DR Day 1: I’m really here!

I woke up around 9, although I'm guessing somewhat as I'm writing this a few days later, and time tends to not have as much meaning when your life isn't occupied by cell phones, email, and work.

Hot water was available in theory, but it coincidentally took as long as I was willing to wait, plus however long it took me to shower, so just after I rinsed off, I got some warm water. To be fair, the hotel's pretty empty right now, and apparently they have a switching system of some sort in place, effectively meaning they need to enable hot water to your section of the hotel. It was still cold, though!

Breakfast was a pretty standard tropical fare buffet - coffee, freshly squeezed juice, eggs, and other things for the more adventurous eaters, all of it good. There's a river that runs alongside the back of the hotel/resort, with the restaurant right next to it, and stairs going down to the water for those inclined to take a swim in it. There had been a storm recently, so the water was flowing pretty well - the brown water caused by the recent rising of the water against the rocks and shoreline.

A suspended bridge led across the river to what I at first assumed was a private residence, or possibly the hotel owners, but turns out to be a secondary bar for karaoke in the evenings.

Across the river
River Outside hotel
Dominican Ketchup

After my conversation with AT&T, and giving in on at least paying them for an 'international data plan,' thinking I'd at least occasionally check email from my phone, I saw I had a carrier showing, "Claro," along with the 'E' symbol which in theory says I can get a data connection to check mail over the Edge network. So, that theory was quickly disproven, as any attempt at data/network access failed miserably. I had asked AT&T for a number to reach them from DR, but was told AT&T can not be reached from DR...not that I believed them, but...for the best I suppose. At least it can still play music, and I'll check mail if and when wireless access is available somewhere (the hotel has no Internet access).

As I'd showed up for the trip early, today was sort of an ad-hoc day. We headed into town for a few, which was sort of unexpected as well. I've travelled a fair amount, most recently to Costa Rica, and I suppose I was expecting it to be similar, and while it was in some ways, in others..not so much. The town was larger than anything I'd passed through in Costa Rica except for Arenal, which in CR was a seriously typical touristy strip. Here, there weren't any of the giveaway signs of tourism - no souvenir shops, no clothing and 'authentic natively made' hyped goods being sold. I'd certainly seen those in CR as well, but none as large, so it was interesting to see just what looked like a relatively large town with little to no tourist influence.

Driving around DR
Driving around DR 2

Ironically, there were a few places marked as Pizzeria and such, and I have no idea if that's a 'natural event' in that the goodness of pizza is taking over the world, one small town at a time, or if it existed based on non-Dominican influence or ownership.

The center of the town was a small park, with a giant tree in the center, that spanned a block in width. It was obviously quite old, and while random trash could be seen floating in the river behind the hotel, the park area itself was quite clean, without litter.

We saw far more motorcycles, or 'motos,' than cars. Ed said roughly 50-60% of all vehicles in DR are motos, ranging from mopeds or small scooters, to tiny (to us) 100-125cc motorcycles, with a very small number of larger bikes or cruisers in existence. It was like they took all the old bikes from the 70s and 80s, and manufactured them new just for here and outside of the US. That's not terribly surprising, as different parts of the world often see vehicles they don't see everywhere else, and with gas apparently at $6 a gallon, inexpensive and good gas mileage, combined with high unemployment (up to ~20%) and low wages, smaller motos make sense.

Some things also became immediately apparent - while only a relatively small segment of people in the US and most 'first world countries' ride motorcycles (although the scooter population is on the rise..), usually men, here it was a basic form of transportation, not just for the sons and fathers, but for mothers, daughters, grandmothers..everyone. Per usual, nearly no one with any gear, or even helmets- although technically DR does have a helmet law in effect, apparently it's not actively enforced. People were carrying all sorts of things on the motos, and riding 2 or 3 up on these tiny bikes.

We found a restaurant for lunch, Restaurante La Lena, and we split a salad and some very good but slightly unusual hard sliced bread with garlic on it. I opted for a seasoned steak, churassco, along with Ed, while Chris took his first step towards becoming known as Goat Boy (Chivo), as he had his first taste of goat in a sort of stew. I gave the goat a try and have to admit, while it wasn't the orgasmic experience it was for Chris, it wasn't bad...I'd have it again. The ketchup bottle was rather amusing to us:

Surprisingly, while we were eating in the open air restaurant, we saw a small handful of super sport bikes trickle in to pull into the park entrance. A few CBRs, and a couple of other mixed sport bikes. These guys were wearing helmets and riding jackets, the first I'd seen so far. We're guessing they weren't local, but were either the sons of relatively well off Dominicans, or part of what I'm told is a growing (establishing?) middle class in DR.

