I have written before about driving in the Dominican Republic. I’m sure that I used expletives like crazy, insane, hectic and down right scary. It’s like playing a video game, a cross between Grand Theft Auto and Mario Cart Race (you don’t need to play video games to get what I mean). It’s part cartoon, with dogs, horses and chickens and part intense action-thriller, featuring all sizes of motorcycles, cars, SUV’s and large buses. The roads twist and turn along an uneven surface. Speeds vary and everyone is passing everyone. It is mayhem on the roads of the Dominican Republic!
Driving on the island requires all your attention. Your eyes need to be forever moving. Scan the road condition. Scan traffic ahead. Scan the roadside, left and right. Check your mirrors, all of them. Then get your eyes back on the road! You must be totally aware of your surroundings if you have any chance of survival on these roads. Screw the palm trees or the lovely ocean view. Pay attention to the three motorcycles on your right that you’re passing, while another bike is passing you on the left, there is no room for looking at buildings! I recommend not even blinking!!
After four years, I have become a little more comfortable ‘Driving Dominican’. Mostly in part because I travel the same route between the airport and The Playa. It runs through the towns of Sosua, Cabarete, Sabaneta and Gasper Hernendez, which are larger centers as well as numerous small villages ending with La Yagua.
Both Cabarete and Gasper have choke points in the middle of town. Narrow channels where you face oncoming traffic, motor bikes and pedestrians. Single lane because cars are parked on both sides of the road. You need to be aggressive but not too aggressive. But I have come to expect this insanity after the number of trips I have made down this route, and after my first sojourn into the gauntlet with Honey hyper-ventilating in the seat beside me, I quickly get the feel for the vehicular street dance around me. Don’t get me wrong it is white-knuckled driving but I am able to find a comfort level that allows me to control my heartbeat behind the wheel in these tight areas, so only one of us is likely to have a heart attack.
This year there have been a couple of new Dominican road safety features added. The really large potholes have an orange warning ring, not bright reflective orange but dull all-weather paint orange. These markings mean you should avoid this spot at all cost. These are, ‘your front axle may snap’, holes! These are the, ‘wish you had bought the tire insurance’, holes! Hit one of these puppies and there is an 80% chance of damage to my rental car. They have also added 1o” speed bumps entering the busy centers. That’s right, almost a foot high! They put two of them close together for maximum damage to your undercarriage if you are travelling too fast. The only way to get over these speed bumps and not damage your car, is at 2kph… maybe just 1! You don’t drive over these bumps, you climb over them!! Think Jeep commercial!!!
While at The Playa this year it was decided that the time had come to start adding amenities to the cabanas. Business has doubled and it was time to add a bar fridge and new chairs inside to create a proper seating area and take steps to replace the seating on the deck. This required Ginger, Honey, Wendy and the chauffer (that would be me) to go on a road trip. No big deal, it was just from The Playa to Cabarete, a trip I had made countless times. So, the four of us piled into the car and away we went. Ginger sat behind me with Wendy in the back and Honey sat next to me. This makes perfect seating sense, since Ginger speaks SpEnglish and can talk to Wendy and act as an interpreter and Honey is able to give me warnings of impending disaster without shouting.
Honey has been my co-pilot for 40 years and has driven with me in the DR for all but a handful of trips. She has developed a style of communicating with me that include gasping, covering her eyes with one hand, covering her eyes with two hands while lowering her head and talking firmly at me.
“That bikes pulling out!”
“Yes, I see it.”
“OK. Just making sure.”
We have driven that way for years together. She knows I’m a safe driver and I know she’s a nervous passenger. Some times there are sharp words between us but mostly she tells me what I’m doing wrong and I just let her. OMG!! I’ve become my grandfather!!!
“Aqui,” Wendy said.
“Just up here,” Ginger said.
“On the right,” Honey said as she pointed.
“Got it.” I replied.
The first stop was a bust. Fridges were too expensive and not really what we wanted and they only had one. We are shopping for three bar fridges and six chairs! We are volume shoppers today!! We moved on to scout out other locations for fridges. We already had a furniture maker in mind for the chairs closer to Cabarete, but the fridges were a toss up.
“Stop up here,” Ginger would translate.
“There on the left.” Honey would point.
“Got it” I wait for an opening in traffic and turn into Rodriguez’s furniture in Sabaneta. There is no real parking so I end up pulling alongside the mattresses leaning against the wall. Only two fridges, wanted $10,000 pesos each ($198US) and he didn’t deliver. Climb back into the car. Now I’m facing the wrong way! I decide that the safest thing to do is drive back to the nearest intersection and turn around. This got me coaching from all of them.
