Written by happysh2009 on 13 Jun, 2011
To celebrate my birthday I had a holiday in Samana, Dominican Republic, during January 2011. The highlight of my Dominican Republic trip was to go humpback whale watching in Samana Peninsula.Brief information about humpback whale watching:The humpback whale is a species of baleen whale and…Read More
To celebrate my birthday I had a holiday in Samana, Dominican Republic, during January 2011. The highlight of my Dominican Republic trip was to go humpback whale watching in Samana Peninsula.Brief information about humpback whale watching:The humpback whale is a species of baleen whale and one of the larger rorqual species. The humpback whale can be found in oceans and seas around the world. Each year humpback whales migrate up to 25000 kilometres between polar waters and tropical or sub-tropical waters. Typically in summer humpbacks feed themselves on cold waters and in winter they migrate to warmer waters to breed and give birth.Each winter the humpback whales return to the Dominican Republic and circulate between the several breeding areas. Because 1500 or more humpback whales may visit Samana Bay from January to late March, the World Wildlife fund considers Samana one of the the best places to watch whales.Personal experience:Before I took my holiday I searched on a few websites about humpback whale watching in Samana and found a company named Whale Samana run by a Canadian, Kim Beddall. After arriving my hotel Gran Bahia Principe Cayo Levantado I contacted her. Suggested by her I went on the morning of January 21, 2011, and it was a very special experience. About ten oclock her boat stoped off to pick up me and other passengers from the public dock on Cayo Levantado island. When we were on board Kim started to introduce a lot of knowledge about humpback whales and their activities in Samana, and answered the questions we asked. We had a chance to touch a humpback whale model too. It was very fun until our boat went on further to the rougher waters. I actually found the rocking to be too much for me and I couldn’t stop vomiting. However I was lucky enough to see a couple of humpback whales on the sea. Other passengers even saw more as they were up in the bow of the boat or followed the boat staff introduction quickly. When we left the tour we were provided with a little information booklet and I was offered a free next trip if I want. My opinion:Although due my personal health reason I didn’t enjoy my humpback whale watching at most, I still consider whale-watching is a must if you visit Samana between January and March. It is really amazing to witness such unusual animals in their natural habitat. However I do have some suggestions for you.First: choose a right time to come. That said from middle January till late March you have a chance to see humpback whales. However you possibily can’t see them until Febrary.Second: choose a right company to go with. No matter you choose online, through your hotel or your travel company, or even just by going down to the harbour in Samana, bear in mind different companies may have different prices, different trip length and speak in different languages. I paid $55 USD per person plus a $3 docking fee in support of the whale sanctuary and I was provided with 3 plus hours trip. Last but not least the boat was very spacious, the staff were very friendly and knowledgeable, and they spoke English. Third: be ready for it. Put on plenty sunblock and take a hat. If you are unsure whether you are prone to sea-sickness or not it’s better to take a dramamine pill in case. I also found putting ice cubes on your forehead helped.Extra information: If you wonder how to protect humpback whales on Samana Bay you can contact Center for the Investigation of Marine Biology(CIBIMA). It is delicated to the study and preservation of all the marine resources of Dominican Republic. Its activities include search, education, and securing protective laws and decrees. Close
Written by Vagabondo on 06 Apr, 2008
Bayahibe is hailed by backpackers in the DR as being one of the “must do” spots in the country, and for very good reasons. Its location on the Caribbean coast provides opportunities for some excellent swimming, snorkeling, and diving; the diminutive town is charming in…Read More
Bayahibe is hailed by backpackers in the DR as being one of the “must do” spots in the country, and for very good reasons. Its location on the Caribbean coast provides opportunities for some excellent swimming, snorkeling, and diving; the diminutive town is charming in its austerity and surprisingly lively after the sun goes down; and the small but sparsely populated public beach is downright gorgeous. Bayahibe is not located on a major bus route so in order to get there it is necessary to transfer to a minibus in La Romana. The one-hour trip from La Romana to Bayahibe is quite picturesque, which makes the voyage that much more worthwhile.This oceanfront, spec-on-a-map town of just 2,000 can be easily traversed on foot in about 15 minutes and completely explored in about twice that time. None of the town’s few roads are paved and traffic lights are nonexistent because there is never any traffic. According to the Lonely Planet travel guide there are approximately eight hotels in Bayahibe proper—about half of which fall into the budget category. Given the tiny size of Bayahibe it is unnecessary to discuss the optimal location to stay because everything is centrally located. I stayed in an inexpensive cabaña but I noticed a fancyish hotel occupying the property adjacent to one in which I stayed. There is a small square in the center of town that became the focal point of my stay in Bayahibe. The town’s general store is situated in that square so nearly every resident of Bayahibe it seems passes through the square at least once each day. Shopping in the general store is an unforgettable experience due to its unusual layout coupled with the frenzied way in which the shopping is done. There is no browsing the goods because everything must be ordered at the counter from one of the two employees that somehow maneuver around each other and through the cluttered aisles to collect products to fill customers’ orders. One has to be really aggressive when initiating an order because the clerks only respond to the loudest and most noticeable customers in the group. I imagine that there might be times of the day that are less busy than others but I saw no evidence of any kind of daily business cycle. Every time I entered that store it was crowded as ever. Interestingly enough, the shop also doubles as bar. About three-quarters of the counter space is devoted to the bar, which depending on one’s mood may be a good or a bad attribute of the place. True to the prevailing method of partying that I witnessed every place I visited in the DR, Bayahibe’s square is where a Bachata-infused party erupts each night of the week. I noticed that people start gathering in the square