How do you get a month’s worth of groceries home from the store on a scooter?
Although Fearless Eld Fowl likes to cook, grocery shopping has never been her favorite thing to do. I don’t mind playing hunter-gatherer when it involves picking fruit off trees or vines, or processing massive quantities of garden fresh tomatoes, or preparing vats of food for a crowd. But I do dislike the trip to the grocery.
I’m sorry to say I dislike it even more here in Panama. For one thing, you can’t be sure that the items for your tediously drawn menu-plan will be available at any given point in time. That can mean a fast menu-plan revision or (o! no!) a second trip. For another, I am embarrassingly squeamish about some things (sorry, it’s true), and the meat counters in Central America often leave me in vegetarian mode. Plus, if you don’t have a car, there is the problem of getting to the store and then getting your goods home.
As I have mentioned before, while taxis here are delightfully inexpensive, they are less delightfully in short supply. So catching one is sometimes a full stalk-and-hunt proposition. On a pre-paid phone that rounds to the nearest minute, it can often take 20 or 30 of your precious paid-for minutes just to hear “No hay” (there are none) yet again.
Solution: your own transportation. I bought a scooter, as I described in a previous blog, Cheap Transportation in Panama. I love my scooter. However, there is an issue with cargo space, especially compared to a car.
So I put my Inner MacGyver to work on it.
My Suzuki came with a small storage area on the front column suitable only for paperwork. It also has a well beneath the seat which comfortably stores my jacket, helmet and gloves. Of course, when I’m wearing those, which I am (duh) obviously doing when I drive to or from the store, that area becomes available cargo space. As well, there is a small rack behind the seat.
But unassisted, this will not carry too much. So. Assistance.
First I bought a backback ($7.50) and some bungee cords ($1 for a set of four). That worked well enough, but when the backpack was fully loaded I often felt unsteady, because if I should have to lean to take a corner, I could easily become unbalanced. That was a concern.
My solution to that was to buy a couple of gym bags ($6 each). (I realize most people would just get some saddle bags, but they aren’t readily available here.) The gym bags had shoulder straps as well as the other kind, and my original thought was to sew the straps together. That was before I realized I had only to loop one through the other to accomplish the same effect! Now my gym bags ride with the straps across the seat, securely supporting about 50 pounds of food. (Check out the photo.) The only issue is lifting the pair to put them in place. Fortunately, Fearless Eld Fowl is quite strong.
I also bought what they call here a baul (pronounced “baa – ool”), which means ‘trunk.’ I had seen them on motos and other scooters, and tried to get one in Panama, but those I saw were a pricey $100. Then a friend told me Machetazo in Chitre had them on sale for $25. Unfortunately, I missed the sale, but I found one elsewhere for $45, so I grabbed it. Getting it installed turned out to be incredibly complicated, and I finally took it to my local garage, where an excellent young mechanic installed it for me for a whopping $5. It took him a couple of hours, and was well worth the wait for his perfect work. The baul holds an amazing amount of stuff.
The final additions to my collection of ‘carry-its’ were a few elastic cargo nets (a red one -whee- and a black one), which pick up the slack for watermelons, bread and eggs. I can attach them to the underpinnings of the baul and rest the fruit or whatever on the seat behind me. If I have out-bought myself and still have toilet paper and paper towels to haul after the rest is stowed, I can return the backpack to the mix, making sure I only put lightweight items into it. If I forget to bring said backpack, I can also attach a few grocery bags containing light things to a small clip between my feet, and they ride safely home.
All in all, I am quite satisfied with the current arrangement. I can scoot off to the store, buy everything I want, and get it all home with very little more fuss than it would take to stuff it into a car. It looks a trifle strange, but I can carry nearly as much as a car, as long as none of the individual items is anything really large or super-heavy.
It works for me. Now Eld Fowl almost likes going to the store.