We made it!!!! Luperon, Dominican Republic was our destination. We have arrived and completed our main mission. From now on, where we go will be dictated by what we all agree on (that should be interesting).

Now to tell you about Luperon. The landscape here is beautiful… it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen in real life. John said he had read that the movie Jurassic Park was filmed here, so that will help you visualize it. It has both the highest and lowest points in the Carribean. There are mountains all around and there are palm trees growing on the mountains. It’s just beautiful. The other equally beautiful part of the Dominican Republic are the people. They are, on the whole, very attractive people. To top it off, they are some of the most hospitable, friendly, welcoming people. As a cruiser, sometimes you get the feeling that the locals are busy calculating the profit they will make from you as they are saying hello. Not that you aren’t welcomed… but more for your money than your company. Here, that is not the case at all. The people of Luperon seek you out and make you feel like they are interested in you as a person, not as a profit. Many cruisers come in here thinking they will stay a couple of weeks, and are still here months, and sometimes years later because the people are so wonderful. Many of them have learned English very well and they are not the least bit offended that you don’t speak good Spanish. On the contrary, they are delighted that you make the attempt. They seem to be very happy people that love their country. It’s a pleasure to be among them.

We arrived on Friday morning which was just in time to participate in the weekly Saturday (Sabado) softball game. Baseball is huge here… Sammy Sosa, …..other baseball players I don’t know. Anyway, every week the cruisers play against the locals in an informal game: Los Gringos vs Los Dominicanas. Guess who wins? Travis and John played, me and Kimi and Garrett watched. It was a close game, 24 to 3. To even things up a little, the Dominicanas agreed to swap one player for one player for a second game.

Baseball

Even with a Dominicana on our side, we lost the second time as well 22 to 1. Oh, and the rules are: no strike outs for the cruisers! Afterwards, one of the other cruisers gave Garrett a hard time for not playing, so I think he will participate this coming Sat. Oh, after the game we got to see a political candidate promotion parade! They were waving PLD (Partido de la Liberacion Dominicana) flags, and Garrett got one as a souvenir.

We ventured out from the quaint little town of Luperon to Santiago. Our friends on Kalida did the trip and told us we have to experience the bus ride (vs. renting a car), so we decided to go for it. So here is a brief, but informative account of our outing.

First, we walked down the main drag to where the taxis and gua guas are. Gua guas are minivan taxis-no a/c and very worn/well used vehicle. In America, it would hold 11 people (12, absolute max-including driver). Here, they hold at least 20. No joke! We counted 19 at one time on the one we were on–even the locals laugh about it. The next experience; the driving. The drivers are very alert and well trained, impressive even. In America, we would have died! Apparantly, if you want to go faster than what is in front of you, you lay on the horn until they move. If they scoot over a sliver, that’s enough room to pass. If there is a car coming the other way? No matter–suck in, everyone will fit! The reason I said “than what is in front of you” is because it could be anything from a motoconcho or a farm truck or a donkey & rider or a person walking. If you don’t move over? Get within two inches of them, all the while honking. (The brakes work very well). Oh, and the roads are also shared with stray goats, cattle, horses, donkeys that might be wandering around. That was the first leg of our journey.

The gua gua took us as far as Imbert (a town), where there is a bus station (big gua guas with A/C). We purchased tickets to take us on to Santiago. The bus station is like a cinema ticket window without the rest of the builiding–it’s just a ticket window. No restrooms, no benches (although there were a few outdoor chairs). There was a large shade tree, though. We waited for the bus. As we waited, a man was sitting on a ledge and spotted us as Americans. He had lived in Alaska as a young boy and wanted to talk English with us. That is how we found out why he left Alaska. He was deported. Why? He committed a felon. He just went crazy–that’s all!!! Obviously, he was a few fries short of a happy meal. John handled him very well while I held on to Kimi and John, and the boys and I exchanged eyebrow raises.

On to the buses. There are two types of buses, those that are express buses and go straight to Santiago without stopping, and the other buses that stop anytime there is someone on the roadside waving pesos, or riding the bus and wanting to get off. The guy shuffling people on and off buses was very nice and helped us get on the right express bus. We had to wait for several buses to be able to all fit on the same bus. We only had to wait 15-30 minutes. We all got on the same bus, but were not able to sit together. It’s about an hour ride from Luperon to Imbert, and another hour from Imbert to Santiago. Once we arrived in Santiago, John had to figure out where to get off. I know a bus ride doesn’t sound like a big deal, but none of our kids have ever ridden public transportation (plane, train, automobile) where they had to make sure they got off/on at the right spot, sit with complete strangers… Not only was it their first bus ride (non-school field trip ride/church camp ride) but it was in a foreign country with a foreign language. This was wayyyy outside my comfort zone!!!

We made it to downtown and happened upon a large department store. We needed to buy Kimi some pantelones (pants & shorts). She had outgrown all that she brought. The salesperson was very helpful, and we found several things that Kimi se gusta (she likes). We wandered around downtown till we found Calle del sol (that’s a street name). We had hoped to visit a canvas shop that sells Sunbrella for $10 US/yard, but they were closed. We ate lunch at McDonald’s!! We found a large supermercado (grocery store) and checked out the prices for a return provisioning trip. We were all tired of walking (more tired of wearing shoes, though), so we decided to try to get back to the bus station and call it a day. It is also muy caliente (very hot) in the city. Santiago is in a valley, and since it is a city, there is a lot of concrete and buildings with little wind. It’s hot.

The bus ride back seemed much easier, probably because we knew what to expect. We did have to switch buses at some point, which was a little confusing, but we managed. We met a young man from Imbert at the bus station who spoke English. He helped us get on the right express bus. He sat next to Travis, and Kimi and I were across the aisle. He was very interested in who we were and what we were doing, and we found out who he was and where he was from, where he learned English… This made the trip go very fast. He was a very nice young man. The scenery on the way was beautiful; the bus driver was the most aggressive of them all! Once we arrived at Imbert, the same people shuffler remembered us and directed us to the gua guas to get back to Luperon. We found the same driver! Our family took up a whole bench in the van (the benches that seat 3). This is a minivan; a Diahatsu; a family car—not a commercial minibus. On this trip we saw another cruiser couple. We also met a man from Luperon who was commuting back from work. His brother is a baseball player in Oklahoma or Texas. He couldn’t remember which, he just knew they practiced in Oklahoma. We recruited him to play for the Gringos at our Saturday softball game!!!

That was our trip in a nutshell. A very exciting time. Although there were moments when I thought I was going to have an anxiety attack, I am really glad we did it. It was an experience I’ll never forget. We also learned why it’s best to rent a car that comes with a driver. (Can you say, “liability”?!). Hasta luego!

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