around 5 p.m. and they purchase large quantities of ice-cold Presidente beer from the aforementioned shop until it closes at 9 p.m., at which time a little wooden kiosk directly in the square opens for what seemed to be very brisk business in the one item that’s sold: beer. The music is turned off at 2 a.m. but people linger in the square until well after.Bayahibe’s beach is an easy ten-minute walk north of town along the shore. A portion of the beach belongs to or is controlled by a resort hotel, which means that non-guests are restricted to the public beach. It is easy to discern the location of the dividing line between the public beach and the private beach because the resort’s section is dense with beach furniture while the public section is not. It may be tempting to take advantage of the resort’s beach furniture by moseying over to the private beach and just settling in, but to counter that threat the hotel posts sentries armed with lists of guests’ names on the border to deter such infiltrations. It is easier and more fulfilling to simply bring a beach towel and lie on top of the beautiful sand in the public area.There are a series of huts behind the public beach that sell mostly souvenirs, but one can also obtain beverages, food, or beach furniture rental from the employees of those huts. It is a near certainty that the Dominican and Haitian employees of the huts will approach any and every beachgoer in an attempt to sell those items, although I found them to be much less persistent and much more respectful than the vendors in Boca Chica. Bayahibe contains two foreign-owned dive shops from which diving, snorkeling, and other maritime-based day trips can be arranged. I am not a diver but in talking to divers who have dived in the waters near Bayahibe I learned that there are literally dozens of magnificent dive sites, including many that feature shipwrecks dating back to the Age of Exploration period. The day trip that I purchased for $50 included a trip through a dense mangrove forest, better than average snorkeling in two different spots, and lunch plus some exploration time on beautiful Isla Saona. The employees of the dive shops are mostly European twenty-something diving enthusiasts who somehow ended up leading or assisting on dives in Bayahibe. They are a fun-loving and thirsty group so their presence in the square at night should not unexpected. If there is one downside of the Bayahibe experience (and this is stretching) it must be the semi-daily but short-lived invasion of groups from the nearby resorts for their daytrips to Isla Saona and/or Isla Catalina. In the mid-morning the day-trippers are herded off the tour buses and onto the awaiting vessels in the tiny harbor, and in the late afternoon the reverse stampede occurs. As a day-tripping tourist myself, albeit of the backpacking variety, I couldn’t justify harboring much disdain for those pampered all-inclusive resort types, but I did meet some expats that found it amusing to disparage the sorts of visitors that prefer to be holed up behind the walls of the tourist enclaves rather than in the town square immersed in the Dominican culture. Regardless of one’s viewpoint it is clear that everyone is out to have a good time, and in a place like Bayahibe everyone can have a good time. Bayahibe is the sort of place where a backpacker unrestrained by a tight schedule can lose track of time, especially if that backpacker is an avid diver. Even for non-divers the friendly people, beautiful beach, and inexpensive lodging all contribute to an atmosphere that is particularly welcoming.Close
Written by Jose Kevo on 23 Mar, 2005
The majority of travelers visiting Santo Domingo have crawled out of bed early at some resort and had time to raid the continental breakfast buffet before boarding a luxury bus. Some will ride more than 4-hours one-way; trading beach for questionable encounters in the…Read More
The majority of travelers visiting Santo Domingo have crawled out of bed early at some resort and had time to raid the continental breakfast buffet before boarding a luxury bus. Some will ride more than 4-hours one-way; trading beach for questionable encounters in the white man's first official city of the Western World. On any day of the week, excursion groups fill la Zona Colonial, which still pulses 500+ years later as heart of the metropolis. Whether huddled in guided clusters or roaming freely, I've always wondered what people really see, think, and feel, and what would ever make anyone want to return?
There was a common sentiment in NYC about not recommending Santo Domingo to anyone but a homesick Dominican, and perhaps for good reason. Age has left a scarred legacy of chaos that exhales among the ruins. The city was founded on the run in 1496 by Bartholomew Columbus after his brother's first settlements on the northern coast, La Navidad in modern-day Haiti, and la Isabela west of Puerto Plata, had suffered numerous plagues, a devastating hurricane, and ongoing raids by indigenous tribes.
Hoping the southern coast would provide better prosperity and fortune, la Nueva Isabela was born at mouth of the Río Ozama along the eastern side. After another hurricane leveled the new colony in 1502, unbreakable settlers moved across the river to begin rebuilding what was destined to become ground zero for the new Spanish empire. Roots flourished with a third attempt; but accepting the disreputable capital for what it is today first requires understanding of what it never was.
Fame Without Fortune
The restored Alcázar de Colón was a former residence for Diego Colón, son of the great explorer. The museum contains sparse furnishings but does little for conveying early demises, as notable neighbors gathered to organize conquests of the Americas. Once abundant mineral deposits were discovered in Mexico and Peru, fortune seekers abandoned the island of Hispaniola about as quickly as Spain feigned interest. With absence of colonists and extinction of the indentured Tainos, African slaves debuted in 1520 and quickly outnumbered the aristocrats.
When focus turned mainland, islands of the Caribbean were up for grabs. Santo Domingo, perceived as Spain’s new threshold of power, turned out to be the goose that couldn't lay a golden egg. Ramparts did little for protecting an unguarded city ripe for slim pickings. What European invaders wanted, compared to what they actually found, all but set a precedent similar to what travelers should expect to still find today - negligence and poverty.
The city was already so depreciated when Sir Francis Drake staged the most infamous conquest in 1586, his troops plundered and destroyed many original structures in angered revenge, and held the city for ransom until Spain bought its return. Santo Domingo became a seaside patsy over the next couple of centuries, but land-invasions from the French, trying to subdue their upstart prodigy Haiti, is what really illustrates the country's oppressive history.
