Moto conchos are moto taxis and they are all over the place here. Traffic is very fluid. No one really comes to a complete stop but just look and go. If you are from a developed country where traffic laws are more strict, this can seem very scary, but to locals, this is the norm.
I first came to Puerto Plata in May 2006. I spent two months, came back in Nov. for a week, back in Dec. for about 3 weeks, and then spent about half of 2007 here. In Jan. 2008, I moved down permanently. I have used moto conchos a lot. They are just convenient. But did I think I was invincible? I was just always focused on getting errands done quickly and that was the quickest way to do it.
|Carrying an art shop shipment box to a guagua.|
At some point I started experiencing fear. I really don't know why I didn't for years before this point. Motos drive on the wrong side of the road sometimes if they miss a turn or something along those lines. All of the "rules" are just much more fluid. I remember one day my moto went head on toward another moto and it reminded me of a time I crossed through the doorway at the same time as a veterinarian I was shadowing in Stephens City, VA. He went to pass on one side and so did I. He switched sides and so did I. He made light of it by saying, "May I have this dance? Thank you." And we eventually passed each other and got through the doorway. This actually happened as the other moto and my moto went toward each other head on. I found myself beginning to plan what I would do if I was in an accident and thrown onto the ground. I decided I would try to keep my head up so it didn't smack the ground and get up and out of the road as quickly as possible, so as to not get hit by oncoming traffic. I actually thought about this often as I was on motos.
Just as my fear increased, I was given more reason for it to increase. One night I went to an ATM via motorcycle. The driver didn't even stop to look as he crossed a street. I saw the car coming before he did it seemed, and screamed! We ran right into the side of the car and fell over in the road. I kept my head up, landed on my butt, and got up and ran onto the sidewalk as soon as I hit the ground. The driver tried to convince me to get back on but I refused and found a private taxi to take me home. My tailbone hurt for quite awhile there.
You see, all of the neighborhoods surrounding Puerto Plata, except for a few wealthy ones where it is assumed that pretty much everyone has cars, have a taxi route that passes through the neighborhood. Our neighborhood is the only one that doesn't. So I either have to walk really far to get home, or take a moto concho. OR pay a private taxi, but that really adds up. I vowed to not go on motorcycles anymore but the convenience of it got to me and I was back on them in a few months.
Willy began moto conchoing a few years ago. I didn't want him to do it and didn't want any of the younger boys to think they could do it when they came of age. But he was so determined and of course talked me into lending him the money to put the down payment. The way the companies work is, you put a down payment of about $60 and then you pay daily until it is paid off. He has yet to ever fully pay off a moto and is on his third attempt now. What happened with his first two is a whole other story but he didn't pay for them anymore than the days he had paid off, so it was as if he had been renting them. He conchos diligently. Willy is going to be 23 in November. He grew up in the boys' home... or at least has done a lot of his growing up there. He couldn't write his name when he entered, but a few years ago we sent him to the 6th grade national exam in Haiti which he passed. He is now in 8th grade here in the Dominican Republic and will do this national exam after this school year. I am really, really proud of him and really appreciate him. He knows that he is only still allowed to live in the home to help out with younger boys and he does a fairly good job at that. There are, admittedly, a few things I wish he would do more, but without him, I would have to pay someone to stay there with them, and I find things work out much better with a family feel than a paid employee.
One day last year we did a "compra" for a mom of 3 students in Padre Granero who had had an operation. A compra is a grocery store purchase. I went on Willy's moto with him from La Sirena to Padre Granero. Right in front of the police station, he went to pass a parked truck. Motos often pass vehicles so closely that they almost touch them. Vehicles do not open car doors on the side that is open to the road, but on the side next to the sidewalk. That is one "rule". Right as we passed, this truck swung its door open and knocked us over. Again, I jumped up and ran out of the road ASAP. But this time I had a hard time with a swollen knee and the compra was all over the road. Luckily nothing broke, we picked it up, and Willy and the man who stepped out of the truck started arguing. The man happened to be our neighbor. I got in a carrito PB that goes through Padre Granero and delivered the food, limping to the house with ripped bags. People watching helped me.
|Current condition of the bridge entering our community.|
At this point, I stopped taking motorcycles. I only took them from the entrance of our community to my house, so I didn't have to do the long walk (if I lacked time or had too much stuff in my arms) and couldn't afford a private taxi. But this is an area with lots of speed bumps so lower speed and no big intersections. So to get around town, I took the public taxis and guaguas. Guaguas are vans. They pack people in like sardines. I used to moan and groan to squish in with others and take the time it took, but after these scares, I have just enjoyed sharing with others who were living their lives and trying to earn their pesos in Puerto Plata in order to care for their families. If I had a vehicle, I would've missed so much of the interaction and solidarity!
