a random white van pulls to the side of the road.  "You need a ride?"  Yes, we need a ride.  We don't care who you are, just take us, anywhere.  We will go.  I whisper to Charlie to negotiate a bus fare with them.  He does and they agree to take us to the grocery store.  They have air conditioning and we are delirious.  The 2 Bahamian drivers reek of cologne.  They are from a resort and spend the entire ride to the grocery store trying to hook us with a promotion.  They will pick us up in a van on Saturday for a free buffet breakfast, all we can eat.  Then we listen to a 90 minute schpeel on timeshares and will give us a grand tour.  Then we can enjoy the beach and they will give us 2 free activities, scooters, kayaks, banana boats, jet skis, snorkeling.  Any time we choose.  Or a free lunch.  No cost to us.  Please sign up.  Let us get your information.  No gimmicks.  No thank you.  Just get us to the grocery store. 

So the whole point of this excursion was to hit up the grocery store with reliable, fresh  meat, and also the nearby grocery store with the best selection of fresh fruits and veggies.  Our timeshare buddies do not take us here.  We are not sure if we even specified a grocery store.  But hey take us to a completely different grocery store downtown than we had intended.  We pay them our $2.50 and stare at the chaotic looking grocery store on the highway.  We wander around and see some actual buses (the vans), and ask the drivers to take us to Solomons, the good meat grocery.  We pay up, again, and climb into a crowded bus (aka beaten up van).  It is packed with Bahamians.  We get flustered because we think it is full, but then miraculously 2 seats fold out of the wall, and Charlie and I climb into the clown car.  I relax in my seat in exhaustion and enjoy the AC.  Charlie is crammed in front of me and I feel sorry for him because he looks so cramped in his little tiny seat.  I am convinced I lucked out with the good seat, as I am leaning back and relaxing, quite comfotably... until I feel some knees shifting behind me.  I turn around and realize that I am in the exact sort of seat that Charlie is in, and worse, I have been unknowing reclining on a middle aged Bahamaian man.  I gasp and apologize and lean forward awkwardly in my seat for the remainer of the ride.  Luckily the man is nice and tells me it is okay, and that I can lean back, but I am of course horrified and do not. 
We reach Solomon's and hop out.  I apologize again for squashing the man and we trek into the store.  Dazed and confused we spend forever in the grocery store and get what we need, but forgetting to buy meat which is the sole purpose of the trip.  I am wrongly convinved that we will find better looking meat elsewhere.  We do not.  We are proud of ourselves for remembering to tip the grocery baggers.  "Bahamains are grossly underpaid for their work.  It is customary to tip the grocery baggers.  One dollar or coin change is acceptable."  We leave with backpacks full of groceries and a map, searching for grocery store #2.  An elderly British man summons us into the shade and directs us to Sawyer's, the best grocery for fruit and veggies.  We walk for 10 minutes like pack mules through an industrial area.  I walk too close to the road and make Charlie nervous, as fast cars zoom uncomfortable close to me.  Charlie is nice and carries the heavy bags.  We look sorely out of place.

We reach Sawyer's which is our favorite grocery.  It is small and clean and the veggies are fresh.  We buy plantains, avocados, lettuce, onions, limes, and mangos.  We check out and are proud of ourselves.  Until we ask someone where the nearest bus station is.  They look up at the sky and laugh.  It is about to storm.  Oh, and the bus station is about a mile away.  Perfect.  We trek on in delerium.  Luckily, a few minutes out of the parking lot, a nice Bahamian woman pulls over and tells us to get in her car.  She looks nice and trustworthy, so we hop in, but I'm pretty sure it this point I'd be hopping in anything with wheels.  A kidnapper with air conditioning?  Sure, we're in!

The nice lady took us to a gas station close to our condo.  We hop out of her car and thank her profusely. Charlie lands in a nest of fire ants.  I swat them off his legs and feet as we haul groceries across a busy intersection, racing towards the bus stop.  The ants keep stinging him and the bites on his ankles start to swell up.  A bus stops for us a few minutes later.  We tell the dirver where we need to go and are told that we are on the wrong side of the road.  But the driver is nice like everyone else we have met that day.  I think she feels sorry for us (also like everyone else we have met today), so she turns her bus around and takes us to our home bus stop, where it all began 4 hours earlier.  We walk home as is starts to storm.  Once inside, we crash on the couch.  Charlie ices his ant bites.

Here is what we learned:  No one walks to the grocery store.  Especially the ones we went to.  They are really far away.  It rains too much and is too far.  But everyone is very nice.  And if you are nice (and pitiful enough) people will help you.  How in the world will we manage this trek each week?!?  Luckily, we will not have to.  There is a grocery store right next to Charlie's school, and a free shuttle which will take students home in the evenings.  Thank goodness!!!


  1. Clare, I am loving your posts! Sounds like y'all are having quite the adventure! Can't wait to read more. xo, Marisa

  2. Ahh, the joy of acclimating oneself to a new culture! it appears y'all are doing a great job, and being good sports, too. bravo : )

  3. Clare! Oh my gosh what an adventure! You guys sure are brave... climbing into strangers cars! haha! loved reading about your experience, I had to laugh out loud at some points... you should compile these into a book!

  4. Hahahah yes we are being good sports and definitely having some good adventures! A few weeks in we are feeling much more acclimated, but still having funny things happen. Thanks for reading, friends!!!