Exiting at the last west-bound stop in Higuey, finding a bathroom was least of my worries. It was 5:30pm, with dusk beginning to illuminate skies behind the massive basilica, a denouncement for committing one of the country's gravest cardinal sins--getting caught out after dark! With no time to stop for confessions, I hurried across the lawn to the Highway 4 transportation center where gua-guas and públicos depart for La Romana.
Local service making frequent stops had already ceased, which meant that there was no way for exiting at the Highway 815 turn-off for catching a Bayahibe-bound público. Trying not to panic, the only departures were on luxury motor coaches, which run express between major cities, and the RD50 ride to La Romana would only get me slightly closer to home.
Peering beyond the bus's curtained windows served no comfort in telling myself that darkness was from the tinted windows. Once exiting along Avenida Libertad in La Romana, across from the Bayahibe connection stop, my worst fear had came true. The last público for the night had already departed.
Stopping by the taxi stand farther down the avenue, I scoffed at the preset fare of US$50 for the one-way 25-minute ride back to the village, disregarding that rates double after dark, and they weren't just trying to rake a tourist. About the same time, a motoconcho driver came racing up and eagerly agreed to take me home for RD200, a savings of about US$43 that any tightwad would pounce on before considerations towards the value of life, itself.
La Romana's International Airport, which opened in early 2001 about 10 minutes east of town, has sanctioned an eternal reconstruction project along Highway 3 that is always in some stage of completion with each return visit. By daytime, I'd already passed along the narrow stretches, where barricades lined with torches coerce two lanes of traffic into one-and-a-half if you counted the shoulder. At night, the fires all but lit the way through these rural areas when Dominicans weren't racing by with headlights on bright. It was hard not to squirm.
Approaching the airport through one of these treacherous sections, lines of traffic headed in both directions squeezed us off the road. In the process of my driver running off into a shallow ditch, panicked reflex prompted pushing myself off backwards, but not before the bike caught my left leg, slamming knee into edge of the pavement. With sounds and breezes of cars whizzing by an arm's-length away, I about passed out from the adrenaline-rush that spared getting caught like a deer in the headlights!
Cars, beyond the two which immediately whizzed by, slammed on their brakes; a distant fender-bender somewhere down the eastbound lane audible in the chain reaction. In mass panic, the driver was up with a quick recovery, had the bike kick-started, and insisted I quickly climb on. Still dazed, there was that split-second of decision-making as to staying along the darkened roadside in the middle of nowhere or risking my life again still halfway from home.
Leaving in desperation, the driver began profusely apologizing about getting blinded by oncoming traffic, and while I knew it wasn't his fault, there was still that seething desire to pummel him senseless. My knee was throbbing, but utter fear wouldn't permit considerations of other potential injuries.
Trying to regain any senses, inner-numbness suddenly swallowed presence. There, within less than a mile from where we'd just crashed, was the solemn tree where one of my local family members had been killed in a 2000 motorcycle accident while out after dark.
Foolish shame and sorrow of loss exceeded any pain. The heavy traffic had vanished into somewhere, and as we headed down through the Chavón River Gorge, countless stars were twinkling in the heavens above on this no-moon night, and I vowed never to make this same mistake again.
Misty eyes had cleared by the time passing through the small roadside community of El Limón. Stiffness had already settled into my left leg as I stretched it outward to glimpse blood on my kneecap. Just wanting the comfort and safety of home, the driver said he needed to stop at the crossroad's gas station. Unfortunately for him, it was already closed. Lights revealed that my condition didn't appear to be as bad as suspected.
Aside from putt-putt of the engine, the final 7km stretch was made in total silence and immense darkness. The old dirt road that doubles as main street Bayahibe never looked so good at the end of this 12-hour adventure that had taken-on harrowing ups and downs.
I had the driver let me off a couple of blocks from home, hoping that no one would see my predicament. After paying him the pesos, he insisted upon finding him some gas for making it back to La Romana, but I kept on walking. I couldn't blame him for the wreck, but he could sure be held accountable for heading off on a long-distance haul unprepared.
Sneaking back into the family compound was essential to avoid any intense lectures from Mami. I was still scared witless about the incident I'd managed to survive, how fortunate I really was. Once washing off the dirt and dried blood, it had all drained from a single sliver that bled like a nasty paper cut. Otherwise, there weren't even any asphalt abrasions or marks from where the bike had pinned my lower leg. Only a swollen knee that would keep me hobbling around for remainder of my stay.
Staying locked in my quarters with lights-out to escape detection, time passed forever awaiting Junior's arrival home from church. At this point, guilty need to 'fess-up was worse than any pain. When he finally arrived with a couple of friends, laughter was not the response hoped for.
After years of telling me I needed to stay of motoconchos, lo te dije asi, "I told you so," was exactly what I deserved. And my comfort band-aid of good fortune came from the trio's show-and-tell rounds of motorcycle-related scars.
Over the years of sharing transportation-related information with readers regarding travelling around the Dominican Republic, I've ran the gamut of recommendations towards maximizing experiences while minimizing risks. Avoiding any dangers at all cost, especially after the untimely death of a family member, slowly began to shift after finding Reynaldo, a proven, trusted driver that re-won my confidence.
While both of these factors overly biased my opinions, nothing can substitute for actually being involved with a worst-case scenario. Obviously, something could happen to anyone, anywhere, with any mode of transportation. So, what should travelers do in the Dominican Republic?
-- Avoid being out after dark, period! I can't tell you how many opportunities I've foregone based on abiding by this rule, and this entire crisis could have been avoided if I'd have caught the 2pm bus out of Miches.
-- If you're out and about independently exploring, plan your time accordingly. If heading to remote areas, factor in additional time for unforeseen conditions. I never could've guessed that, due to poor road conditions, the moderate-appearing Highway 104 between Miches and Higuey would take two-and-a-half hours.
-- If circumstance still puts you out after dark, not part of an organized excursion with transportation included, pay the extra for taking a cab, even if the rates are doubled!
-- Avoid using motoconchos along any major highway, even in the daytime. However, I would still recommend them, at your own risk, along countryside stretches like Highway 104 or 107, where traffic is minimal.
-- Expect to pay more for a motoconcho on open-road long hauls than for a gua-gua or público. Sometimes it's worth the additional cost when there's minimal chance for mishap.
-- When needing to take a motoconcho, try to find an older seasoned driver. They tend to be more cautious than younger hot-shots. Pay attention in areas with heavy traffic and numerous drivers, and you'll know exactly what I'm talking about.
-- In Metropolitan Areas, motoconchos are easiest to come by. They're quick for short distances around town, and cost less than US$1. However, there's no such thing as a safe ride anywhere around Santo Domingo, which bolsters the country's highest rate of accidents and fatalities involving all modes of transportation.
Within a week of this incident, I was back in La Romana using motoconchos for getting around town during the daytime like nothing had ever happened. Foolish as that may sound, I've previously described these things as an incurable obsession. But unless you're the adventurous type who enjoys living on the edge, walk or pay extra for a taxi--just to be safe.