However, there is a critique to be made about the planning of the public transportation routes in Puerto Plata. When you get to Calle Beller/La Sirena area, all cars go in the direction toward Munoz and Sosua. None go in the opposite direction. So I can get out of my neighborhood to the main road and take a carrito or guagua to get to most places in town, but as far as getting back, there aren't really any choices. From Parque Central, the SM goes to La Javilla, but that is far from La Sirena. If you aren't too familiar with Puerto Plata, it probably sounds like I'm speaking another language and I apologize. The point is, I have found myself in situations having to take a moto, especially at night when certain public routes are no longer running.
So this happened one night. I got 30,000 pesos out of the ATM at La Sirena. I clenched my wallet in my hand with a strap around my wrist and started walking home. I said, once I see a moto concho I know, I'll go with him. But I don't want to! I bought a hamburger at a stand along the way and had that dangling from the same wrist of the hand that I clenched the wallet in. I was almost to Supermercado Tropical when I saw a moto concho I knew and got on. When we got close to La Pulga, another moto passed us and swerved into us. My moto swerved away. The passenger of the other moto grabbed my hand and tugged but had no success and they rode off down a side street. I told the moto concho that they must've been trying to grab my hamburger, as I didn't want him to know of the money I carried. We made it home and I opened the wallet to pay him. He saw that it was full of money and exclaimed. I told him I had clenched it tightly in my hand since I knew of the dangers of taking out money at night.
|At the recycling center in Santiago.|
So this added to my growing hatred for motorcycles. I don't want it to sound like Puerto Plata is a dangerous place. This is the closest I have ever been to being robbed.. sure if you leave something somewhere someone will take it. My sandals were taken from my front porch the other night. But as far as an assault is concerned, I mean. And we have had very few incidences with volunteers as well. The incidences we have had have been a moto concho passing a person on the street and snagging their necklace off of their neck in a quick moment. Other than those 2 incidences among our volunteers, there was one assault/attempted robbery but the girls fought the guy off and he ran away on his awaiting moto!
When I get off of the guagua C or carrito Munoz, the moto conchos at the stop at the entrance to our neighborhood call to see if I want them to drive me. I give them the "wait" hand, cross the street, and then take one home. Sometimes they come over to get me and I refuse to get on before I cross the street. Now they pretty much all know to just wait on the other side. But other than that, no thank you. I won't take a moto anywhere else. I would rather walk two miles home. Hopefully I can get a vehicle before too long, but also dread the maintenance there. But no, it will be better. I really, really get discouraged sometimes; especially when it is raining. And it limits how much I can do with my kids.
Here is an excerpt from an e-mail I just wrote to Crystal:
Willy came to our bedroom window last night at 2:30 (so this morning actually) crying. Around 8pm he hit a 5 year old boy on his moto and the adults watching chased him with sticks and machetes. Someone he knew lived nearby and he ran to his house. They even hit the owner of the house on the head with a stick. (The owner of the house he hid in was with him at our house at 2:30am. He hid in there until that time. The boy has a broken leg and broken arm apparently. He hung his head and cried. :( I just loaned him 5,000 pesos to give to the family (who had confiscated his moto) and he says he's going to try to sell his moto, although he hasn't paid it back yet - but sell it and let that person continue paying.. so at a fair price. And he says he'll help me with everything now. :) He is helpful but does have a certain amount of things he doesn't help with that I want him to. Soccer practice is one of the things he hasn't been as helpful with, but he asked me what time practice was today and guaranteed he would be there. That was so sad to see him cry, though. I thought he was going to say the boy had died, so thank God he didn't. And I'll be so glad if he gets rid of the moto once and for all.
**This is an edit a few days after I finished this post. Someone just shared a link with an article about traffic here and some chilling stats: http://bigstory.ap.org/article/dominican-traffic-death-rate-among-worlds-highest**
On a final note, is this Passenger, popular in the US? We recently discovered him on You Tube and we can't get enough in our house! I especially like when he is with the group and the girl is singing as well.
So I've got to get back to studying. But felt like it was time to share these motorcycle/transportation woes. Final exams for 2nd year of law school on Dec. 9th and 11th and I am at danger of being ineligible because I am so far behind! It's Project Esperanza's fault, along with that Baby Bar I had to study for, but thank God I passed it and am done with that! But please pray that I can catch up this month and pass these exams!
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