October 2nd, 2010
Las Terrennas, Dominican Republic
I am cycling the north shore and the mountains of the Dominican Republic on a 3 week trip. This time I did not take my bicycle with me. I have had too much hassle from the airlines with extra fees, broken and missing parts, and completely stolen bicycles from airports to want to deal with it again. I decided to either buy one there, or much better yet, rent one.
I packed ALL my bicycle necessities into one large backpack. It consisted of two panniers, a rear rack, my bike tools, seat, helmet, three changes of clothes, a laptop, and my minimal personal effects. 35 pounds worth. Not bad.
But finding a bicycle in Puerta Plata was difficult. First I landed the day before a national Catholic holiday. So everything would be closed. One has to wonder how there can be any respect left for the Catholic Church here after what the original Catholics did. Just read Bartolome de las Casas accounts of the genocide that wiped out virtually every last Taino Indian within the first 30 years of the conquest. The estimates run to 250,000 or more tortured and murdered. You must ask your how could the remaining Dominicans still believe in such a murderous church. But perhaps it was just Darwinism. The only ones they did not torture and kill were the few remaining believers.
When the stores opened in Puerta Plata, all I could find were the cheapest of Chinese bikes, at prices much higher than in the US. These things would break down in the first few days of riding. But I got lucky. I saw a well-fenced garage with some exotic automobiles in good shape. As I was checking them out, I saw an excellent German touring bicycle. I chatted with the proprietor for a while. He was a very well-educated Jewish man (those words often seem to go together). I checked out the bike and it rode flawlessly. An aluminum framed German-made Framework bike. I would own this bike back home. We agreed upon a rental price. I paid the full value of the bicycle as a security deposit, and a rental of $8 @ day. This worked for me.
I took the bike back to my room and I was on the road the next morning at sunrise. I managed to pack everything I had brought with me on the airplane without difficulty. The secret is to simply pack light. I headed west from Puerta Plata. The roads were good. I really had to watch for drivers passing in the opposite direction. They would swing wide into their passing lane. I kept my front tire 6 inches from the shoulder. Some parts of the road had a 3 foot shoulder. I stayed there whenever I could. Along the route I saw lots of storm damage from previous hurricanes.
I ate in the open markets and I was surprised by how expensive the food was for average Dominicans. It was close the the same price as in the US. Now that wasnt so bad for me. But Dominicans earn about 1/6 of what US citizens do. As I calculated, the average Dominican family now spends 1/2 their income on food. This is much higher than in the past.
Want to buy some cheap Atlantic Ocean beach-front real estate? Well, the DR sure has it. It seemed like half of the real estate was for sale, and half the tourist businesses were closed. Maybe higher than that. Clearly the real estate boom had come and gone here too. But rental prices were not as cheap as they used to be. With all the bankrupcies, the supply also had dwindled.
On the first day I made it to Rio San Juan, about a 60 miles ride, and much of it along the Atlantic coast. I had a strong cross wind from the south the did not bother me. I found a beautiful room in the best hotel that was perched out on the ocean with water on three sides. In the morning I went for breakfast and when I came back, I found the maid had already cleaned the room. I reached into the pillow where I had stashed $60. It was gone! No doubt about it. I put my money and valuables in different places to diversify risk. It is what I taught in college and what I practice in life. I checked and rechecked and re-rechecked all three pillows on my bed, and there was no money. So I go to the older French lady who manages the hotel and I lose it in public, demanding my money. (I hate when this happens, but it does sometimes) I am really angry about getting robbed in a good hotel. My shouts come out in Spanish, French and English. She denies that anyone here would ever steal. Then she calls for the maid. About five minutes later the woman comes into my room. She quickly sticks her hand into the pillow on the opposite side of where I had stashed the money and immediately pulls out the $60.
Aqui senor. No robamos aqui. She walks out.
I say I am sorry in Spanish. But then I think about it. I had taken the pillow cases off all three pillows and found nothing. And she sticks her hand in and immediately pulls out the money. What I believe is that she had the money in her hand the whole time. Of course I cannot prove it, and she has ‘credible deniability’ (that old CIA term). But it was too smooth. I am the only one staying at the hotel, and they are clearly desperate for business, and money.
On day 2 I pedal past Playa Grande, a ten mile long virgin beach (except for the big golf course along it). Then I turn south into the 25 mph head wind. The wind does not ease up. This is going to be a long day. I see snakes and immense toads on the road and get to ride along perhaps 20 miles of near virgin beaches. It feels good to see untouched beaches in this age. I buy containers of fresh fruit juice and rest every hour or two along the beach, sipping juice by myself to the waves crashing in.
After about 50 miles, I reach Nagua. I am tired. Climbing hills and bucking winds took it out of me. But also I am not in shape. I have learned to be patient and let getting in shape come to me. It does, and when it comes, I feel great. The health high. But it is important for me to not strain myself too much at the beginning.
I am hungry and tired. I see a small hotel name THE NUESTRA CASA DE AMOR. I think hmmmmm, what kind of hotel is this? So I rolled in.
NEXT UP The true story of the OUR HOME OF LOVE