Driving in Dominican Republic

Driving in DR presents itself with many challenges.  Streets here are certainly not paved with gold.  We’re lucky if they are paved at all.

La Romana gravel road complete with it's own garbage dump.  Garbage is an issue in DR.

La Romana gravel road complete with it’s own garbage dump. Garbage is an issue in DR.

I remember several years ago, driving through La Romana, the shear size of the BOULDERS they had dumped on one road to repave it.  The rocks were at least 2 feet across.  In Canada, those beauties would have been put through a rock crusher.  In La Romana, the rocks would simple be crushed by the heavy equipment pushing them around.  To be fair the rocks weren’t granite, they were limestone which is a soft source material comparatively speaking.  How long the road remained in disrepair, I don’t know.  Not long I imagine as the ensuing election would have had a bearing on it’s completion.  Suffice it to say that it was not impassable for too long.

It amazed me when I first started venturing to DR.  The roads were littered with potholes.  In my naivete, I thought, “gee, why is this, there is no FROST here.”  It was explained to me that the quality of materials were inferior due to the construction companies “skimming” profits by not following the formulas and adding the right amounts of materials to the mix.  I don’t know whether this is true or not, but it did sound plausible.  After all, corruption is rampant here.  Other interesting observances on the roads themselves are the gutters on the sides.  When roads are resurfaced the old road remains under the new layer of asphalt.  This creates a gully which in some cases is very deep.

Strays and a home-made speed-bump.

Strays and a home-made speed-bump.

Extra asphalt leftover from road construction or repairs is taken by residents and they build their own speed-bumps.    Traffic flies so fast if the roads are good that it becomes a real safety issue.  These do-it-yourself speed-bumps greatly reduce the risk.  Other areas find dips in the roads.  These dips are akin to the reverse of a speed-bump.  Cars have to drive through them sideways in order to not loose mufflers etc.  In heavy rains gravel roads are often washed out.  Err with caution, many manholes have NO covers!

One-way traffic, traffic jam waiting to go over a bridge.

One-way traffic, traffic jam waiting to go over a bridge.

Another issue is, directional problems.  This country is notorious for not having road signs or street signs.  Landmarks are not landmarks unless you are familiar with them.  Streets have names not numbers so you have no idea how far you really have to go to get to your destination unless you are told ore unless you have a map.  Buy a map!  The “cloverleaf” design of highways doesn’t exist here.  DR has bridges and ramps that adjoin main arteries below the overpasses.  You need to be prepared for rendering payment at the toll booths as well.  My first trip with my daughter going through the toll was an experience in itself.  But lil ole me got the coins in with cheers from the sideline.  “Yeah mum, good shot!” the Squidney was so proud of me.  Jejeje, don’t want to miss and have no other money, security guards in this country are armed.

Lack of good visibility is another issue.  There are a lot of blind corners.  Depending on where you are, buildings and their enclosures, can be built very close to the roads.  Street lights are not bright and they are far apart.  Dominican Republic experiences rolling electricity blackouts.  Be prepared for no street lights at all.

Carry your identification with you when you are driving.  Passport photocopy should suffice as you really want to leave that at home or in a safety deposit box, and of course your drivers license.  Ensure if you rent a car that it comes with all the necessary documents AND copies of the rental agreement AND insurance coverage.  There can be many check-stops by la Policia Nacional on your routes.  My last trip there were 4 police stops.  They let the old Dona go with no search, no hassle.  I guess I just don’t fit the typical profile.  None-the-less I always carry enough money for a bribe, or several bribes.

13 seconds to save the world.

13 seconds to save the world.

Now, the fun part of driving in this country.  I am an aggressive driver, and this is like the Indy 500.  Rush hour slows everything down and off rush hour speed limits are rarely observed.  Lines, if there are any, painted on the roads, merely decoration.  If you have 2 lanes, drivers turn it into 3 or 4, squeezing into wherever they can.  But my favourite by far are the traffic lights.  Traffic lights?  Just a suggestion.  Seriously though, mostly they are respected, but sometimes not.  Be cautious.  The other thing I like about some controlled (I use the term loosely) intersections is that on the same arm of the traffic light, a countdown timer.  This tells you how much more time you have before the light changes.

Cigars?  Cigarettes?

Cigars? Cigarettes?

Cars here get beaten and dented.  Traffic weaves in and out with no respect for the sanctity of human life.  Pedestrians wander across between cars.  Vendors sell their wares to motorists as they await the lights to change.  The sell everything from A to Z, deodorizer cubes, cell phone chargers, cell phone cards, produce, toys, squeegy kids, etc.  While driving around we keep our valuables on the floor and out of site.  Whether the windows are open or closed, doors remain locked for additional safety.  Ladrones work the intersections and if one vendor sees a valuable within reach he will motion to another that will do a snatch and run.  Driving the obstacle course of coco carts, veggie carts, and horse-drawn carts adds to the mix.

Motorcycles are everywhere.

Motorcycles are everywhere.

Motorcycles, moto-conchos, scooters, and pasolas are the economical mode of transportation here.  They are used for personal use, paid for transportation and deliveries.  They weave in and out of traffic like there is no tomorrow.  They come at you from all directions within inches of your car.  As I mentioned I am an aggressive driver, but I am also a defensive driver.  I weave in and out and cut off with the best of them.

One of my absolute favourite common occurrences is the car that stops in the middle of the road holding up traffic for a quick chat with another driver.  Do they know each other?  Are they asking for directions?  What gives?  It doesn’t last long then they are on their way.  One memory of a stranded non-aggressive woman, stuck in an intersection makes me smile.  She couldn’t go forward nor backward.  Half a dozen men got out and guided her through her trauma.  No yelling, no screaming, but a whole lot of laughter.  One year, just before Easter week, we drove through one neighbourhood that had the street roped off.  Sounds ominous doesn’t it.  They made their own toll road to collect for a pig for the street party.  You just never know!  You see all sorts of interesting things when you are the driver.  It forces you to be observant.

Between the other aggressive drivers and motos cutting in and out and cutting you off, the pedestrians and vendors in the way, figuring out where you are going, and conversationists stopping for no valid reason, you have a lot to pay attention to.  This is further interrupted by the distraction of horns, loud music, and car alarms being set off by another car’s bass too loud on the radio, and general white noise.  And then, “Mom, you drive like a Dominican … only better!”  Gosh, thanks Squidney!

Necesito gasolina!  Fueling up in DR is like anywhere else.  Only, make sure you get out of the car and ensure that the pump is set to zero before they begin or you will be giving a “tip” for their services unknown to you.

The biggest BEWARE:  drinking and driving.  A whole lot of alcohol is consumed in this country, and it ends up behind the wheel!

Now, rev up your engines, ready, set … GO!!!

Listen to the palms…

~Loca Gringa

© Loca Gringa and https://locagringa.wordpress.com


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