Dominican Republic March 2104
Aventura en la Republica DominicanaMarch 17 - April 2, 2014
The plan:Get to La Republica Dominicana, stay two nights in Cabarete, rent a little motorcycle, explore the island and take it day by day, all the while ignoring the naysayers and trying to deal with locals as much as possible.
Day 1 - Monday March 17th, 2014
Victoria, BC, Canada to Seattle, WA, USA
|Leaving Victoria's Inner Harbour|
The benefits of being a middle aged female ...the young, mohawk toting lad in front of me had his suitcase searched and I was basically just waved through after the customs agent, with a hint of jealousy, wished me a lot of fun in the Dominican Republic.
On to the Dungeness Bus from Port Angeles to Seattle. Tony the driver and I immediately hit it off and we chatted all the way, all 4 hours ...much to the chagrin of the passive aggressively sighing passenger behind me. Tony is an avid cycle tourer as well as a motorcyclist ...just like me.
We were approaching Seattle and traffic came to a halt. A black lab was running around playing in traffic. No one wanted to run over the little doggie. The black lab approached the first stopped car, lifted his leg and relieved himself against the front left tire. I can just imaging the driver considering changing his mind about the "running over the dog issue". Tony and I just couldn't contain our laughter.
I was all checked in with Delta and happily made it through security when I noticed that things were a bit foggy looking ...OH YES! I wasn't wearing my glasses. Then I realized I had left them on the bus. Luckily the bus was coming back later for the return trip to Port Angeles and I managed to retrieve my glasses. I wasn't looking forward to dodging chickens, dogs, goats, motoconchos and Caribe Tours buses without my glasses.
I'm now happily sitting at some "Africa Lounge" at Seatac, drinking $10 margaritas and killing time til my red eye to JFK. The fellow at the table next to me is now talking to himself, complete with animated hand gestures. This could be a very interesting night.
Day 2 - Tuesday March 18th, 2014
Seattle, WA, USA to Cabarete, Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic
I shooed someone from my window seat and was looking forward to at least a little sleep on the plane. I found a position which only hurt a little bit and tried to get some shuteye. Then the fellow beside me started tossing and turning, constantly bumping me in the process. All I can hope is that my snoring was enough payback :-)
So here I am on the flight from JFK to Santiago, DR. I'm one of about 3 gringas surrounded by a sea of Dominicans ...perfect! The environment has definitely changed. Gone is the Canadian/US reserved way of being. it's been replaced by excited chatter in rapid fire Spanish and I'm already in the Dominican Republic without even having left US soil.
|JFK Tough Bikers|
I was hoping to see Lady Liberty coming into New York, but no such luck. Maybe on the way back. The two stiff margaritas, lack of sleep and multiple sleep aids are rearing their ugly heads right now. The plane is bucking like a bronco with serious jock itch. I've identified the barf back in front of me, just in case.
|On the Way to Cabarete|
road and never got my blood pressure up beyond its' normal high level.
|Caberete Surf Camp Cabanas|
I'm now sitting at the Cabarerete Surf Camp "Hostel", having a massive Presidente ...the local beer. It's amazingly relaxing and tears are welling up in my eyes realizing how stressed I really had been so far.
|Cabarete Surf Camp Estuary|
I finally scored myself a ride. Josef at Easy-Rider Cabarete let me try out a couple of bikes by just handing me the keys for a spin. No deposit, nothing. I suppose that's another benefit of being a middle aged female, or maybe he knows that a tourist probably won't get very far on a stolen bike on an island. I hadn't ridden a bike without a helmet since the US southwest in 2010. It was liberating, exhilarating, annoying and scary all at the same time.
So here's how it went. I took out an Indian made Apacbe RTR road bike and loved it. When I parked I realized I was too close to the bike to my left. No matter how much experience I have, it never ceases to amaze me how I ignore my own advice and how often I do stupid things. Instead of repositioning the bike I decided to dismount to the right. A short sizzle against my bare leg made me realize that I sometimes leave my judgement at home. But, a little second degree burn didn't stop me from taking out a DR50, which I also loved. Not being able to make up my mind I went for a walk and a cuba libre by the beach to weigh the pros and cons. That's when I realized that the off road machine is the way to go.
My right leg still stinging from the burn, I informed Josef of my decision and he asked me to come back in 45 minutes. This was perfect since I needed to go to a pharmacy for my burn anyway. The Pharmacy was closed but I remembered seeing an urgent care centre earlier in the day. After all, why the heck would I spend money on travel insurance and then not use it? besides, this is the tropics and infections do happen.
As soon as I told the clinic staff that I burnt my leg they all smiled and chuckled and asked "moto?". They cheerfully informed me that this was called a Dominican tattoo. I couldn't help but laugh. The clinic was clean and modern and the young Senora Doctora took good care of me and sent me on my way with a bag full of medications, bandages, salves and instructions. My request for a Barcelo pain killer was denied. But she did pump me full of antibiotics.
Back to Easy Rider Cabarete to pick up the bike. I was ready to put up an argument for not leaving my passport or first born behind as collateral. Josef just wanted a photocopy of my passport, which I carry around anyway, and he had no interest in the laminated colour copy of my driver's licence. Then I counted out a stack of Pesos to pay for the rental and that was it ...aside from telling me at least three times how to make a proper left turn in the DR. Better safe than sorry.
As if that wasn't funny enough. I took the bike for a spin, with my own helmet from home this time, and it sputtered to a stop just east of Cabarete. I was cursing Josef for not telling me that the tank was empty. Well, he probably did and I wasn't paying attention. A nice shopkeeper pointed me to a nearby gas station and I pushed the bike for a fillup. The attendant and a few other moto riders had a good chuckle while explaining that the bike has a reserve and all I had to do was switch it over. It made me laugh since I actually should know this. But habit is a strange creature, one which only remembered how my own bike functions.
Off I roared to the east and the bike once more sputtered to a complete stop. After a few attempts I managed to start her up again, with a cloud of white smoke. I was now quite concerned that I may be stuck somewhere on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere if this bike turns out to be unreliable. I made it back to Cabarete and explained my predicament to Josef and his assistant Pedro. They seemed partly amused and partly annoyed and concerned. How was I to know that I wasn't supposed to keep the thing at full throttle all the way?? :-) This is the beauty of life, never a day goes by where I don't learn something new.
