We left the airport in somewhat lower spirits, but we still had a few hours of daylight, so we decided to visit the botanical gardens before heading out of town. The gardens were absolutely beautiful, though we were not in the ideal condition to be walking around. Fortunately, the gardens were designed for a bus tour that leaves from the entrance, so we were spared the onerous task of walking to fulfill our enjoyment of nature. The gardens are designed to illustrate the biodiversity of the Dominican Republic, and is therefore divided into several different regions, with the various trees and plants native to that region represented in each. Unfortunately, I can’t give you much more specificity than that, as the entire tour was in Spanish, and I could only understand such words as “tree”, “bird”, and “biodiversity” (biodiversidad, in case you were wondering how I picked up on that one), which were sprinkled liberally throughout. The tour ended with a walk-through the Japanese garden, where the artistry of the organization and design was as beautiful as the plantlife and made an impression upon even our exhausted minds.
We departed soon thereafter for the long drive back to Luperon. As you may have noticed from, well, any of our posts, it generally takes us significantly longer than we would prefer to get places. Up until this point, that had only applied to trips on the boat, but we were about to apply that tendency to other forms of travel too. Our drive from Santo Domingo to Santiago was relatively uneventful, if you consider facing death a few times a minute “uneventful”, but after Santiago we ran into trouble. I was driving again, as John had driven the day before, and because I wasn’t particularly familiar with the area, I kept an eye out for signs. Unfortunately, as I may have already mentioned in a previous post, the Dominicans seem to drive by using the force, so signs are sparse, if they exist at all.
You can probably tell where this is going. After a solid hour or two, we began to see signs for towns that were nowhere near Luperon and had to pull over and ask for directions. It was around dinner time, so there were plenty of people around, though the language barrier turned out to be an interesting hurdle. Both John and Ellen can speak Spanish quite well, and the people we spoke to were trying very hard to be helpful. They seemed, however, (from my own very limited understanding of the language) to be answering questions that we had not asked, and arguing between one another as to the best route to send us. Eventually we all managed to make ourselves understood(though their shouted directions to me went entirely over my head), and we soon found ourselves on a much smaller mountain road, employing some by-the-seat-of-your-pants navigation with a map that, in addition to being wholly outdated, was large-scale and therefore didn’t show most of the back-roads that we needed to get back to Luperon.
To add an extra layer of enjoyment, we were also almost out of gas, since we had adjusted our last fill-up to account for a direct drive to Luperon. We therefore kept our eyes peeled for gas stations(unsurprisingly rare in rural Dominican Republic), and wound our way cautiously through a mountain pass that was certainly never intended as a major artery between highways. We had to stop and ask for directions at every major intersection, as the directions we got from each helpful passer-by only applied to the following 10-15 mile stretch before we reached another T-intersection. Furthermore, as the night wore on, stopping to ask people for directions became less and less appealing. It is one thing to stop and ask a family sitting at dinner where to go. It is quite another to pull over and ask directions of four burly and obviously drunk men, playing cards at a table. John helpfully pointed out, during one of the dark mountain passages that many parts of the rural Dominican Republic are quite as violent as Haiti, a country generally considered by just about everyone to be the nation-state equivalent of Battle Royale. That consoling trivia fact aside, we never appeared to be in any real danger, and in fact, the late hour and remote location of the road allowed us to avoid adding a slew of reckless drivers to our other concerns. Nevertheless, we were immensely relieved to see the familiar lights of Luperon and return the car to Tony with an earnest desire to never drive again.