Visiting Dominican Republic

My husband and I recently visited Dominican Republic for 5 days, and it was an experience – good and bad – I won’t soon forget.

The flight from Guadeloupe was decent: 2 hours 15 minutes for a bit more than $300. The options for getting from the airport to the resort were much more daunting: our hotel recommended a taxi for $125 – for a 1 hour 20 minute taxi ride! This was clearly insane, so I did a bunch of research. The best option was the government-run bus system, but the times didn’t work out with our flights. We both speak Spanish, so the informal gua gua bus system sounded like it could be interesting, but by all accounts it’s unreliable and and slow; I got the impression it would take 3-4 hours. Finally, I looked into renting a car: we didn’t need one for getting around the resort, but I found a 4-day rental for $74. Even adding gas and tolls on top, that came out to a far more reasonable $50 or so each way, so I booked it.

When we got to the car rental place, the guy tried extremely hard to upsell us: $10 extra a day for an SUV, and something like $150 for full insurance coverage! We argued for ages but he was impossible and in the end we just left. We debated whether to rent from another company, but instead decided to brave the gua gua as we had plenty of time and didn’t feel like spending any more of it at the airport. So we headed outside and asked a guy sitting on a curb which way to go to catch a bus. He pointed and offered to take us for $5. He was incredulous when we declined, and repeatedly yelled ¡solamente 5 dolares! after us until we were out of earshot. A bit farther along, we asked two airport employees standing by the side of the road for more detailed directions. Just as we thanked them and started walking away, their shuttle pulled up and they invited us on board. When our routes diverged a few minutes later, they dropped us off and we continued on foot.

Dominican RepublicShortly after that, we came across a group of young men on motorcycles. This is another option for getting around that I hadn’t seriously considered it because by all accounts they’re pretty crazy drivers. They too tried to get $5 from us to take us to the bus stop but we kept walking for another 100 meters or so, when a taxi pulled over in front of us and offered to take us to San Pedro for 1,000 pesos ($20). We had no pesos and only $7 (plus a bunch of euros and pounds, as emergency back up) and also had no idea how far San Pedro was so we said no thanks. He kept chatting with us for a couple of minutes as we insisted we could walk to the bus stop, then eventually he laughingly offered to take us for the $7 and drop us off at the gua gua stop in San Pedro. Hoping that was more than just 5 minutes away, we climbed in.

The driver was 60 or so with a long, shockingly white beard. We chatted about Dominican Republic, travel, and family for about half an hour. When we got to San Pedro, he pointed out the "tourism police station" and the president’s walled-off estate before stopping at a hotel where he called over the concierge and wordlessly handed him two hundred pesos ($4). The concierge turned to us and laughed, saying something like "how about that?" to which my husband responded "wow, that’s a good friend, just handing over money." We drove on and a few minutes later, the driver dropped us off in front of a row of tiny shops and smilingly accepted our $7.

Tons of people milled about the shops and brightly painted bus, looking at us curiously. We asked the driver if we could pay in euros and he agreed, saying we’d be leaving in 10 minutes. We sat on the bus for a bit before asking how much it would cost – he blinked for a moment and said 4 euros, which was absurd (it costs 50 pesos, about $1) but we agreed since we didn’t exactly have any leverage or even the preferred currency. We waited at least 20 minutes, surrounded by locals and trying unsuccessfuly to connect to the internet. Yes, incredibly, on this rickety bus in a dusty town, there was a wifi code prominently displayed above the windshield, but apparently students like to hack in and change the password, so it didn’t work.

The bus was slower than we would have liked, as it stopped constantly, but much faster than we’d feared – we were on it for about an hour. The driver dropped us in La Romana and pointed toward a taxi driver, who wanted 10 euros to take us to the resort, 10 minutes away. We talked him down to 8 and he drove us to the security gate, where he reluctanctly handed over his ID in order to get inside. We pulled up in front of the reception area and the concierge’s look of distaste upon seeing the dilapidated car gave us our first idea of what we’d let ourselves in for. But we’d made it in less than 3 hours since touching down at the airport and for less than $20 – and been able to talk to some real Dominicans to boot.

To be continued …

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