222km's as per Google Maps. Neither the speedometer nor the odometer work and I just know to keep her at about 5000rpm for best results.
Finally! Finally! I get to hit the road ...not literally I hope :-)
Thanks to a quick visit with busy Frank at Jose O'Shea's (I fully appreciate that the young chickies across from me were much more enticing than this middle aged lesbian :-) ...along with some advice from Josef Peuker at Easy Rider Cabarete I was merrily on my way to the east.
Once I actually got rolling the heat wasn't entirely unbearable under my full face helmet and decidedly non-tropical riding jacket. Oh well, I may not have much inside my head but I'd like to keep it anyway. So helmet it is all the way ...well, most of the way anyway ...well, we'll see how it all plays out along the way.
|Overlooking the Bahia De Samama|
|Anatomically Correct Statue at The Porque No B&B, Las Galeras|
I had been warned about the king of the asphalt jungle, which apparently roams these narrow strips connecting town after town in this here country. Finally my keen eye on the rear-view mirror (the bike actually has two of them for some inexplicable reason) caught a glimpse of a yellow flash behind me. There it was in all its' magnificence. Noble and big and not to be messed with. It blew past me in a wake of turbulence and proceeded to violently negotiate the narrow streets of the village ahead. Thankfully all the other road species knew their place and we all survived by deferring to the alpha beast. Noxious black farts emanated from its' anus as it shooed everything out of the way. My understanding is that inside the belly of this beast lives a symbiotic organism called turistus autobus. Every now and then these organisms are expelled at predetermined spots to be replaced with fresh ones for the voyage ahead.
|Las Galeras Beach at Sunset|
I was feeling dehydrated and decided to stop at a Colmado (the local equivalent of the corner store) at the turnoff from Sanchez to Las Terrenas. Immediately upon stopping and getting off the bike an old man sitting out front started cursing me. I basically made out "va al diablo" (go to hell), something about turismo and pobresa (poverty) along with the local two fingered salute telling me to go forth and multiply. The girls in the shop seemed quite embarrassed and the two absolutely darling young boys out front couldn't help but just grin. I politely informed the gentleman, via sign language, that as a Canadian I have a much more efficient way of communicating things of a sexual nature, using only one finger :-)
|Las Galeras Beach|
The road across the hills to Las Terrenas is simply stupendous. The views are to die for and curves all just blend one into another. Much of the time I remained in first gear since the little DT 125 wasn't running too well ...or maybe that's all she's got.
|Las Galeras Beach|
I didn't care for Las Terrenas. It struck me as just another Cabarete, no offence to any Cabaretans or Terrenans ...It's just not my scene. So I decided to carry on to Las Galeras. DO NOT believe distance markers along the road. A sign said Samana 23 and about 20 seconds later another said 14. Needless to say, my bum hurts in a major way and I'm now in Las Galeras which I absolutely love so far. Parrot fish with plantains and rice on the beach and about an hour of photography during the "golden hour" of sunset and I'm back in my room for some relaxation.
|At Las Galeras Beach|
Day 5 - Friday March 21st, 2014
Las Galeras Day
I slept like a log ..or a dog, I can't remember too much. Only the fan and the crickets to keep me company throughout the night. I woke up early full of get up and go and realized it was only about 6:00am. After breakfast my get and go got up and went and I went back to bed til about 10. Finally catching up on precious sleep which has been escaping me back home.
|Fresh Water Lagoon At Playa Rincon|
Playa del Rincon comes highly recommended and for good reason. I was expecting a rough slog along unmarked dirt roads pockmarked with rim swallowing potholes. Now they tell me that there's a brand new paved road almost all the way to the beach. This is small motorcycle heaven. The road winds through tropical landscapes dotted with little houses, banana plantations and local folks going about their business. Horses run and whinny in the fields and it all feels pretty laid back, just laid back enough to cause one to let down one's guard enough to hit an unexpected crater in the road ...didn't happen to me, thankfully.
Playa Del Rincon lives up to its' reputation. Simply stunning!! Once at the end of the road you can go left down a sandy track to the more laid back end with the local flair, complete with a typical restaurant and a freshwater swimming hole where locals and tourists frolic in the cold water. Albatrosses soar overhead and fishermen strain against their nets while their boat tosses around in the gentle waves. A nice area for genus turistus independentus.
|Playa Rincon, West Side|
To the right is an even sandier track going even further down to the opposite end of the beach. The beach is lined with lounge chairs occupied by what struck me as more of the package and tour oriented genus of tourist. Large safari type truck/buses crawl down the track to this particular end. Throngs of Turistus Autobus sticking their heads out the sides and calling out hola! as I respectfully stopped off the track to let the snarling beast go by.
|Playa Rincon, West Side|
Two tourists on dirt bikes in front of me almost went down in the sand, so they stopped to let me by. I showed them my motorcycle prowess by wildly spinning out in front of them. I managed to stay upright with a shred of my dignity intact. I jokingly congratulated them on making it once at the end of the road and was met with nothing but scowls. Maybe they didn't speak English and were wondering what the heck I was doing attempting to be friendly in anything but Italian? ...no se.
|Playa Rincon Fishermen|
Time for a nap on the beach somewhere between the two ends where I could have some peace and quiet ...ah!! beach paradise. I almost drifted off to the sound of the waves, while "la poderosa" kept me company. That's what I'm now calling the bike ...rather ironically. Aside from one lady selling me some pan de coco just as I was about to leave, everyone just left me alone ...it doesn't get more perfect than that. Playa del Rincon has something for everyone as far as I'm concerned.
|Playa Rincon, West Side|
Of course, since I'm here I'd be remiss not visiting La Playita. Loud thumping music emanated from the restaurant and a gaggle of sad looking non-locals milled about, most with cancer sticks in their mouths. None of them had a single glimmer of friendliness about them, but the broadly smiling and laughing locals more than made up for it. Well, alright! there was one old gringo who looked quite happy while some local rent-a-girl, about the age of his granddaughter, hung on to him.
Then I spotted a young girl in tight shorts with her belt dangling openly, the top button of her pants undone and the zipper partly pulled down. I'm now wondering if that's the local way of saying "For Rent"? "Discount rates for seniors"?