The Dominican Republic was born after locals staged a bloodless coup against the Haitians in 1844. However, nationalism was short lived once Spain, which had now lost control of most of the Americas, was bribed into reclaiming their original authority by corrupt government officials hoping for gains of the Motherland's elusive wealth. Civil unrest, that still burgeons today, was conceived during the Restoration War; an elongated mismatch against the Spanish crown. Eventually, the Queen gave up, withdrew troops and economic support, and abandoned the Dominicans to carry out what the country’s history has proven time and time again.
Since that point in 1865, the country has never been void of political turmoil. The U.S. intervened so often, even the Senate refused to ratify Roosevelt's 1905 amendment establishing protection over the degenerate nation. The Dominican flag proclaims God, country, and freedom, though words could as easily represent scandals, assassinations, and depravity from ruthless administrations disguised as dictatorships or democracies. Now, where are the playing fields more on display than in Santo Domingo; the first city which is capital for the second-most impoverished country of the Western World.
Modern Day Conquistadors
The sugar-coated version of what most expect to find in the Zona Colonial runs from Calle de Las Damas to the Alcázar de Colón and expansive Plaza de la Hispanidad. Views from the city's best preserved sections of bulwarks have given way to cruise ships and passenger ferries docked along the adjacent Río Ozama where Spanish galleons and invaders' ships once moored. Nevertheless, the white man still comes with familiar curiosities; now spending money rather than looking to sack and pillage.
Conservative measures have been trampled by default from the new breed of invaders. These days, armed soldiers in dress-uniforms and military fatigues are on display like part of the tourist attraction; presence no longer enforces strict dress codes that kept most travelers from entering revered locations. There was guilty pleasure following leisurely-adorned crowds into places where I'd been denied entry throughout the years.
The Panteón Nacional, dating from 1747, is likely the most impressive structure along las Damas with the Plaza de María de Toledo off to the side. Built as a Jesuit church, the building had served many purposes until Trujillo, a former dictator, called for a mausoleum in 1958. Browsing names on tombs didn't reveal anyone of recognizable significance, but their final resting place is a sight to behold.
The domed, cavernous interior is lined with colossal wooden chandeliers; the largest hovering over a centralized eternal flame dancing in the winds from the entrances which are always guarded and never close. The afternoon sun, radiating through rear windows, castes a natural spotlight on the frescoed archway over what was once the high-altar.
Museo de las Casas Reales, on the same street, is also worth "a visit" with the refurbished structure more intriguing than exhibits. I asked the guard when was the last time any new displays had been added. He couldn't remember but seemed to eye me with recollection from asking the same question with each visit...before moving on. Indoor confinements have always been stiffling in this city which retains a behavior of bondage even in wide-open spaces.
El Parque Colón is the Zona's centralized meeting place shaded by trees and la Catedral Primada de América. Excursionists safely pass free time hounded by roving street vendors while waiting for others to finish shopping along pedestrianized Calle Conde; often ignoring all else whether by naiveté or choice.
Culture Shock - A Capital Offense
The Zona Colonial comprises an 11 x 11-block radius where the original city was hemmed within fortifications. Significant historic sites, including ruins from Americas' first Hospital San Nicolás de Bari and Monasterio de San Francisco, require straying from hot-spots through impoverished residential areas that are unavoidable. In the last few decades, Santo Domingo has been flooded with rural peasants. Crude measures of civil services have collapsed under keeping up with what's believed to now be 70-percent of the country's population.
Mountains of garbage line side streets with ongoing accumulations more than could ever be disposed of. At times, stench eludes to potential health-risks further confirmed by carcasses of dead rats, and remains of other animals slaughtered for food right along sidewalks. Shunning these third-World encounters is denying centuries'-worth of failures ingrained in history dating back to Columbus. A restless edge vibrating to Merengue permeates the close confines with factions of daily life on display most would never care to know existed, yet this is the Dominican Republic of the 21st century.
I will admit after years of country living, the survival gumption of Spanish Harlem had long-faded. Some areas previously ventured were willingly bypassed this time. The in-bred chaos and confusion are overwhelming. I've often felt uncomfortable in a challenged way, but never threatened or unsafe as one of the very few that obviously explore beyond. Curious gazes from locals confirm that, just as quickly as they'll share a smile and conversation as Living History attractions.
To fathom how the people survive from day to day in birthplace of the Americas is to also understand how miserably Spain failed with their initial greed, which essentially doomed Latin America. Atoning for my fellow white man's ways has always been a covert obligation in many ways, including travel. Coming to a place like Santo Domingo, and not experiencing life as they know it beyond the tourist trap, is all but condoning past and present conditions leaving little hope for the future.
A survival instinct has been embodied into Dominican culture as much as the Spanish heritage they're so very proud of. Together, they've withstood centuries of torment from poverty and oppression, earthquakes and hurricanes. Yet still, they manage to drink and dance and find pleasures amid their miseries. These elements are infectious appeasing when and where all else has fallen short. If it works for Dominicans on a proven ongoing basis, it will surely sustain travelers wanting to chance brief encounters just for a day.
Written by Jose Kevo on 01 Mar, 2002
In the beginning of most guidebooks are sections describing the local culture and people. Dominicans are some of the most friendly people on the face of the earth. And while I'm not a sociologist, I'd certainly like to further detail some of my…Read More
In the beginning of most guidebooks are sections describing the local culture and people. Dominicans are some of the most friendly people on the face of the earth. And while I'm not a sociologist, I'd certainly like to further detail some of my own observations and experiences to help travelers better understand your local hosts.
