The Dominican Republic has three kinds of roads: paved and smooth, once paved but now potholed and, the third, thinkin’ ‘bout pavement. The first roads, double-lane and as nice or better than our highways back in the States, are toll roads, distanced every 50 kilometers or so, with three to five little manned (or womanned) booths with the motorized arms that block further access until the toll is paid. We kept the smaller DOP (Dominican Pesos) bills and change in the console of the car for the frequent stops and the fare averaged about one-hundred pesos ($2 USD) depending on the direction. Signs marking turnoffs and destinations were usually posted right at the turn to the desired road which resulted in the person with the best far-sighted vision playing spotter so that the driver could prepare his racing reflexes to make the correct turn. Many times, however, we saw the sign too late, sailed by the turn and would have to double back…
Our drive from our temporary home base in Punta Cana followed the shoreline west towards Santo Domingo and proceeded smoothly on the toll road. We turned onto the second kind of road, “the once paved but now potholed” per our directions and headed more or less northwest towards the toll road to the “Amber Coast,” so named because of the huge amber deposits found in the north coast area. The road lured us along unaware until … our teeth slammed together, our heads hit the roof of the car and our behinds thumped back into our seats. There were occasional grinding scrapes with the bottom of the car dragging as we crept from shallow hole to patched hole to gaping hole to speed bumps. And this was still a well-traveled secondary road in the DR!
However, there’s something to be said about leaving the toll highway and slowing down along the bad stretches of secondary road. We drove through small dusty villages seemingly out in the middle of nowhere scattered between farms and fields. Many appeared fairly “prosperous” by rural standards, cement homes alongside the road with people sitting on the front porches, flowering bushes and neatly tended dirt yards.
Further back off the road, houses were scattered between the trees with freshly washed laundry drying on fences or lines with surprisingly little litter to be seen. But other places were scarcely more than shanty towns with shacks of rusting walls and roofs of corrugated metal. We drove through groupings of sad and desperate hovels where the garbage, plastic bottles and trash had been mounded high alongside the dwellings that lined the road. We could not avoid seeing the scenes of bleak poverty and decay; people here and there sitting under whatever shade could protect them from the glaring relentless sun overhead.
We referred to this bumpy, rutted roadway as the “Cement Factory Road” for the one industry we saw upon that route and we made a decision to avoid it on our return trip. Eventually we hooked up with the major interior toll road of the DR and drove through countryside rich and lush, beautiful and picturesque: the properties of the wealthy. Living fences of small trees interspersed with wire or intricate walls of carefully piled stones mined from the rocky fields enclosed herds of grazing cows and great horned bulls, horses with foals, goats and kids and the occasional pig.
We passed farms of papaya, sugarcane, rice fields and plowed land with mounds of rocks scattered and dug out and cleared for future crops. Rolling hills, palm trees, beautifully shaped, canopied trees and trees topped with huge orange flowers were silhouetted against the blue sky, all contributing to the beauty of the setting.
Near the city of Nagua on the northern coast the road opened up to the brilliant and varying shades of blue sea along which we drove for miles watching both gentle waves lapping the seaweed strewn wild beaches and waves crashing into rocky shores of uplifted and long dead coral formations. Back again to the “once paved but now pot holed” roads we made our way through urban Nagua slowly; small businesses perched on the road edge behind parked cars on both sides that frequently necked the traffic down to one lane at time. Streets angled out of the narrow main road with more stores and houses, scooters wove their way through the inevitable traffic jams and, everywhere, drivers laid on their horns. It was your typical traffic bedlam.
We spent three days exploring the tourist attractions in the popular beach towns of Sosua and Cabarete and then embarked upon our homeward journey to Punta Cana. The map promised us a road that we hadn’t driven on the western side of Sosua which looked to be a feeder road to the major toll roads. Our selection may have been the correct route, but it turned out to be the third kind of road, the “thinkin’ ‘bout paving” variety. We jounced and bounced past small family farms and homes where people sat in the shade visiting with each other and (probably) commenting on the occasional idiot tourists with their cars scraping along the graveled, potholed, washboarded road. After about a mile of this abuse and surrounded by a cloud of dust we stopped for directions. Our elected guide was a grinning fellow, shirtless and washing his car with lackadaisical energy, swigging beer from a long neck bottle. He pointed down the rutted road and said about an hour more that way would take us to the toll road headed south, explaining that the road was bumpy and slow but that it was better to continue on and saying like a drunken mantra, “Never go back.” We mulled these dubious directions over and, after some discussion, decided to turn back anyway and take the known road. And as we passed him, our guide’s look was confused as he gestured again down the road and shouted,”But it’s that way. Never go back!”
By Anita and Richard