From the Front of the Bus- Life on the Road on the Samana Peninsula (Dominican Republic)
I have perceived that to be with those I like is enough,
To stop in company with the rest at evening is enough,
To be surrounded by beautiful, curious, breathing laughing flesh is enough,
To pass among them or touch any one, or rest my arm ever so lightly round his or her neck for a moment, what is this then?
I do not ask any more delight, I swim in it as in a sea.
There is something in staying close to men and women and looking on them, and in the contact and odor of them that pleases the soul well.
All things please the soul, but these please the soul well.
Walt Whitman “I Sing the Body Electric” Leaves of Grass
Getting nauseated in a vehicle has its advantages. You get to sit up front like a queen (although you do miss good convo in the back seats if you’re traveling in a van/bus) as was the case on the Samana Peninsula of the Dominican Republic, but you get to see life on the road.
And in this part of the Dominican Republic, the center of the universe is on the road. Where I come from, life began and ended in the ‘back yard’ or on the front porch, while I was growing up. But even if these gaily painted, bright-colored modest homes had a porch, the actual road is where everyone wants to be. They pull out their plastic stack-able chairs and many place them right on the black top, if they don’t have a sidewalk. There are no shoulders. A very deep drainage ditch follows both sides of the road, so deep that if you ran off the road, you’d need a tow truck or a wench to get you out. Their homes have elevated walkways to cross over from the road to their home and some folks sit their chairs right on them. But most bring them right out to the road itself.
I only drove the Samana Peninsula for three days but we covered most of the roads and I saw a lot. There were young girls wrapping their hair in rollers, men getting haircuts, black girls getting corn rows. Some sat in the ditch on chairs with their feet cooling off in the mountain water running by while they read a book. Many, many washed their motorcycles, dipping water out of the ditch or utilizing a long puddle formed from the recent rain. Some cooked on a stove right by the road, dozens of women pulled their washing machines out by the road and did their wash.
Where they chose to hang their wash was also fascinating to me. Very few households had actual lines and some utilized barbed wire. (Not sure how good that was on the slinky under garments but hey). They hang their wash in trees, over bushes, draped over rocks, flung over fences, and the strangest, on the highways’ guard rails, marching down the highway. It was Friday and everyone seemed to be doing wash. And all the pieces of clothing were colorful. No drab darks on the Samana Peninsula. Perhaps that is because they are a sunny, happy people. Their wash may be an indication of this.
Since there are absolutely no shoulders on the road, (because of the drainage ditch) you have to park your vehicle right in the traveling lane on the highway, to sell goods out of the back, to just stop and visit. There were motorcycles in town but not a single bicycle. This peninsula is extremely hilly and mountainous with curving roads so it would be a physical feat to climb them on a bike.
And so most walk. They walk to work in the cocoa and coffee plantations. The uniformed kids walk to school. They walk to the store, and they walk to visit? They must walk to merely visit one another because they are out on the road walking day and night, without packages in their hands. And they are always everywhere congregating, talking, and laughing. What are they talking about, I asked my guide? They seemed to live a simple life without a ton of variety and new things coming into their lives so what was the conversation about? I longed to sit a spell alongside the road with them (and would need to know Spanish) so I could join in, merely listening to the stories of their lives.
Another thing is, I saw virtually no trash. It was amazing. And this is coming from someone whose child lives in an apartment in north Philadelphia where the amount of trash and lack of concern Is horrifying. My guide tells me that these people are poor but I did not see a desperation. They did not seem hungry, nor look it. They did not appear to feel helpless and stuck in their lives but content. It looked like a happy existence.
My girlfriend said that her family saw lots of poverty and trash and desperate living in the Dominican Republic when they were visiting and she suggested that maybe the tourism who sponsored our trip made sure to insulate us so we did not see that. But that could not be so. We drove so many roads on the peninsula. So maybe it is the Samana Peninsula where life is different than the cities. All I know is what I saw from my window on the bus.
As I rode the bus, I became keenly interested in their lives and waved to everyone. They all looked at me, as we passed, as if I were a novelty. I asked one of the Dominicans who was in our group about this socializing habit out in the front, and he assured me , it was only the common folk. He would never hang out on the road. He would always receive his company inside the house. I pitied him. He was missing out on a lot of fun from what I could see.
There were horses trotting by. Motorcycles rigged up with gigantic containers over their rear wheel in which to carry and sell goods out of. And people passing by and sitting and standing talking everywhere. Coming from America where everyone now seems to live inside where the outlets are, and our children (as well as the adults) suffering from ‘Nature Deficient Disorder ‘resulting from their disconnect with nature, I applaud this lifestyle. And coming from a section in Pennsylvania where it is predominantly settled by Germans, who are a private, proud people, it is heart-warming to see the Dominicans truly enjoying the company of their fellow-man. Just being in their company alone seems to be extremely important to these people as almost none of them were hanging alone.
If all I come away with is learning that these Dominicans on the Samana Peninsula are a happy, friendly, colorful people, even though I was only here for a whirlwind of three days, well then that is enough to make me feel like I understand them a bit. And it is enough to know I want to return and learn more. That is a lot from just riding in the front of a bus.
Posted in: Travel Story
So very different in Haiti…
that’s what I hear- so close yet so different
You really captured the heart of Samana … wearing a warm smile…. thanks Cindy!
you were one of the contributors Karen- who made it so special! xxoo – so glad you were along. a stroke of luck.