We'd also see a quad zip up and down the road now and then, along with a mixture of dual sports, or bikes that wouldn't be road legal in the US - dirt bikes. I saw a few XT225s, a Serow, Honda XR or XLs, all generally small displacement, and a single 'baby chopper' - something that looked like a Rebel or GZ 250, and a trio of Dominican girls on a small bike, the one in back giving a dazzling smile as they rode by. We also saw a handful of well, what I'd call in the states a 'ricer car,' or 'tuner' if you're feeling more politically correct - basically, clean cars with stickers, but no noticeable or real performance improvements evident, with a high wattage stereo thumping out the local music, sometimes setting off what must have been the sole alarmed car in the immediate area. Other market unique vehicles went by, most tiny and obviously aimed at fuel economy, along with a Toyota that looked like a Honda Ridgeline with it's half pickup bed in back, and a 2 door Land Rover.

We finished up lunch, and took a walk around the park to take a look at the tree, where Chris suffered a minor accident involving some steps with particularly narrow treads, then headed out to the Moto Caribbe headquarters, a really cool place on an acre, sitting behind a gated entrance in front and back. DR like many places hasn't quite grasped the use of asphalt or cement for driveways, so it was a very nice, but also very slippery terracotta looking tiled surface. We pulled in and immediately saw the fleet of new Wee Stroms under an open overhang. The bikes are all new, but they make sure they're kept up, so Ed wanted us to go ahead and get some time in on them, so we geared up to run them in a loop for a few miles on each of them, and to get my first taste of riding in the DR...not to mention, I'm sure, to have Ed and Robert make sure I wasn't a likely candidate to dump it pulling out of their driveway :-)

First impressions on the Wee Strom were interesting, as I've owned a BMW F650, which I might as well just go ahead and say...Suzuki and others basically cloned the original F for their own 650 'dual sport like bikes.' That's not necessarily a negative, and I like Suzukis, and have been recommending the DL650s to others where it might be a good fit for them..I also happen to own two Suzukis at the moment, a DRZ400S, and an SV650 naked, which shares the same engine but in a different state of tune, with the DL650.

The bike felt very much like my F650 - the ergonomics, the height, the width and handlebars. The engine...it feels slightly more powerful than my F650, but isn't the 'torque monster' the SV is. I think the peak engine output is similar, although perhaps 10HP and a similar number of ft/lbs lower than the SV, but the DL is also a heavier bike than the SV. This isn't a bad thing, just...different, and I was very curious as to how the DL engine/cams/tune would feel compared to my SV. The seat, especially for an OE seat, felt comfortable, which was a huge relief, as I'd forgotten to bring along my Airhawk. The clutch felt, well, normal - nothing odd there, no instant engagement, and I was able to do low speed friction zone, rear brake dragging U-turns pretty easily..everything worked as it should, and they bikes started right up and ran well. Likewise, the brakes were OK..they felt a bit less grabby than my SV, which aren't anything special by sport bike standards, and while one finger braking didn't seem a great idea on the DL, it certainly felt able to stop itself.

We headed off down the road, doing an immediate u-turn then down a few miles to turn around. A local baseball game was going on, so lots of motos and a few cars lined the street on one side. Ed had mentioned something to the effect of because of the size of the bikes, locals often mistake them for local Police (La Policia), and sometimes even salute. I didn't get any salutes, but it was immediately obvious within a mile that we were 'noticeable' and better than half of everyone we passed was doing a double take or longer, checking out the bikes, and the weird people wearing motorcycle gear coming down the street.

The DL really felt pretty good overall. Slower than the SV, but a bit less, well, sensitive, and while I disagree with some about the SVs broad torque range (I do believe it has one, but I also feel most comfortable riding around 7k RPM on the SV if I might need some power on tap), the DL pulled pretty well from 3k RPM or so on up. DR uses the metric system for speed limits, and while there are very few signs posted, the DLs speedo registered only in Km/Hour, versus the dual gauges I'm so used to seeing. Certainly not the end of the world, as I very rarely look at my speedo while riding, but interesting to see no miles per hour reading on the gauge cluster. I found out later this is due to MotoCaribe purchasing the bikes locally, and they were manufactured in Columbia then shipped on to them. They also gained a few HP through the 'loss' of the catalytic converter.