As a whole, Dominicans are poor but proud people and their nature of hospitality will compel them to give even if it means they do without. They are eager to share their lives with visitors and the passions with which they live them. Passionate conversations can be one of the initial shocks...and not in terms of "affectionate". It's not uncommmon for Dominicans to sound like they're continually in the midst of heated arguments with each other, or even when making simple conversation with you. Mildly put, they're very expressive people...not angry, and the loudness technique, whether warranted or not, has been cultivated for being heard over the myriad of other noise bombardments you'll quickly need to become accustomed to.
I've received personal messages from IgoUgo readers asking why the men seem to be so friendly and the women so bitter? The DR is a "macho" society and except in Santo Domingo and larger cities where women have begun to carve out newer, independent identities, the male-dominated culture still thrives and is not only accepted, but expected! For the most part, males work and have the freedom to socialize while the women stay home, often working twice as hard, and are the catalyst which manages and holds the family together...though the genteel sexes would NEVER admit either or.
For women who've dared to step beyond the home now working out in public, their freedom has yet to liberate them from the life-long tasks of servanthood...and taking care of family is one thing; tourists quite the other. Further compounding apparent coldness and hostility toward female tourists is the all-too-common fact of knowing their men have long been attracted to and strayed with far too many of the light-skinned visitors who come looking for the "Latin Lover" encounter. Call it a jealous envy thing!
With the changing times and obvious needs for income, more and more women are being forced out of homes into the public workforce which is something they likely haven't personally accepted or are scorned for - hence, the seeming bitterness. Another form of domination - of an evening when the men are out congregating, "decent" women are still expected to stay at home or at least out of the public's eye. Those who do break this social rule are often quickly labeled only to further succumb to the stereotype that presets a double standard that often allows the males to have their cake...and eat it too!
Closer to home, I don't appreciate the fact the women of my family's house work hard cleaning, cooking every day and of an evening set the dinner table for males of all ages...and then all but leave returning ONLY when we're finished to clean-up and eat whatever's left. I was also chastised by both genders for ironing clothes as that's something a guy just doesn't do!
Another apparent touchy subject seemed to stem from taking pictures of females and the whole respect issue. Photographing family members is one thing, but even their close lady friends avoided the taboo of wanting/having their picture taken. And for me to have photographed a willing subject I wasn't properly acquainted with would have made me just as scandalous...which is why my photos reflect the country and people - male dominated!
The city of Santiago is the country's cultural capital and where the long-standing image of the typical Dominican "caballero/gentleman" became engrained and expected of males in society. It's very comparable to the traits of the States' image of a gentleman from the pre-Civil War, old south era. And much like America, where older genrations have struggled to hold onto ideals and ways, they've quickly slipped out of practical style here, too. This has not only been the source of downfall and inner-struggle with younger Dominicanos here in the country AND for immigrants to the States, but it's also set their double-standards of pushing the limits of social freedoms most females have yet to obtain or experience. "Papichulo" is a common term and personna used to describe a lady's man who overtly exercises his "machismo" to the fullest...often with direct yet excused opposition from a true caballero who at least practices discretion.
To the Dominicano, nothing is more important than family and children...though fathering them and later providing for them are unfortunately not often enough the norm which is why its largely the females within an extended family who've stayed home to provide ALL the rest. But a man's freedom to socialize has created what I, as a foreigner, consider one of the greatest experiences from Dominican culture.
The concepts of "male bonding" and building solid friendships/camaraderie with depth is a rewarding element of their lives we American males seem to be missing. Segregating the boys from the girls starts from birth and is even carried out today at the local church where ladies sit on one side, men on the other. This life-long process creates a "pack of Lone Wolves" who stick together in all aspects of daily life with loyalties that are cultivated from childhod and aren't easily broken. Extending these same privileges to me as an honorary local and family member has provided some of the most rewarding experiences from time spent here. However, I also struggle knowing these perks come from/with the superior mentality that often keep the women subdued who further sacrifice to pay for this gain.
Regardless of how functional or fractured the family structure may be, there's nothing like witnessing or first-hand experiencing how these people can come together to seemingly make the best AND most out of often too little. Amid the poverty, pain and bitterness...which is the muse for the country's Bachata music, watch closely as an extended family enjoys time together at a beach or social gathering. They've perhaps a naive appreciation for enjoying the more simple life where there's little else to get in the way of having and treasuring each other.
Children are truly the pride and joy of the people. Dominicans still tend to have large families despite a high infant mortality rate and knowing the tough road ahead for a culture who's average life expectancy still doesn't surpass the age of 70. Public education in most villages still doesn't go beyond the 6th grade though by the ages of 11-12 most students have already been expected to enter the dismal workforce and help provide family income. Regardless of age, respect for elders is also a foundation laid by firmly practicing - "it takes a villge to raise a child."
You'll see the carefree innocence of the children reflected in their smiles while playing in the streets which will likely melt your heart...and perhaps conjure up compassion and even pity. Yet consider - if they know not what they're missing, are their lives as bleak as they appear? Get to know any Dominican of any age...and you'll quickly realize who's the one missing what's truly important in life.
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…Read More
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!
Written by Jose Kevo on 28 Mar, 2001
Travelers should be aware that DR is said to have some of the highest accident, fatality rates in the world involving mostly locals but not excluding tourists as passengers/drivers in modes of resort/public/private transportation involving autos/cycles/boat craft. Needing transport is inevitable; especially for independent…Read More
Travelers should be aware that DR is said to have some of the highest accident, fatality rates in the world involving mostly locals but not excluding tourists as passengers/drivers in modes of resort/public/private transportation involving autos/cycles/boat craft. Needing transport is inevitable; especially for independent travelers. These warnings/precautions will help make your vacation a safe one:
As a whole, the Dominican population are very reckless, agressive drivers. Alcohol consumption's also a large part of local culture; assume that Driving While Intoxicated is, too! Practice ultra-defensive driving skills at all times keeping well below "guessable" speed limits and avoid needing to drive anywhere in Santo Domingo.
