Betcha never thought we’d still have “newbie lessons” to learn…
After our trip to the Florida Keys and the gulf coast of Florida, we spent a week at home in Philly for Thanksgiving. We ate, and ate, and ate. And then for some crazy reason, we found ourselves headed to an all-inclusive in the Dominican Republic. Well the crazy reason is easily explained by the crazy price; I had found a LivingSocial voucher a few months prior making this stay incredibly cheap. But the crazy timing is not so easily explained… because wouldn’t you think we’d go to the all-inclusive BEFORE stuffing ourselves over and over during Thanksgiving Week? But I digress.
Difficult-to-explain scenario #2: we booked ourselves to fly into the WRONG airport. When I say “we” I of course mean ME, since I do 99.9% of all our travel bookings. But Punta Cana and Puerto Plata do sound similar to the untrained ear, right? Our hotel was in Puerto Plata. A few weeks after we booked the airfare (notice that use of “we” again) we noticed our flight landed in Punta Cana. “No problem,” I thought, jumping on Google Maps. “How far can it be?” we said. Um, well, definitely over five hours by car… which turned out to translate to, oh, about nine hours by bus, and that’s just driving time, not counting transfer time!
This is how far it can be:
You’d think we could just change our flights, but of course that’s always ridiculously expensive even when the airline you’re using flies to both airports, which they didn’t in this case…! We might have tried the bus route but then I learned the buses don’t travel overnight there, and of course we weren’t landing early enough in the day to do the nine plus hours before night. Elliott had a great idea – a puddle jumper flight! Except the people who live in the DR don’t typically have a lot of money and so don’t fly between the cities of their country (i.e. domestic flights don’t exist). So… that left renting a car and driving. We’d driven in other countries before. How hard could it be?
Our flight got into Punta Cana just fine, and we got our little car. Elliott got behind the wheel, and we were impressed with the roads immediately. Smooth without potholes, no blind curves around mountainsides, that type of thing. Our old-fashioned paper map was serving us well which was great since our GPS didn’t have maps for the DR. We were driving for a good two hours with no issues, and we were watching the sun begin to set out the left side car window. And then we arrived in Santo Domingo, the biggest city in the DR. Little did we know, it was going to be a battle to leave!
All we needed to do was stay on the highway until we found the exit for Route 1, and then head north on Route 1. It sounded so simple… and yet we couldn’t find any signs for Route 1. We went on underpasses and overpasses and saw exits of all types for all sorts of other highways and towns, but we could not find a sign for Route 1 or Puerto Plata! We stopped to ask directions, speaking slowly and taking time to understand the Spanish spoken to us. They made it sound so easy – just a little further up the road. So we would go up the road, eventually realize we’d missed it and gone too far, turn around, and start all over again.
Meanwhile, the sun had set and it got dark, and we learned that traffic in the DR is much more similar to traffic in India than we had thought (and worse, now we were actually driving in it). There are few or no inspection laws for its cars. Cars drove without brake lights. Motorcycles drove without ANY lights. Vehicles changed lanes without using turn signals they may or may not have – and sometimes didn’t even actually change lanes, but instead just started to meander into our lane and then meander back out of it. And pedestrians, seemingly clueless to it all, walked slowly across the highway wherever they felt like walking. It took the two of us, staring intently out the windshield, to make sure we didn’t hit anything; and even then I’m convinced it’s just pure luck that we didn’t get into an accident.
Fast-forward an hour or two: we’re still in Santo Domingo, driving around. We’ve asked directions three times but still haven’t found Route 1. We’ve stopped for gas and been taken for a virtual ride by some guys who opened the hood and convinced Elliott we needed coolant, and then charged us an exorbitant amount for it. We’re driving down the same highway once again, trying not to hit people and cars and things, and Elliott suddenly realizes he left his credit card back there, at THAT gas station. We had gone too far to want to turn around again, and with our luck that night we were sure we’d never be able to find it anyway.
I opened the map to stare at it once again, hoping it might suddenly become more helpful, when, I’m NOT KIDDING, a gust of wind blew through the car and ripped the map right out of my hands! Our only map blew way far away behind us, never to be retrieved. As Elliott was about to engage in a profanity-laden screaming fit, I just started laughing hysterically. This was going to be one of those trips. I reassured him that I remembered enough of the map to be able to find our way to Puerto Plata if only we could find Route 1.
After that incident, I think we only had to ask directions once more before we managed to get on Route 1 going the wrong way, and then eventually correct ourselves so that we were on Route 1 North. It was a Hallelujah moment.
The rest of the trip was not without its interesting moments…
Like when we had to make a decision at a fork hours later, and I was pretty sure turning left would be going the long way, but Elliott was driving and was afraid turning right would be going the WRONG way. So we went left, and a few hours later, were able to verify that it was indeed the LONG way.
Like when it got so late, having taken the long way, that we decided we couldn’t even make it all the way to the airport where we needed to return the car because we were once again unsure of which way to go.
Like when we needed gas and it was 12:01am and seemingly all the gas stations had closed at midnight. Or when we finally found a gas station that was still open, got gas and tried to use their bathroom, only to find it was locked. And no one who worked there could find the keys. Yet they were so desperate to let us use it, eventually one of the staff tried to break the lock to let us in. (I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried.)
Eventually we found a gas station with a bathroom that wasn’t locked, and a dirt driveway in front of some sort of store/ tienda where we were able to park and sleep in the car. I’m not even going to go into detail about the mosquitoes that were biting me all night long in the car that was too hot for closed windows.
Let’s just say that the next morning, when we woke up and asked more directions and found our way to the airport in Puerto Plata to drop off the car, it might have been slightly obvious that we were through some sort of ordeal. The car rental people, having been very late themselves, took one look at us, said we had been through a lot, and offered us a free ride to our resort. A ride worth $50. I turned to Elliott and said, “Well, at least our all-inclusive is now well-deserved!” And that it was.