Caribbean Moto Dreams
II can honestly say that I never expected to ride motorcycles in the Caribbean, and I can honestly say that I never gave the small island nation of the Dominican Republic a second thought, I mean, doesn't is share a border with Haiti?
But motorcycling is all about getting past our out biases, right. Haiti and the Dominican Republic share the island of Hispaniola, and while Haiti is best known to us Americans because of violent military rule in the early 1990's and the subsequent intervention of more than 20,000 American troops, the Dominican Republic seems to have put most of its violent uprisings into its history books enjoying a stable and peaceful democracy since the ousting of their last lunatic dictator in 1961.
Beyond the political, the Dominican Republic sits between Puerto Rico and Cuba and should be best known for as the 1492 landing spot of Christopher Columbus. It is also host to the first permanent European settlement in the Americas, Santo Domingo.
With your geography and history up to speed, you can now meet the crew. We were hosted by MotoCaribe. A budding motorcycle adventure company located in the heart of the Dominican Republic. They offer one, five and seven day tours in several iterations. We would be enjoying a seven-day adventure exploring the northeastern portion of the island.
- Monday - The Gangs All Here
- Tuesday - Riding to Samana
- Wednesday - Horses, Waterfalls and Caves
- Thursday - A Day at the Beach
- Friday - Back to Jarabacoa
- Saturday - La Dia Ultimo
- Sunday - Home Again
- Final Thoughts
Our MotoCaribe Hosts:
- Ed – Cat-Herder Extraordinaire! He kept us all moving the right direction
- Robert – Drove the chase vehicle and provided vehicular support
- Alida – Local Dominican, married to Robert, knew and understood all things regarding the Dominican Republic
- Kris and I
- Jason from New York City – Jason owns a Beer Distribution Company in Brooklyn - Big Blue Beer
- Dane from Calgary, Canada - Dane owns a construction company in Calgary - Superior Solutions
While Kris and I consider ourselves fairly experienced motorcycle travelers, we really had no idea what to expect out of riding motorcycles on a Caribbean Island. Fortunately the site had lots of information to help us pack appropriately, and Ed was always on the other end of the internet or the phone to answer any questions we might have had. So, with our passports in order, our helmets packed securely in their bags, we caught the red-eye from Salt Lake City and landed in the Dominican Republic 18 hours later, utterly exhausted and excited to have finally arrived.
Immediately we met Ed, Robert and his lovely wife Alida. Fellow tour rider, Jason, had landed a few hours before us and was also there to greet us at the Santiago airport. Almost immediately, we were being whisked away to the Hotel Gran Jimenoa in Jarabacoa (don't feel bad if you have no idea where this is, we had no idea where we were either).
As soon as we had our bags in our rooms, we were invited to the hotel bar to enjoy the Dominican Republics favorite beer, Presidente.(the "True Taste of the Caribbean" - or so we were told). Dominicans are so loyal to Presidente that we only saw one other brand of cerveza (beer), while we were there and it struggles to survive.
Dane, from Calgary, had missed his flight so he would be joining us a day later. But that didn't keep us from getting to know our new best friends. Ed met us first thing in the morning, moto gear in hand, where we boarded the van and were driven to the MotoCaribe compound. Parked contently beneath covers under an impressive awning sat our comrades for the next week in the form of a fleet of Suzuki V-Strom 650's, affectionately known as Wee-Stroms.
I also had the opportunity to meet Pearla (Pearl), a sprightly little dog that had recently gotten into some poison but had miraculously pulled through. We had a quick briefing on Dominican riding best practices, as Ed would say this is a highly evolved system, do your best to integrate into it.
We were also given the opportunity to make any needed adjustments to the bikes. I rolled my handlebars forward, adjusted the levers and lowered the windscreen to its lowest position. I was very happy for this opportunity to make the bike fit me as good as possible.
After the bikes were tweaked, we did a few laps around Jarabacoa to get comfortable, then blasted off towards San Francisco de Macoris for lunch.
You'll have to forgive the lack of photos as we were quite busy learning the Dominican way of riding. Like most of the rest of the world (not America), rights-of-way and traffic signs and lights have little meaning, yet once you figure out how it all works you find that, or perhaps I should say that we found that, their way works better. If someone is going slow, go around them. If someone coming the other way is going around a slow vehicle move over to let them through. It seemed that all of the "this is my space" attitudes and behaviors so prevalent in America were simply non-existant.
We stopped a quaint little restaurant and climbed off the bikes, excited to discuss this new riding experience.
Here began the joke that would follow us through the whole trip. Just like Ewan McGregor in Long Way Round/Down was always saying "This looks just like Scotland" even though it looked nothing like Scotland. I begin saying "This looks just like Utah" when in fact it looked absolutely nothing like Utah at all.
During this lunch break we saw the most significant rain we would see for the entire trip, but at the time we didn't know this, so watching the rain come down was rather intimidating. Kris and I did not bring any rain-gear.
To say it rained was an understatement, I think it flooded! The cool thing was all the hotels and restaurants were open air sort of places so we really saw and felt the rain when it occurred. I wasn’t too worried about rain gear though, because in the DR, rain gear on a scooter/bike could be a passenger holding an umbrella or piece of cardboard so I figured we could make something work if needed.
Kris, CanyonChaser since 1996
We were glad when the rain did stop and we returned to Jarabacoa the same way that we came, under the same cloudy, but dry, skies. Back at the hotel, we sat down with Jason and drank some more Presidente's
MotoCaribe offered (notice past tense) an all inclusive trip which included all food and beverages. Apparently after our small little group they are no longer offering free drinks. Notice how many times Dave ends with a Presidente!
