We wanted to tour the nearby city of Puerto Plata and since we were planning on making it more of a discovery day than anything else we did just about no research ahead of time figuring we would just find what we found. When we saw something interesting we would stop. Our only real goal was to pull over at all the little roadside shacks and bring home as much fresh produce as we could eat and we also wanted to check out the Wal-Mart-like store, La Sirena, for provisioning later on.
We rented our trusty blue motorcycle- the one that has NO suspension on it and off we went. As we got closer to the city we started to see more and more of the road side stands we were looking forward to stopping at on the way home-so many so that we thought “how do they make money being so close together?”. Then we drove right by a huge cruise ship. We didn’t even know we were near the water yet-it looked like the giant ship was nestled between two mountains! All of a sudden the plethora of fruit stands made sense. Darn- there went that plan for cheap fruit!
We were expecting some crazy city driving. Crazy city driving has a whole new definition for me now-Holy crap! There were trucks driving down the wrong side of four-lane roads, vehicles driving in reverse, buses going the wrong way on one-way streets, and three lanes of cars on a two lane road and all the while motorcycles are weaving in and out everywhere. And, of course, there was still the sampling of horses, donkeys, chickens, and goats sharing the roads. Everybody honks for everything which just adds to the craziness. It was an experience! I have never seen driving like it! We made it through without any crashes, but not necessarily unscathed. Keith has long red scratches on his stomach from me digging into him with my nails in a death grip just trying to stay on the back of the bike.
To escape the worst of the city driving we got down to the Malecon (road along the water). It was a little more touristy than we like but we found the “yellow Wal-Mart”. What can I say- it was just like Wal-Mart, but yellow. The prices were not great-more like American prices even on the non-imported stuff. We only bought crackers, butter, and tortilla chips (to go with all those avocados we planned on getting on the way home). What I was really looking for was a pair of shoes. My only non-flip-flop style shoes floated away back when we were in the Bahamas. I didn’t find anything worth buying so it was a quick stop. For lunch we knew we had to get away from the tourist track so we headed up the mountain side until we passed a place that had a line of locals trailing from it’s patio. Another great lunch for two people under $6.00.
From there we drove randomly but quickly decided that we couldn’t see the city at all because you had to focus entirely on the traffic. For sure, it would have been a better choice to take the bus and walk around. Plus, you get to interact with the city if walking. Lesson learned. We passed a large open-air alley market that had tables and tables of shoes. We turned around and gave it a shot. I found a pair I liked but we had a translation error. We thought they were 340 pesos (not unrealistic- there were signs for shoes for 200 pesos nearby). They were 3400 pesos-almost $70.00! I thought there would be a problem when we changed our mind but the seller just chuckled at us and told us to have a good day. Silly gringos. We wandered through some more of the market. This was certainly the local market. They were selling underwear by the mound-full and mops by the bucket load, not jewelry and trinkets. It was a little claustrophobic but the vendors were not overly pushy. Well, except for the one who wanted to sell Keith a pair of boat shoes. He wouldn’t let go of Keith’s hand after he shook it. I guess we had a “boater” look to us. It was fun and not at all like my traumatic experience at the Straw Market in Nassau many, many years ago. Thank goodness!
We decided to not push our luck with the city driving and headed home. The roadside stands were a bust- too close to the cruise ship as we expected. They wanted wanted $3.00 for a pineapple and they asked for it both in English and in US currency right away. Nope, not what we were looking for. We stopped at a few stands/family homes way outside of the city, the prices were normal again. At one a man was making fresh peanut butter in his shack and used his fork (that he had been eating from) to scoop out some of his new batch for me to try. Please tell me…what is the proper response to that?!?? I picked the blob off with my fingers and licked the non-fork-touching side but not enough to actually get any on my tongue. I bought two plantains and we escaped as quickly and politely as we could! We didn’t buy any peanut butter.
The last stop of the day was at the cheese factory right outside Luperon. We were led into the only door which led to the human resources office. There were the of the remains of a big sheet-cake, half-full bottles of warm soda, and lots of paper plates- the universal picture of an office birthday party. We thought we were in the wrong place but there was a scale on the desk and we weighed out a big ball of cheese for less than $2.00. It was the score of the day. Keith was a happy boy.
Cheese to go with our crackers and avocados to go with our chips. It was a successful day despite our non-existent planning. We came home exhausted.
^^ I thought that maybe in the city we wouldn’t see as much of the friendly faces or receive the warm greetings that we love so much about the people of Luperon and the small surrounding villages we have been to. I was so wrong. Everywhere we have gone people are happy and so friendly. We like it here (even if the driving is scary).