My 31st birthday was one I will never forget and worthy of a blog post in itself. Let me start this off by saying I was promised an adventure. An adventure it was.
Marlon and I started the day early heading due west from Santo Domingo in his Toyota Camry. We stopped at a surprisingly American-feeling gas station, where I picked up a caramel cappuccino. I-pod was plugged in, On-The-Go playlist in process, and we were good to go. As we pulled out of the city, a beautiful rainbow stretched over the mountains, and I was sure it was going to be an amazing day.
Following Google maps on my phone, we navigated ourselves to the city of Bani. After passing through an intersection, the police on the far side, waved us to a halt. Apparently, Marlon had run a red light. (Let me pause here to mention that I can say confidently that Dominicans REGULARLY treat red lights as recommendations, not obligations, not that this makes it right). In this case, we looked around and there was literally no stop light at all within view. However, there is no point in arguing with Dominican police, and it was only my flirtatious smile and crooning “pero es mi cumpleaños!” that kept him from taking us both into the police station. He let us go with just the ticket though, which Marlon said would probably cost about 1500 pesos ($35 USD). It's how the Dominican government gets its money I suppose…
We continued following the Google map until just past the town of Azua, when the roads on the map ceased and I literally had to switch over to satellite view to see the lines of the dirt roads heading toward the tiny town of Barrera (see map below).
In Barrera, we asked for directions toward the beach and plundered on through one of the rockiest roads I've ever driven on (and that's saying a lot after living in this country for 6 months!). The road ended up dumping us into a field- obviously we'd taken a wrong turn somewhere down the line. As Marlon attempted a 12-point maneuver to turn the car around, we both felt a bump that obviously wasn't good. Sure enough, we had managed to get the driver's side rear tire stuck over a tree trunk.
Keep in mind, we are in the middle of NOWHERE. Over the next hour and a half, as Marlon chiseled away at the tree trunk with a screw driver and a wrench as a hammer (scavenged from the tool kit in his trunk), and I stood over him with an umbrella for shade, not a soul drove by. Finally, we were able to free the tire from the trunk!
We backed up the car to finish turning it around when PSSSSTTTT… not a good sound at all. Somehow the passengers side rear tire had now rolled into a bush branch and completely deflated.
Now we were really stuck. We walked up the road (if you can call it that!) to a house that appeared under construction, and called out over the fence. Luckily, a Haitian man was there with his wife and daughters. He had the number of a friend in the town of Barrera who knew a “gomero,” someone who fixes tires. Soon a guy came riding down the road on his motorcycle, with a “gato” (one of those things that raises the car up to change the tire). He raised up the car and pulled off the flat to examine it. The rapid conclusion was that the tire was irreparable.
The guys pulled the spare tire out of the trunk and quickly realized it was pretty flat itself. So the gomero called his friend to bring him a tire pump and they promptly pumped up and mounted the spare. We drove the car up the rocky road for about 2 minutes, with the motorcycles tailing us. At that point, the gomero flagged us to stop. The spare tire was already flat, and this time even the pump couldn't inflate it.
Time for a new plan. We hopped on the back of the motos and climbed the hill back into the town of Barrera.
In Barrera, the gomero walked us over to his colmado (corner store) where there were some seats in the shade. I bought a coke and sat down on one of the plastic chairs while Marlon headed with the gomero to look for a replacement tire for the car. While I waited, I observed the surroundings, typical of a small Dominican town on a Sunday afternoon. Bachata music was blaring from competing colmados, motorcycles weaved in and out of the streets carrying teenagers making their rounds (the equivalent of cruising), people chatted on the steps or in chairs in front of their homes, dust filled the air, and the heat of the day seemed to slow everything down. A drunk man staggered over and proceeded to try and flirt with me- always an awkward situation and made more awkward when he picked up my coke and proceeded to drink from it.
The hours passed as I sat there, and just as I was getting a little exasperated (and hungry!), the colmado owner handed me a plate of fresh cantaloupe and watermelon, and a fork. I can't tell you how much this woman's gesture meant to me- and she had no idea that it was my birthday!
Marlon and the gomero finally returned with a new (used) tire in hand, and quickly mounted it on the car. With two fruit cups to go, at 4:30 in the afternoon, we were finally on our way!
It was getting too late to head to the beach of our original plan, so we stopped at another beach on the way back. It wasn't the prettiest beach in the world, but there were several Dominican families enjoying the water, and hey, a beach is a beach! The water was refreshing and it felt so good to wash off all the dust and stress of the day.
Back in Santo Domingo, we had a delicious dinner of Dominican sushi (complete with sweet plantains- my kind of meal!). It was a truly unforgettable birthday, and for this I am so grateful.