Kris, CanyonChaser since 1996
Later that night while eating dinner, Dane finally arrived from Calgary. Apparently in Canada when they say "arrive an hour before the flight" they really mean it. Dane's 15-minute tardiness meant he had to return the next day to catch the next flight down. Nevertheless, Dane's being from Canada and our familiarity with many of the riding roads in his neighborhood meant that we finished up dinner by discussing our favorite Canadian rocky routes.
Monday was the first official day of the trip and as such we had the first official riders meeting promptly at 9am. We were told to arrive in our gear, cross the suspension bridge and meet in the Karaoke bar across the river from our hotel.
Apparently, during the last big storm season the height of this river grew so much that it knocked out the previous version of this bridge. Not to be defeated the Dominicans built a much taller replacement. If you look closely, you can see evidence of the previous bridge at the bottom of the footings.
During the riders meeting, presented by Ed, we learned what to expect from riding in the Dominican Republic. Motorbikes are everywhere here as they are the cheapest form of transportation, we could expect (and had been seeing) thousands of them being used for most anything from taxi service to livestock transport. No, I'm not kidding - lifestock. Ed did a great job at keeping the briefing fun by establishing some games. Points would be assigned to those who could spot a moto with two mirrors and the rider wearing a helmet. Points would be assigned to those who could spot the most clever adaptation of a bucket on a moto, and so forth.
All that talk of riding and I was ready to go riding!
Back at Camp Moto we got Dane acquainted with his bike and met the Camp Moto Guard Dog, Toby. Despite his size, he's like most Great Dane's, a sweetheart of a dog without a mean bone in his body. However, most Dominican Republic dogs are very small, so the size of Toby is enough to keep just about everybody away from the compound.
We did our final preparations before taking off for the day. Despite coming from the still frozen Utah, the high-70's of the Dominican Republic was relatively easy to adapt to.
When you think of the Dominican Republic, you probably think of Haiti, but you probably don't think of roads like this.
Our first stop of the day was at a huge waterfall called Salto Jimenoa. Robert gave us an idea of what to plan for before we ventured out. Robert takes on the role of staying with the bikes (and our gear that is left with the bike) while Ed and Alida go along with us.
The Caribbean is known for Rum, and just like Presidente is the dominant beer vendor in the Dominican Republic, Brugal is the dominant rum producer. So dominant in fact that most every sign in the country is adorned with this familiar crest.
We often joked that the whole country was sponsored by Brugal.
Kris, CanyonChaser since 1996
In order to get to Salto Jimenoa we had to navigate a series of concrete stairs and suspension bridges. To a mechanical minded guy like myself, the ingenious civil engineering was as impressive as any waterfall I could imagine.
Arriving at the waterfall, it was quite cool but I cannot deny, but I was still more impressed with the concrete engineering stairs and bridges.
We returned the motorcycles over the same route, returning to the bikes. We then rode for just a few k's before stopping agian.
This time we stoped at Mi Vista Mountain Resort for lunch.
Mi Vista is run by an former military, ex-pat who called himself Angel. After the military and various jobs, including being a truck driver, he found his way to the Dominican Republic and set up this quaint little joint perched on top of a mountain, featuring thatched roof accommodations for guests. We wouldn't have minded staying a bit longer.
Angel’s wife is an amazing cook and we were well fed while there! This was our first DR experience with goat and DR chicken. The goat was exceptional and the chicken was also very good although you could never really tell which part of the chicken you were eating. In the US our chicken is neatly cut into leg, thigh, breast and such but there they just take a knife to it making it unrecognizable once chopped and cooked.
Kris, CanyonChaser since 1996
After lunch, we returned to the bikes for some more riding through a series of small Dominican villages.
Commerce runs alongside the roads, sometimes within a few feet of the road, so there is rarely any "shoulder" to speak of.
Most communities had speed-bumps to slow down traffic, for us they provided for great passing opportunities. Domincans would take up clever methods of supplemental income. We saw guys smoothing out potholes. If you apprecitated his efforts to make the road better, you would stop and give him some Pesos. My favorite, however, was little young lads who would drag out Dad's pick axe and proceed to destroy the speed bumps. I think they earned more money than the guys smoothing out pot-holes.
Heading into the mountains, as we climbed the vegetation changed. In this case, we were shocked to see pine tree's
One must pay attention; road conditions would change in an instant as heavy water fall would degrade asphalt unpredictably. You could spot the really big pot-holes because someone would always plant a branch or stick in the bottom. So, when you see a pothole that looks like a tree is coming out of it, definately avoid it.
Near the top, we found ourselves at a bit of a road-side resort. A mountain spring had become a swimming hole. We stopped and enjoyed the loud latin music before moving on.
Back on the road, we were enjoying spectacular riding through gloriously technical mountain roads. Nothing like we'd expected.
Again, it was good to prepare for any road condition at any time and heavy rains had really taken its tole on the road. Ed said it was the island trying to reclaim itself.
A very rare stripe of yellow. While we saw very few traffic accidents of any kind, traffic control markings were essentially, nonexistent.
Brugal! Another Brugal Rum sign a-top of a road sign. Pretty much every road-sign is adorned like this.
Notice how close everything is to the edge of the road. Anything that was still alive had learned the lessons of being so close to roads or they were already dead. If you honked, they would get out of the way, people, dogs even chickens responded instantly to a quick "be-beep".
As we rode into town, there was a lot more to look at.
We circled through town on our way to the next destination. This was one of the very few moments of light traffic where I as able to grab a photo of a typical Dominican Republic afternoon.