"All-Inclusive" does not mean risk free. Resort guests also need to be on guard for hazadous conditions/situations when using resort transportation.
Excursion groups are sometimes placed in the back of flat-bed trucks and jostled over extremely rough terrain.
Horseback riding and 4-wheel dirt bike (helmets required) groups usually follow along secondary roads where locals drive.
Water safety risks are not as common, but certainly present.
If you should need safety assistance, let one of the local guides know. While you may think they're out to kill you, remember it's just a MAJOR gap between cultural lifestyles and personal safety comfort zones.
Resorts often rent cars, jeeps, cycles that independent travelers collect directly from the airport. Keep in mind they're some of the highest daily rental rates in the world for a reason! Take time to familiarize yourself with the fine print of insurance coverage as well as specific, detailed instruction on what you should do, who you should call if experiencing roadwise difficulty or are involved in an accident. Also, unless the auto is new, don't expect seat belts!
The DR's highway system is growing/improving, but it's likely secondary roads you'll be needing. They're also the ones that present the most problems. Massive chug-holes abound even in streets of the capital. Coupled with rough terrain and many unpaved roads - flat tires are inevitable!
Before taking a mode of transport out, or at the start of every day, check to see that the spare is fully inflated; not leaking, too. When a flat does occur, NEVER stop along side of highways/roads even if there is a shoulder! Drive until you have a safe clearing, then change the flat. Tire shops are commonly found, inexpensive. Stop at the first one you see...and hope it's before you've had a second flat!
The largest percentage of fatalities occur to drivers/passengers riding mopeds/dirt bikes/motorcycles. There is no helmet law in DR. Also consider adjustments to riding on rocky dirt roads rather than pavement. Also keep these issues in mind when considering taking frequently available motoconchos/motorcylce taxis.
Unless within a resort complex, AVOID taking to the open road after dark as a driver/passenger with any mode of transport. Livestock in the middle of roads/highways are common. Many Dominican modes of transport don't have headlights. Plan outings to be finished early with time to fully return before dark. As if to indicate risks, forms of public transportation stop running fairly early; cab rates doubling after dark.
Walking is also not always a safe, risk-free bet. Crossing streets/intersections can be hazardously tricky. And if you're ever stranded, broken down or have cause to be out walking after dark, let sound - not light be your guide.
Along roadways, it is common practice for locals to flag down public transportation. Be mindful that vans, buses and other vehicles stop suddenly, frequently blocking major roadways. Don't tailgate!
If you're invovled in the slightest accident, as the perceived "wealthy tourist" be prepared to assume full responsibility/liability for what occurred regardless of fault. Make sure you can immediately produce driver's license, passport and tourist card when asked; passengers included. Remain calm. Unless serious injury has occured, immdediate attention will be given to sorting out accident details. If staying at a resort, request to notify them ASAP! Independent travelers should do the same with the agency they rented from.
Follow "What to do" instructions I suggested you pay close attention to. It's also wise to have the number of your country's embassy available. Be advised that jail time is a possibility until fines, fees, damages are paid.
*As a caucasian American, I also run these risks should an acident occur while simply riding in/on a mode of transport driven by one of my local friends.
While I've never experienced this, I've heard tell of cases where police pull over tourist driven vehicles to collect "road taxes". (Never heard of anything more than 200 pesos/$12.50 demanded) Yes, officers are multi-lingual. Hear them out, give them what they want, keep your mouth shut, go on your way. Their country - their rules! Actually, many with positions of autority, i.e. park rangers, proclaimed land owners, airport assistants, have been known to supplement meager incomes collecting "taxes/fees".
MONEY TALKS! It can also buy YOUR way passed guards, front desk clerks, anyone to get what you want/need.
**Transportation Safety needs are also discussed in my Paradise Lost Free Form entry.
Written by Jose Kevo on 10 Sep, 2003
We were leaving La Romana's newest electronics store after buying a replacement part for the VCR when I was obviously paying too much attention to the cellphone I'd just been handed. Stepping out into the street, thankfully I was immediately pulled back as the…Read More
We were leaving La Romana's newest electronics store after buying a replacement part for the VCR when I was obviously paying too much attention to the cellphone I'd just been handed. Stepping out into the street, thankfully I was immediately pulled back as the large truck went whizzing by. I looked up in time to see FedEx International emblazoned all across the back!
Let's face it: progress anywhere in the world is inevitable, but at the rate things are happening in the Dominican Republic, I repeatedly found myself wondering and calculating how long until things would change beyond the point of recognition, and the once-simple appeals of daily life would be lost forever.
I remember in 1997 when my small village, with population less than 1000, went into culture shock when electricity was finally provided, utility service for telephones became available, and civil engineering tore up streets installing a water system. The trade-off now, in 2003? Television antennas clutter the sky, and there's no less than a dozen places where you can access the Internet, but the government never returned to repave the streets - hence, the backwoods dirt-road effect everywhere within the village.
With presidential elections slated for 2004, Dominicans are putting great hope in a leader who will continue to lead the country forward, and further away from the current situation, with democratic freedoms still bogged down by a dictatorship mentality that has subdued the people for decades. Keeping the general population cut off from the rest of the world is no longer possible, but changes have came about in a reverse manner that has challenged the government and continues reshaping the DR on a monumental daily basis.
Europeans have flooded the country - first as travelers, and then as residents, taking full advantage of investment opportunities allowing them to further cater to their overseas comrades. Especially in heavily populated tourist areas, you'll find resorts, hotels, restaurants, and small businesses owned by these "expats" who have arrived within the last 10 years. With them has come an expected standard of living that has denounced the government's ability to control the population, but certainly not without a costly price tag.
