Saturday, March 30, 2013

Getting Around, Dominican Style

It has taken me a couple of weeks to gather my thoughts about public transportation in the Dominican Republic. As promised, here are my dos pesos about getting around in the DR.

Speaking of pesos, the current exchange rate is somewhere around 40 pesos to the dollar. So you can see the costs of each transportation option.

First, we have the guagua. Those of you who speak Spanish are probably wondering what a baby has to do with public transportation. The answer is nothing. In the DR, guagua means bus. I have no idea why but that's what it is. Most guaguas are 20+ years old. I have yet to be in one with a/c and dear lord its hot in there. They are mostly mini buses that are designed to hold about 15 people but are often stuffed to the door with patrons trying to get to their final destination. There is no such thing as personal space on a guagua. I've had people on my lap, I've been on stranger's laps, my backpack has been tossed on the dashboard in front of the driver, and rows that are designed for 4 people often seat 5+ and a baby. Or a chicken. And this includes in the front bench next to the driver. And behind him. Anything to get another person on the guagua. The cobrador (money collector) hangs out the door yelling the route of the guagua and assists passengers to get on and off. The bus stops any and everywhere, one must yell "dejame" or "me quedo aqui" when they need to exit. This is both good and bad. It's good because you get let off exactly where you need to be but it's bad because the rides can take forever. The cobrador might go for a walk at one stop and the bus waits for him. If the driver sees a friend of his, of course he stops to chat. I've even seen drivers stop to buy a beer. As of a few days ago this is illegal as the open container while driving law was just passed. I feel good about it. The best way to catch a guagua? Hold out your arm and vigorously flick you wrist. Most rides cost 25 or 30 pesos.

The next option which is ideal for shorter distances or traveling where a guagua may not go is a carro publico. I'm pretty sure someone donated thousands of 1980 Toyota corollas to the transportation system here. They are tired, sometimes barely functioning automobiles. They must be doing something right in order to keep them running though. These carros are a bit trickier as the safe ones have a green or yellow painted roof and a seal on the door. If thy don't, there's a good chance you are gonna get robbed. Not advisable. Seating arrangements are as follows:
2 passengers in the front seat. Doesn't matter is you are male or female big or little. Always 2.
4 passengers across the back seat. Yes, it's tight. The person third in from the right door is to lean forward in order to make room for the other 3 to shut the doors. Windows are always open so it's imperative that you put your belongings on the floor so they don't get snatched. Carros also stop wherever you want along their scheduled route, just say when. Carros publicos cost 25 pesos.
Then we have private taxis. These are much nicer, usually have air conditioning and do not allow for 6 passengers in addition to the driver. They are also quite a bit more expensive. As peace corps volunteers we are not allowed to use public transport after 7pm, so this is our option for travel at night. Price can definitely be negotiated and to avoid the gringo tax we must point out that we live here.

Last, the motoconcho. A motorcycle that is designed for 2 people but I have seen the accommodate families of 4 and the dog. Or a refrigerator, gas tank or flock of chickens. They do not have to abide by ANY traffic signs, lights or lanes. They weave traffic and run lights. In Santo Domingo we are not allowed to ride motorcycles, but outside of cities it's a very common and reliable form of transportation. Peace corps was gracious enough to provide us with helmets - the DR is the only country in the world where PCVs can ride motorcycles. Motos usually cost around 50-75 pesos.

If you're really strapped for cash you can try to get a bola. A bola is a free ride usually acquired by sophisticated hitch hiking tactics. I've only had one bola since I've been here and it was from some American missionaries in a minivan. But hey, a free ride is a free ride when you're a volunteer!

So the transportation here is a little unorganized. But ya know what? It works. There's no complicated subway map to read, no route to figure out. You just get on a guagua or car going in the right direction and you're set. Most Dominicans you sit next to are more than happy to discuss the weather, politics or new york so there's hardly ever a boring ride and you never know who you'll meet!

Saludos, Kaley

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Dirty South

As I mentioned before, I spent the weekend visiting Tyler and Erin (their dominican names are Rosy and Ralfie), two current volunteers living in Pedernales. The area west of Santo Domingo along the southern coast is what is referred to by PCVs as the dirty south. It's hot. And dry. And really hot. Like I step outside and immediately start sweating...which I am beginning to get used to. Good thing pitting out is totally acceptable here and happens to everyone.

The PVC visit is designed to let trainees have a little peak at what being a real live volunteer is like. I will say the weekend made me super excited to get started as a business volunteer but even more grateful to be in such a beautiful country as a pcv. I'll leave you with some pics from our mini tour along the southern coast which includes Pedernales, La Mercedita and ending at the cliff side house we stayed at Saturday night in San Rafael.

I admit I probably wouldn't be mad if they placed me in the south...

Friday, March 15, 2013

Peace corps acronyms, volunteer visit assignment and Santo Domingo

Saludos! I have come to learn that the peace corps loooooves acronyms. An entire training session could not be understood without knowing what these are and as consequence, if you read my blog regularly, you're going to want to know too. These are the important ones that pertain to my service and some pertinent dates.
PST: pre service training- what I am doing now.
PCT: peace corps trainee- what I am now until swear in on May 15.
PCV: peace corps volunteer- what I will be after May 15.
CED: community economic development- my program/sector that I will be working in for the next 27 months.
PCVL: peace corps volunteer leader- usually a volunteer who extends their service to lead a program for incoming volunteers. My PCVLs name is Sasha.
CBT: community based training- my CBT will be April 1- May 3 with the rest of the CED trainees in a town called Peralvillo. Obviously more on this to come, but the main industry we will be working with there is cacao.