We pulled into the Monte Alto Coffee Processor and were offered a guided tour.
We were given a guided tour through the coffee processing plant. Having never been to a coffee processing plant and, like all Americans, having a great appreciation for coffee we really enjoyed the tour.
Alida’s family owns the coffee plantation. This plantation was particularly picky about their coffee and created some of the best coffee I have every tasted!
Kris, CanyonChaser since 1996
The best part of the tour was the fresh brewed cappuccino and the option to buy and import coffee home.
Come Tuesday we packed up our rooms, loadied our bags into the chase vehicle and would be riding across the north-eastern corner of the island towards the resorty area called Samana.
We would also be heading towards the ocean; something us land-locked Rocky Mountain dwellers were really looking forward too. So, we started our day with some fresh coffee while watching the sun filter through palm trees (just like Utah!).
The twisty descent from Jarabacoa was glorious, as usual, but then we were in encased in humid valley that we had to cross before we could get back into the mountains. However, riding through the low-lands also provided the opportunity to experience one of the larger cities, Moca. One of my favourite bits was the timer on all the stoplights. Apparently, before the timers, the locals would get impatient and just run the light, since the timers light-running has totally dropped off since most feel they can stand to wait 30 seconds.
After Moca, we got to a road that Ed and Robert had coined "Tail of the Iguana" (as an homage to the "Tail of the Dragon"). It was spectacularly steep and we stopped half way up for a refreshing beverage and a chance to look back over where we'd come from. You could see all the way into Santiago and even the airport where we'd flown in to.
Back on the road, the "Tail of the Iguana" followed a ridge line before dropping towards the Ocean. Like most Dominican Republic roads, it was fantastically technical with few sections of straight road.
"Oversize Loads" have a whole new meaning in the Dominican Republic.
One is wise to be careful of all the blind corners, the "yellow line" means nothing and you can expect oncoming traffic to pass slow moving vehicles wherever they come upon them, even going up blind hills.
The spectacular descent complete, we found ourselves in the town of Gaspar Hernandez, which was quite the contrast to the mostly empty roads we'd been enjoying for the last hour.
Out of town, we came around a bend and there was the Ocean! We stopped, obviously, and I celebrated the moment by doing an impromptu ad for Planeta Azul Agua
We returned to the road, but Jason, who'd visited many times in the past had hoped to reconnect with an old friend, so we stopped again, briefly at his friends home.
Jason's Amigo wasn't around, but we had a great conversation with two of his neighbours. Jason left a message with his sister saying we'd be coming by this way again in a couple of days.
The plan was to stop for lunch on the beach. Robert and Alida, in the chase vehicle, picked up food while we rallied up at a pre-determined meeting point. Amazingly, we were riding right along the coast.
No huge hotels, no resorts, no paved path with medically enhanced people in small swimsuits jogging or roller-blading, just some potholes and some great views.
What came next would become one of my favourite parts of the entire trip. We pulled off the graded dirt road and onto a sandy, sandy one and were riding amidst palm tree's swaying perfectly in the warm ocean breeze.
I don't know how many people have had this kind of riding experience. A desolate, yet perfect beach, riding right along the ocean shore. For me it was brilliant.
The group had already arrived and were getting off the bikes when I pulled in.
Oh, yeah, this should do.
Ed called this our Peel and Squeal. We had the opportunity to play in the water as long as we wanted and then to have a beautiful lunch on the beach.
Kris, CanyonChaser since 1996
We dropped off our riding gear and climbed into our swim trunks and dove into the warm water. Back home it was still snowing.
During lunch we had a few unexpected guests show up. Missing our dog back home, I was happy to welcome our unexpected vistors (yet somewhat reluctant to actually touch them.)
It was odd to be in such a stunningly, beautiful place and be surrounded by rubbish and trash. Perhaps they should initiate a 1 peso reward for returned bottles? I think that would eliminate a great deal of the trash.
Lunch over, we returned to our bikes with still a fair bit of riding to do before our final destination of the evening.
Yeah, the riding was okay, I suppose.
Behind us the skies were perfect and clear...
In front of us, clouds hung to the horizon.
Before long, we were riding into a windy storm front.
We were going through lots of small communities, and this was the first bit of road construction we'd seen yet.
The few times we did get a little rain; it was warm rain and went by quickly. This was just what we were hoping for when we left our rain gear at home. And what a nice change from the icy cold rain we often get in Utah.
Kris, CanyonChaser since 1996
A little bit farther down the road, after a bit of drizzly rain, we stopped for a snack.
This is where we met Maria. Maria smelled of rum and was hoping we'd give her some pesos so she could buy more.
She really put the moves on Ed... We'll stop there - but notice where her hands are. We'll also not talk about the dance moves she showed us.
Samana was a frequent stop for cruise lines, and although it was a great little town. I felt bad for the cruisers who may only see this side of the DR.
Kris, CanyonChaser since 1996
We arrived in Samana. Tour boats dock here, but not today.
I also had the privilege to meet Antonio. He was selling home-roasted peanuts.
Then I reminded Dave that he probably shouldn’t be eating the peanuts…
Kris, CanyonChaser since 1996
Jason helped negotiate prices (since he spoke Spanish fluently). Antonio's price was five pesos, about 15-cents.
Because of the tourism in this town, the locals had taken creative measures to earn supplementary income. This home-made "tuk-tuk" is a classic example of the ingenuity.
We arrived at our hotel, checked in and headed directly for the restaurant.
