Storytime Wednesday: The Dominican Cab Driver

In what would turn out to be one of the only high points of the year, I decided to splurge on a lavish tropical vacation for my 30th birthday (booked before both the loss of my beloved car and one of my traitorous organs). All I wanted was to sit on a warm beach and relax, maybe get some writing done. I settled on the Dominican Republic after being influenced by two of its countrymen (Junot Diaz and my exboyfriend), and opted for what I thought was the best of the island for my trip: resort-heavy Punta Cana and actual city Santo Domingo. 

I knew basically nothing about the country except what my exboyfriend told me, which was that there were places where you could snorkel and see starfish for miles (essentially fulfilling all requirements I had for the trip, which were: 1. must have beach 2. see point #1). I booked a round-trip flight to Santo Domingo, thinking that, since it was an island, it was probably small and navigable. So imagine my surprise when I found out that the two cities I chose to visit were actually something like three hours apart. I changed my flight in to arrive in Punta Cana, and figured that surely the Punta Cana - Santo Domingo route would be traveled frequently and there would be easy transportation between the two cities.

I arrived in Punta Cana and despite the fact that I was definitely the only non-honeymooner at the resort and heard, "But you're here...by YOURSELF?" about a hundred times, I had a truly wonderful stay.

The night before I was due to leave, I talked to the concierge about my travel needs, and he seemed to think that there was a bus I could take to Santo Domingo. Great, no problem. 

Morning comes, and I visit the concierge desk again to check out and finalize my transportation. This concierge, who speaks much better English than the night concierge, indicates that there might be a problem and spends the next hour on the phone trying to find a way to get me to Santo Domingo. It turns out, I would need to take two buses which, given I was a solo female traveler with toddler-level-at-best Spanish, was too daunting of a prospect for my taste. We tried to arrange a taxi to the second bus station, but then realize there's a strike in that city and I can't take the bus. The only viable option is to take a taxi the entire three hours to Santo Domingo, which, after much haggling by my concierge, would run me about $200. Well, crap. 

(The concierge also transforms himself from friendly to creepy at this point by telling me that he wishes he could transport a beautiful lady like me to Santo Domingo himself, foreshadowing the rest of my experience in the city. But that is neither here nor there.)

So I get in the cab with the taxi driver, and due to language barriers we quickly realize communication is going to be stilted, which is always fun for a long car ride. After about ten minutes of leaving the resort, we start driving through these insane dirt roads with no signs of any kind, pedestrians inches from the passing cars and extremely burdened mopeds with laundry, livestock, etc. Every intersection was some elaborate game of chicken, and though my driver was flying through with extreme skill and speed, I was cowering in the backseat actively reassuring myself that I was not going to die. Finally, the dirt roads turned paved, and then suddenly we were driving down a modern multi-lane highway like we had never passed a moped precariously burdened with two people and four dining room chairs. With the threat of death lowered, the taxi driver visibly relaxed, then began to flip through some CDs. He asked me if there was anything I wanted to listen to, and I said he could choose.

To practice for my upcoming trip and get used to hearing Spanish, I had been listening to the Latino radio station in Austin. My strategy absolutely did not work in terms of helping me with any kind of useful language, but still, I was excited to hear what was on the radio in the DR because I might know some of the songs. 

With one last look in the rearview mirror, the driver pulls out a CD and pops it in. After my stay at the extremely whitewashed resort, I was ready to hear some bachata, some merengue, and see if I could pick out some words. But I was absolutely dumbfounded when a familiar flute sound started flowing sweetly from the stereo. Was that..?

Céline

Fucking

Dion. 

Oh yes. And when the ending notes of "My Heart Will Go On" (seriously) turned into the Archies' "Sugar, Sugar," it became very apparent to me that my driver had chosen his "white people mix." It was surreal to hear the soundtrack to a 20-year-old movie while in a tropical country with palm trees flying by, but not wanting to offend his musical sensibilities, I didn't say anything. Until we were about 30 minutes outside of Santo Domingo, when the CD restarted and when "My Heart Will Go On" started playing again. I lost it. The driver noticed me laughing, and asked, "Ah, te gusta esta musica?"

"NO!" I choked out, unable to even pretend.

He was genuinely surprised at this, and I explained as best I could that I had been expecting actual music in Spanish, like I listen to at home. He started making outraged noises and said I should have told him, and I realized we'd spent the majority of the trip listening to songs we didn't like out of politeness for the other person. After a good laugh, he played me some bachata for the brief remainder of the car ride, before dropping me safely at my hotel in Santo Domingo.