Friday, November 06, 2009


In the future when I end up on the side of the highway beside a cafeteria in the middle of nowhere, with a humorous array of bags amidst heavy truck traffic with the sun setting, I'll be sure to at least snap a picture.

We'd arranged for special treatment and clearly that is what we had received. The bus, we were assured, would stop in La Romana, but she hurtled right through. Then for sure we thought it would stop and let us off at the road to Bayibe, but no dice. By this point Shelly and I were pretty concerned, concern that was met with indifference by the driver who assured us he was stopping soon, roughly a mile after the last road to Bayibe, which is how we had arrived here, at the cafeteria in the middle cattle pastures, apparently the halfway point on the run between Santo Dominto and Punta Cana, and clearly he'd done us no favors at all. In case we had any doubt, the the 10,000 peso "deal" he'd arranged with a local pickup driver to carry us the last 12 km sealed it. It was ok, though, because even if we want to be fleeced for being gringos we were totally unprepared - as checking out of our last lodging they had refused to take credit and as a result we were painfully low on pesos. So what could we do? We carried our bags across the highway and waited.

Thankfully, after fifteen fruitless minutes a guagua did arrive and they managed to convice us to return not a two minutes backward to the turnoff to Bayibe, but fifteen minutes backward to La Romana where they assured us we would be able to catch the last bus to Bayibe. Running across traffic we made it. It was cramped, but because we got on at the start they allowed us and our three bags to make the journey. As gringisimo as our appearance must have seemed, we were easily trumped by the Italian woman ahead of us who tossed disgusted looks back to her husband beside us who could only shrug as we piled first four, then five to a row in the crammed van. One can only imagine the looks she threw when Shelly and my bags and bodies were replaced with a dozen people in Bayibe before the guagua roared off leaving us standing in the town center amidst a raucous street party.

Meringue was blaring from the corner store and were it not for our bags and nearly complete lack of money we would have immediately joined the fifty plus people spilling out of the store and into the street.

Unfortunately, we had to find lodging before everyone went to bed. The residents we greeted were friendly, answering us cordially with a smile. The slow casual vibe of the town was narcotic. We soon learned the bank was closed and there was no ATM, so we were down to what we carried. After a few failures we located a small cabin near the town center in our price range (pobre). The tap water smelled like sewage and air conditioning blew cold tobacco smoke instead of air, but it was delight. Ok, so there was a horizontal surface and the door locked. All good.

We found a small pizza joint we could also afford, and we shared a long dinner. The length was not necessarily by design, but again I guess you get what you pay for, and we were in no position to pay.

By morning we were down to cold pizza and crackers. Not the best breakfast, but when your down to only a couple pesos any food is amazing and the crackers help scrape the tobacco taste from the air conditioning off your tongue.

Outside our door we found a town transformed. Gone was the slow comfortable vibe. Today one would think Bayibe was hosting Woodstock. Though warned by guidebooks, we were still startled by the morning activity. Big diesel trucks were everywhere, overloaded with cases or rum, coke, presidente and food stuffs. Teams of men worked to fill oversized coolers on the beach. Was a hurricane making landfall? Yes, in the form of dozens of buses packed with gringos bound for a booze cruise - snorkel/scuba trip to Catalina Island.

We chose to avoid the Punta Cana droves a bit longer and attempted instead something more local, to simply rent snorkel gear and swim out in the bay. We were thwarted at first by an extremely rude German woman at the corner scuba shop downtown, luckily a walk down the beach and Shelly's mad spanish skills landed a one hour boat and guide rental for both of us for $30. We did have to wait an hour until all the packed boats of gringos left town to ensure we didn't get run over in the melee.

Our first dive was at a wrecked ship, some 40 meters long and submerged in about 12 meters of water. The fish were not as impressive as Sosua and I was somewhat disappointed, but there was an eerie aspect to diving down to the wreck. I tried to get some photos of Shelly diving down to the boat, but before long the sound of nearby boats screaming by and the wake crashing over our snorkel tops led us back out of the water to the boat.

Shel Diving to Wreck
Shel Diving to a Wreck

By this point, the inner bay had cleared of boats and water had calmed to allow safe exploring. The entire floor of Bayibe Bay was only four to six feet deep and covered with coral. Fish of every color swarmed about - and that was before Shelly started sharing the leftover pizza crust. Within seconds, we were surrounded by more fish than water. White and yellow angel-like fish collided with our bodies and clouded our vision. Soon, other schools moved in filling out the rainbow with blues, oranges and green. Several peculiar species stuck out including foot-long deep purple fish accented by an all orange tail introduced in a sharp arrow shape, another resembled a rugby shirt striped in wide white, gray, black and Argentine blue. The most memorable were translucent long thin sword-like fish, but with with thin shovel-like noses which moved slowly through the reef highlighted by neon blue piping. It was incredible. Shelly didn't even get seasick.

Bayibe Bay
Bayibe Bay

Speaking of conditions, our hour ended just as the sky darken and we hit the beach under a light rain. By the time we reached our cabin rain was falling in sheets. We were grateful not to be on one of the Punta Cana tour boats crammed shoulder-to-shoulder in the open sea.

Instead, we waited for the storm to pass before loading our things onto the waiting guagua and handing over our last pesos to return again to La Romana.