La Rubia’s Guide to Hiking in the DR

 We interrupt this blog to bring you “Dominican Adventure Vocabulary 101” 

  • casi (adj/adv) = almost  Used multiply as a response to a question (Are we there yet?  “casi casi”) and once for corroborating or exclaiming over everything under the sun “casi Dominicana, “casi 1 km” – more on this one later 🙂 
  • Rubia (adj or n) = blondie  Use: absolutely necessary for survival when walking Dominican streets as it’s generally how people will address you if you look Scandinavian as do I. 
  • Concho (noun) = public transportation or public cars. Used instead of an actual government-provided public transportation system. More confounding than not due to the lack of maps, and the fact that each different ruta (route) is owned by a different company, with different drivers who don’t always know where the other routes go.
    –  “Concho fail” (n – slang) is a secondary term that i’ve used frequently with other foreigners here. See steps 3 and 4 for an example. 🙂 
  • Guagua (n) = bus/van/any sort of public transport designed for more than 7 people generally having multiple rows of seats. Use: Some times like tour buses, and sometimes like 16 pax vans with 2 or 3 added removable seats to allow for closer to 18/19 people plus the driver and “bursar” if cars could have a bursar?  (Similar to micro-bus transit in Kenya, but marginally less insane!)
  • Persona de confianza = person of trust. Use 1: to imply that the person you are currently asking a question of is confident enough in the next person who will help you to trust/believe that they will in fact not rob you, hurt you, or leave you stranded somewhere, etc. Use 2: As an admonition to you – the traveler – not to go with or give money to a person whom you do not know is a person of trust.  (Problem – how do you know that this current person  that you just met 30 seconds ago is in fact un/una persona de confianza themselves? hmmmm 🙂

And now, La Rubia’s Guide to Hiking in the DR. IMG-20160220-WA0009

  1. Find a friend who’s up for adventure and okay with other than firm plans i.e. “Hey let’s see if we can figure out where the guaguas to take us to Bonao are. If we can, let’s take one, get off somewhere in the middle of nowhere, go hiking, and make it there and back before dark without getting drenched by the rain. Sound good?” “Perfect!”

2) Find a criolla (real Dominican) to ask about places to hike. ***One who knows you and your friend is a bonus, this is your first persona de confianza, and the one over which you have the most control in choosing.

3) Ask which concho ruta (route) will take you to the parrada de guagua (bus stop) for your destination city. In our case, Bonao.

Bonao Guagua from internetComplication – depending on who you ask, you may get multiple conflicting answers, from people who have no clue but want to be helpful.
Backup plan 1: Ask the concho driver in whose vehicle you are currently riding.

4) Once you realize you’re on the wrong ruta, thank the friendly concho driver to whom you just paid 20 pesos for dropping you at a place to catch the correct but longer ruta back to where you just came from for another 20 pesos. 🙂

5) After you finally arrive at the Parrada de Guagua, Pedir bolletos (ask for tickets) if you can find the correct person to ask.
5b) Check with said ticket vendor to make sure this guagua does in fact stop at the in-between place to which your criolla from step 2 directed you.

6) Wait at least 30 minutes for a guagua that is always “casi viene (coming)” to arrive to carry you to your vague but confirmed destination. Once in the concho – don’t wait too long to ask the driver or the fee-collector where your vague destination is. Fellow passengers can be “personas de confianza” in this situation by passing on/clarifying your question to the driver 4 rows ahead of you. Now, you have another set of “eyes” that will remind the driver when he goes flying past your stop that there were two of you wanting to get off back there!

7) Assure the entire guagua full of “helpful-but-now-worried-about-las-dos-rubias” Dominicans that “no, the driver does not need to turn around and drive back to drop you and Yes, you’ll be okay ‘a pié’ (walking).”  Then smile patiently while the passengers tell you to go to first one side of the guagua then the other to avoid getting hit by either the guagua itself when it pulls out, or by a camioneta (truck) casi volando (flying) down the highway that can’t see you and wouldn’t stop even if they did.  DR highways

**This I think is the most dangerous part of life in the DR – crossing auto-pistas, even with a traffic light should you be lucky enough to find one**

8) Survive Frogger!

