Sunbeams worked their way through the small leafy openings in the palm trees that lined the edge of the airport exit, forming shadowy, thought-like patterns on the pavement below. I stood in the shade of the airport terminal with my backpack, and a sense of anxious fear weighing me down. Watching the patterns of sunlight wave back and forth in the breezes against the bleached white concrete in front of me, I thought about the kind of trip that lay before me. The first step was leaving this airport, was anxiously unsure of what I should do next or how to go about it.
The goal was to travel using the locals gaucho bus system to get a better view of what it was like to be a Dominican, and save some money. Gauchos are essentially someone’s privately owned van that they now use like a bus. The owners are very resourceful and don’t stop picking new people up until every seat is full. People will be literally hanging out of the doors and windows, clinging to the bumper before the bus will leave.
While the idea of riding the country in Gauchos felt authentic, and appealing, I was new to this area, and somewhat terrified about being a murder statistic on CNN.
Let me explain why I thought that.
I made the grave mistake of reading the U.S. Travel Advisory Page on the Dominican Republic. The results were terrifying.
My yellow belt in Taekwondo, while extremely formidable (lol), was not up to the same level of the local gangsters on the Dominican Republic. Some of the stuff they were saying sounded like it might exceed my third grader’s knowledge of self-defense, and overconfidence from action movies. The story that really stood out to me was about a Dominican person who followed an American couple home, to murder them both with a machete. I found this news rather alarming.
Was a solo trip here going to be safe?
Was I making a huge mistake?
But most importantly, Was I going to get chased around by a machete wielding maniac? I would have very much so liked to avoid that.
To top off this pyramid of anxiety, I had been approached by several taxi drivers with an offer to do a private drive across the island for 500 dollars. Was my safety worth 500 dollars? At the time, it was certainly not. I would be more dangerously situated without any money than if I tried my luck with the machete people. I’m not a quick runner, but I can run for a long time. Possibly, I wear the machete man out.
The palm trees shook violently under a gust of wind, breaking the methodical wavy pattern I had been watching, and freeing my spell of interest in them as a means of avoiding action. The least I could do was try. If it went bad then I could take a taxi wherever I wanted to go on the island, hopefully without machete wounds.
Tightening the straps on my backpack, I left the safety of the airport’s central area, and stepped into the intense the spotlight of the Caribbean sun. If this country was going to rob me, they would have to do it right outside of the airport.
I approached a group of airline workers on break, who looked like they could help.
As I stumbled over a line of broken Spanish asking them where I could find the bus station, one of the workers pointed me towards the highway with a nod and a smile. It wasn’t exactly the most reassuring direction, as this took me pretty far away from my safety in front of the airport, and put me back into the vacinity of what looked like some sort of cozy little murder ditch. At least I finally had something to work with.
“Gracias Amigos!” I said, and headed across the very long parking area of the Punta Cana Airport.
Bus station is a very loose word wherever you go. It can either mean a large, air conditioned building outfitted with bathrooms and a restaurant, or a tiny roof hovering over a spot of grass on the highway, or even just a spot that other people happen to be standing as well. But in the Dominican, it can also mean anywhere along the highway you are brave enough to stand by with your thumb sticking out.
Soon enough a Gaucho came coughing up the road, and we got in. All of my fears were about to be absolved, as the people running the bus had no machetes at all.
When we got into this makeshift bus-van, which was all but falling apart, I couldn’t understand the price. Mistaking 30 Dominican dollars, for 300 Dominican dollars, I began trying to haggle in the most pathetic way possible.
As the money manager was trying to persuade me against ripping myself off, I started arguing that I wouldn’t pay any more than 300. 300 was my final price.
Most of the people in the van were either laughing, or smiling broadly about my incorrectness, as they should. I was being the stock foreigner that it has become impolite to mock in the 21st century. I was completely at their mercy, but these were not bad people. These were the best people.
The man didn’t take my money. He could have. But instead, he helped me correct my mistake.
Annunciating as clearly as possible, he said, “Trenta! Tres, y zero, trenta!” miming with his hands as he talked, showing me that it was 30 dollars, not 300.
I looked like an idiot. That being said, I could not have been happier about my significant mistake. These were kind people. It would have been easy to take all of that money, because I was not only offering it to him, I was refusing not to pay him any more. I must be the worlds worst haggler. He could have taken the money, and I would probably be writing this post about how my first ride wasn’t such a great deal, but that travel in the Dominican is expensive. I’d be ignorant.
Happily handing over the correct amount of money, I seated myself comfortably on a lumpy wooden bench, and looked out to the scenery around me. Most people are actually kind hearted, look out for one another, and find it hard to hurt someone else. This doesnt mean the world is without danger, but only that most people have your best intentions in mind. Dominican people certainly have your best intentions at heart. I knew that as long as I avoided the shady sides of my mind, the doubt and fear, I would have a fantastic time traveling solo in a country where I could barely communicate with anyone. Wait.. What?