Puerto Plata and Driving in the DR

Puerto Plata wound up being less exciting than we’d hoped. There is a huge grocery store there and a few shops, but it is primarily a resort town, and we therefore found less personality there than in a place like Luperon, which was undoubtedly meaner. We spent an enjoyable few hours there, even so, exploring the various food-vending carts for more artery-clogging goodness than you can imagine, and walked into the beautiful church in town, as it appears to be the most notable site there. I also found a vendor, walking the street with a cart full of coconuts and a machete. For 25 pesos(maybe 60 cents) he will hack off the top, wait for you to drink the water, and then cut the husk into pieces for you to eat the meat. How could I resist? I made everyone wait for a few minutes while I indulged in this extravagant deal, and enjoyed the mental image of someone walking around a major city in America with a cart full of coconuts and a machete. We rounded off the day by visiting the Supermarket, and picked up a few odds and ends before getting back onto the road just as it was getting dark.

I have refrained from describing the experience of driving in the Dominican Republic thus far because I wanted to give it my full attention, but now is as good a time as any to tell you that it is absolutely horrifying. There may well be laws that govern driving in the DR, but they are taken, to paraphrase a great philosopher, as guidelines, rather than actual rules. You are hard-pressed to find a speed limit sign in the entire country, and once you do, you wonder why you bothered, as it is patently ignored by every driver whose vehicle is capable of exceeding it. Any attempt to maintain a speed that does not propel you around blind turns with enough centrifugal force to make a fighter pilot lose his lunch is met with an angry blaring of horns(the unofficial language of the DR), and the agonized scream of engines as multiple cars, buses, and motorcycles fly past you at the same time. If driving in the Bahamas can be likened to driving with extremely high people(it can be), then driving in the Dominican Republic is more akin to driving with aggressive, testosterone-infused steroid users, apparently participating in a race whose rules are limited to the simple axiom “whoever gets there first, wins”. It was not only common, but positively routine to see a car passed by a bus packed with people, simultaneously being passed by another car, and perhaps a motorcycle too for good measure, on a two lane road, going around a blind turn on a hill. If you think I’m exaggerating, I can assure you that while I may have the tendency to descend into the hyperbolic, In this instance I am describing events that we saw with disturbing frequency.

This…diverting experience was further complicated by the state of the roads, which are often treacherous. Potholes abound, and not just shallow divots that cause your car to bounce uncomfortably. We’re talking about massive craters in the earth that look like they were formed by an air raid and will tear out your undercarriage in addition to flattening your tire and blowing your suspension. The state of the cars is a further factor to take into account, as they all appear to have been repaired up to the point of being barely functional, not safe. Tony’s normal rental vehicle was taken that day, so he called a friend who had a car to rent that almost drove me to religion. The blinkers and speedometer didn’t work, for starters, which was hardly an issue, as no one uses them anyway. More troubling was the suspension, which flexed sickeningly over even small obstructions, and slammed the car’s trunk on the going over anything as substantial as a speed bump.

Now, John had driven us all the way to the falls, and Jackson had driven to Puerto Plata, so it was only fair that I drive back to Luperon(if you are wondering whether Ellen drove or why she didn’t, then you have never met Ellen). Darkness added a whole new element as all those vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians without lights suddenly became impossibly difficult to see, all the more so because our own headlights were, as far as I could tell, a few hours from going out entirely. The brights worked somewhat better, but I had to flick them off for every approaching vehicle, most of whom left theirs determinedly on, adding temporary blindness to our laundry-list of dangers. We eventually made it back to Luperon, and I almost kissed the ground in gratitude for being on my own two feet again. John and Jackson picked up some beer and we made our way shakily back to the boat, where we decided to unwind from our harrowing experience with a few beers and the tidbits that we had picked up at the supermarket, namely steak wrapped in a half pound of bacon(we’d had no idea how to order bacon by weight, and it was cheap, so 2 pounds had seemed reasonable).

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