At Your Service-(Unusual roadside services around the world)
When driving in much of Europe, USA, Australia, South Africa…in fact most parts of the world with a well developed transport infrastructure, a stop at a motorway service station is usually a tedious experience. Bathroom facilities of varying degrees of cleanliness, overpriced pre-packed or stagnating food and indifferent levels of service mean rest stops are usually a necessity rather than something to look forward to.
However, they serve a purpose – to provide food, gas, washing and often lodging facilities to travellers. We may complain, but after travelling by car in the developing world, it can be a relief to step into that air conditioned environment with piped music and semi- civilised staff on the way home from the airport.Roadside services in many countries of the world stretch the word ‘service’ to its limits, though a visit to one of these outlets can be one of the most interesting elements of driving abroad.
Topping up your tank is obviously a necessity, but buying fuel away from main urban areas can be a major challenge.I’ve driven in countries where the ‘chain’ petrol companies are none existent. Gas comes from an ancient, creaking pump at best, and a watering can at worst.There are few more terrifying experiences than watching your rental car get topped up with a bucket of evil looking liquid by a grinning local who obviously hasn’t got a clue what ‘unleaded’ is. In Eastern Europe in particular, pumps are seldom marked in a way which allows you to see what fuel they dispense.
If you also have a car which doesn’t even give an octane rating on the petrol cap, as I did in Armenia, you really are in trouble. I resorted to writing ‘94’ in the dust on the rear window and pointing manically at it when trying to explain what gas I needed. The variety of home made petrol dispensing devices on offer across the world is mind boggling.
From pop bottles in Asia to more sophisticated and lethal looking mechanised devices in North Africa, there’s no end to the ways in which vendors fill up your car and ,hopefully, send you on your way.
One of the most obvious sources of commerce by the roadside is the selling of food.Drivers on long journeys will get hungry and often won’t have time to stop at a restaurant for a full sit-down meal. (a Goat and chicken banquet ain’t quick…)
Therefore roadside stalls spring up offering all manner of local delicacies. If fresh meat is what you fancy, look no further than this roadside barbeque in Ghana. The stall holder and his friends were roasting a variety of bush meat. The rifles propped up nearby told verified how fresh the snacks on offer were.
Sometimes its probably best not to look too closely at whats being sold as with this lady in Madagascar, who was trying to tempt passing drivers with a couple of nice, plump rats!
An array of local fruits and vegetables lines the main routes of most countries and even if you’re not peckish provides a colourful backdrop to your journey. The ladies manning the stalls are usually up for a chat and joke with a passing stranger too.
This peanut seller in Madagascar used nature to display his wares and attract drivers with multiple bags of produce swaying in the breeze on well placed tree branches.
Mushrooms were the food on offer from these shifty looking characters in the old Russian Republic of Georgia, though their demeanour suggested they were actually selling something more sinister…I was tempted to look a bit closer to what was hidden in those buckets!
In Africa, the merchants take proactivity to the extreme. They work on the basis that drivers may not stop to buy from them on main roads. They therefore congregate anywhere traffic is slowed down to offer a startling selection of wares. I’ve seen everything from towels to board games, dog leads to ironing boards, hats to shoes. Impulse buying must be a trait of African shoppers as they crawl along in traffic before suddenly deciding ‘What luck! I’ve been meaning to buy a Colonel Ghaddafi commemorative calendar all week, and heres a chap offering to sell me one!’
The vast range of services on offer may baffle many travellers in Africa and Asia– looking for a hair cut and a video rental? Look no further! …but also a drive in Pawn and ammo shop in the USA perhaps seems strange to Europeans.
Of all the pictures I’ve taken of shops, stalls, vendors and produce on the road, this is always the most poignant for me. These little boys were selling wooden ornaments in Mozambique. We stopped for a chat and a picture, and those few moments pause, caused us to miss a bad accident just further up the road (read more on Chance Encounters Roadtrip Tale).
That was just one case that re-enforced my view that its well worth taking the time to stop and take advantage of the many roadside services on offer when driving abroad. Its a great opportunity to meet local people , have a chat, take some photos and maybe even buy something from them…though maybe give the rat kebab a miss!