Sunday, September 06, 2009

Samaná

We weren't sure of the plan for the day - we hoped to make Samaná by nightfall, but truthfully our research was lacking. We reviewed the possibilities discovering the direct bus had left at 7:30AM. It was nearly ten. We began piecing together other options. The chef who grew up in Samaná remembered a small bus stopping at 2:30 in Cabarete. One of the owners found a bus from Sosúa that left at 2:00. He called and confirmed the bus with the tour company. The chef disappeared and having confirmed the bus, we threw our lot in with the owner.  We made reservations on the phone at a place with good reviews in Las Galeras at the end of the Samaná Peninsula and set off for a guagau to Sosúa.

We overpacked unseemingly. Three overflowing bags and the taxi drivers couldn't help but pounce. Shelly talked one driver down to 10 USD. We'd paid six for the guagua from Sosúa to Cabarete two days previous so in our rush to catch the bus it seemed reasonable so I persuaded Shelly to hop in.

Twenty minutes later we were at Caribe Tours Sosúa. There was no bus. Not today. Not ever. The only bus was the morning bluebird. Lost and without options we made our way to the eastbound side of the street to find our way bey guagau. If we were lucky we'd make Samaná by nightfall. Las Galeras looked unlikely.

Waiting
Waiting

The taxi drivers smelled blood and vied for our attention, but the lowest Shelly could bargain to Samaná was nearly one hundred USD. Too much. We settled down on a wall beside the road. One helpful taxi driver insisted we wait for what he called an express gaugau that offered direct service to Samaná over the local options that would require stopping at every intersection and changing vans several times. He swore it would stop by at 1:30 or 2:00. So we waited. This time the Dominican promises were true and he leapt to his feet around two, pointing and shouting at the guagua as it arrived.

The express gaugua was crowded when we boarded and the condition worsened as we traveled east. The stops were few, but humorously the first stop was indeed in Cabarete at 2:30 right outside of Hotel Alegria as the chef had predicted. More people piled on at future stops, such that after a half hour I moved to the back seat with Shelly so we were four abreast. Soon every seat had at least three. At Rio San Juan the driver picked up two more and insisted on moving our bags to the roof, fastened only by a single cord with a slip knot at each end. Shelly and I at this point had exchanged "seats" - really parts of a seat as sitting with your hips square was not possible. If not in Rome, one would complain. In fact, the Romans did start complaining. In Nagua two more passengers boarded. One row now held six people, four adults and two children - one child nearly ten. In all I think there were twenty-one souls aboard this van. Sacks of fruit and luggage covered the roof. The speed rarely dropped below 50 mph despite potholes, traffic and the occasional animal in the roadway. And this was good because in the ninety plus degree heat and humidity when the van was forced to stop, the occupants inside became quickly soaked with sweat, some of it their own.

My seat was mostly a metal bar at the far end of the rear seat. I found I was most comfortable by accepting the bar's condition between my cheeks. For big bumps I was able to wedge my right fingers into a small hole in the upper corner of the van's metal (an old light perhaps, there was exposed wiring in the hole) and rock up on my toes so that the collisions with my tailbone were minimized. Meanwhile we had left the "paved" roads, (which I quotate because the potholes and washed out sections were nearly as common as pavement) and were now careening down dirt washboard. At one point we put twenty one passengers into a drift around a blind corner, not that slowing for blind corners is a guagua trait, but on dirt where stopping is not an option this behavior is more concerning. Of course I enjoyed all these scenes in reverse as I expected at any moment our bags would break free of the single cord and go hurtling off the back. Guaguas and Latin American driving really does drive home how we westerners under-utilize our vehicles.

The drive was long and brutal. Many foo-foo tourists wouldn't have stomached the heat, cramped quarters and especially the bar up the ass. We arrived in Samaná over four hours later to a scene resembling a movie set on a Congolese boat dock. The adjoining flea market overlapped the outdoor bus station. Amidst this commotion were boys running around with aluminum baseball bats over their heads with a determined gait - alarming my suspicion. Thankfully, the arrival of a tall boy holding a gold metal aloft satisfied the now cheering throng. He was one of the Dominican stars from the Little League World Series and the boys vied for his attention, eager to get their bats autographed.

Samaná Bus Station
Samaná Bus Station

Baseball Star Welcomed Home
Baseball Star Welcomed Home

Our transfer in Samaná was rapid. The last guagua for Las Galeras was leaving immediately, and we were off on the worst roads we had yet experienced. Some of these potholes and small streams were bad enough to slow our driver to a crawl. With our speed reduced the poverty became more direct. Cinder block and rotting wood frame buildings without doors, trash covering the yards and a seeming purposelessness of the residents who sat on their doorsteps watching our passing.

Motorconcho
Motorconcho

Hilltop East of Samana
Hilltop East of Samaná

It was after dark when we entered Las Galeras, a fishing village working through its first gentrification - a combination backpacker/ecoluxury makeover resulting in upstart cafes, cigar shops and a french pasteria homesteading at the main intersection.

Unaccustomed to the town, I must admit some undeserved apprehension as we made our way down the streets overloaded with bags past locals we could not make out in the darkness. The long road led to an almost fairy tale ending, darkened only by the stain of slavery on the plantation house that met my startled eyes. It felt almost Virginian: the long walk down its front expanse to a central foyer until the illusion was upended by a Sound of Music stairway leading down to a tropical garden, pool and the sea, accented by a single small island with a cluster of palms - perfectly framed by the veranda arch. It was opulent, serendipitous to our long ride, and it made one shake the head to clear the fog and reassure oneself that the present was not a dream.

It was too much. Though we appreciated the luxurious embrace, it felt uncomfortable. We had to depart quickly for dinner in town at a small local pizzeria, sharing the satellite television with locals, a tourist or two, and the vivacious owner. We returned later to the garden fronting the sea, finally opening our good airplane karma champagne on the lawn in the company of a sand crab who entertained us with his bravado.

Crab
Crab

Sneaking Up
Sneaking Up

Moonrise
Moonrise

Lunarglow
Lunarglow



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