The water is resplendent and turquoise and looks quite inviting. Alas, I'm still avoiding the water because of the burn, but it won't be long.
I grabbed a table and a beer and decided to do some people watching, an activity which often enthralls me for hours. Within about 10 minutes a young Haitian fellow had sat down across from me after I made the mistake of answering in the affirmative when he asked me if I spoke French. He proceeded to tell me how much he liked my colour ...my arms are beet red from riding in the sun and probably emitting a foul odour at the same time. He also made sure I realized that the local Dominicans were all jealous of him, sitting with someone like me. I was torn between just letting him play out his gig, or telling him about how men just don't do it for me. I opted for the first one, finished my beer and went back to bed for an afternoon siesta.
|Playa Rincon, East Side|
I heard back from Josef in Cabarete and he assures me that one overweight chica and her massively over packed luggage will indeed cause the little bike to be a bit on the slow side when climbing the hills. After all, I am accustomed to a bit of a larger beast back home. So far, "la poderosa" is holding up, in spite of lots of scary noises and moans and groans.
Some very sage advice to all. Never, ever watch a very sad and gripping movie before bedtime. I was tired and decidedly cranky today and decided to make it a dinner and movie night by myself. I went to La Aventura De John for a rather delicious Mexican pizza and a mediocre glass of Cabernet Sauvignon ....chilled, no less. The pizza was great and the service was complete with an indifferent scowl ...no tip for YOU! The expats milling about were happily getting tipsy while sucking on one cancer stick after another. I must by now be the only non Dominican not addicted to that vile weed. Even the American couple who sat down beside me lit one sickarette after another. I suppose my life as a a Canadian has shielded me to the point of forgetting that the rest of the world iis still seriously addicted to this drug. Wake up folks! get addicted to travel instead! ...or maybe competitive Scrabble.
Back to my room and I remembered that I had a copy of "The Impossible" on my laptop. What an incredibly gripping and tear jerking movie. Yes, it is amazingly dramatized and probably bears little resemblance to what's important to the 10's of thousands of Thais who lost their lives and/or loved ones in 2004. But nonetheless a good movie with one of my favourite cool actors, U-An Mac Gregga! I'd probably run off with him for another one of is round the world motorcycle adventures.
There's a really nice feel of community in Las Galeras and Monique and Pierre of Porque No B&B didn't hesitate one second to call Karin at La Hacienda, up the hill, so I could make arrangements to stay with her and do some horseback riding to the viewpoint in the morning.
Day 6 - Saturday March 22nd, 2014
More Las Galeras Adventures.
I packed my massive bag and felt downright embarrassed by how much crap I was carrying. Someone even asked me if I was carrying camping gear ...I'm not.
|Karin Getting the Horses Ready|
I had an appointment with Karin at La Hacienda for 10am up in the hills. This is my chance to finally get to ride a horse ...first time ever. My heart was pounding and my breathing was heavy and laboured, even though all I was doing was standing there watching Karin get the horses ready and giving me a crash course on horsology and how not to get kicked in the face. I didn't realize I'd feel so intimidated by these beasts.
|At Playa Madama|
Then I finally got to drive ...er ride the horse. We slowly bounced along a road, then a trail to a point above Madama Beach, were Karin tied up the horses for us to be able to continue on foot. Madama Beach is tiny, its' beauty does not lend itself to words. There were a few local youngster frolicking in the water and the breeze made it one of the more perfect experiences so far.
After chatting with the locals and allowing my heart rate and breathing to become closer to normal, we headed to the viewpoint looking back towards the beach. Sharp cratered, foot swallowing limestone supported our feet as we precariously stood way above the water for yet another million dollar view.
To the bat cave Robin! Of course no guided tour in an area composed of carst would be complete without a visit to a cave. Karin is very knowledgeable about the local animals and plants ...or very good at making things up. I choose to believe in option one. She showed me dangly bats, limestone formations in the shape of squids, T-Rex, and a few others. Then there were the spiders living in darkness, complete with exceedingly long feelers to navigate in the dark.
There are no cars, no motos and almost no tourists. Of course, no sooner said than a whole boatload of about 6 of them showed up with kids and strollers. I confided in Karin that it was getting too busy for me. She agreed and we headed off back to the horses. I've known for a while that I'm in deplorable shape but it was really driven home today when I was huffing and puffing and feeling dizzy from the walking around and the ascent back to the horses.
We had now smartened up a bit and decided to compensate for my lack of horse mounting skills, and a repeat performance of my earlier comedy routine. Karin "parked" Colon beside a little rise on the ground and I swung up into the saddle like a seasoned pro. Poor Colon was creaking under my weight and I could have sworn his legs buckled a few times. Anyway, I've decided that I like horseback riding, it's relaxing once I got over my anxiety. I've also decided that a very large part of me simply has to go away ...especially the area around my waist. I'll keep the bum padding, thank you very much.
|No Vampires Here|
With every single trip I do, I always pack way to much junk. I counted 9 pairs of socks, way too many shirts, and why the heck did I bring along a back country water filter? Karin is taking a bag of stuff off me to give to those in need in the area. Now I can actually properly close my bag and I can lay off the two Sherpas I hired to carry my extra gear.
|Hermit Crab Inside the Cave|
Rain showers hit this afternoon and I rode down the nasty "road" into town for some dinner, while waiting out the heavier downpours under whatever tree canopy I could find. I ended up having Chivo. It was quite tasty, but way too salty for me. Also, the little chunks of bone I kept encountering in my mouth made for a rather gingerly eating experience. It was now dark and I had to do what everyone tells me not to do. Even I tell myself not to do it. I drove back up the rim crunching road in the dark. Much to my delight I discovered that the bike actually has a working headlight, complete with a high beam.
|Hiding in the blinds|
Tomorrow I'll try to leave early and make it to Jarabacoa to pop in to See Robert Cooper of Motocaribe tours. I look forward to meeting him and get to know everything about the area. Unfortunately he tells me he injured himself ...not bike related and we won't be riding together after all ...bummer.
Another quiet night of listening to the crickets. It's peaceful up here in the hills.