Our hotels and the restaurants we visited were top notch and I attribute that to our guests and their local knowledge.
Kris, CanyonChaser since 1996
This is where we were introduced to a spectacular Dominican Republic drink called Mama Juana. Mama Juana is an alcoholic drink, specifically from the Dominican Republic that's concocted by allowing rum, red wine, and honey to soak in a bottle with tree bark and herbs (and some say a slice of turtle penis). It is said to be an aphrodisiac, with many claiming that it has similar effects to Viagra for both men and women.
Wednesday and Thursday were to be the two real "play" days. Today we'd ride to the end of the peninsula, check out some caves, ride some horses and check out a waterfall then circle back and around to Samana. We choose to, rather than ride back on the main road, to circle back the same way we'd come so we'd ride the twisty passes twice and skip the man thoroughfare between Sanchez and Samana. So today was basically an out-and-back route.
We started by discussing the days route, which was kinda nice to know where we were going, but also kinda confusing because four out of five of us had no idea where we were to begin with.
We rode east then north for a bit and you could tell we were getting father away from civilization because the vegetation was encroaching on the road.
We arrived in the small fishing village of Las Galaras where I was seriously impressed by this fatigued fishing boat.
So impressed was I that I took several photos, and stitched them together resulting in my favourite photo of the trip.
There was another small dog lurking about and I started a trend that was making Kris just loony with frustration. I began taking photos of all the dogs I was meeting.
Under still drizzly skies, we backtracked to an obscure paved road that wandered between dense vegetation. The road was crumblier than the averaged D.R. road, but it looked very promising.
We passed some real cracker-box homes, this was obviously a poorer section. The kids came out to wave at us as we passed. These guys in this shot we'd actually see later in the day.
We stopped to check out a big cave, but found ourselves at a small goat heard guarded by a very little, and very attentive dog.
Dane really wanted a photo with the little goats, but the little dog grew very suspicious of Dane.
We walked into the mouth of a very large cave and thought we heard something coming from inside. Turned out there were lots of bats hanging out. Literally, I suppose.
Robert had a flashlight in the chase vehicle, but Kris was kinda sad because she was hoping they'd have brought a large flashlight.
After the cave (and the bats hanging from the ceiling) we walked down towards the beach, and past this strange cauldron. I imagined witches cooking up little children under a full moon. I mean, what else could this possibly be used for?
A little farther down the path we came to this view...
On the way back, I stopped to eat a few coconuts... they were soooo good, I just couldn't control myself.
We went a little further down the road to see a place where air and water gets blasted up through a hole in the rocks. There were also a few locals selling their artwork and coconuts.
And another little dog...
Kris found a fertility statute that she really liked, but was reluctant to negotiate on price. Fortunately Jason is from New York and is very skilled at price negotiation. (Not to mention he speaks Spanish).
Standing around the "blow-hole" when waves came in off the ocean, a massive blast of air would rush forth, or water. Fortunately the tide was not high enough to douse us with sea water.
When we returned to our bikes, a few of the kids we had seen earlier had come to check out the bikes. The Dominican Republic is a massive moto-culture yet enormous bikes, like the V-Strom 650, is exceedingly rare. Only the Policia have them. Dominicans hate getting dirty, these guys had no school today because it was raining and the teacher didn't want to get wet or dirty.
I had a packet of peanuts that I gave to the leader of the ragged band of pals (the gentlemen in the beige coat). I was rather impressed when he promptly opened the bag and dolled out four equal portions.
I was having a great time practicing my pathetic Spanish. The kids didn't seem to mind my awful pronunciation and poor sentence structure. Still, we had a fascinating discussion on the values of trail-braking for street and track applications.
Miguel believes that trail-braking should be used whenever you cannot see the exit to a corner, he said the problem with not using the brakes is if the corner is tighter than you think, you cannot "add more coast". I heartily agreed with him (at least that's what I think he said, but as I mentioned earlier, my Spanish is not very good.)
The rain had stopped and after saying goodbye to our new pals, we headed back towards Samana.
All over the Dominican Republic were these fantastic, hand built rock walls. The craftsmanship is astonishing. Notice how perfectly flat they are on top.
Dane was reluctant to wear any more protective gear than he had to, as a result his tennis shoes were soaked from the rain so we had to swing back past the hotel to allow him to change.
Waiting for Dane to change into dry shoes and socks, we made fun of Ed's passionate hatred of toast due to a french tourist stealing his toast. It made no sense to use either.
As we rode back into Samana a tour boat had come into port and the town was transformed. Tourist shacks and locals were everywhere selling everything from flip-flops and t-shirts to hand crafted jewelry. It was an astonishing contrast to yesterdays version of the same town.
People were everywhere, it was like organized chaos. Nothing made sense, but it all made sense and it was surprisingly easy to navigate.
Once passed Samana we rallied along for a little ways before turning north.
Surprisingly, the main road was in much worse condition than this side road which offered the only real, fast, sweeping corners we'd seen or would see for that matter.
We rode to Cascada El Limon and stopped at a small little restaurant that was offering pony rides to a massive waterfall.
Dane: "Whoah! Whoah! Whoah! This feels like a lot more than 1hp!"
Jason seemed to adapt to the lower power curve much quicker, allowing him to began flirting with the locals. "Hola chica! ¿Como te va?" (translation: how you doin'?)
We each had an escort assigned to us to ensure the pony's didn't get away from us. I was the only one among us that had spent any time on horses. I actually rode horses long before I rode motorcycles.
My escort turned out to be a huge MotoGP fan and I was able to start practicing more of my Spanish speaking skills.