On Thursday March 21, everyone will leave Santo Domingo for the weekend to go visit a real life volunteer and see what it's all about. Each of us will visit a different volunteer in a different site for 4 days. I, by fate, will be visiting Erin (who's blog I have been reading religiously since I got my invitation and who I have been in communication with) and her husband Tyler. They live in Pedernales, which is on the southern coast very close to the Haitian border. The trip will take me a total of 7 1/2 hours each way by guagua (that's a bus) but I'm confident it will be well worth it and I'm beyond excited to visit them!
Also by chance, I was able to meet both of them at the peace corps office yesterday in Santo Domingo.

Below are some photos of our trip to Santo Domingo- including the guagua ride, the colonial zone and some of the city itself.
Also a pic of me making dominican empanadas and Kate's birthday which was Wednesday. Her for real party is tomorrow.

Besitos!! Kaley

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Un chin de dique

I know my spelling and grammar errors are probably driving the few people who read this absolutely nuts (I just re read my last post, ha, you got the general idea, right??!) but please bear with me as I figure out the best way to do this!

But what, you may be asking, is dique?

I'll get to that in a second. I am now living in a northern barrio of Santo Domingo with Doña Casimira, a 78 year old spitfire of a host mom who I am convinced has more energy and definitely more friends than me. Everyone in our neighborhood calls her Mom. This is partially because everyone loves her like a mother and partially because she is related to a solid 60% of our barrio, she has 10 kids and some 30 something grandkids. Below (I think it's below, I write these posts from the blogger app for iPhone and I have yet to see how they post on a non mobile version of my blog) is a photo of Casimira buying plantains from a street vendor just in front of my house. She's pretty b.a.
There are 2 other volunteers living next door with her daughter and about 6 others living in my barrio.
I'll also leave you with some pics of the training center, the house, my room and of course my bed with my mosquitero.
I will be living here for the next three weeks of basic training. The peace corps training center is within walking distance from my house. After these first 3 weeks I will relocate for my CBT (community based training) which will be a much more rural setting. This will be with the other CED (community economic development) volunteers to train for job specific stuff for 5 weeks.
Anyway, the power comes and goes here como si fuera de moda. And each time it does, it's like a competition to see who can yell "SE FUE LA LUZ!!" first. I hear it from every window and street corner juuuust in case I didn't notice that the music from the corner colmado is no longer blasting. Don't get me wrong though, those of you who know me know that I looove me some bachata music.
The god news is we have a generator so my novelas do not get interrupted when we lose power. Score.
So when I asked about why the power goes out so much or why the water doesn't always run I often get an answer that has the word dique in it. Dique is the first dominicaism that I have learned thus far and I've never heard it anywhere else. It means "supposedly" or "they say that". But not just that, it's a polite and socially acceptable way to say that you believe something is maybe not true or only a rumor.
I have also recently began what I am sure will be a love/hate relationship with public transportation in the DR, but that will warrant a post of its own.

In other news, I have found myself a running trainer (lisanne, the volunteer next door) who I will repay with Spanish lessons. I'm covered in noseeum (no idea how to spell that) bites and have not been sick yet! I'll try to get another post up before malaria miercoles.

Paz, amor y dique! Kaley

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Día número uno

You'll have to excuse my lack of creativity on the title as I just took two Aralen (malaria meds, google the side effects and you'll understand) and I've been awake since 2:30am.
SO. Where to start. Staging was all day yesterday in DC where I met the 32 other volunteers that I will be training and serving with here in the DR. I know everyone assumes that PC volunteers are are super weird and crunchy, and some definitely are, but the group is really solid. There's a weird sense of security being with complete strangers from 20 different states across the US that have chosen to drop everything they're doing to serve.

Staging came and went (but not before spending the $120 they gave us for less than one day) and we were off. About 12 hours later we arrived in Santo Domingo We were greeted by our country director and several volunteers who are currently serving. Said volunteers held welcome signs that said "DON'T LOOK SO SCARED", "I NEED SOME NEW CLOTHES..." and "ARE YOU READY TO POOP IN A HOLE?" I have suddenly been sent back to my days as a new member in a sorority.
Upon arrival to our retreat site i was vaccinated for rabies, administered malaria meds, fitted for a motorcycle helmet (peace corps DR is the only site where volunteers are allowed to ride motorcycles, more on that to come), filled out A LOT of paperwork, banished my personal passport (I now have a PC 'port), credit cards, birth certificate and drivers license to a safety deposit box somewhere in the capitol don't freak out mom I'm getting PC identification), put up my mosquito net for the first time (Sam and I have decided its like the princess beds we never had) annnnnd took my first cold shower.
One thing I can say is that this country is beautiful and there's just no getting around it.
Tomorrow we are scheduled to begin official training at our for real training site AND meet our host families for the duration of the training period.

These posts are probably not ever going to be posted in real time, just FYI. They'll go up as soon as I have wifi.

Peace love and spitting three times after brushing my teeth,