“Dar la Vuelta aqui” Wendy says as her hand shots between seats.
“Wendy says to turn around there,” Ginger says hastily in case I don’t understand the pointing finger beside my head.
Honey has covered her eyes with one hand.
“Got it,” I say eyeing the traffic around me then make the turn.
Heading the right direction our next stop is a furniture store that looks like a furniture store. I have driven past it many times and it stands out because it looks like any box store you would see back home.
“Aqui?” Ginger asks Wendy
“Ok,” Wendy replies and then something in Spanish to Ginger.
“Why not,” Ginger says “but Wendy thinks they will be expensive.”
“At least there is normal parking,” Honey observes
This place was a gold mine for fridges! Not only did they have enough fridges but there was even a colour selection! They wanted $11,000 for each but after sending our Dominican cohort to task, Wendy was able to get three bar fridges for $28,500 pesos ($564US)!! That’s $188US each… delivered!!! We make the purchase. This was a win for the good guys and now there was only the chair maker and groceries.
The furniture maker is close to Cabarete, which is down the road a bit. Wendy and Ginger talk casually in the back. Honey remains ever vigilant, reminding me of the on-coming hazards but it is all familiar road.
Suddenly a hand shoots between the seats! “Aqui! Aqui!! Aqui!!!” Wendy shouts from the back.
“Stop here!!” Ginger screams.
“Watch out for the truck!” Honey shouts, as she lowers her head and covers her eyes with both hands.
“Got it,” I shout and I hit the breaks and quickly pull over beside a shop that has all sorts of pottery and a truck parked in front. I navigate safely to a stop, missing all obstacles.
Wendy laughs. Ginger lets out her breath. Honey raises her head, “Oh, I’ve always wanted to stop at this place,” she says and opens the door and gets out, joined by the others. I slowly relax my death grip on the wheel and get out. I need a smoke.
The furniture maker was a home run. Had exactly what we wanted, only two were ready to go but he could make the other ones. These are bamboo club chairs. Not wimpy bamboo but sturdy stuff! They even have a slanted back! He wanted $4000 each plus a fee to deliver of $2500 pesos. All totalled $26,500. We all liked the chairs, so Wendy went to work on the artisan. When the dust had settled, we got six chairs for $3000 a chair and $1500 for the delivery. Total cost with delivery $17,000 pesos. That’s $56US a chair!! These chairs would be three hundred bucks in Canada!!! I would have paid the guy the hundred dollars he was asking and been happy as a clam! Not Wendy, she knew every button to push to get the price she wanted and she made it happen. The hope of a commission for six more chairs for the deck helped considerably. Purchase made, we move on to groceries at Janet’s in Cabarete.
We enter the ‘Super Marcado’, it is still light but it’s fading fast. Ginger grabs a cart heads to the coolers, Wendy grabs a cart and heads to produce and not to look out of place Honey grabs a cart and follows Ginger. I shove my hands in my shorts and wander behind. The trunk of the car is loaded by the time everyone has shopped. The sun is setting as we leave Cabarete.
I drive a lot in darkness when I work and I don’t like it, never have, never will. Driving in darkness is bad enough in Canada with nocturnal animals roaming around, but in the Dominican Republic it is terrifying! There are no road lights, some areas have traffic lines painted, some don’t. Headlights come at you suddenly from around bends and blind you because no one in the damn country knows how to turn their high-beams off!!! It’s beyond scary! To add to my discomfort, I have forgotten to bring my non-tinted glasses to drive with. I only have my prescription sunglasses. Like it isn’t already dark enough!
We make it through the gauntlet at Gasper and climb the road up the coast to The Playa. We round a bend to an open stretch where the ocean is on our left and the mountain on our right. There before us is the February full-moon. It is huge! The sky is clear and it sheds light across the whole area! It is breathtaking!! I mean double-rainbow breathtaking!!! It took away some of the terror of night driving for the rest of the drive to The Playa, even for Honey. Arriving at the restaurant we start unpacking the car.
“Gracias,” I say taking the package from her. Inside is a fridge magnet with a’ Rep Dom’ written on it. Yes, it was touristy cheesy but it was the thought that counted and I was truly touched by her gift. My relationship with Wendy is a decade old but has taken leaps and bounds forward in the last two years. This token of gratitude says more to me than all the words she has said to me in the past about appreciating my effort on her behalf, mostly because I can understand this one. It tells me that in a moment when I was not with her, she had good thoughts about me and they were ‘fridge-magnet’ positive. I feel all warm and fuzzy.