For some of you reading that line:
“No silly, not that type of fix”.
For the more naive of you:
“Yes, exactly, getting something repaired, Cabarete style”.
I have a weird outlook on the world of travel. I kind of like things going wrong. Not too massively wrong, I don’t want to end up in hospital or anything extreme like that, but small challenges are great. Many years ago, I went to Bangkok with a new ACER laptop that had broken a few days before I left the home. The company I bought it from said that it would be repaired under guarantee but it wouldn’t be done in time for my trip (this was back in the day before I started using Apple laptops). So off I went to Thailand with a laptop that had a dodgy keyboard. I decided before I left the UK that I’d see if ACER’s ‘world wide guarantee’ really was ‘world wide’? After visiting a computer mall/centre in central Bangkok and finding an ACER dealership, they made some calls and then I went off in a cab to an industrial estate, where I was greeted warmly by someone who spoke as much English as I spoke Thai. Lots of non-verbal communication and a demonstration and they indicated to me to sit down. Eventually they returned with a translator who worked in a different building, for another company. The interpreter told me, if I left it with them, they’d have it ready in a week. I explained I was going to Chang Mia in a couple of days. They offered to have it fixed the following day if I was happy to accept a US layout keyboard? And that’s why, for the life of that computer, I always had to think twice how to type a “£” symbol! The interactions with locals who aren’t involved in the tourist industry is often a great way to see the people and a country for real, so a challenge like this is to be welcomed.
A Cynic is an Optimist with Experience!
Many years ago, I was asked/offered to take motorbike photographs at a Dominican motorbike race meeting.
One of the top racers in Dom Rep had seen my photos of the TT and we’d swapped emails. By coincidence there was a race meeting the weekend after I arrived. I went off on the bus to the capital, Santo Domingo, about six hours from the north coast. I took photos and went out drinking & eating with a bunch of great people. Then on Monday, I caught the bus back up north.
The coaches in the Dominican Republic are notoriously cold. The air-con is on full the whole time, to the point of wearing a jumper despite the 30 degree C heat outside. But this coach was roasting hot! I was sat about three-quarters back, in a double seat, on my own. A Dominican woman got on the bus. She was about 30 years old. She made a bee line for me, passing numerous empty seats, and sat down next to me. Instantly, this was ‘odd behaviour’.
We smiled and said “hola” and I made it clear that when I moved my camera bag, it was to give her more leg room (and not at all so she couldn’t dip her hand in, no, not at all).
We chatted in pigeon English and my even worse Spanish. Then came the punchline I was waiting for… “you gimme dollar!” “No, I don’t give you dollar”. She repeated her demand a bit louder. At this, the young woman on the seat in front whipped around and wagging a finger in the woman’s face, spoke sternly to her in Spanish. I have no idea what was said, but this eighteen year old woman, travelling with her younger sister had clearly given the older woman a telling off. The young woman then smiled at me and nodded, before turning forward again. The rest of this part of the journey was in silence.
As we pulled in to Santiago, the largest city (& bus station) on the route home, the driver spoke over the intercom. I second guessed that he would be saying either there would be a delay while the air-con was fixed or a change of coach, so I decided to watch the other passengers like a hawk and do as they did.
In fact, I didn’t have a choice in the matter! The young woman in front turned and said assertively “follow me”. I’d already assessed that I didn’t trust the woman who was sat next to me, but I did trust the young woman in front who had bollocked her, so unquestioningly, I followed. She marched us to the ladies’ toilet and ordered me, pointing at the ground, to “wait here”. When she and her sister emerged, she walked me the twelve feet further and with a flourish, pointed to the men’s toilet “baño”. This was clearly an instruction to urinate, not an invitation! We then walked through to the food hall. This is an area which is not particularly a tourist spot (although undoubtably tourists do pass through) so it is for the local population, not us gringo’s. I hung back while she made a purchase.
So far, I could have managed unaided, but the next part was important, and she led me to a completely different vehicle, parked in a different bay. We embarked and having ‘connected’ with her and her sister, I sat next to them, across the isle. The other woman sat, suitably chastised, in a seat near the front of the bus.
