Another Dominican Story

Jan

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Hope this isn't too long and boring but I got a request for it! Oops! Too long..I'll see if I can seperate it into two posts!

Dominican Drivers 10 de Febrero de 2002
02/10/2002
As I walk to work everyday I can't tell you how many times my life passes before my eyes. Crossing the street is very challenging in the Dominican Republic. The Dominican driver is one of the most amazing beings on this earth. They have a way of driving that makes every moment behind the wheel a life-threatening event. If you can drive in Dominican Republic you can drive anywhere in the world!
I'll start with the "pare"(stop) and speed limit signs. I think they are just there for decoration or maybe something to give some painter a job, because drivers sure don't pay attention to these signs. These dare devils are listening to music (mainly bachata and merengue usually very loud), talking on their cellular (which is illegal), drinking a beer (Presidente muy frio), and enjoying their lives for the most part. Accelerating to get to the next stop before the next guy, weaving in and out of traffic. Its not just a few people that do it - everyone does! Then after midnight you don't have to stop at the red lights. It's the law! But you are responsible if there is a crash on your account. Go figure!
I haven't been able to figure out exactly what the real function of the turn signal is. I'm thinking that the turn signal and the high beams are just used for decoration..."Oh, Look at the pretty lights!" Most people seem to drive with the high beams on and noone thinks anything of it. Y have never heard any complaints about it. I really think they do not know they have a lower beam so as to be courteous to the on coming driver. Turn signals are used but never trust them. Just because the right turn signal is on doesn't necessarily mean the driver is turning right. They could be making a left turn or going straight...they like to surprise you! Many of the vehicles don't even have turn signals or back lights. I saw a truck, it was wired together with coat hangers. Even the tail light covers were wired on and he had a heavy wire he put on the door to hold it closed. y really don't know what was holding that truck together. I wonder if the lights even functioned!
There are certain beeps that these drivers use to let others know what their intentions are. Whether they are going through an intersection without stopping or they want you to move out of the way, there is a beep for every action. There are short,multipal and long beeps all with a meaning of their own and depending on the situation. It?s like a Morse code. I know the Dominicans like to use their hands when they talk and I think the horn is just an extension of this. Since noone can see their hand-speak they use horn-speak. I know that before I ever attempt to drive here I will have to master this beeping technique or I will never make it driving in this country.
I know people here don't know what "the right of way" means. Everyone has the right and there is no way I have seen yet! Everyone goes at the same time, gives a beep of course, and I guess its just luck that keeps them living. At a place where cars cross the middle of the highway, I was always taught to keep to the left, but not here. Everyone just goes and when they are all wedged in they just keep going! Noone gives in and backs up. They just keep inching ahead. Like one of the cars in front, facing them, are going to magically disappear. I saw this with my own eyes, and in the center of the whole mess was a policeman standing. Waving his arms, not doing any good. I'm sure if he had a horn he would have been blowing it. But without a horn all he could do was wave his arms. I didn't stay around to see the outcome but have always wondered how this situation was remedied.
One morning as Sniffy and I were walking to a Colmado,a woman was driving backwards down the street. Cars were coming up on her fast! People just went around her, not bothering to give her some space so she could backup to where she was going safely. I was in a publico with a friend leaving a Colmado. About four blocks away my friend realized he wanted a beer. So instead of turning the car around the driver just backed down the road! I couldn't believe it..a main road and he was just backing up like it was really the proper thing to do!
A two-lane road is never really a two-lane road. It?s how many ever lanes of traffic can fit. I think they think it?s a challenge to see how many cars can fit into one lane. The right side is usually filled with parked and stopped cars. People getting in and out of taxis and publicos. People pulling up to someone?s home and calling out to see if the person they are looking for is there. Can't forget the motorcycles making their own lanes. Working their way in and out of the cars. Many of the cars don?t even have break lights to warn someone they are stopping.
Now I have to talk about public transportation. A person can hail a taxi on every major street in the city. They are everywhere! Most of the taxis are good to average looking cars. You have the car to yourself. Then there?s the publicos. These cars have anywhere from one to eight or ten people in them, however many they can squeeze in, including the packages from the store that someone just purchased. These drivers stick their hands out the window and point in the direction they are going. They usually stay on the same road driving back and forth all day. But sometimes they throw you and make an unexpected turn. The person on the street gives a signal, hand down to their side, sort of waving in the direction they want to go. If both driver and fares hand signals match then he stops and you hop in. Climb in is more like it though. You usually have to squeeze in with many others and then when someone wants out everyone has to get out to set them free. I never saw anything like it. The condition of the cars is amazing, can't believe they are permitted on the streets. Front windshields taped up, broken windows. I saw a spray painted orange publico, no taillights or bumpers. No back window. well ok, there was a few remnants of plastic and duct tape! People loaded in. The doors closed. The car just sat there until some passer by came to the rescue and gave the bugger a push. Then it was on its way with its payload of people! There are the busses that drive like they own the road. Vans...I don't know what they are called...with the side door always open. A guy hangs out the door. He talks to the people, I guess finding out where they are going...who knows what he?s saying. I haven't braved those yet. But after some people get in its off down the street with the guy still hanging out the door! There are pickup trucks where people ride in the back. A friend and I were driving behind one once. It was filled with kids jumping and wrestling. Sitting on the sides of the truck. I kept picturing one of them falling off the side of the truck. I didn't want to see this and suggested that we take a different route, which he did gladly. I have seen men riding on piles of junk and #50 sacks of rice, piled high. They are sitting on top of this heap sipping on a little plastic pack of water, enjoying the bachata from the passing cars. Singing along happily. While the driver is sipping on a cold Presidente(the local beer)!
 