The roads in DR...at least in this small section of it..were OK. In general, they felt like they'd been maintained more than the roads I'd travelled in Costa Rica, and wider. No sewer system and drain grates meant water had to run off somehow, so sections of road had relatively shallow but deep cement drainage trenches on the side of the road, which looked to be highly bike unfriendly. Ed had mentioned these, and after seeing them, yep, mental note made - do not ride into these. There was some amount of rubbish in the road we'd run up and down - some sticks, and a few places it looks like a recent storm had 'helped' the roadside encroach onto the road a bit, or deposited clumps of leaves in a place or two, but not terribly removed from what you might see in a more rural or agricultural section of the US in a less populated area. Not many side roads exist, which is nice - one less possible 'surprise' of having someone cut you off when you're coming up on a side street.

People also generally seemed more aware of the motos and riders, likely at least in a large part due to the percentage of motos in the country, but also because things were generally slowed down. Costa Rica has the slogan 'Pura Vida!,' which is along the lines of 'Seize Life!', and the feeling here was similar - everyone wasn't in such a permanent rush over trivial things, always having to be somewhere 10 minutes ago, and that extended to driving speeds, as well. People on motos would ride alongside you randomly, or come around you from behind, or cross the center line in the road, and even be tapping handlebars while you’re all moving down the road - it all has a sort of chaotic feel to it, these things we'd be ticketed for immediately in the States for, while crowds of SUV drivers would condemn us with their glares assuming they even noticed, while ignoring the chaos most SUV drivers create by simply existing at all. But, people were generally aware, and accidents weren't happening at every block. While it's still sort of chaotic, it's more of an organized, aware chaos, which isn't so bad.

Horses also shared the road, including every now and then, the horses sharing a 'part of themselves' in the middle of the road, but they all looked well cared for and fed, and they were quite used to seeing and hearing motos on the road, so give them their proper space when passing, and all is well.

We went back to the HQ/house, and took a picture of the tiny puppy Alida and Robert had taken in off the streets. Very cute, although dwarfed by their Great Dane puppy, and needed a little prompting to look at the camera.  meanwhile, Chris (don't worry, he's not the guide!) hadn't ridden before, so we prompted him to jump onto on of the DLs while we were there.


We headed back to the hotel after checking email on my phone via the house wireless, and I walked around for a bit to get some more pictures. Electrical outside the US can be interesting at times...at least they're not fuses! (And Costa Rica 'hot water on demand shower head' wiring still takes the cake to this day!)

DR HVAC-and-Wiring
DR Hotel-Susp-Bridge

I went for a swim for a bit, and generally lounged around for a while, then we all met up for dinner at some point, again, that time thing...I guess it was around 8pm or so. While on the tour, it's on a plan where everything's covered, meals and drinks included. However, apparently all the wine we'd drank the night before was not supposed to be on that list...or they realized just how much wine we'd managed to drink over the span of several hours the night before, so we were presented with 'the list.' Anything/everything was still available for dinner, but vino was verboten without extra charge, so we 'settled' on choosing among several vodka, rum, and other drinks which would ironically in the US cost more than the house wine we'd drank previously. The food was great. I tried a spicy steak, and Chris had what can only be called 'the mound of meat' - I'm not sure exactly what was there, but I think it at the very least included sausage, beef, and chicken, and Chris was unsuccessful in his attempt to clear his plate...I'm guessing there was at least several pounds of meat there!

Robert and Alida left us after dinner, and we proceeded again to determine that ok, yeah, so we all drink..so what? :-D At some point, Ed had mentioned some sort of 'rhino bug' that I couldn't imagine what it was...until Dana woke the table up with a shriek later, and we all got to see what looked like the largest beetle we'd ever seen. The picture doesn't do it justice - those are 2'x2' square tiles it's sitting on, and it's around the size of two golf balls in length.

Dana entertained us with showing us, uhh, 'the various faces of Dana.' I'm unsure this one has a name, but it's apparently the 'I'm embarrassed or sooo don't want to hear this expression.’  We'd thought Chris was going to entertain us at the karaoke bar, but as it's a Sunday in a fairly Catholic country, the karaoke bar closed earlyon Sunday, so instead we shut down the restaurant around midnight, and got some sleep before the 'official tour start' in the morning.

DR DanaFaces

Tomorrow, we finally ride!