I am all for cultural immersion, but there is a limit. After fitting all five family members on the motorcycle for a trip down to the dining pavilion, I realized we needed to maintain at least our automotive heritage. Therefore, I awakened at 4:50 AM last Saturday morning. My mission: to travel by bus across country to purchase our new car. I roared into town on the back of a co-worker’s motorcycle. Just as I was getting comfortable riding tandem, we picked up the father of said co-worker. Three on a bike, over speed bumps, at five thirty in the morning. From Jarabacoa, we caught a shuttle van down the mountain to the larger city of La Vega. From La Vega, it was another shuttle van to the even larger city of Santiago. The shuttle vans are slightly more expensive than traditional buses, two dollars compared to one, but the drivers are nice enough to drop you off at any one of about ten locations in the city.
In Santiago, I was dropped off at a “bus station” which consisted of a traffic jam of buses about to leave to every point on the island. I found the correct one and seated myself next to a gentleman who had a pet carrier full of chickens. Don’t trust a man transporting chickens. He had a big grin, but he assisted me in missing my stop in Navarrete. By the time I realized the mistake the bus was in the middle of nowhere. After two or three minutes of panic mode, I made the rational choice of hopping on a bus going in the opposite direction. After a few more misadventures, I finally made my rendezvous with Mike, our car expert.
We traveled by bus to Laguna Salada where there car was waiting for us. We made the deal over cokes and I forked over 265,000 pesos (a smidge over $6,000). The stack of bills was extremely high and it took us at least twenty minutes to count it all. I had been carrying the money around on all the buses that morning. Certain parties thought I was crazy carrying that much around. I wholeheartedly agree with them, particularly during the ten minutes I was stuck in the boonies trying to figure out how to get back to the stop I had missed. On the plus side, I realized fear is merely the feeling you get when the illusion of control is destroyed. Once I became comfortable not being in control and let God know it was up to Him, the rest of the trip was quite fun.
For being eighteen years old, our car is in remarkably good condition. Apparently, you can’t do much better than a Toyota RAV4 on the island: easy to get parts for, everyone can fix it, relatively easy on gas, and a very high resale value (unfortunately also a very high re-steal value). Sarah loves the horn, which sounds halfway between a dying duck and Snoopy saying “BLEAH.” The car is a joy to drive. While lacking in acceleration, the thing can crawl up impossibly steep hills, which I proved when I had to back it up a 45 degree grade in order to position it properly to jump a co-worker’s car.
Of course, the Stuckmobile became a stuck mobile after that. First, an unnamed Stuck locked the keys in the car. Apparently the automatic door lock button not only unlocks all doors, it also locks them if pushed the wrong way. Thankfully, we live on a campus surrounded by individuals who know how to break into cars. A wooden wedge to the top corner of the door, and a co-worker was able to fish the keys out (I’m quite spoiled, while I work in school my co-workers fix all my difficulties).
On our next foray after regaining the keys, the car refused to start. I tried jumping it, but the car wouldn’t even turn over. In Indiana, I would have hauled the thing into my garage and had a late night of throwing tools around. Here in the DR, I called a local mechanic. An hour later he arrived at our house with his tools in tow. He discovered it was a bad alternator (and proved it by removing it, rewiring, and starting the vehicle). He will be replacing it today, along with doing some brake work. I’m curious to see what my bill will be for a mechanic who brought his shop to me, who ran my battery into town to test, and who traveled to a nearby city to get parts. From what I’ve heard, the usual hourly wage is just over a dollar an hour.