Jan

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Part 2........

The motorbikes, that?s a whole other story. They do whatever they desire. I always wondered why they were always in the front of the traffic at red lights. Well let me tell you! They just drive between the stopped cars and get in the front! They don't have to behave like cars. They do as they please. Ride on the sidewalks and weave in and out of traffic. There is a law that?s starting to be enforced. Helmets must be worn and they are not happy about this at all. But you still see many without helmets. There are three, four and sometimes more, riders and other living creatures on these motorbikes. Chickens hanging off the handlebars by their feet (still alive of course "they are fresher that way silly!"). Peoples whose butts look like they are going to slide off the back, babies in arms, groceries, propane tanks, large pieces of wood....anything that can be carried usually is.
Here is something I never saw before..horse carts in the streets. Not the pretty ones that couples use to feel romantic, even though they are here also. But a cart with a horse that looks like it could drop over any minute, pulling a cart loaded down with fruit and other items. Riding in the street like they are a car. Other fruit vendors are riding funny looking bicycles with a cart built on the front or back. With some skinny man peddling. It is amazing to me that they can even move the cart. I could never do it! There are ice-cream vendors peddling or pushing a cart ringing a little tinkly bell. An umbrella to protect their little heads from the sun ( I'm sure it is to get attention also). Early in the morning you can hear these vendors starting their rounds. Yelling out what wares they have available in their carts and ringing their bells. I always know when it?s around 3 o'clock. I hear the little tinkle of the ice cream mans bell!
The road hazards only add to the driving experience. Not only do you have to watch for other crazy drivers but beware of all the other things happening around you. Stray dogs with their teats dragging on the ground. Sometimes it?s not just one dog but a pack of dogs going out "sniffing". People crossing the roads where they so desire. Giant holes and ruts that could eat your car alive. Missing manhole covers. Construction everywhere. Some with barriers and others without. You could be driving along happily and all of a sudden there is no road...just holes and dirt and gravel. Garbage and things that can tare your tires to shreds. People mixing a drink or drinking a Presidente listening to bachata music at unbelievable decibel levels. People selling all sorts of little trinkets and nuts on many of the street corners. And lets not forget the beggars. Adults of every description and ailment, down to small children with their hands out knocking on your window. You could also be sitting at a light and get a wet, dirty sponge thrown at your windshield and have your windshield washed. Even if you don't have a windshield!
One thing I have never seen here is road rage. With all these crazy drivers and all the hazards in the streets. Not saying that it is not here, I just haven't seen it. America has great roads, cautious and courteous drivers, give the right of way, use turn signals and low beams ( mind you this is speaking in general terms), and yet there are so many angry drivers. I have never seen road rage here, even when there is an accident. Jeez! In America if someone beeps at red light or didn't turn down their high beams most drivers would be very upset. You would probably be given "the finger"(I have seen many men and women do this little gesture many times in America). They may do alot of gesturing in this country ,but I can say I have ever seen this gesture used during driving. Here people just seem to talk. They may be angry, and most people here carry guns. But they do not be dragging people out of their cars and beating them up.
I was talking to a Dominican woman, lived in USA for four years. She told me when she returned to her own country it was almost a year before she had the nerve to get behind the wheel. I hope someday I have the guts to drive here, and that I can handle the stress. I look at some of the driver?s faces when they pass me as I am walking. They have a look of terror on their faces, eyes bugging out, white knuckles, as they work their way into the middle of an intersection. I'm going to be one of these white knuckled drivers someday. Dents on my 4 wheel drive Jeep. Big metal guards on all sides to protect me from the crazy way of driving here in the Dominican Republic.
But hey! I still love this country
Jan
 

bobnoxious

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Jan 2, 2002
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Yea!!!