Soon we were discussing weather or not Nicky Hayden would be able to be competitive on the Ducati, if Jorge Lorenzo would be the rider to dethrone the unstoppable Valentino Rossi and the financial ramifications of the new one-tire rule. (At least I think that's what we were discussing, as I mentioned earlier, my Spanish is not very good.)
Hazzard-Cam; horse version.
At the end of the horse ride, there was another shopping opportunity for Kris. She was wowed by all the jewelry options and the favourable Peso/Dollar exchange rate. She bought quite a bit of jewelry, including several pieces featuring a stone called "Larimar", which a very rare stone (pectolite) found only in the Dominican Republic. It gets its blue color from the high density of cobalt, instead of the traditional calcium found in pectolite from other locations. The problem with Laminar, however, is that it is photosensitive and looses its blue color over time if it is exposed to light, eventually becoming a chalky white color.
Once Kris had her shopping fix, we began the steep descent to the waterfall. Steps were hand cut into soil; another impressive feat of hand-crafted engineering.
Yep, this is the waterfall. It's okay, I suppose, if you like this sort of thing.
Jason shows us the proper way to pose in front of a waterfall. (I really can't tell much difference, but don't tell him that).
Unlike America, we were allowed to swim in the pond. I'd become to accustomed to American over-protection as I'd neglegently managed to swim, full-blast, into a submerged post. I ended up with a substantial bruise. If only there were someone I could sue for my mistake... Oh wait, this isn't America, I need to take responsibility for my own errors. (This is humour, please stop sending me emails about how much I hate America. I don't hate America. I promise.)
Back at the top of the hill we watched in fascination as several locals cooked cocoa beans and turned it into a chocolate paste.
Apparently, a machete is needed to get the best results.
After our horse ride back to the bikes it was time for lunch. On the men was real-live, genuine coconut milk. Tom Hanks was correct in Castaway, it is a natural laxative. And that's all we are going to say about that.
After lunch we crossed over the rest of the mountain range towards the resort town of Las Terrenas.
The riding was rather spectacular, the roads in great shape and the traffic was light. Hard to ask for much more.
Nearing Las Terrenas, we were back near the ocean front. Sadly, this town was much more what you would expect with big hotels, lots of tourists and the like.
Past town we started climbing back over the same mountain on our way back to the southern coast and Samana. Notice the gutter on the right side of the road. its a full meter deep. Its best not to make a mistake that would result in you riding into it.
The road conditions were near perfect, with the exception of the occasional pot-hole. Just watch for the ones with tree's growing out of them.
The Wee-Stroms were about the perfect bike for this kind of riding. It could transition to the changing terrain faster than we could.
Check out the concrete road markers, yet one more thing to encourage proper riding. I wouldn't want to tag one of those.
Cresting the top, the view looking south was rather impressive. The road drops down a severely steep slope. This made the riding pretty great, but just like anywhere else, slow moving traffic took some of the fun out of it.
The slow pace gave me opportunities to capture the views around me.
Through the entire trip, Kris followed me and Jason ran sweep with his high beams on so we could spot him easily. We really liked the practice of the last rider running high-beam and may incorporate that into our riding as well.
One thing I really never got tired of looking at was how many crazy things can be carried on these little motos. The venerable Honda Super Cub was still a popular choice with the locals.
Stopping on the far side, Kris had a dismount-malfunction when she got off her bike. Fortunately, this was the only "fall" of the entire trip. Not so bad. From here we had the option to blast down the main road back to Samana or ride back the same way we came over the two mountain passes. Which do you think we choose?
Why, back the way we came, of course. Only this time there was quite a bit less traffic.
We stopped once again in Las Terrenas for the last break of the day. An ex-pat Frenchmen pulled in on his four-wheeler asking where we got the "big" bikes because a big bike like that would get lots of ... Uhm... girls. After he'd left Ed told us that every time he's stopped here some french guy pulls in on his four-wheeler and asks the exact same question. Ahh, the French.
The, aforementioned, tour boat. As we came the last few Km's before we got this view of the tour boat before ending the evening with dinner and some Mama Juana.
Today started with an option to wake up super-early and repeat yesterdays route then spend the afternoon at a hidden beach so great, we were told, that it makes the worlds top-ten best beaches and has been used for many Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition photo shoots. Option B was to skip the ride and just go to the beach in the afternoon.
While Kris and I had the best intentions of waking up at 6am to go for a ride, it just wasn't to me. We'd slept so good that we took the opportunity to sleep in and start the day very leisurely. Jason, Ed and Dean, however, did the early morning ride.
Yes, we felt terrible about missing the early morning ride, just awful. Instead he had to endure a calm, relaxing morning of sipping coffee, watching the tree's sway in the breeze listening to the music of caribbean birds chirping and singing. We hated every moment of it.
After breakfast and lots of coffee we decided to go for a short walk to the playa (beach).
And this is what we found...
What a gorgeous way to start the day?
We begged and pleaded and coerced and threatened all the rest of the regular CanyonChasers to come on this trip, but everyone had declined saying I dunno... the Dominican Republic? Isn't that, like, by Haiti and Cuba? Why yes it is, but this was turning out to be far better than anything we could have imagined.
We just enjoyed the morning, standing in the warm water and watching waves crash into the rocks. It made me really miss my cubicle back home.
All that was missing was my bottle of Cerveza, but that was to come later...
Since today was pretty much a "no-ride" day, we spent some quality time on the aforementioned, secret beach. Here it is. Shhh, don't tell anyone.
Having never snorkeled before, I thought I would give it a try. All the gear made me feel just like a superhero of some kind. Aesthetically, something wasn't quite right.
