Living in a developing country is an experience that is always full of surprises. One thing that was made quite clear to us joining the Peace Corps was that no Peace Corps Volunteer across the world is allowed to operate a motor vehicle due to safety and liability issues. This means that we volunteers are completely dependent on the various types of public transportation that exist within our countries. Luckily for us here in Moldova, public transportation is well developed across the country since a lot of native Moldovans do not own cars and need to travel for various reasons (though cars are owned here at a higher rate than I had expected). I’ll outline the most common modes of transport for you so you can see what we encounter on a daily basis!
These are the most common mode of transportation, as they connect every village to a major transportation hub and the capital city. Since Moldova is such a small country, the longest commute to Chișinău (the capital), is about 5.5 hours. If you live in a small village, transportation in and out might only happen once or twice a day whereas volunteers that live in towns, such as myself, can take rutieras almost hourly to the capital and other surrounding villages/towns. This is also an inexpensive method of transport. For example, for my two-hour ride to the capital, it costs me 53 lei, or $2.65 USD, each way. These minibuses are designed to hold about 20 people, including the driver. I put the emphasis on “designed” because, usually, they hold way more people than that.
Since I live further away from the capital, I am always guaranteed a seat on my rutieras, but people that pick it up along the road may have to stand for the duration of their ride. Volunteers that live closer to the capital are often subject to 30-minute to 1-hour drives in a rutiera with 50 other people. That’s right, 30 people over its intended capacity standing in the aisle, window, or wherever you can get a foothold. And couple this in the summer when air conditioning isn’t available and bunicas (grandmothers) are afraid that a crosswind will make you sick so all the windows are closed; things get interesting.
This isn’t a widely used method of transport as it only serves certain portions of the country. There are some volunteers that can take the train from a station near their village/town instead of suffering through a 3,000-degree rutiera ride. A lot of the trains are older Soviet-style trains with three different classes (3rd class has wooden benches to sit on as opposed to first class which has plush seats), but there are some newer, more modern European-style trains that are starting to appear. The cost of trains are a touch more expensive than rutieras depending on the class in which you sit, but they are fairly comparable.
Fun Fact: The train that travels from Chișinău, Moldova’s capital, to Bucharest, Romania’s capital, has to stop at the Moldova-Romania border to have its wheels changed. The Soviet Union had a different wheel gauge size than the rest of Europe, requiring each and every train coming into the USSR to stop at the border and change its wheels. Moldova is still operating on those old tracks whereas Romania is not, so it contributes to an interesting experience at 1 a.m. when this process occurs.
These are definitely a unique method of transportation in the smaller villages and towns, as they are cheap and efficient. Since Moldova is a farming community, most families own a horse or know someone who does. By hooking up these horses to rudimentary wooden carts, entire families can transit back and forth between their house and the center of town where all the commerce happens. I was taken aback the first time I saw these last summer, as they are not something that we see in the US very often. Now, however, they are commonplace and part of my daily commute (as is avoiding the piles of horse poop on the road that this mode of transport tends to leave behind).
So, I don’t know exactly what to call these contraptions, but I do know that they are rototillers connected to some sort of wagon/bench/seat. You will see men driving these around villages and small towns, and they function basically like a horse-drawn carriage, minus the usage of live animals. The first time I came across one of these, I was terribly confused–after which the confusion turned to laughter as I began to imagine how people would react if they saw one of these puttering down the road in the US. The entire concept is terribly inventive and just another example of how Moldovans are able to use every little spare part to make something unique and useful.
Then, of course, by Foot
This is my method of traveling when in my site (unless it’s hot, I’m hurt, or just feeling lazy, in which case I splurge for a taxi). I live 20-25 minutes away from the school that I work at, so my daily commute is easily double the amount of walking I did while living in the States. My walk is also uphill both ways (seriously), so my leg workout is basically complete when I get home from school. Almost all Moldovans, young and old, walk everywhere within their villages or towns, oftentimes laden with heavy bags of groceries, small children, or whatever else they need to transport home. I am certain that I’ll never complain again about having to make multiple trips to the car after grocery shopping once I get back to the US after surviving the grocery commute here in Moldova!