Day 7 - Sunday March 23rd, 2014
Las Galeras to Jarabacoa
214km's if one believes Google Maps.
I once more slept like a log on ativan. Maybe the lack of alcohol during the day had something to do with it ...hmm. I had ambitious plans for the day. Leave early for the long unknown trek to Jarabacoa. After all, the dirt bikes don't really have seats for sitting since their riders spend so much time on the pegs. So lots of rest would be required. I roared off at the crack of 10am and la poderosa happily whinnied as we zoomed down the road at a breakneck speed of about 60km/h.
Back the way I came for now. The route into Samana is lovely with tropical trees, flowers and houses dotting it all the way. Then there she was ...Samana! A full fledged tourist city with two kings of the ocean anchored a little offshore. These beasts contain yet another symbiotic collection of beings in their bowels, turistus marinus. Turistus marinus serves the purpose of being released at choice feeding grounds where their nature compels the to collect items which are brought back to the king vessel. The scientists haven't quite figured this out yet but some feel that turistus marinus will talk about the acquisitions, causing more intoxicating liquids to be consumed, liquids which eventually get routed to the beasts propulsion system via a highly evolved system of bowls and ductways.
It was Sunday and everyone and their three legged dog was out and about. One thing I must say about driving in the Dominican Republic, it's a dance, almost a beautiful ballet ...Swan Lake maybe ...or was that Swang into the lake trying to avoid a Caribe Tours bus? While it seems chaotic, well OK it is chaotic, there is quite a rhythm to it. I have yet to see any deliberately mean and aggressive act, everyone just seesaws around each other and it's mesmerizing at times. It takes a few days to get used to but I'm now basically back in Mexico and Central America, even though it's much, much more relaxed here. For anyone driving here, leave your North American or European sensitivities at home and go with the flow of the locals.
On the way past Sanchez I quickly looked up the hill towards the Colmado where I had my earlier political discussion with one of the town elders. I was disappointed that I didn't see him since I wanted to give him a friendly wave to thank for his earlier warm welcome.
Yes, lots of rest. That's important on long hot rides on uncomfortable seats ...ahem! Village after village, colmado, after colmado, comedor after comedor and car wash after car wash went by. I stubbornly gripped la poderosa's horns and just kept her going without stopping until about halfway to Jarabacoa.
Shortly after the Catay Airport I turned onto the new Autopista to Santo Domingo. Oh well, maybe I'll end up in Santo Domingo I thought, if there's no exit. I had come in via the coast and wanted to go inland this time. A short while later and this pretty good highway, I saw a sign to Arenoso. Perfect, that's where my Canadian made map told me to go for some roads less travelled. Once again the roads were mostly in pretty good shape. A few abandoned sugar mills ...or some kind of silo type thingy dotted the pancake flat lush and green agricultural area.
On to Las Teranas where I now had to stop for some food lest I collapse. A super colmado lined with dozens of liquor bottles behind a bar was blaring ear splitting music. I stopped and shouted at the tops of my lungs at the man who worked there, trying to get some water and food. He sold me some water then got his young friend to drive him and his moto to the town centre to a little comedor. The offering of the day was rice and pork. I ordered one with a coke and before I new it the two men also had full plates in front of them. It was passable food and I asked how much. My new friend called out to the kitchen and asked how much for 3 meals and 2 cokes. I had an inner smirk and resigned myself to the idea that I was paying for all the meals. I pulled out my wallet and my new friend almost seemed offended and said "yo pago". Then they led me back out to the highway, showed me the way to La Vega and reminded me to always shoulder check before moving. I felt somewhat embarrassed for my thoughts.
On through Castillo and Pimentel. Just because there's a red line on a map doesn't mean there's any real serviceable road there. From there I followed the road through Caobete and Las Guaranas. Obviously this road was once paved. There was enough pavement left to mangle rims, buck inexperienced riders out of their saddles and, cause some strange rumblings in my stomach ...oh wait, that could have been my lunch choice.
A bunch of motoconcho drivers started arguing amongst themselves when I asked for directions. I opted for the one who said "it's the easiest way". Even the most hard core arguer against grudgingly admitted that it was easier. So, south I went to Angelina and then west to Fantino and Jima Abajo, shortly after which I joined to Autopista Duarte to La Vega.
I still have plenty of fuel and was anxious to get to Jarabacoa. Poor little poderosa was huffing and puffing up the hill. The landscape slowly started changing and the air became noticeably cooler. The hill was massively steep and la poderosa again sputter to a halt just as the hill began to flatten out. I could see the distorted hot air rising from her engine and let her rest a bit, feeding her oats and saying soothing words before she decided to rebel completely and buck me.
We came to a peaceful arrangement and up we climbed. This is definitely tourist country. Many hotels, restaurants and attractions line the way up.
Robert was waiting at the gate for me along with three exceptionally friendly dogs. So friendly that one massive brute, who seems to think he's still puppy, said hello by jumping on me and almost gashing the skin on my left leg. The Jack Russel was very concerned about my burn wound and kept attempting to disinfect it with snout juice.
Robert and Alida are great folks and made pizza and salad for dinner. Conversation turned to world affairs, cultural issues and economics. I was offered another night at their place so I can do a day ride without all my crap. Lot's of great advice on local routes and the Southwest area.
There was talk of Robert going out riding with me tomorrow on his bikes. But since he's injured himself he can't ride right now. He spontaneously mused if maybe he should just loan me one of his bikes to take out tomorrow. I think we both decided that it probably wouldn't be an ideal situation.