The locals were wandering around selling fresh seafood, bracelets and other trinkets. They would "hire" this beautiful bombshell, who spoke more english than they did, to do the negotiations for them. Unfortunately, something didn't translate quite right. She came up to me and said "Hello Amigo! I have crabs. Would you like to see my crabs."
Since we were not riding, alcohol was acceptable. Standing in the water is Ed and I, drinking Presidente's and solving the worlds problems. We had the financial crises resolved, figured out the whole airport "security" thing and were moving on to global warming when we were distracted by, and I kid you not, a very, very attractive and naked sunbather, who after baking in the sun would stand up, stretch her back, then go sit in the surf and rub sand all over her ample bosoms. It was such a travesty because were it not for this disruption to our thought process we'd have easily come up with the solution for all this pesky climate change. (Sorry no photos - we try to keep this site family friendly).
As the sun began to drift lower towards the horizon I was reminded that I had neglected to submit my TPS report before I left. I was panic stricken and could think of nothing else. If only there was cell phone reception I would call the office and make sure my TPS report was properly submitted in triplicate. Darn it all!
The trip was starting to wane as today's route meant returning back to Jarabacoa basically the same way we'd come. To be honest, it was sad to pack up and leave Samana behind and we'd have liked to spend another day here, but all good things must come to an end and so it was as we ventured back to the restaurant for our final Samana breakfast.
I was actually starting to get fairly proficient at ordering food. Now most times I'd actually get what I'd ordered. Huevos fritos por favor!
The ride back to Jarabacoa seemed so much longer than when we were heading out. Perhaps it was the realization that the trip was starting to draw to a close. Always such a sad thing.
However, the riding was good and the plump clouds were keeping the temperature fairly cool. Remember, we had left Utah in a snow-storm to come here so it was a bit of a change for us.
Blue seemed to be the color of choice for those wishing to doll up their moto's. This example is quite nice with blue rims. Also notice how the rear-shock mount bolts have been replaced with an extra set of footpegs. This was a common modification allowing for additional passengers.
Self portrait with me, Kris and in the distance you can see Jason's high-beam.
I just thought this came out cool.
Entering into another small town, traffic slows, and signage increases.
But mostly, we just got lots of great riding.
This is how it'll look when you come do this.
We stopped for a mid-morning snack at Ed's favourite fruit stand. I wonder how he choose this stand from all the other fruit stands. He swore to me that he'd never seen that R6 here before. Uh-huh... I'm sure.
Jason taught me how to say pineapple in Spanish...
So I taught Jason how to drag knees around Miller Motorsports Park
We gave the fruit stand our seal of approval. Next time you are in the Dominican Republic keep an eye out for this stand.
Dominicans must not like to smile in photos. This gentleman was all grins and smiles until he agreed to let us take his photo. Then the stern face came out. The camera was put away and the smiles came back.
It was still eerie how similar the topography and vegetation is to Utah. Just... erie, I tell you.
A 50lb bag of rice and a 50 gallon jug of water. No problem for a Dominican on a Super Cub.
Jason refused to give up on his Chopper helmet. We kept telling him how much better he'd look in a full face helmet with a tinted shield but he refused to give in to our pleadings.
This is your typical traffic jam in the Dominican Republic.
We grew accustomed to the looks we got from the Dominicans. Kris got the most looks since she was a girl on a big bike. Frequently the young boys would "impress" her by doing stand up wheelie's and knack-knacks on their 50cc motorbikes.
We really grew to like all the Moto's everywhere. We rarely had people pull out in front of us or evade our space. It was a very refreshing change to America.
The amazing thing was how many people they could fit on one small bike, I saw 6, of course two of them where children who were held off to the side. I wont even mention the child carrier I saw being held off below and to the side of the rider in a big city full of traffic.
Kris, CanyonChaser since 1996
I'm sure the ATGATT crowd and the child safety advocacy groups are already haemorrhaging over this photo. But the interaction between these three was absolutely endearing.
A little bit later, we stopped for a quick break at this fresh-water spring. In the rocky mountains a fresh water spring means the water will be about 32.1 degrees. Barely not frozen. But here it was as warm as a bath.
Kris couldn't believe such a thing was possible and promptly stuck her feet into the water and reported back. "Yep, warm as a bath."
Dane, who'd we'd nicknamed Canuk-Loco (the Crazy Canadian) was out of his clothes and into his swim trunks in less time than it took Kris to pull off her boots.
I convinced a local niño to jump off the rock into the pond. I took a whole series of photos of his daring jump. But this is the only one that turned out at all.
One last stop at the ocean before we turned south and headed inland.
The four of us. Kris, me, Jason and Dane.
Jason explained to me that all his photos needed to be taken horizontally because he had no idea how to rotate them on his computer. If only he'd purchased a Canon SD800 (or the new SD880), the greatest motorcycle cameras of all time, then his images would be auto-rotated.
Heading towards lunch we passed by the home of Jason's old friend from years past. Jason was really hopeful that he'd be able to reconnect.
Not only did Jason's friend get the message, but the whole village came out to celebrate in the reunion.
This is the first time Jason and Lula had seen each other in years. It was much more joyous than the photo shows. Lula would follow us into town so they could have lunch together and catch up.
We had lunch at a spectacular french restaurant, Cafe de Paris a Rio San Juan, that served the best pork I'd ever had. The restaurant can be identified by the black cat sleeping on the table.