Finally, a post with substance, style, and thought. A welcome breath of fresh air and a far cry from the typical, egotistical, machismo ravings of this board. Thank you, Jan!!!!
 

MaineGirl

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Jun 23, 2002
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I really enjoyed this post, too, Jan! :)

We took a minivan from Sosua to Puerto Plata last Saturday, we counted 22 people, 2 surfboards, and 2 boogie boards. I sat on my husband's lap and tried not to have a panic attack as we were stuffed in the back! We started out near the front but the boy hanging out the side kept motioning us farther and farther into the sardine tin. Finally when we got to Harrison's about 6 people had to disembark so we could untangle ourselves....

Our hosts evidently have a lot of confidence in my husband. They bought a used car in Santo DOmingo. We all went and enjoyed the Zona Colonial for the day. Then on the way back to POP they handed the keys to their van to my husband. "Oh, just drive it on home," they said. "We'll go slow." They were driving the newly purchased car. Yeah right! We lost them afetr Santiago. I was so proud of my husband for driving home without stressing out. Later my hosts said, "Ah, he's deaf. We figured he could do it without getting too freaked out." He did drive with remarkable focus....

It is a challenge for us norteamericanos to accept the system here of driving, crossing, traffic lights, etc. It IS an adventure. Hang on!!

Again, great post, Jan!!!
 

Diana

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Jan 1, 2002
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Gua Gua's...

Jan that was a great post, I have seen and have been in many similiar situations. I think the mini vans with the man screaming out the door are the gua gua's (sp?).....when I went from SD to Boca Chica, it took me 1 1/2 hrs b/c that guy had to stop everyone to ask if they were going to "La Romana" or "Boca Chica"! And of course there are no 'bus' stops to acutally know if they are waiting for a gua gua, people just jump on! I must say, I love the DR but can't stand their public transportation system!! Oh I was also taught on some hand signals for stopping the carro publicos or the buses, you can either signal with you index finger pointing down or 2 fingers up and they mean different things, dependent on how far you have to go!
 

m65swede

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Excellent Post!

Memories of my driving experiences during our April trip to the DR have been revived by your post. I logged more than 1,200 Km in my rented Nissan Sentra. Had a barrel of laughs.

I do believe I'll rent a bigger vehicle next time! :)

Swede
 

AZB

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Jan 2, 2002
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I have only read part of jan's driving complaint post.
I honestly see no danger in driving in DR. Most women (and we know how women drive) and men (who drive like women) find driving in DR a life threatening experience.
Funny, I never thought it was so dangerous to drive here.
Do what I do and you will have no problems at all: Just don't think like gringo and drive like dominicans...you will be all fine.
 

mkohn

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Jan, your observations in the form of a story are very accurate. As a writer, you seem to be able to see the things we take for granted and write about them creatively. For those of us who can't be in the DR every day, your writing paints a picture for us to enjoy. Keep up the good work!
 

trina

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Thanks Jan, you brought me back some memories of the "good life" again. You brought tears of laughter to me. I even had to translate it to my husband (espa?ol version available???) and send it to a Dominican friend of mine. They also killed themselves laughing.
 

Sunny44

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Thanks for a great post! Brought back a LOT of memories for me. I learned how to drive in the Dominican (scary thought!) and was afraid to drive in the "real" world where there were actually rules one had to follow!!!!!
Now, when I go back down there I just fall comfortably right back into Dominican driving! I LOVE it!
Sunny
 

arturo

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it's all true, and my favorite habit is...

what I call "the wave." Drivers stick an arm out the window and relax the wrist so the hand flaps like a leaf in the breeze. In many countries, this gesture signifies a greeting, a beckon, or a request for assistance. In the Dominican Republic, it generally means "watch out, I am about to make one of the most dangerous and ill-advised maneuvers you are likely to ever see during your lifetime!"
 

PanamaRick

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Hello Ms. Jan,

I found your post about Dominican drivers entertainingly accurate. I wasn't sure if you were laughing AT Dominican drivers or laughing WITH them until you included that part about American drivers. Yes, from an American point of view they seem to be moronic idiots in a whirlwind of chaos! And yes they are, they just don't know any better. Dominican drivers are like you imply, just doing the best they can to get where they need to go. Dominicans are like a land of children growing up on an isolated island w/ no books or adult supervison to direct them to the "norms" of civilized behavior. They just don't know any better and once you get used to it and past a "white knuckle" trip or two you can chuckle with them and not at them.