Day 8 - Monday March 24th, 2014
All my crap is sitting in my room at Robert and Alida's and I'm making it a day trip. Thankfully my laptop is still working to continue these reports. We were happily having dinner and chatting when the skies opened up. Alida noticed my laptop sitting out by the pool. Great place to leave it! Robert sprang into action and pulled out cans of compressed air to dry it off, right after I yanked out the battery to prevent any possible short circuits. I don't know what the dielectric constant of water is, probably less than copper or aluminium but it conducts quite nicely anyway.
|Alto Cerro Campground|
Robert had a doubtful look on his face when he looked over my bike. I assure you, the same kind of look stays on my face most of the day as I ride. But he did have a look of approval on his face when she started up with only one kick. Robert is such a great guy. He loaned me his Gopro for the day and even rigged it onto la poderosa for the trip while I longingly drooled over his V-Stroms parked outside.
|Along The Road to San Jose De Ocoa|
After Alida fed me some breakfast I clattered off and hung a left for Constanza. In an earlier post I had mentioned the road to Playa Rincon being small motorcycle heaven. I take it back. THIS is motorcycle heaven ...for all sizes. The air cools rapidly as the little bike huffs and puffs up the twisty, gnarly hills on one of the most beautifully paved roads I've been on so far. One barely leans into a turn and another one awaits immediately in the other direction.
|Along The Road To San Jose De Ocoa|
Soon the air was filled with the scent of onions and I suffered a flashback to the hills of Guatemala, where I rode through verdant fields during harvest season. No turistus allinclusivus would recognize this as a tropical island. It might as well be parts of British Columbia or the Western USA. Jagged mountains rise to incredible heights, several in excess of 10,000 feet. The road twists and winds and could be the envy of any "first world" country.
|Along The Road To San Jose De Ocoa|
I was too late for breakfast and too early for lunch upon arriving in Constanza. So off for some exploration. Since I'm here I might as well get a feel for what the local folk think of the two mysterious "roads" which go from here to San Jose De Ocoa, via Valle Nuevo and another one to El Guyabal. When I asked Robert about the San Jose De Ocoa track he seemed to vacillate between "I wouldn't do it" and "...hmmm, it would be interesting to know what it's like, maybe if you left early in case you had to turn back". I can tell I'm talking to a true biker.
|Along The Road To San Jose De Ocoa|
|Along the Road To San Jose De Ocoa|
The dirt road then climbs almost non-stop and I could feel the air cooling once more, which is more than I could say for poor little La Poderosa. Stunning mountains rise almost straight up and fields of strawberries, cabbage, onions, etc cling to the slopes. The air is once more filled with the scent of onions. If they could only fry them right in the field I'd be in seventh heaven.
|Soldier Negotiating With Farmer For Some Strawberries For The Colonel|
This reminded me so much of the interior of British Columbia. Even the bumpy dirt/gravel road was like many a backroad I had travelled in BC. I pulled over into some shade, lost in my own little world, when I realized that there was a farmer sitting right below me. Further down the field farm workers where slowly doing whatever farm workers do. I managed a reasonably good chat with the farmer and he assured me that the road does to through to San Jose De Ocoa; yes, it does get worse; yes,it's doable on my machine ..as he waves his hand at it; and yes, there camionetas which come through here in case I have problems. "They'll put the moto in the back and bring you back out he assured me". "Here people help each other" he tells me ..."not like in the cities where they won't even give you a bottle of water" he goes on.
I went on to explore another nearby dirt road which climbed and climbed until my low oil light came on. Time to head back down for lunch.
|Between Jarabacoa and Constanza|
In another twist of the Scrabblebiker Comedy Show, I had only taken my "mugger wallet" and left everything else in Jarabacoa. This wallet only contains a small amount of cash, a laminated colour copy of my driver's licence and a few expired or cancelled credit cards. 200 pesos in fuel to make sure I would make it back to Jarabacoa and I was left with about 900 pesos. Then I remembered that 900 pesos gets you a meal for two, a basic room with hot water and an optional chica thrown in if you're so inclined. So lunch at Alto Cerro it is ...no optional chicas for me, thank you very much. A small Presidente and a nice meaty lasagna served by a very sweet and friendly young woman. My first truly friendly restaurant service so far ...woohoo!
The valley opens up into a lush agricultural area with the town of Constanza at the end. I sat for hours taking it all in and enjoying the quietness which comes from being the only lunch guest at the restaurant.
Now it's La Poderosa's time to shine and show me what she's got. I opened her right up ...well, as much as one can open up a 125cc moto with knobby tires, and banked into one corner after another. I "blasted" past truckers, cars and little motos only to have them overtake me again on the uphill parts. I know I'm in a Zen motorcycle space when it feels like I'm standing still, but the road and landscape is moving. Like in a video game. I think only a biker can understand the concept. Anyway, I got close to that feeling. A small raindrop, a few lager ones, and within seconds the skies opened up. Little snickering demons hovered above me with fire hoses and drenched me within seconds. La Poderosa sputtered to a complete stop. Soon another little moto also limped in behind me. He managed to get his going, I did not. I "skated" with my feet on the ground until I saw a "taller" (workshop). He worked away, fixed the spark plug cable and a few other things. Then the verdict came. I think I made out something about a bad head gasket and water getting into the cylinder. Come to think of it she did quit on me the other day after riding through a puddle. 130 pesos later I was back on the road still soaking wet and enjoying the hot shower at Robert and Alida's. Tonight he made us sloppy joes. Haven't had those in years!
Day 9 - Tueday March 25th, 2014
Jarabacoa to Las Salinas
What a day! Finally a few Dominican moments. I said my goodbyes to Robert and Alida and sputtered into downtown Jarabacoa to get some cash, gas up and fill up the two stroke oil reservoir. I tried my bank card and Mastercard at two ATM's and they would not cooperate. Off to the Scotiabank, they're Canadian so it should all work out. No luck. After some discussions with the security guard and another attempt with yet another credit card I managed to get a cash advance. I really should get into the habit of letting my credit union and credit card companies know when I'm heading out of the country. I don't know yet, but they've probably been blocked due to suspicious activities.
|Robert and Alida|
After gasing up I got a two stroke oil refill. The fellow had basically something the size of a teaspoon and gave me five scoops. It cost 5 pesos per scoop. A kid came up offering air for my tires. I rolled up to the pump and he took care of my tires. No air pressure gauge, just a squeeze of the tire and I was done. I asked if I owed something and he said "if you want to". I absentmindely gave him 25 pesos (about 40 cents). Rolling down the road I realized that this is about what we pay for the use of an air pump back home. Maybe I made his day.