Behind me is a popular fresh water pond, well lake. Its Laguna Gri Gri. I have no idea what Gri Gri is, but Laguna means Lake. I know this because Laguna Seca means "dry lake". My Spanish is amazing isn't it?
After eating we went on a short trek to find a place to exchange some dollars for peso's and some Mama Juana. We thought a bottle of magical, afordesiac rum would be the perfect souvenier. Fortunately for us, Lula knew his way around and was most helpful in getting us around town.
Sooner than they would have liked, Jason and Lula were forced to say goodbye. Lula had told us earlier than even though Jason and his skin colors were different, they were brothers. Meeting Lula was wonderful and it would have been nice to have gotten to know him better.
Heading towards Jarabacoa, I was lucky enough to capture this shot. Bikes were used for all sorts of crazy stuff, but we never seemed to have our camera out at the proper time to capture the creativity.
I had noticed that the V-Strom wasn't shifting quite as good as I thought and was having trouble shifting as smoothly as I like. Coming around one corner I wasn't able to shift at all. I looked down to see the shift lever dangling from the linkage. We were never supposed to break off from the rest of the group, but I wanted to stop before any other parts were potentially damaged or lost.
It was a simple matter of a loose bolt and the Suzuki design was clever enough that this type of thing does not result in any lost parts. However, you must have a snap-ring pliers to be able to reassemble the linkage, otherwise It'll just fall apart again. My plan was to remove the entire linkage, take it apart (without any snap-ring pliers), then put it all back together so I wouldn't have to do the work while kneeling in the dirt.
However, a local named Winston had noticed our plight and immediately stopped to render aid. Despite all of his best intentions, he slowed down the job immensely. He kept taking the tools out of my hands and putting everything back together (most times backwards). It took a lot of restraint and patience to not get frustrated. He was, after all, genuinely trying to help and willing to do whatever it took to get the bike running again. Even though I spent most of my time explaining to him (with my fantastic Spanish) what really needed to be done.
The helpful lad was obviously fairly proficient with a wrench as this was his "chopper" that he was more than happy to let us play on, but very reluctant to let us ride. He told us that everyone who rides it, crashes it.
That didn't stop us from all taking photos on it, though.
Shift lever repaired, we were quick to get back on the road and it felt great to have the wind flowing through our vents again.
Kris and Jason as we rode along the mountain ridge line.
The riding was nothing short of spectacular.
Lots of spectacular cornering opportunities.
Near the top of the mountain, we were almost into the clouds.
Eventually we arrived at our final hotel for the trip. This time at the Hotel Pinar Dorado. We finished the evening, but sitting under sprinkling skies, drinking Presidente's and Cuba Libras. (Another Dominican Republic favorite - a highball made of cola, lime and rum).
Starting off on our final day or riding involved filling up the bikes with fuel. The highlight of this was the gas station was located at a very busy intersection. The traffic patterns were crazy and I could have sat there for hours watching it all.
We rallied south on the Autopista (freeway) and turned towards the mountains. Immediately we were enjoying some of the most glorious cornering opportunities I'd ever had the pleasure to enjoy. We stopped shortly after starting to look back on the road we'd just ridden.
The view of things other than the road wasn't bad either. Photo opportunities galore.
There was an unusual green wall, we don't know what for, but it was there nevertheless.
We returned to the bikes and stopped a few miles later, a whopping 4500 feet above sea level - about the same elevation as Salt Lake City. The terrain was significantly different and there was a monument at the top.
We stopped and I was totally taken aback by the spectacular view.
There was also this very unhappy dog who was being kept against his will. He eventually managed to elude this robust string and was seen trotting off into the mountains.
This pullout was a popular stop. And we were impressed by this creative truck loading. Later the driver of this truck began boasting to the driver of an empty, brand new pickup saying his old truck got lots of photos, and nobody was taking photos of the new one.
Jason was chatting with the locals, as usual. While the rest of us who were Spanish impaired, simply enjoyed the refreshingly cool mountain air.
The riding was absolutely brilliant. This was easily the best ride of the trip. They clearly saved the best for last.
Even though it was a narrow road, there wasn't much traffic and it resulted in just brilliant riding.
Who would have guessed that a Caribbean, tropical island would have mountains this large.
As we neared Constanza, we arrived on some road construction. If we didn't know better, this valley wasn't looking much like the rest of the Dominican Republic we'd seen so far.
Riding into the valley it was simply spectacular!
This is Kris following me into Constanza.
The closer we got to town, there was a very strong odour. It took me a few minutes to recognize it, but it was garlic. I'd never smelled garlic fields before. Needless to say, it doesn't smell as good coming out of the dirt as it does roasted.
Arriving in town, you could see that we were much higher than we'd been in the past. Notice how many of the locals are wearing jackets and coats. We thought it was still hot, but just less hot than what we'd be experiencing the past week.
We rode into the center of town where we'd meet up with Robert and Alida before heading off the lunch. They were probably a little ways behind us still.
The instant I got off the bike, before I could even remove my helmet, this little entrepreneur grabbed my dirty boots and began working away at cleaning them.
Kris was also identified as a Gringa and they began working on her boots too. The boots I was wearing were just about to be retired, so it seemed kinda pointless to have them shined. But the price to have them shined was 10 pesos. About 30 cents.
They were diligent and quite fast. I was impressed and paid 25 peso's for my 10 peso shoe shine. That's a pretty good tip. (BTW, overpaying for local goods does more harm than good. It's best to pay appropriately to the local economy. Paying more than double is still extraordinarily generous if the total was still less than 1 american dollar.)
Ed kept saying that he liked his boots like he liked his women. Dirty. But he eventually gave into the persistent shoe shiners and let them work his boots over.
