Biking in the Dominican

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Alright, so they said that I was a little out of my mind. They said that I had a high risk of getting seriously injured. They said that most people really don’t do what I wanted to. But as you have no doubt asked yourself many times, who exactly are “they”? Of course, I’m talking about the fact that I had decided to do some cycling while I was in the Dominican Republic. After all, I had gone to all the trouble of packing my bike in an airline flight box, dragged it to the resort (literally) and re-built it there the first day. I was staying at a place called Playa Dorado, which is not exactly in Puerto Plata, and just up the road from two places called Sosua and Cabarete. These are two places quite well known as being surf towns, and having great beaches. I didn’t feel like paying the $60+ USD that the organized excursions wanted to charge for going there. Plus, you were stuck on their schedule. Taxis were another option, and would have cost about a quarter that, but really, I was determined to experience at least a little of the Dominican on two wheels. And so I formulated my plan.

On Monday, day 2 of the trip, I decided to hit the road, and bike to Sosua. I wasn’t exactly sure how far it was, but it looked like about 30km or less on my maps. In the end, I think it was about 26-27km, so a 52km round trip. Just perfect for a little bike ride while on vacation. Not so far as to require a whole lot of commitment, but far enough to work up a good sweat, and feel like I’d had a good ride. Even more so when I actually hit the road and experienced the challenge of sharing a 2-lane road with 4 lanes worth of traffic at some points! How exactly did I prepare for the ride? Well, call me a geek (go ahead, I won’t be offended), but I had actually packed my Etrex Legend GPS receiver with me. Not only that, but I had done some research online, and found free maps that were compatible. These were open source maps, so no ‘stolen’ maps or anything. They covered the Dominican quite handily, so I had the confidence of having detailed maps of the area with me. However, it soon became apparent that ‘accurate’ is a relative term as far as the roads are concerned, as it didn’t take long for me to be what appeared to be off the map, on a non-existent road. No matter. I knew roughly that Sosua was definitely to the East, so there was little doubt that I would reach it.

Before leaving, I had a hearty breakfast, and loaded up my hydration bladder with about a liter and a half of water, and filled up a water bottle for the bottle cage on the bike. It was about 34 degrees Celsius, and quite humid as well. I wouldn’t want to be caught out there, dehydrated or anything. Apart from water, I didn’t take anything else except a spare tube, tools, and a gel in case I got hungry. I certainly had no intentions of staying overnight anywhere, that’s for sure. As I headed out of the resort entry, the security guard looked curious, as he had seen me running earlier in the morning as well. I explained to him that I wanted to bike to Sosua, and he seemed very surprised. I got the distinct feeling that cyclists are a rare occurrence in that area. Well, I’ve always had a pioneering spirit, so off I went.

Right away I felt an immediate freedom. It’s really hard to describe it, but there really is no feeling quite like it. In spite of the imminent danger everyone predicted I’d be in, I felt completely at home on the road. After all, I’ve been in some pretty hairy situations before on my bike, and if I plan to live on my bike for 4 months in New Zealand, I’d better feel pretty comfortable in a variety of situations like this. The roads were actually pretty decent. There were two lanes, and most of the way, there was a shoulder on either side of the road as well. As it turned out, the shoulder wasn’t so much a break-down lane as it was an additional lane in each direction for scooter and motorbike traffic. In my two separate trips to Sosua, I didn’t see another single bike. Just tons of scooters, bikes, cars and trucks. The most frightening part was when there’d be two massive trucks barreling towards each other, and one of them trying to get around cars or scooters, with me in the midst of it! Also, beyond the shoulder were usually ditches or other steep embankments, so there wasn’t anywhere nice to fall into should the need arise. Luckily, the need didn’t arise…

The biking ended up being all I had hoped as far as seeing the countryside. I stopped at a few different points along the way to attempt to talk to some locals. There was one group of guys working on clearing rocks and dirt from the ditches who were waving at me and cheered me on. Then there was the couple that was running a road-side greenhouse-type place that was selling plants. There were also a number of roadside food stalls, a school, and a military air base. I soaked it all in with my eyes, and took a few pictures as well, but mostly I just enjoyed it. The scenery was quite lush as well, which made sense given how damn humid it was! On my first trip to Sosua, I ran out of water before I made it back to the resort. That was about 2 liters in under 2 hours! Youch! The second trip, I made sure my hydration bladder was totally full, plus had the bottle, and money for extra water should I need it.

At the far end of my trip was my reward. Sosua! Of course, once I got there, I really wasn’t sure where to go, because the main road is actually above the beach, and I didn’t know how to get to the water. Luckily, with two wheels, you can explore a fair bit, and that’s what I did. I rolled through the streets, enjoying the sights and smells, the little stalls, the bars, the stores, etc. etc. Eventually, I found a few different spots to get to the beach. My first try was a dead end, which was actually at a cliff top looking onto a private beach, which was part of a resort. There were a couple locals there, and I felt like I understood a bit how they must feel, looking down at foreigners enjoying their beach. Not allowed to go down there. The second attempt wound me up at the right spot. The far end of a beach about a kilometer in length. The first trip, I just rolled up to the beach, snapped a couple self-portraits, and went back to the resort. I thought it was a nice spot, but nothing too special. I had the wrong first impression though.

The second time I made it back to Sosua (well, actually 3rd time, 2nd was on the Catamaran excursion), I went back to the same endpoint, but realized there was a path into the woods. Well, it turns out the woods was actually just a shaded path heading to the real attraction of Sosua. The entire length of the beach, in the treed area behind the beach, were literally hundreds of booths selling the full range of touristy things, art, food and drink! All the bartering and shopping you could imagine! Jody would’ve loved it 😉 I really don’t know how I missed it first time. I think I was just a little leery of all the locals eyeballing me. As it turned out, the end I started on was more the ‘locals’ side, not the tourists’ side. All part of my authentic experience though. So, the second time I was at Sosua, I did the whole length of the beach. Down one direction via the booths in the shade, then a whole walk up along the beach, turned around, and walked back to the ‘tourist’ side of the beach.

I even hung out on the beach for a while. As it turned out, a couple people from the resort that I had met had actually taken a cab to Sosua, and I met them on the beach. Or rather, they saw me. Turns out I was the only person around there of the hundreds that was walking along the sand with a bike. Ha ha. I wanted to take pictures, but for some reason, the batteries decided to not work at all. Boo. No proof of this beautiful beach, with me on it with my bike. Oh well. After about a half hour, I put my bike shoes back on, and biked on back to the resort. I felt like I was in my element the second time around. The bike was light under my feet, and I’m sure I was smiling the whole way back. I’m really looking forward to New Zealand where I can feel that way for 4 months! Of course, I’m sure trying to cross the alps of the Southern Island with a trailer and 60 lbs of gear might make me frown a little bit!

Well, that’s about it for my little tale of biking in the Dominican. I had originally planned to bike the other direction as well (west from Playa Dorado), or try biking up the mountain in the background of the resort, but both of those seemed like much worse ideas, both because of the increased (and more dangerous) traffic in the Puerto Plata direction, as well as the remoteness, and much further location, of the mountain. In spite of not going to other places, I’m still mighty glad I brought my bike with me and experienced something the vast majority of visitors to Puerto Plata don’t get to! Next up… a Catamaran trip!

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