Off I clattered back towards Constanza. I could have kept turning around and doing this road all day long. The smell of strawberries was in the air, which was pleasantly devoid of any oppressive tropical heat. Once at El Rio, instead of turning right to Constanza I hung a left down towards the Autopista Duarte and Bonao. Another stunning road which rivals the one between Jarabacoa and Constanza. About halfway between El Rio and the Autopista is a nice little viewpoint, complete with gazebo and chapel. I spent about half an hour giving my bum a rest and supported a local junk food stand by buying some cheesy, puffy things.
|Coming into El Rio|
While turning out of the parking area the rear wheel spun out. Dang! must have hit some oil or gravel I thought. A few seconds later, in a straight stretch, the bike started going almost sideways while I struggled to stay in a straight line. Now I realized I had a flat rear tire. Well, this is the mountains with no villages and no otherwise omnipresent gomeros and taleres to fix what ailed me. I felt I had no choice but to limp along at 10km/h until I could find a gomero. The signs kept counting down ...Autopista Duarte 15, 14, 13, 12. At that point I barely had any control over the bike and I found a spot to pull out before I killed myself and/or the rim. Of course by now the tube was probably beyond repair.
I flagged down a few trucks, cars and motos but none had a pump or could help me. The moto rider's female passenger assured me they'd notify someone along the way. I waited for about 10 minutes, then decided to try limping further along. No sooner had I mounted the bike and two soldiers on a 150cc Honda pulled up. The moto driver had alerted them and sent the military to the rescue. They explained that they would flag down a truck to take me to the nearest taler, telling me that they had already spotted me limping down the hill earlier.
|Waiting for a Rescue|
It wasn't long before a small Daihatsu truck crawled down the hill. The soldiers stood in the middle of the road and waved the trucker over. I don't think he was given any choice in the matter. A few minutes of negotiations took place and the bike plus my luggage was loaded up and I sat in the passenger seat. The bike wasn't even tied down, one of the soldiers sat there and held on to it while the rifle toting jefe followed on the military bike.
|I wouldn't mind having this one|
On the way down the young trucker asked me in an embarrassed tone if I was aware that the soldiers had negotiated me paying him 200 pesos for the ride. I was not aware, but I certainly did expect to pay something. I was feeling somewhat down since seeing the road from the cab of a truck simply isn't the same as zooming down it on a small bike.
Down we went the wrong way onto the Autopista offramp, since the taler was located there. But the trucker did first ask permission of the soldiers before proceeding. They hoisted the bike off the truck and I gave the soldiers 100 pesos. Everyone was beaming and smiling, handshakes were exchanged and everyone wished everyone an excellent day as we all went about doing what we needed to do to get through the rest of the day. Before they left I asked the soldiers about the road from Piedra Blanca to San Jose de Ocoa. "es feo" (it's ugly) he said while looking at the ground and gently shaking his head. So back it is to Robert's suggestion of avoiding it altogether and going through San Cristobal.
|Dominicans to the Rescue|
Your valve stem ripped off, was the verdict. I reluctantly deferred to their "expertise", thinking all along the it ripped off after I lost all the air due to a puncture. They installed a new tube and charged me 350 pesos. Everyone was happy and off I went. 12km tow, "military escort", new tube and labour ...total cost 650 pesos (about $15). Back in Canada I would have been out way in excess of $100 for a similar situation, without the benefit of a "military escort" :-)
|At the Taller, aka Gomero|
Autopista Duarte was actually surprisingly pleasant, hemmed in by mountains on both sides. Every time I pulled over somewhere to ask for directions, the men milling about (I have no idea where the women hang out) will immediately ask "where to?" Lots of pointing and chatter along with the "you go girl" kind of fist in the air and I'm on my way again. At Madrigal I left the Autopista and followed a paved, but chewed up in places, quiet road towards San Cristobal.
|Exploring a Side Road|
Once again I had been going too long without a break. I decided to stop at a little colmado just before Hato Damas. I managed to get some junk food chips, local Pan criollo (or something like that) and some water. That'll have to do for 40 pesos for now. They immediately set up a chair for me, and wheeled the bike right up to me so I could watch it. The shopkeeper even removed the key from the ignition and handed it to me. I watched men and boys slam down dominos while breathing deeply and thanking the heavens above for the friendliness of Dominicans.
|Typical Colourful Lottery Stand|
Just outside of San Cristobal my rear tire started feeling funny. Before I knew it the bike was once again travelling almost sideways. "****" I muttered under my breath. Right where I had decided to pull over was a 72 year old gomero. I had a hard time understanding his campesino Spanish and he made arrangements for his granddaughther to come over to translate from English. He took out the tube and we immediately realized that it was too small for the wheel. In addition to the two punctures the seam had started separating since it would have been over inflated to make up for the small size. I cursed the previous taler and hopped on a motoconcho to find a proper tube for the old man to install.
|Typical Dominican Houses in the Mountains|
I had to keep reminding myself that I was the passenger and constantly wanted to put my feet down when we stopped. 375 pesos for the tube and 100 pesos for the old man's labour and I was on my way. There were two staples stuck in the tire. I have no idea if they were new or if the previous gomero had failed to check. Now I'm nervous with every single bump in the road, but I'll get over it. But on the bright side, now that I've had experience being a passenger on a motoconcho, I actually kinda like it. It doesn't get more authentic than this.
|The Old Gomero (Tire Repair Guy)|
I'm now running late but still would like to make it to Salinas today. San Cristobal and the surrounding area is a mess and traffic is delightfully insane. I made it through in one piece and am now resting at the Hotel Salinas and Marina. I had already decided that since it was getting late I'd just go to a nice place and not bother looking for a bargain. For the insane price of $81 I'm getting 2 king size beds, all meals, air conditioning, hot water, cable TV where I can watch "los simpsons" and a special parking spot for the bike right in the kitchen.
|Hotel Las Salinas|
Obscenely expensive yachts sit in the water and the well kept grounds include a pool and English language music TV at the bar. Oh well, not exactly a bargain but it is the halfway point of my trip and I'm giving myself a treat. I even got to do my "shower laundry". Considering that Robert and Alida graciously put me up for two nights, I'm doing quite well anyway.
|View From My Room|
What is it about all you can eat buffets? Shouldn't they be called more than you can eat? I'm now lying on my bed watching Three and a Half Men feeling like a beached whale. That's one reason I don't go swimming in the ocean very much. I get tired of all the whale watching boats and oohing and aahing tourists enthralled with finally spotting the great speckled white whale of the north. Lying on the beach can also be somewhat annoying with Greenpeace types showing up and dousing me with buckets of water while attempting to drag me into the ocean.
|At the Hotel Las Salinas|
Now I have to deal with an "emergency" message from BMO Mastercard, if I care to use my card while travelling. It's been blocked and I think so has my account at my credit union. To save money I paid cash at this expensive hotel (no receipt, nothing) and I'm going to be running low until I resolve this little financial issue born of my own stupidity. OK, I'll have to use my cellphone at about $5 per roaming minute to resolve this ...DONE!
