“Someone please give this girl some matches and bug spray because she is going to be sleeping on the beach tonight!” yelled the driver of the public mini bus (guagua) as he sped down the road that runs parellel with the North Coast of the Dominican Republic.
“Not if you want to give me a lift to Samana!” I yelled back over the loud music, laughing. “Where are we anyway?”
“Half hour outside of Rio San Juan. We are dropping you off up here, where there is a wonderful view of the ocean.”
Nine rides and three hours into the annual volunteer organized Bola Race, we were a little under half way to our destination. It appeared that we were the only people in this packed van that thought we would make it to the beach town that lay on the peninsula before dark. My team had left Santiago that morning with the goal of traveling across the country to Las Terrenas, Samana without paying for a single ride. So far we had been successful, but who knew what lay ahead, we had not chosen the most direct route.
As I watched the white cap waves that the north coast is famous for crash silently with the fine sandy beach, I took a deep breath of the salty air and smiled. Hitchhiking, I thought to myself. I am hitchhiking across the Dominican Republic. This is something I never thought I would be doing. My mind wondered to earlier in the day. I thought about the former major league baseball player who dropped us off on the highway that leads to the north coast. His face plastered with worry as he tried to offer to pay for our bus fare to Samana. You will never make it, he told us, please, take the money, you don’t understand how far you are trying to go. We smiled sympathetically as we refused his offer and took his phone number instead. Don’t worry, we will make it, we assured him, we will call you when we do, and let you know that we are ok. We will make it. We promise you. That was our third bola (free ride) of the day.
Then there was the gas truck driver who chugged up the steep highway to Puerto Plata like he was the little engine that could. Honking his horn and telling us how white people love it when trucks honk their horns. He was not concerned about whether or not we would make it to our destination, just glad to have company on the hour-long drive out of Santiago. I am not even sure if he believed our cover story, that we were medical students on a learning exchange, and were left behind by our team, who also took all our belongings with them, including our passports, money and cell phones. He wished us luck as he dropped us on the side of the highway and chugged up the driveway to the gas station.
Puerto Plata was difficult to get out of, no one seemed to be leaving. But after a short ride in a fruit truck and another in a public taxi with a Dominican priest, we got out and were on our way to Caberete. Caberete, being a wealthy tourist town was nearly impossible. I flagged down the same guagua twice, trying to get a free ride, with no luck. Even had a bola that took us 50 feet before breaking down. Finally a father and his son gave us a ride 2 km outside of Caberete and I flagged down a guagua. It was the same one that had denied me a ride twice already.
“Get in ruiba (blondie)” ordered the corbrador (money collector), “We can take you a little of the ways, but you will never make it that far, you know.”
As the three of us climbed in to the packed bus, we began to recount our cover story everyone. Their eyes filled with fear for us. You are going where? Ah mi madre, you will not get there.
The driver slowed down, the van was now empty except for the three of us and two other volunteers we picked up along the way. Everyone got out and stood on a steep cliff over looking a rocky beach. The peaceful moment didn’t last long, as I was determined to push forward. I ran after another passing guagua and flagged it down.
“Give these people a ride, they are trying to get to Samana. But if you have bug spray and matches, that might be better!” yelled our new friend as he climbed back into his van.
The three of us climbed in and were on our way to Rio San Juan, leaving the other two volunteers behind. We had a long ways to go yet, but were hopeful; we had yet waited for more then 15 minutes for a ride and it was only a little after noon.
As the day went on, the sun became more caribe and the towns became more campo. Hunger and doubt became to creep in and we shared some fried chicken and plantains in the back of a pick up truck. Watching the waves crash gently against the sand the whole way. Finally we arrived to the peninsula. The only thing standing between us and our destination was a giant mountain, that would take about 30 minutes to cross in a car. But we were on the side of another major highway, and no one was stopping. There was no shade. We were six hours in and ready to get there.
A Honda speeding down the road began to slow down, and finally stopped. We ran after it. “I am going to Las Terranas, if you are going somewhere on the way, I can give you a ride” he said.
“That is where we are going!” and we climbed in to our 17th and last Bola for the day. After six and a half hours of hitchhiking, we made it.