With the Dominican government, Money Talks! Perceived as wealthy outsiders, the new entrepreneurs have repeatedly paid the price to remain and operate a business. Locals have also dearly paid with the emergence of this new, prospering class which often hires them for substandard wages. But the greatest sacrifices are from ongoing outside influences which are redefining and reshaping Dominican culture - both from their new European neighbors and the mass number of tourists they attract.
Heading into La Romana on a typically overcrowded publico, I hadn't noticed until it was time to begin making stops and the questions started coming: the van was half-full of Dominicans, the other half tourists. In trying to help provide necessary information, I was quite impressed as my friends began answering in Italian, German, debating which of them spoke the better French. And when all else failed, telling me in Spanish so I could further translate in English...the universal language locals actually speak the least of, since Americans, Canadians, and Brits make up such a small percentage of visitors.
During this stay, I had opportunities to meet more travelers than from likely all my previous stays combined. Our family now owns the only laundry service in town, and the ratio of foreigners stopping by on a daily basis was equal to local patronage. Again, when all other communications failed, it was English which prevailed and opened the door for interactions beyond the cost of having a shirt washed and pressed.
Sometimes talk never went beyond my recommendations of what to see and do in the area. But when opportunities presented themselves, my inquisitiveness went into full swing to further discuss topics that definitely give a hinting glimpse into what lies ahead for the Dominican country and people - especially crucial since most expats I've encountered have assumed an ownership steeped in a superior mentality geared towards what's best for them and their business, regardless of locals and what they might want or think.
Most travelers were on their first trip to the DR based on recommendations from friends. They were also quick to distinguish that they would never stay in resorts and preferred the daily, everyday life found in the village. Yet there were some inquiries which hinted about the basic crudeness and possibilities for future arrival of amenities - all things they'd sacrificed by not staying in a resort.
Other than New York Dominicans returned home, two pairs of American college professors, and students who were studying in the country, everyone else I met was from Western European nations. It's no surprise that Italians, Germans, and Swiss comprised the largest percentage of travelers in equal proportion to the number of Bayahibe area, European-immigrant-owned businesses. Also worth noting are the growing number of French travelers, and ones who are beginning to permanently return.
Of all the Caribbean countries, the DR has the widest range of climates, topography, and varied activities and attractions - more than a traveler could ever begin to discover in an extended holiday. Most I spoke with indicated they would consider returning to continue exploring other parts of the country. A smaller percentage indicated they'd had/seen enough, while even fewer shared my dream of someday being able to return and permanently stay.
As for why's of wanting to return? Wanting a more laid-back, peaceful way of life. Potential investment opportunities. Stress-free living...though I'm quick to caution that even with adequate financial resources, this was next to impossible since I've repeatedly learned that life in the DR may be alluring, but certainly not without its share of hardships and struggles. And don't think because I've been quick to point out corruptive changes from foreign influences that I haven't been quick to survey my own ignorances of Americanisms that also affect my family/village, potentially contributing to changes I'm so against.
There's something special about the Dominican people, and just being around them undoubtedly makes me a better person. Unfortunately, I think this is the biggest hidden factor that travelers, or foreigners moving in, might be overlooking and missing out on...regardless of where they're coming from. To even suggest such a concept was all but disregarded when speaking with travelers except for one.
It was around 3:30pm when one of the local shoeshine boys had a new arrival in town looking for a place to stay. Our cabañas were full, as I knew most were in town, but I felt sorry for this sweat-soaked stranger with oversized backpacks strapped to his front and back while carrying tents, camping gear, and other items in hand. Eventually getting him settled, I invited him to meet us later in the village center for the nightly colmado ritual. It turned out to be one of those things you can't explain why or how it happened, but you're sure glad it did!
Ala was a 31-year old Parisian whose family roots came from Tunisia. He too shared the unexplainable passion for discovering the world through travel, but the difference was - he left home in 1998 and has yet to return! There was a mutual admiration which compelled us into lengthy conversations - my wanting to know about his global experiences; his willingness to learn and share in the daily lives of the family and village through an inside connection.
And perhaps for those few days, Ala found a temporary place to call home since he altered his plans to stay and not leave until the day I did. He added me to his list of family he regularly checks in with from around the world by e-mail. I asked if he'd seen or found enough to consider staying in the DR. Cuba and Mexico were next on his list of "must-sees." But provided I get to make that permanent move home once and for all, he'd definitely consider making a return visit.
Regardless of where he'd been or planned on going, Ala obviously had learned to recognize what most global travelers are likely missing out on which imparts an unconsciousness for visitors in the sense of tourists and expats: to see and accept things for how they are - not how they think they should be.
In unbiased fairness to travelers planning a trip to the DR, I can no longer excuse or dodge the taboo subject of Sex For Sale, which goes far beyond the hordes of prostitutes and hustlers that flood Boca Chica's Avenida Duarte each evening.
Sanky is the…Read More
In unbiased fairness to travelers planning a trip to the DR, I can no longer excuse or dodge the taboo subject of Sex For Sale, which goes far beyond the hordes of prostitutes and hustlers that flood Boca Chica's Avenida Duarte each evening.
Sanky is the name given to Dominican males who regularly seek out tourists for sex and ongoing long-distance relationships based on future gains. Female Sankies, socially viewed differently from prostitutes, are also on the prowl. I've long been troubled by these "survival games," which go far beyond Dominicans' overactive passion for living. Trouble is, they've gotten a global reputation that might put pesos in their pockets, but is also taking a very destructive, corrupted toll on the population in general.