When I first moved to the DR the local gas station attendant would alway cheat me or try to cheat me out of my change or the amount of gas I was getting.... you probably know that scam. It really angered me for awhile, son of a bitch, always trying to cheat me outta 5 or 10 pesos! and at my regular local station in a small town at that! Bastard, scumbag, lowlife! Well, not really. I finally realized he was just tryin to do the best he could with no rule book to go by, only making $70-80 RD a day an extra $5-10 RD here and there adds up. So instead of guarding the pump like a US marine and counting my change like a CPA I began to let small amounts slip by once in awhile, not always, just every now and then. It's just the Dominican way, doin the best he can, probably braggin to his father when he scammed a few extra pesos now and then, no shame. I think we came to an unspoken agreement, most of the time I would pay for exactly what I got and once in awhile he would get over on a little extra and we both just grinned while I knew that he knew that I knew that he knew.

Yea, the DR is not like the USA, it's like a somekind of theme park that Walt Disney never could have imagined and an "E" ticket ride is any highway in the countrty!
 

Cleef

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Feb 24, 2002
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Sony Play Station "Santo Domingo Commute"

I can't help but think I'm in a video game while driving in Santo Domingo.

My joystick is an actual steering wheel, and the game even has AC -which is a must have- and a pretty good stereo. I actually have to put high priced (and watered down) gasoline in it.

I head down my street and the game begins. Watch out, they're unloading plantanos and bananas in the middle of the street, I'd better get up on the sidewalk where it's safe.

I drive around the Botanico, and of course there's always a couple random cars/trucks coming the wrong way at me, "ha, una via only for you gringo" they chant.

I swerve to avoid a horse draw "carriage" (a better description would be a platform of wood balancing on the axle of a 76 Ford Pinto) with two different sized tires - and no blinkers...... like they'd get used anyway?. Oh, and we're on 27th de Febrero now - a major highway.

A highway/taxi stand really. The entire right lane is at a standstill due to the 17 taxi's (is it "agua's") trying to pick up 3 people. The left lane is at a snails pace - I mean a mule's pace - a mule towing a Ford Pinto.

Weeeeeeeeeee, let's get on Churchill. Funny thing is that they have painted these white dashes all the way up the street (they look just like lane markers) so that everyone can center their hood ornament right on them.

To score points you have to stay as close to the bumper in front of you without actually hitting it (whether it's at 3kph or 93 kph). If you so much as leave a foot of space you could have as many as 6 cars diving into your lane and that's -100 points each. If you get beeped at from behind that's an additional -100 points.

Another scoring mechanism is the ability to jump lanes continously to avoid potholes that are reminiscent of downtown Beirut. But be careful, every motoconcho you hit is -100 points. If you hit a coconut/naranja stand on wheels the games over and you have to purchase all the coconuts and squeeze all the oranges.

When you come upon a major intersection without operational traffic lights (oh, let's say 50% of them for arguements sake) you get 500 points for getting across in less than 4 minutes (during rush hour) - which incredibly seems to be from 8am - 8 pm. A 100 points for "off - hours" (no pun intended, kind of).

Upon arriving at your destination - usually late - subtract 75 points for each white knuckle. If you're still shaking after 15 minutes you have to start at level 1 again.

If I had anything left in my 401k I'd look into buying a helicopter.
 

Hillbilly

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Jan 1, 2002
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Dear Cleef

Your follow-up post to Jan's Dominican Story was a very good exercise in retraint, mixed with subtle humor, and the crushing reality of the Dominican Driving Scene.

You are hereby awarded the Star of Excellence.

A collegue of mine has suggested that the entire DR is perhaps situated in the Twilight Zone, and we gringos are just waking up to the fact...all too slowly...

Until ......tomorrow?

HB, surrealist for today
 

harold

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Mar 23, 2002
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Funny post cleef! I love the part about alining your hood ornament to the lines on the road! GREAT!!
 

Cleef

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Feb 24, 2002
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A marvel? A miracle?

I told a friend of mine (a local) about the video game approach and in between tears of humor he mentioned something in (local)spanish I can't quite remember.

Something about this country being a marvel? Or of a miracle?

Does anyone know that saying in spanish?

Along the lines of it being a miracle that things get done as well as they do? .... in consideration of the antics that go on concerning the highways and bi-ways?

I'll try and get the saying, but it was memorable.

One thing's for damn sure, this isn't Vermont.
 

Cleef

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Feb 24, 2002
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maravilla

That's it. Thanks.

I wish I could remember important spanish words like that as opposed to the meaningless ones like "una via" or "pare" or "despacio".

Thanks Harold