Day 10 - Wednesday March 26th, 2014
Las Salinas to Barahona
This morning there were all kinds of English speaking worker types having breakfast. Some wore coveralls, all wore work boots. I suppose this is where they put up the folks who work with the ships coming in.
Out along the spit is a salt "mine". Apparently a large part of North America's table salt comes from here. Manual labourers were toiling in the hot weather moving piles of salt. The day was luckily somewhat hazy and I can't imagine what it would be like in the blazing sun reflecting off the white salt. They probably make pennies a day so we can have our table salt.
|Las Salinas Salt Works|
Las Salinas is home to a fantastic dune area. I was told that checkout time is "whenever you like" so I hopped on the bike to visit the dunes. After paying my 50 peso entry fee I managed to have the place by myself since the only other visitors were just leaving, a very friendly Italian couple ...one of the very few friendly tourists I've met so far. The dunes go on and on and organ pipe cacti dot the landscape while wild goats roam about. We're no longer in the moist tropical DR. This is as dry as my bank account is by now. Once by the Carribean Ocean all I could hear was the waves lapping against the sandy shore, birds chirping and the wind blowing away ...heavenly.
|Dunas Las Salinas|
Back to the air conditioned room and the included lunch. Jorje, who owns the hotel told me about the road from Palmar De Ocoa to Hatillo and assured me that it would save me at least 40 minutes instead of riding all the way back to Bani. He said it could even be done in a car, and I was welcome to stop in at his other hotel in Palmar De Ocoa and get some complementary water since I had already paid the rather steep all inclusive price. "Just get them to call me" he said. I opted instead for the route from Villa Fundacion to Carreras. The road was mostly bumpily paved with a few sections under construction and a few gravelly sections. But it's only 10km's anyway.
|Dunas Las Salinas|
La Poderosa is becoming harder and harder to start with the kickstart. Rolling down the hill and popping the clutch still works. I'm now overcome with a certain sense of dread which almost paralyzes me. I'm even briefly debating giving up and returning to Cabarete. A little devil and angel on each shoulder whisper in my ears. I abruptly brush the angel away and pet the devil who lets out an evil laugh and hiss ...hand me that banjo! I'm now in the habit of leaving the bike running when stopping for water or a quick photo op.
|Dunas Las Salinas|
From Carreras to Barahona is basically one huge construction zone. A lot of new pavement has gone in and they've bisected some pretty massive hills to cut down on the grades. In spite of the construction the going is actuallly quite easy. Much of the construction is done and it looks like they're putting in the finishing touches. I'm mostly keeping up with the traffic at what I'm guessing is about 80km/h. But it gets a bit dicey when faster traffic wants to get by and I try to hug the bumpy and potholed sshoulder at those speeds. Having been a biker for 30 years, and a professional bus driver for 7 years, I've learned to watch for lines of backed up traffic coming the other way. Without fail, someone will zip out and try to pass right into my path. Both here and at home. By now I've got my finger on the high beam switch and not afraid to use it. Cars and trucks pull back into their rightful spots in total shock and disbelief. Sorry buddy! but I'm not pulling over into the gravel at 80km/h. I know you're used to little motos being regularly passed by snails on vacation and not fast moving "poderosas".
|Prickly Pear Cactus|
The landscape has undergone a complete transformation. It's hot and dry and massively windy in places. Poor little Poderosa is buffeted around and struggling to maintain her dignity or a straight line. The landscape is basically parched soil, scrubby thorny growth and cacti. If you've been to Baja California, Mexico, it's very similar. A moto rider passed me and made a motion as if something was falling off the bike. I stopped, leaving the bike running, and checked things out. Nothing wrong! I guess they're not used to seeing gringas on overloaded bikes booting it down the highway. I made it to Barahona in about 3 hours and decided to take the first reasonable hotel south of town. Barahona itself is actually not too bad. Much less chaotic and much more pleasant than some of the other larger towns I've been through. Military checkpoints and police are now everywhere but they're leaving me alone so far.
|Dunas Las Salinas|
The French run Costa Azul at $43/night with breakfast is absolutely delightful. Peacocks roam the grounds and there's air conditioning, a pool, hot water and not too badly priced meals at the restaurant. Heck! the Presidente is even 5 pesos cheaper than what I've seen so far. Multiple flags fly out front, including my own.
Our home and native land
Back into Barahona to try and get some cash. This has been my major challenge so far. Cajero after Cajero is rejecting my advances and I'm feeling like no one loves me anymore. The first one was down, so was the second one. Several locals tried helping me at the third one. it was running but really not willing to deal with some Canadian with weird credit union ATM cards. They told me about a better option in the centre of town, in a valiant effort to take care of the growing lineup behind me. Now the bike wouldn't start at all, not even rolling dowhill and popping the clutch.
|Dunas Las Salinas|
Since arriving in the southwest I've been seeing a lot more DT 125's. Now I'm totally ****ed and I see another DT roll into the parking lot. "Permisso" I say to the young man and proceed to ask him to help me out. He, and his girlfriend immediately tell me it's a spark plug problem and that they'll fix it for me. The spark plug cable is basically garbage and the voltage was arcing to the metal frame where it made contact. You could hear it crackle as he pushed it towards the frame ...with a piece of plastic. He found some plastic bag lying on the ground and padded the cable. His girlfiend went to get some packing tape to bolster it even more. While he was at it he adjusted my clutch and idle, all the while having a concerned "geez these gringas kind of look on his face". He asked me if I understood him. I assured him that I got about half of what he said. His girlfriend, who knew to speak veeeeerrrrry slooooowwwwly to a gringa explained that I was to follow them and they'd show me the way to the other ATM. They pointed to the ATM, we shook hands, she made sure I understood that I needed to park the bike right in front of the ATM and take the key with me.
|Cacti at Dunas Las Salinas|
After the third card I finally got some cash ...thank you VISA, I love you! let's run off and get married! The rear feels a bit squirrelly and I pulled into a gas station to check the air. I have no freaking idea how much air I need in these tires and there's no such thing as an air pressure gauge, it seems. Emboldened by my previous success I accosted a middle aged gentleman who also had a DT and explained my predicament. He palpated the tire and assured me that it was perfect, being glad to have been of assistance.
|View From the Hotel Playazul|
The waves are in the background, along with some soft Bachatta music while I'm now almost by myself at the hotel's restaurant. Dominican mosquitoes are fast, bold, and stealth fighter quiet ...almost impossible to catch. Quite a departure from back home where they land on you like a pregnant moose while sounding like a pasola.