As we set off, my new young friend opened the bag containing the food. To my surprise, she produced three ‘Dominican Flags‘, a portion of chicken, rice & beans, the staple diet in the Dominican Republic. One for her, one for her sister and one for me. Next, a large, cold, bottle of Pepsi, with three plastic glasses, one for her, one for her sister and one she passed to me.
This was ‘real’ Dominican people. Warm, friendly & generous. Of course there are those who see the tourists as a cash-cow, but they are the minority. As is the case anywhere.
Well you may now be thinking, “this is all very interesting, but how are these stories relevant to your current trip?” And I would respond that I’m relieved this is interesting enough to keep you reading and the relevance will arrive shortly if you have some patience!
When I arrived in the Dominican Republic on this trip, the cable for disengaging the Batec from the wheelchair was very loose. It had been stretched for some time and I now realise that with the sheath coming out of the holding point, by the lever, I was damaging the cable. Had I adjusted it ages ago, it would have lasted a lot longer. Sure enough, a few days in to the Cabarete trip, it snapped. I was now faced with climbing in & out of the chair, with the Batec still attached, in a very ungainly and frequently dangerous manner. I’ve got a couple of bruises on my shins, although one of the advantages of a spinal injury is I didn’t feel any pain when I did this, so that’s okay.
Off to the ferreteria (hardware store). We’ve met Eliezer (who actually works in the furniture store that is part of the same business) there before and knew he was super helpful. After explaining the problem, he helped to dismantle the frame of the bike, then go to another store to look for a replacement cable. Unfortunately he couldn’t source one that fits, but he rigged up a ‘work around’, so the remaining cable could be pulled by hand to disconnect it from the wheelchair. This made a big difference as it meant I no longer had to climb in & out, although it was still awkward for Elaine, as she had to brace herself against the Batec while pulling on the cable to disengage it.
All told, he spent about an hour with me, trying to fix it, then fashioning a temporary repair. He saw Elaine discretely (but obviously not discretely enough) getting some money out… “please, if that is for me, don’t. I don’t want money, I just want to help”. Smiles, handshakes & a hug from Elaine. He’s a really nice bloke.
A couple of days later, I was talking to Danny, an ex-pat Brit who has lived in Cabarete for about twelve years. He told me about a Dominican guy who has (among other things) bike tours. He said that if he has bikes, he’s presumably able to fix them, so when he finished work, he took me over to ‘Kendo’s Bike & Tours‘ and introduced me to Adolfo Ramirez, the owner. He examined the Batec and scratched his head. He explained that there had to be ‘something else’ for a cable to attach to for it to work. We then decided to disconnect the ‘cross bar’ from the cycle. Sure enough, half way down is a small hole that the cable needs to be passed through. I would never have found that on my own.
Adolfo got a new cable and sheath and asked Danny to flag down a moto-concho (a moped taxi). He spoke to the moped rider and explained what was needed, then off he went with a RD$200 note (about £3.30). A few minutes later, the guy returned with the parts and my change. The moto rider was given a hundred pesos and the required blocks cost me about thirty pesos, so just over two pounds. Adolfo cut the new cable to size and passed it through the new sheath and ‘secret’ hole. He then reassembled the Batec and used the three ‘cable blocks’ to hold the cable in place. It works great. Despite Adolfo, like Eleizer, spending over an hour working on the Batec, and in this case, actually using some of his supplies in the form of cable & sheath, he also refused a payment. More handshakes, thanks & smiles.
When travelling, I’d recommend a heathy scepticism of people’s motives.
But also, to remember that for every would be scammer on the bus, there are dozens, if not hundreds of people who will go out of their way to be kind, decent, helpful human beings. Whether it is going and finding someone to translate in Thailand, feeding a fellow traveller or going out of their way to fix a broken wheelchair, most people everywhere are great and it is what I love about travelling.
If you are visiting Cabarete and considering a tour, please give Adolfo your business. Kendo Tours can be found at the Wind Chimes Plaza, right next to the new ‘Life Styles Hotel’. There is a new footbridge at Life Styles. With the centre of town behind you, Kendo is on the right. As well as obviously, cycle tours, Adolfo can arrange bespoke tours, including the “27 Waterfalls” (I did this before I became disabled. It’s a fantastic experience), white water rafting, horse riding, para-gliding or whale watching in Samana during the season. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange the tour you want.