Looking for that Latin Lover
When traveling through Europe and mentioning the Dominican Republic, it wasn't inexpensive holidays or beautiful beaches people spoke of; it was always the sex! The DR has joined Bangkok and San Jose, Costa Rica as a favored global sex destination, which sets a double standard for the apparent minority of travelers who don't come looking for it. That said, I'm also leery of tainting your potential interactions with the sincerely hospitable and friendly locals who aren't after one thing only. But how are travelers to know the difference?
Within my village comfort zone, I'm never even asked for 5 pesos from shoeshine boys. But when venturing beyond, especially without the accompaniment of locals, I'm a tourist, which makes me eligible for solicitation regarding anything sex-/non-sex-related. Engaging interaction is one thing, but you should quickly be able to sense if there's something more through hints of a flirtatious, secretive, or point-blank approach. Thankfully, Dominicans are not pushy and persistent; indicating you're not interested will send them on their way - unlike Jamaica, where people tend to harass/intimidate.
Don't think that staying locked away in your resort excludes you from exposure. These are the hotbeds of activities, thanks to local staffs who are often encouraged to mingle with guests. Other resorts have a "zero-tolerance" policy, but it's hard to eradicate what the people want.
A former Sanky relocated to NYC once detailed methods for skirting policies at a popular resort complex. At night, tourists walk down the beach just beyond the resort boundary, where locals were waiting. After hooking up, they would then have to pay/bribe the security guard to enter the property, the desk clerk to enter the facility, and anyone else who crossed their path and could potentially benefit from taxation.
During this last visit, there were a pair of middle-aged Italian women in the village who always had a bevy of males following them everywhere due to the fistfuls of pesos they were obviously handing out. Their cabaña was across the way, within full view of my porch, and I was disgusted with their ongoing parade of evening visitors...even troubled by some I knew. To think these young men could make more in one night than for a week's worth of hard work at their day jobs sounded all too familiar.
"This Is How We Do It"
Currently, the southeast region is experiencing an evangelistic crusade boom; "the church" recognizes this ongoing problem and is choosing not to look the other way or honor the expected code of silence which has long shielded promiscuous behaviors. A local youth pastor wanted to have an in-depth discussion with me on means of intervention based on my years of working with street kids in NYC's Spanish Harlem.
Obviously, the local commodity in question wasn't drugs...though I was shocked to find for the first time cocaine, ecstasy, and other party drugs readily available from/for tourists and newly addicted locals alike. Experience has taught me that solutions lie in the "why's" and not the "how's" of such behaviors.
In the Western world's second most impoverished country, where education, skills, and jobs are not only limited, but average $5.75 for a day's worth of work, people have to do what they do to survive. Throw in the reputable overactive Dominican libido, further stoked on liquor and Mama Juana, which serves as an aphrodisiac, and coupled with the insatiable desires of many tourists - the outcome seems inevitable.
There have been nights sitting around over beers and conversations when topics diverted to sex and the exploits of tourists. I'd silently listen...trying to understand when somebody always notices my cocked eyebrow or baffled, unamused expressions. The quick reassurance always follows that "I'm different; I'm one of them...they would never...," and before the night is over, usually various apologies masquerading as pleas for acceptance and forgiveness for their behaviors.
I remain consistent in my position: while I don't condone, I certainly don't condemn. But for whatever that's worth, reasoning is hard to compete with the designer clothes, gold chains, and cash that frequently find their way back to the village, sent from Europe. A young man I've watched grow up over the years and consider a good friend sat with me one evening and I point-blank asked about the how's/why's.
The conversation quickly switched to English to insure I'd fully understand everything...though he could have as easily spoken in Italian, German, or the basic French he's in the process of learning. Language fluency is essential for telling foreign patrons exactly what they want to hear in the heat of passion, along with the Sanky being able to communicate exactly what they want/expect later and for the future.
I asked how he could do this night after night, and with some obviously undesirable and twisted people; what kind of toll was gnawing away at his inner being....not to mention the potentially fatal health risks from STDs. His only defense? "I just think about the money." Money. Clothes. Marriage proposals with visa papers to leave the country. And just so you know, cars are also at the top of those lists.
Safeguarding the Unsuspecting Traveler
Over the years, I've helped many travelers plan their time in DR. Usually one of the primary concerns is safety. I relay that safety shouldn't be a problem, but always caution about the very subject addressed here. Whether from the taboo nature of the topic, or self-guilt of exposure, it's usually been enough to cease correspondence right there!
In another case, I ended up serving as translator for e-mails sent from DR that had Sanky written all over them! The woman was making a return visit within months of meeting this individual I didn't know. Again, while assuring that they were both consenting adults, I briefly detailed what she was likely getting into. She haughtily replied that she would never pay for sex. No, but she was obviously footing the entire bill for them to be together during her return, had already wired money, and who knows what costs lay in the future?
Another, when returning from their trip, heatedly wrote, "Why didn't you tell me?" Well...I did, and I'm telling everyone again here and now. People can only be taken advantage of if they allow themselves to be! To say there's one born every minute, vulnerable ones at that, is exactly what they're counting on beyond the one-night stand. Stella may have got her groove back in the Caribbean, but don't count on getting yours!
Sexually Transmitted Diseases, including HIV/AIDS, are prevalent in the DR, further spread by widely practiced bisexuality. During my stay, there was a young man who died in the village from it. Again, you've been forewarned!
Personal Experiences involving tourists and Sankies are regularly sagafied in a specific message board category found at DR1. Not to pass judgement, but...
Did You Really Expect me to post mugshots of the guilty? OK, past/future journals will likely be littered with evidence, but don't automatically label all you see!