Day 11 - Thursday March 27th, 2014
Barahona to Oviedo and Back
I’ve decided to stay at Playazul for another night. Yes, it’s called Playazul, not Costa Azul. It’s 8:00am and I’m having breakfast as a small group of Dominican men is ordering breakfast beer after breakfast beer, occupying the gazebo down below. The waiter strains under the weight of the bottles and they’re getting drunker by the minute.
My anxiety rises higher and higher. I’m not sure why an anxious introvert like me likes to travel to intense countries all the time. Must be some kind of adrenaline addiction or masochism. I’m now feeling an ever increasing sense of dread. All the dire warnings about how I’d be shot, robbed, cheated, killed, etc. are actually getting to me. This is the first time in my many years of travel where I felt this way. The main difference between this trip and others is that I posted on a “general” forum beforehand, instead of just going for it, and ended up with a vast amount of negativity instead of constructive responses. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t regret posting on DR1. If I hadn’t I wouldn’t have run into all the wonderful people and I wouldn’t have built up my DR1 “support team” to cheer me on and help me along the way. And of course there were a good number of helpful posts as well. I'm not naive enough to believe that travel to third world countries, especialy on a motorcycle, is without risk. But it is affecting me disproportionately.
|Along the Coast South of Barahona|
This is entirely my own problem since I’m letting certain folks get to me. Each time I see a checkpoint or police I’m already imagining my bike confiscated and making a run for the Haitian border since my passport would have been flagged and I can’t legally leave the country. And this is coming from someone who successfully bribed a cop in Nicaragua and flat out refused to cave in to a bribe attempt in Honduras. I wish I could say this was tongue in cheek, but it isn’t.
|Along the Coast South of Barahona|
With the help of relaxation tapes and lots of positive self-talk I managed to get on my way south for a day trip. I’m now resigned to the fact that this is a “sampler” trip and I won’t get to see all the things I want to see. Highway 44 south of Barahona simply does not disappoint. The rugged Caribbean coastline goes on and on, presenting turquoise waters, cliffs and waves lapping against pebble beaches. It leaves me almost breathless. La Poderosa is behaving today and I’ve learned more about properly starting a two stroke engine with the kick start. Easy does it.
|Along the Coast South of Barahona|
The ride down to Oviedo is spectacular and mostly devoid of heavy traffic. Then there are the windmills. They look huge, they are huge, and they’re downright menacing looking. As a biker I’ve learned to loathe windmills. After all, why would one put windmills where’s there’s no wind? Tiny bikes and wind don’t mix too well and I can tell you stories about my Don Quixote type encounters with these monsters in Oaxaca and Nicaragua. Anyway, I’ll let the pictures tell the story …yes, there will eventually be some of those.
|Lots of Windmills ..and Wind!|
I stopped at the Comedor Vista De Molinos (Windmill View) along the way and had a 150 peso lunch. It was so huge I couldn’t finish it. Pickled salad, rice, lentil soup and chicken. Now I suddenly felt nauseous and my stomach felt funny. Oh No! I’ve got food poisoning from the local food, or some nasty parasite! …wait a minute, it doesn’t happen that fast …but the chicken was on the cold side I tell myself ...I’m now feeling more nauseous and my skin starts tingling. I talk myself down while realizing that I’m having a mild panic attack and the food is just fine. The place was actually quite neat, with lots of natural wood. Everyone sits outside under cover on rough hewn chairs and tables. Truckers and local folks pulled over and got meals to go. Boys, probably no older than 10 or 12 years old were popping wheelies on their pasolas. A dog walked up to the bike’s front wheel, lifted up his leg and marked his territory. The spot on the wheel is still glistening as I rode off.
|Comedor Vista De Los Molinos|
This is basically my turnaround point and tomorrow I’ll be making my way back towards Cabarete. Some more deep breathing and relaxation tapes and positive self-talk and I’m ready to face the world again. As I leave my room the waiter is returning from the Gazebo with yet another massive tray full of empty beer bottles from the same group of Dominicans from this morning. They’re now lounging by the pool and one of them is putting away his pistol. I felt pretty safe with the armed soldier and security guard looking after the place, until I saw drunk Dominican yahoo rednecks playing with pistols. After dinner I’ll stay in my room and watch yet another movie. Coming from a gun free country like Canada, it’s quite disconcerting to see and hear about the gun culture down here …and if you believe the “gun free Canada” part, may I talk to you about some oceanfront property in Oklahoma I have for sale?
I’m now missing English. Being a solo independent traveller can take its’ toll. Sure, I’m illiterate in four languages, but English is my main language (even though it’s actually my third one) and my main comfort zone. In every independent solo traveller’s journey comes one of those “down” moments where we feel isolated, lonely and longing for something familiar. As a matter of fact, I could really go for a North American Style hamburger with fries and ketchup right now. So I cosy up to Ben, an American southern Presbyterian minister. I’m so desperate that I’m willing to take the chance even though I’m an atheist, bleeding heart liberal lesbian from Canada. Ben is a hoot! And says “hell yes” it’s OK to say “hell” in his presence …all in a deep southern drawl. He confesses to being a southern American redneck and he’s perfectly awesome. We even talk a little about Buddhism, which he seems to appreciate.
|Along the Coast South of Barahona|
A bottle crashes to the ground where one of the drunk Dominicans is retrieving his tied up German Shepard. I’m ready for bed …right after some ice cream.
Day 12 - Friday March 28th, 2014