The Dominican Republic by Motorbike
Beyond the Beach
By Doug Elliott
If you enjoyed the movie Jurassic Park, rent a motorbike and visit the real thing—the Dominican Republic.
For a modest outlay you can sample rural and urban life in the interior of this large mountainous island, stop to view the Royal Palms that tower above lush green hills and valleys, and get more involved with a country where tourism is a word seldom used. The gorgeous beaches and rocky coves lie along a narrow coastal plain that shelves off the mountain ranges. Tourism hotels are clustered around Puerto Plata on the northeast part of the island. There's minimal foreign presence beyond that area.
The Dominicans are a gentle, friendly people; few speak English but friendliness and courtesy work. To rent a motorbike I located Juan Antonio, a "motoconcho" or delivery driver who carries goods and passengers for hire. After a short negotiation, we agree to a price equal to $15 a day, not including gas or oil. It's easy to arrange these things.
Thirty dollars got us wheels for two days. We planned on $5 per meal for the two of us and $20 for a good grade hotel. We were shocked by how cheap things are, but it's a mistake to pay whatever is asked. Dominicans haggle as a matter of mutual respect.
Diane and I leave Luperon on Saturday morning headed south towards Imbert—the first leg of our circular route. The road is paved but with no shoulders and few highway signs. Frequent potholes keep me attentive as do other hazards—donkeys, some carrying old-style metal milk cans, horses, chickens, pedestrians, a few automobiles and trucks, and a constant stream of motorbikes.
Lunch is at a local "comedor" or cafeteria serving local-style fast food. There's beef, chicken grilled or fried, spicy goat, fish, vegetables and salad. The flat price is 45 pesos ($2). After a satisfying lunch we coast down onto the central plateau, the agricultural heartland, and pass vast banana plantations, cornfields, rice paddies, and rice mills.
We head west on busy main Highway 1 that runs northwest-southeast but soon turn toward Esperanza, once again on rural roadways. We pass through unexceptional Esperanza continuing across the plains into the city of Mao, our goal for the night. Mileage today totals 92 kilometers (57 miles) and we arrive about 2:30 p.m., glad for an early stop. We room at the Hotel Agua Azul (blue water), noted for its huge swimming pool. The room rate is a little less than $20 for a spartan double.
As we walk to a popular local café-nightclub for a fresh-fish dinner, streets are lively with lots of people out on the sidewalk playing dominoes or talking with neighbors or friends. People here do not see many gringo tourists. We get a lot of stares.
We hit the road on Sunday morning and face another challenge with maps and directions in Spanish. We are lost. Two young men on a motorbike stop to help and we explain where we're going. They lead us onto the right road. It's typical of the helpful enthusiasm of the Dominicans.
Getting onto the paved route heading north, we cruise past more banana plantations and rice paddies punctuated by rice mills. We cross Highway 1 again at busy little Maizal. From here the road begins to rise, winding into the mountains.
At many homes along this stretch of road, families are gathered in open-air gazebos adjacent to their houses. The road coming down off the pass has the steepest switchbacks I've ever encountered. I keep the bike in second gear and carefully apply the rear brake first and the front brake only lightly. The 2-cycle engine whines loudly. I am glad we aren't going uphill.
At the town of La Isabella, where the coastal plain begins, we're ready for a break, so we stop to fill up with gas; $4 has brought us 170 kilometers (106 miles). At the gas station a bunch of guys are hanging around. When I get my camera out they go crazy and start to hoot and holler, so they assemble and I take a couple of photos. They are excited about seeing their photo on the screen of the digital camera.
At the north edge of town the pavement ends. Dirt roads take us to the Rio Babonico where we have to cross at a ford to get to La Isabella Bay. People scoop water into buckets lashed on horseback, wash cookware, and fish. Vehicles splash across the river and a young woman with her hair up in huge curlers rides up on her motor scooter, takes off her shoes and holds them on the handlebars as she guns the thing through the water. She makes it across. We do also.
Some beach time at La Isabella Bay is on the agenda. But first we head for a restaurant to get comida. It's the local hangout and the only business in the area. The thatched roof of the open air building stretches up three stories. People wander through, along with chickens, dogs, and toddlers chased by older sisters. By the looks of things there's a lot of domestic bliss around this town. We're stuffed after sharing a "Chillo" or sea bass and the tab for both of us is a little over $10.
La Isabella is the site where Columbus established the first town in the new world, now a national park. The postcard-perfect beach is fringed by palm trees and protected by a substantial reef that extends across a portion of the entrance to the bay. As we're covered in road dust by this time, a swim is satisfying.
Dominican families are making a day of it at the beach with all their gear and food. People sit under trees or at the edge of the water under umbrellas, avoiding the March sunshine. We're there for an hour and there's nary a swimmer. I add it to my growing list of curiosities.
We return toward Luperon along the coastal road hugging the Atlantic Ocean. Back at our boat we're as grimy as we've ever been, but we’re also surprised by how much fun we've had—the most since we started cruising on our 38-foot sloop, Salacia, more than three years ago. The total cost of the 2-day trip: about $75. We're planning our next DR road trip before we depart the harbor to sail east.