9) Walk back up highway you just drove down until your friend sees the sign for your destination – farther back than either of you realized. Turn and walk down a dirt road until you come to a fork, assume you keep going straight. Stop at the first house you come to and ask the lady sweeping the “patio” if this is in fact the way to Saltos de Jima (Jima Falls National Park)  Walk with her up to her neighbor’s house (which happens to also be a clothing store) after she recovers sufficiently from the surprise of two rubias asking directions in her village.

Saltos de jima buildings10) Make “friends” now with the clothing store owner as he uses your friend’s cell phone to call his person of confianza who owns a moto-concho (motorbike used as a 1 or 2 person taxi in addition to the driver!) to see if he can carry these two rubias up the casi 1km (likely more) to the entrance to the national park. When the first persona de confianza doesn’t answer, watch as Varelio (he’s told you his name by now) knocks on his neighbor’s door meanwhile warning you to be careful not to go with anyone who is not a person of confianza because of robbers etc. Then watch as Varelio calls Wilson over – a young man on a motorbike who happens to be passing by and contracts for you with Wilson to carry you both up the hill to the entrance of the park.

11) Thank Varelio kindly and agree to come back if you can to share the coffee he’s now graciously offered you with his family after your hike!  (Side note – offers of coffee are quite ubiquitous and one of the ways Dominicans show hospitality to EVERYONE!  love it!)

Moto Concho Dr112)  Both of you hop on the back of Wilson’s motorbike that doesn’t have a seat or foot pegs, just the frame for a seat. Try to keep you feet from dragging on the ground, and your calf from getting burned on the exhaust pipe inches from the meaty part of your calf. Oh and keep from falling off the bike every time it hits one of the multiple holes and hazards along the muddy dirt road/path.

13) Once you safely arrive at the park entrance, ask the “park rangers” if it’s okay to hike up. Accept the strange (to a Colorado girl) offer of a guide since it’s your first time to the park.

Top of fall 1 looking down Crop

Saltos de Jima

14) Follow your friendly guide Alex as he rapidly ascends the trail, passing two of the 27 waterfalls – the only two that are easily accessible. Agree with your friend that you’ll come back sometime to have him guide you up the rock-climbing gear required remainder of the trail at some point in the future. Mairsy with cacao

15) After hiking to the top of the second waterfall, descend again to swim in the pool at the bottom of the first waterfall. Yes, it’s extremely “fria” cold, as a friendly descending hiker warned you a few moments earlier. But it’s absolutely worth it!  Pure aqua fresca replete with tiny fish that try to eat your feet if you stay in one place too long.

16) Share a raw cacao fruit (Yes, cacao like where chocolate comes from) that Alex has scampered up a tree to procure for you. Don’t eat the cacao seeds which make the chocolate, but the odd white custard-like material surrounding the seeds.

Alex picking cacao

 Alex picking cacao

17) Ride Alex’s moto-concho that delightfully has an actual seat back down muddy roads to the highway.  Since you’re now at the second entrance to the park from the highway instead of the first, unfortunately you’ll have to bail on Varelio’s offer of café. Save it for another day. Thank and tip Alex and tell him you’ll come back sometime.

18) Survive frogger again – this time over twice as many lanes.

19) Stand in the rain trying to flag down a guagua until Geraldo (owner of Geraldo’s lavanderia – “we fix washing machines”), his friend and his son encourage you to come shelter in their doorway while Geraldo tries to flag down a passing guagua in your stead. Be about to accept your second offer of coffee after 3 or 4 guaguas have passed without stopping when you see a guagua and quickly try to flag it down yourself – ultimately successfully. Graciously bail on your second coffee “date” of the afternoon and board the guagua for home.

Dulce de guyaba20) Pay the fee-collector for the two of you. Then spend 20 minutes trying to overcome your perplexity and decide if you just got cheated or not, when he gives you only 100 pesos and a dulce de guayaba back in exchange for a 500 peso note when you thought the fee was 200 pesos total. Finally, realize that he meant 200 for each person instead and laugh it off as part of the adventure!

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