An audio and video podcast of my trip hitchhiking around the world by sea.
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Gettin Close with the Locals

There are moments you wish you had your camera and there are moments you are glad you didn’t… I’ll start with one I wish I had.

Every country has it’s own system of transit. In Europe there are trains, in Thailand- tuk tuks, and in the Dominican Republic you have motorcycles or gua guas. A gua gua (pronounced gwa gwa) is basically a mini van that runs between cities, and there are a lot of them. To catch a gua gua simply stand on the side of the road and the a car is sure to stop to pick you up. In fact, 90% of the time a van will stop or honk even if you are not looking for a ride. That’s the easy part. The hard part: getting on.

To begin, everyone squeezes into the car like a poorly funded high school sports team. One guy taps the side of the car to notify the driver everyone is in. The driver proceeds a few kilometers to until spotting someone else on the side of the road. Dan and I got the hang of traveling by gua gua and despite the initial discomfort, it’s actually kind of fun.

But there is one ride that sticks out. We were headed back from sight seeing on a different part of the island. We climbed in and instantly knew we were in for something special. Dan gets in first, then I pull in and comfortably park quarter cheek on the same seat. We look back to a sea of eyes staring at us. Both start counting. “How many did you get?” Dan asked. “18, I think!”

Minutes later- helper taps side, driver honks and gua gua pulls over. Man on-19 total passengers. Moments later- same thing, but two people. 21 total passengers. Amazing! 21 people in one car?! Then tap-honk-stop, we pull over to a group of 4 young guys. Impossible! Well maybe if the door is shut. But easy if 5 guys are willing to hang on to the side with the door open. Total passenger count: 25 (plus a few bags of luggage).

We finally reached our destination one hour later, put our joints back in place, and held our heads high-proud of what had to have been some kind of record.

Then there are the moments you’re not so proud of. This time we were headed to the mountains. 27 waterfalls and a tour that requires you to wear helmets and life jackets sounded like a “must do”. But first you have to get there. Fortunately, this place wasn’t too far from where our boat was docked, so rather than the gua gua, we went with the less expensive option: motorcycle.

The motos are small-mostly 150 cc or less, but we’re in the Dominican Republic, where the idea of three grown men on one little scooter makes perfect sense. So once you sort out your securities, the first decision is who gets middle. “I’ve got the backpack…” Dan shrugs. I roll my eyes and climb on. Then Dan climbs on ensuring there is no extra space between driver and I.

The good new is when there’s no room to move you don’t really have to “hold on”, so I rest my hands the only place they make sense- on MY legs.  Then Dan realizes the opportunity at hand. I catch movement out of the corner of my eye and see Dan’s arm move past mine to poke the driver. The driver turns his head and looks out of the corner of his eye.

Not having time to think of something witty, I just sit silent… Then Dan does it again. Driver looks. Derek remains silent. Naturally things were getting awkward so the next time I was ready. Dan reaches. Derek blocks. Dan grabs Derek’s hand and shoves into driver’s side. Driver swerves slightly and again looks back…

I’d like to say it stopped there but Dan was just having too much fun (never mind the awkward bond between the driver and me). So after a few subtle pokes Dan changes his strategy to the ol’ bump n push. You know where with every bump in the road the guy on the back pushes the guy in the middle closer to the guy in the front.

Needless to say the waterfalls could not come soon enough, and I’m guessing the feeling was mutual judging by the speed we were going.  Not exactly the “motorcycle diaries” I was hoping to be a part of. You’re kind of at a disadvantage when you are the meat in a Derek sandwich on a Dominican moto. So despite the threats to knock Dan off the back, the driver continued to get casually assaulted all the way to our destination.

Normally, when you reach your destination you can bargain the price of transportation. But today? Today our driver got full price and no doubt still felt cheated. Luckily the waterfalls were awesome and couldn’t have been more fitting-feeling a little dirty from a dusty moto ride. Oh yeah the ride back? It was nice day, so um yeah… we walked.

1 comment

1 Robin Inks { 02.27.08 at 5:33 pm }

hey derek, it’s robin (i met you in the dominican republic) anyway, i wanted to let you know that our record is 32 people on a guagua….it was crazy packed!

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