Dominican Republic Stories and Tips

Transportation Update 3/2002

Safe and Secure view Photo, Dominican Republic, Caribbean

When I'd written last year's other Free Form about transportation risks, I must confess it was done with stinging pain after losing a young brother in my Dominican family to a motorcycle incident. Another young man was killed the same way while I was there within days after the funeral. Did I over express the needs for transportation safety? Perhaps. Did I over-exaggerate the potential risk? Absolutely not, which is why I'll leave the other posted and followed by these practical updates especially for independent travelers.

During this last visit, there's not a mode of transportation that I didn't experience as either a passenger or driver thanks to an extended stay and the accompaniment of family/friends I dearly trust with my life. While their escorting efforts might have minimized initials risks while instilling confidence to move about solo, the painful reminders are still ever present...obvious by the numerous crosses and make-shift memorials which line the country's highways and secondary roads.

Aside from cruising around the local village, motorcycles and scooters are still by far the most high-risk mode of transportation when taking to the open road; especially highways. Automobile drivers should also be prepared and on the look-out for these modes of transportation which fill the sides of lanes; especially when there's on-coming traffic.

I'm still not proud...but must confess an incident where I willing jeopardized my life in the same manner our brother was killed. I'd spent New Year's Day celebrating with new acquaintences in the coastal village of Boca de Yuma with plans to be home before dark. Since fiesta takes precedence over time, dusk fell as did the options for other modes of transportation. I made the 1+-hour ride back to our village, which included stretches of busy highway, on a motorcycle with two other good-sized people. Of course, we'd all been drinking. The panic of potential outcome was further compounded half-way home when a car pulled along side us to tell us the tail light WAS NOT working! I share this not because I would expect you to also be as foolish..but to be aware of those of us who are!

My willingness to climb on a motorcycle that night had been preceeded by an earlier experience in the city of La Romana where "motoconchos", (motorcycle taxis) are the most common, convenient and cheapest way for getting around as is in most of the DR's larger cities. I'd been shopping all day with my adopted son the Saturday before Christmas and threatening rains had further darkened the skies as night approached. I was quite suprised when circumstances caused him to flag down a couple of motoconchos - a mode of transport he loathes. Loaded down with packages, we tore off through the busy streets in a rather reckless mode compounded by the fact that my filled hands prevented me from holding on. Actually, the escapade was rather exhillerating but had I not been with him, never would I have crawled on one of those things to begin with!

Might I suggest that if you're in a larger city needing to use this form of transport, at least wait until you can flag down an older, more experienced driver in potentially minimizing the safety risk factors.

Gas prices were $1.86 a gallon! If driving a vehicle off-the-beaten path and especially in coastal areas, you'll definitely want to go at a snail's pace or risk a flat tire or worse by bottoming out/damaging your transport. Flood damage from Hurricane George in '98 deeply eroded roads/streets in and around towns you'll likely want to visit. And while tourism continues to boom in these areas, it hasn't been enough to lure the government in for repairing roads.

On a much lighter note, in my earlier transportation posting I'd encouraged travelers that if ever stranded roadside at night and needing to walk, let sound and not light be your guide. How appropriately true! I was returning home late one night through an undeveloped area next to my village. Cloud cover prevented any starlight; the area in TOTAL darkness. I was walking a rather fast pace when I splatted into something that knocked me on my rear! At first I thought it was another person...until hearing the clop, clop from the horse which had been standing in the middle of the road!

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