Two Saturdays ago we packed our bags and “Dominican Republic Adventure Map” (gracias Kris Silva) and headed off on our first road trip. And an aventura it was. Six of us piled into a small SUV: Ryan, Virginia and me, along with our friends Kris, Alex and Lebron. It was by no means a comfortable ride, as most Dominicans tend to be well-endowed on their backside and our friends are no different. Despite a few complaints from the backseat, off we went for Miches, a small fishing pueblo in the northeastern part of the country. The carretera getting there was a mess, dirt roads filled with enormous potholes; however the drive itself was breathtaking. We drove through miles of sugar cane fields, curvy mountain roads and small villages. For the most part it felt like we were the only ones on the road, but thankfully we had Alex who was our elected guía for the trip. I’m not entirely sure he knew where we were going but more so the general direction. We slowed down every once in a while to ask random men, who Alex generically called “Juan”, how far we were until the next town. We often stopped to take in a view of the green mountainous landscape or seize a photo-op with a random roadside donkey.
The pueblos we drove through provided a harsh reminder of the reality of poverty here. We live on the good side of town in La Romana and spend most of our time in the middle of the city; neither of which represent the living conditions of most Dominicans. Most of our kids at the Hogar come in from the barrios on the outskirts of the city, but because we don’t see their living conditions often it’s easy to forget what they go home to everyday. However, driving by homes composed of metal sheets and dirt floors with no running water, reminded me of the importance of our work here. Not only is education imperative in order for our kids to escape poverty, but without the Hogar they may not have their basic needs met. Although this is incredibly difficult to think about, I think that sometimes we all need these “wake-up calls” so that we truly appreciate how blessed we are. It certainly made me think twice about how lucky I was to go away on a trip.
We finally arrived in Miches and found our hotel, “Coco Loco”, which consisted of a restaurant and cabanas right on the beach. Nothing fancy, but it was perfect. We then ventured into town for some food to find that it was essentially a ghost town. Not the tourist season I guess. We pulled over to a man grilling on the sidewalk by his house and asked how much it would cost for some chicken. We brought chairs out onto the sidewalk and chowed down on communal plates of pollo, arroz, yuca and plátanos. Sitting on the street in plastic chairs, drinking and listening to loud music is the epitome of being Dominican.
Upon driving back to the hotel, we noticed many cars and mottos heading farther down the beach and immediately wanted in. We asked someone if we could go past the tide pool, she said yes and we were off; cruising down la playa in our 2-wheel drive SUV, windows down, blaring music, feeling invincible. There were mentions of, “I hope we don’t get stuck”, but the euphoric feeling of bombing down an empty beach set our worries aside. Sure enough we were a ways down the beach when the soft sand got the best of us. Our front tires were buried. Once the boys realized that simple efforts weren’t going to suffice, shirts started coming off and a search for something to put under the tires ensued. There was aggressive digging and pushing to no avail. I tried continuously to offer my suggestions, explaining that this has happened to me many times before. And for about an hour no one wanted to listen to the gringa; obviously women don’t know anything about cars. So I let them be and watched as they insisted on putting rocks under the tires. Finally, they decided to give my method a try. I had found some large parts of a palm tree; so we (Okay, they with my direction.) dug out the tires a little more, put the branches underneath, turned the wheels and pushed. It literally worked on the first try. I couldn’t help by laugh, dance around and tell them, “¡Tienen que escuchar a las mujeres!,” “You have to listen to the women!”. And the Cape Codder pulls through!
That night we headed into town to get dinner. Again this consisted of driving around, and the next thing I knew we were asking some random woman how much her pizza cost. I was a bit confused as we got out and proceeded to sit on her front porch, as she prepared pizza for us in her oven. Nonetheless, I set off in search of some Presidente. Upon returning, Lebron apologized to the woman because we didn’t even ask if she was Christian and here we were drinking on her porch. Whoops… In pure Dominican fashion, we sat there for a few hours chatting and learning all about her life. We even went inside her home to see pictures of her children. At one point, Alex and Lebron were reclined in deep conversation with her, when Virginia looked at me and said, “Woah, woah. Why are we getting comfortable here?” I laughed out loud because I had been thinking the same thing. We had finished eating, so it was time to move on to the next thing, right? But no, in Dominican time we were in no rush to get anywhere.
After hitting up “Lincoln Heights”, the only discoteca in town, we called it a night and awoke the next morning to spend a few more hours in Miches before heading home. The beach was filled with horses and I was dying to ride one, but didn’t think I would actually be able to without paying a tour company. Sure enough, a kind muchacho on horseback came along, like a knight in shining armor, except he was shirtless and wearing jorts. He offered me to go on a vuelta, or a ride, so I hopped on eagerly assuming he was to follow. To my surprise, he had every intention of me riding his horse solo. With stirrups that were way too long, I held on tightly and tried to remember what I had learned when I took horseback riding one summer. Unfortunately, this agricultural horse was not as well-trained as any horse I had ever ridden. Needless to say I didn’t take this caballo very far, out of fear she would take off along with me.
Later on, Alex told us all to follow him, clearly with a plan in mind. He told me we were going to get agua de coco, or coconut water. We started walking down the beach and then he stopped a man carrying a machete and asked him to chop down some cocos for us. We followed the man behind palm trees until he found the right one. He then proceeded to take his boots off, throw his machete into his back pocket and scale the tree like a monkey. I’ve never seen anything like it and I was cringing the whole time. The tree was very high and here he was at the top swinging a machete around. Thankfully, he made it down safely and then cut off the tops of the cocos so that we could drink the agua de coco. This was no Vitamin Water people, this stuff was legit.
We headed home on what were supposed to be better roads. In my opinion they were worse, but this route had many gorgeous views of the coast so it didn’t really matter. I experienced another reality shock when we stopped at a lone house on the side of the road. Three kids were outside playing Dominoes on a slab of wood which they balanced on their knees. We stopped and asked if I could use their bathroom, and then Kris led me out back to a wooden hut. I stepped inside and immediately reopened the curtain, confused. I looked at an elevated plank of wood with a hole cut out in the middle. Where was the toilet paper? How do I sit on this? Kris laughed and instructed me, “¡Sube!”, “Get up!”. I became even more confused, “¿Aquí?”. She laughed and told me yes, stand up on the plank, you have to learn how to be Dominicana. So I did, and Monday morning upon getting in the shower I’ve never been more appreciative of my running water. I am so grateful for spontaneous adventures and having the opportunity to truly experience the culture here. Whether it’s spending hours on a stranger’s front porch or learning how to use an outhouse, I am taking it all in and loving the unfamiliarity.