Adjusting: Getting Around in Santo Domingo

Previously, on Adjusting

Sans Boston

You don't look a day over 25, honest.

This one is pretty easy to write, as this country is pretty good on transportation considering the infrastructure issues it has. The adventure of getting one place to another in La República Dominicana is quirky, takes some art, a bit of skill, and more than a few dashes of luck. One key piece of getting somewhere is to act like I know what I’m doing, but I won’t ruin the fun. I’ll work the short distance for now, and then long distance later, in accordance with prophecy.


The Metro is a one-line subway, running South-to-North along the boulevard of Máximo Gomez from the University district near the coast up to the barrio Villa Mella, where I shadowed loan officers through for the first week. It’s mainly underground, until you get to the river crossing up North, which does more than provide a physical separation. When you cross the river, you go over a bridge that truly shows you who lives on which side of the economic spectrum, city proper quickly ceding to crumbling apartment blocks, a little jungle, then shantytowns along the banks of the light-brown Río Isabella. Then suddently you’re 50 feet up on a monorail-type system coasting over the drying clothes and Claro satellite dishes that dot the ghetto’s rooftops.

Despite the second-world condition of most of the city, the Metro is only two years old and impeccable. It’s so clean that they don’t let you eat or drink once you cross the gates. It has the same tap-card system like Boston’s CharlieCard, but costs ~$.65 as opposed to $1.75. It comes on time, with no schedule, as opposed to the chronically spotty T. Who needs a schedule when the next train comes every 3-5 minutes (I haven’t seen any worse wait times and I take it every day to work)? The trains are air-conditioned to the maximum, and there are televisions above the central poles running a loop of some of the more scenic places in the country (domestic tourism is essentially non-existent, so probably aimed at getting citizens to check out their own lands). It reminds me a lot of the system in Madrid, albeit at a much smaller scale.

My stop is 5 minutes walking from my apartment (another reason why I’m in the best location), and after two stops and ten minutes more of walking, I’m at work for 20 pesos each way. I haven’t really had a chance to explore much more than that, although I do know that there is a casino at the second-to-last stop. If I was here a couple years ago before the Metro, I’m sure I would have taken the following methods of transportation, two legs each way. That would have costed me 50 pesos (~$1.40) each way, still far less than Boston or The Big Apple ($2.25+ I think).

Carros públicos and guaguas are the preferred method of transportation for locals and really the best option, bar none. Carros are the same makes and models as taxis, and as long as I’m in no rush, far more interesting. The key to distinguishing the carros is with their roofs, either green or yellow. I stopped paying attention to the color of the roof as I’ve been getting more accustomed, but apparently you’re not supposed to use any others.They run specific routes ranging in duration and turns and destinations, and I’m pretty sure it’s well-organized. Still, with no brochures or information tables available, I don’t know how even locals figured out where each one goes. 25 pesos will get you most of the route, although I once took one from the origin of the route to my apartment and had to pay twice because it was so long. Going down any main street will generally yield a multitude of options of these guys, and with them always honking or yelling at all pedestrians, there are no worries about missing them. You can pretty much pick your favorite color(s) and get into that one. If you’d like to know where you’re going to end up, sometimes you need to point either left, right or straight. Many routes have the same origin and share the road for a distance, and the pointing tells them where you’d like to go at the fork in the road that’s up ahead. If you point left, it tells those going straight through the fork that you’re not one of their kind and they should ignore you.

I use the carros or guaguas multiple times a week to go to the gym. I walk South a block to a main road, Avenida Independencia, and flag one down. This takes me to and around Independence Park (route name usually equals destination), which is also at the beginning of Bolivar (keep that in mind). A five minute walk gets me in the gym. On the way back, I return to Bolivar, where the other route (Feria) starts. That one takes me to the one-way street going in the opposite direction, takes a left on the main road with the Metro, and drops me off wherever along Máximo I like as close to a block away from my apartment. What’s good about this trip back is that along Máximo Gomez, the supermarket and my bank (Scotia Bank does free withdrawals for B of A customers, score) are perfectly located in case I need to withdraw some groceries or cook some cash.

Now, this is where I need to use my skill and pretending to know what I’m doing. If I’m going on a trip elsewhere and am taking local guaguas to get there (did that to Bonao and Juandolio), I need to take a specific guagua – no carros. The out-of-town buses leave from Parque Enriquillo, a little Northwest of Parque Independencia (following me?). Even more specifically, I have to take Ruta 19 or 14, and specifically not 12. Now, these guaguas aren’t uniformed colors, which would be easy (I would make Ruta 12 the Green Line because you never want to take it). It’s not that Ruta 12 is evil, it just will take me somewhere I need to especially not go. Uniformed colors -ha- most of these things look like two VW hippie vans had nasty transformer sex, smoked crack during the pregnancy (R.I.P. Amy Winehouse, pour one out for your homie), and pooped out a seatless, overheating Mystery Machine with no sliding door or tread on the tires. Not all buses are born equal, that’s what you should take away from this. Anyways, it’s not like the cobrador knows or particularly cares where you want to go, he just wants to get you in the poor child(bus) and give him 25 pesos. It took a little bit for me to recognize the occasional signs, but I think I have it down – (km 12 means route 12…I think). There are other identifiers, like F-## on the window or some worn out piece of cardboard, but you generally just have to talk with the cobrador to make sure they’re going where you need before getting in – as in saying Parque Enriquillo over and over like a deranged person. I essentially just get in as long as it doesn’t have a 12 on it and hope for the best (remember, luck is a key ingredient). I haven’t had trouble with it in the last couple times, so I must be getting good at luck.

I rarely take taxis, but I’ll adjustificate you anyways. They have a couple fares, and it doesn’t depend on distance. If you’re crossing into Santo Domingo Este (across the river to the East, one of the worst barrios in the Caribbean), I’m sure they’ll charge extra, but for the places I’d go, the sprawl isn’t too large. Basically during the day it’s 150 pesos for up to 4/5 people, depending on squeeze. That’s a total cost, so sometimes it’s actually more cost-effective to use than a public car. At night, it’s bumped up to 200, with an extra surcharge in both situations if you need a van. They operate like taxis around the world, but just like the carros not distinguishable from false prophets, so you need a way to cope. What’s recommended is having taxi companies’ phone numbers saved in your contacts and just calling one to pick you up instead of relying on what’s in front of you. In that way, you have price, destination, and cab number figured out. Safety first, kids.

Walking is fun, but not really anything to talk about. I haven’t traveled to places that I was unfamiliar with, and have a good sense of direction to where my home base is. The formula for walking is left foot then right foot – repeat.

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Reading: American Theocracy. Okay, I miss you, Kindle. Come back to me. Once I finish this book, I have a reading list that I’m super excited about. I’ll talk about that later.

Listening: Live at Wembley ’86, Queen – I heard about this Live Aid performance a couple months ago from close friends, and just stumbled….upon it the other day. It truly is an amazing performance by Freddie Mercury and his crew. That guy could belt it and makes Justin Bieber look like a lesbian boy-child. Oh, wait.

Learning: Slow Show – The National. I’ve been kind of running through some riffs of other songs before getting bored, but I really am going to get this guy down. The National is an amazing band that puts out some seriously good tunes, and this is one of my favorites.


2 thoughts on “Adjusting: Getting Around in Santo Domingo

  1. Pingback: Adjusting: 6 Months, 1 Suitcase | Qué lo What?

  2. Pingback: Adjusting: Keeping up With the Ahmadinejads | Qué lo What?

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