CLOTHING & ACCESSORIES
It's not just a sterotype, but there's cause and reason why islanders have long been portrayed wearing their pressed/starched all-white clothing. Obviously, lighter colors are cooler and attract less bugs, but the biggest factor for white? It doesn't show sweat stains…Read More
CLOTHING & ACCESSORIES
It's not just a sterotype, but there's cause and reason why islanders have long been portrayed wearing their pressed/starched all-white clothing. Obviously, lighter colors are cooler and attract less bugs, but the biggest factor for white? It doesn't show sweat stains like most colored fabrics! No matter where you go or what you wear, plan on sweating, often until your clothes are soaked! It's inevitable, further brought on when applying any type of body lotions, creams or moisturizers.
A washcloth, bandana or some type of rag is essential to keep stuck in your back pocket for frequently wiping your brow; especially when crammed in a 15-passenger, un-air-conditioned publico with 19 other people!
Especially if venturing into one of the larger cities, consider wearing a comfortable pair of beach flops or sandals rather than regular shoes, which will help ward off the hordes of little shoeshine boys who are not only persistent, but often pitiful enough to prompt emptying your pockets 5 pesos at a time.
Resort tourists tired of going on vacation and having to deal with dress codes should highly consider staying in a coastal village like Bayahibe where proximity to the sea excuses any comfortable and casual mode of dress you choose to wear...also erasing the need for packing extra clothing.
In general, Dominicans have became more relaxed in expectations for dress. When entering local churches/cathedrals, "dress as you may" has replaced the reverent, restrictive codes which kept most tourists out. However, there's obviously some expectations one's just not aware of - of course, until it's too late...like when you come off the beach and prepare to go into town with your Mami...and she sends you back to the house to change the beach flops for shoes...just because it's Sunday.
Summer travelers will get an added bonus for arriving while mosquito populations are at their lowest. Yes, even on notoriously infested places like Catalina and Saona Islands. Sandflies were also all but absent, but there's plenty of other insects at their peak in places to more than make up for them.
Very aggressive wasps/avispas were everywhere on the prowl. If you get stung, apply cooking oil and sugar, or if you can reach the bite, squeeze a lime and then dab some Mama Juana on it and suck the poison out. If you can't reach the sting, ask a friend or significant other to do it for you.
Also while you're out and about, think twice before you sit down on anything that's not furniture, or casually lean up against a wall. It will be too late when you discover you've got ants in your pants! I'm also willing to bet it won't happen more than twice.
Thankfully, all that sweating, regardless of how much liquid you're drinking, will keep the need for finding a bathroom to a minimum. It's just as well, since public restrooms are often very hard to come by even when entering places of business. Don't expect to automatically find toilet paper, and ladies - finding a toilet with an actual seat is even more rare.
RECEPTIONS vs. PERCEPTIONS
I admit to being very spoiled by the warmth and hospitality of my village and too often use this as a measuring stick for anywhere else I go, whether in company of family/friends or alone.
La Romana was full of obvious travelers, and locals appeared more than eager to interact and be helpful. At one point, after paying a driver, a RD50 bill fell out of my pocket and a young man quickly rushed to pick it up and hand it back - something my friend assured me would never happen in Santo Domingo. In Higuey, I never saw tourists except in/around the Basilica, but reception of locals everywhere was still warm and somewhat curious.
Don't expect to find this in the tourist meccas of Bavaro or Boca Chica, where regardless of my local knowledge or ability to speak the language, I was perceived as just another stupid tourist with pockets full of money that somehow needed to be emptied! There was blatantly obvious price-gouging, which upcoming journals will detail so you'll know what to be aware of or avoid altogether.
Pay very close attention to prices I've listed regarding all forms of transportation, and use these as a guide, since this was one of the easiest sources of getting overcharged. Confidently hand the driver the exact change when ever possible. There was never a problem with publicos or gua-guas, but private taxis (where you should always predetermine the rate) and motoconchos were something else.
We'd hailed a couple of motoconchos in La Romana, where a ride in town should never be anything more than RD10. When we'd arrived at our destination side by side, my boy handed his driver 10 pesos, but mine looked at me and demanded 15. Before he could even intercede, I exclaimed, "Te doy diez y nada mas, coño!"/I'll give you 10 and nothing more, [common local expletive]. The driver obviously wasn't expecting that and snatched the money...Junior just shaking his head, laughing that I could fend for myself.
For the first time ever when returning from a trip, I was highly disappointed to get pictures back and find three rolls of film blank, another blank after the third frame, and others had hit-or-miss spots appearing to be from exposure. I tried reasoning different possibilities: too much heat/sun, a bad batch of film; but at this point, I'm more inclined to believe it was from airport screenings/X-rays.
Obviously, with heightened security, travelers should expect more checkpoints. Notices warn never to leave film/camera in checked baggage with new high-tech X-ray machines...not that any of us ever did or would before these advancements, or you could even lock your luggage. My film was in the black canisters, double-wrapped in paper/plastic bags, and in my carry-on backpack. Trouble was, all those new heightened security checkpoints!
I have to figure: in addition to expected routine and random screenings, I had the extra check-in after a 5-day layover in Puerto Rico. There's now U.S. Agriculture X-ray screening at Santo Domingo's airport. And after enduring rigorous screenings/X-rays for clearing immigration/customs at Miami International, you're immediately processed through again to reenter for your connecting flight...of which we got the double screw of having our gate changed to another terminal and having to complete the entire search process all over. Altogether, my film was X-rayed nine times!
These are the days when it's definitely time to invest in special film-carrying cases which block X-rays - especially if you expect so many checkpoints. I've quit trying to determine which captured experiences have been lost forever. Thankfully, I've still hundreds more to keep and share.
Written by Jose Kevo on 02 Feb, 2006
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…Read More
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.Close