After the work was done, they hung out to chat. Again discussions turned to the MotoGP and the 21 liter of fuel regulation. Many of the locals thought limiting how much fuel a GP bike could carry limited competition, but a few though it enhanced the engineering and engine efficiency. (at least that's what I think we were talking about - my Spanish isn't very good.)
Jason even gave in and let them shine the rubber on his boots, paying lavishishly. He paid a full 50 peso's per boot. He made me feel very, very cheap.
Dane insisted that his boots would only get dirty on the ride home and that a shoe-shine would be pointless. How he was able to resist these guys is beyond me.
It was to be our last day of riding and the last day I'd have with the best V-Strom in the fleet - lucky number 7!
Heading back to Jarabacoa, it was going to miss the relaxed passing regulations. It was so easy to get around.
Our last view-point and it was a fairly spectacular view. Ed told us that its very rare to be up this high and not be encased in clouds.
I had to take a moment and just take in the view. Thick clouds came in overhead and threatened to rain on us. We'd made it an entire week with minimal moisture coming out of the sky.
Yep, that was the view.
We stopped at the bottom of the hill, and before most of us had our helmets off, Jason, in typical Jason form, had sat down and began chatting with the locals.
The Dominican Republic "strip mall" had everything from a motorcycle repair shop to food. Jason was pretty excited about the pork. If you look close, you'll notice a piece of cardboard hanging on a piece of twine. The wind flaps the cardboard and "shoo's" fly's away.
The other "anti-fly" device was to provide something more appealing. In this case, a stomach and liver was hung a few meters away where flies were allowed to congregate and feast - leaving the human food alone. Clever, if not somewhat disgusting.
The last little dog photo of the trip, and strangely one of my favorite photos of the tip.
Somewhat off-topic. The Dominican Republic was teeming the Toyota Hilux pickups. These are diesel pickups that get amazing mileage and have massive amounts of tow-capacity torque. It's not the same thing as the American Toyota Tacoma. The Tacoma was based on a Land Cruiser Prado chassis, while the Hilux rides on a the ladder frame found on previous Toyota pickups. I really grew to love these things and wished like crazy that we could get these in America. This would be the perfect CanyonChasers vehicle.
That night, we went out as a group for our final meal together. It was one of the best I've ever had. The goat was, melt-in-your-mouth, amazing!
No more riding. The bikes were locked up in the MotoCaribe compound. We woke up early to head into Santiago to catch our flights. Dane would be leaving a couple hours before Jason, Kris and I, but we thought we'd head in at the same time to get a few hours in Santiago before heading home.
No sooner had we dropped off Dane that we realized that one of the van tires was loosing a fair bit of air. Always prepared, Robert whipped out a can of fix-a-flat and before long we were rolling again.
We drove to the center of Santiago to visit the massive and towering "Monument to the Heroes of the Restoration." In case you are not familiar with 20th-Century Dominican Republic history, a very bad man named Rafael Trujillo dictated with blood-lust and an iron fist came to power in the 1930's. It is said that more than 35,000 people were slaughtered, murdered or assassinated under his regime. In the 1940's he had this structure commissioned as a monument to himself. When Trujillo was eventually assented in 1961, (some believe the CIA orchestrated the assignation) the monument was reclaimed and refit in remembrance of the Independence Restoration War of 1863, in which the Dominican Republic regained its independence from Spain.
We walked up and around the monument and enjoyed the cool morning air. Jason was really reluctant to be leaving. He'd spent a lot of time here in his youth and, obviously, still had a lot of love for the place.
The view of Santiago from the monument. It was a beautiful morning.
Jason, Kris and I were all on the same flight out of Santiago. And all too soon we were dropped off. Ed, Robert and Alida were invaluable in helping us get through Dominican Republic customs, but before we knew it we were waiting for our boarding call and celebrated with the final Presidente of the trip.
As we flew from the Dominican Republic back to New York, it was sad to be leaving everything we'd experienced the past week behind.
After surviving American customs and immigration, we were finally sat down to eat and I managed to stick a Jalapeno soaked finger into my eye (or am I crying to be ending our holiday?)
The final moments before boarding our flight back home.
We cannot give higher praise to MotoCaribe. They put on a top-notch tour and the "all-inclusive" nature meant that we rarely had to take our wallets out of our pockets. Even if you've never thought of visiting the Dominican Republic, as we hadn't, its an amazing experience.
There are a few things to consider before rushing over and signing up. This tour would be best enjoyed by the moderately experienced rider. You will be faced with the unexpected at every corner, and the pace was moderately brisk (much to our delight!) and there was little time spent "dawdling" along at slow speeds, unless traffic or road conditions dictated otherwise.
We absolutely fell in love with the Dominican Republic populous. While it is quite poor, its also fairly tidy (with few exceptions) and the people are wonderously genuine and sincere. Its worth going just to meet and talk with the people. We were all worried about leaving valuables in hotel rooms and being robbed at some point, but never once did anything negative happen, even after accidentially leaving my camera in the room, in plain site, for the day.
Finally, since returning several people had noted how few miles we rode and stated that they probably wouldn't go because it sounded like there just was not enough riding. This could not be more inaccurate. We got in plenty of riding! Mileage can be deceptive because every road it either vigorously twisty and technical or you are dealing with road conditions or traffic, so while the mileage numbers weren't that great, we probably still spent between five and six hours a day in the saddle. In short, Ed does an outstanding job at mixing riding with stopping to see the and experience this wonderfully warm and rich country. You won't lack for saddle time.