The Guagua

Guagua is the local term for a public bus here in Santo Domingo. They run throughout the city as public transportation, but also run from the city to various other destinations and cities. One day, my home stay sisters invited me to head out to Boca Chica beach with them, so off we went to find our way!

We took a carro publico to the bus station where we were immediately bombarded with men in red shirts demanding our attention and each trying to usher us to a different bus, but they were all saying Boca Chica, Boca Chica, Boca Chica. It was definitely the most overwhelmed I had felt in public.

We let a young man in a red company shirt quickly usher us to to the first bus on the right. You step inside the door and it is kind of like walking into That 70’s Show. It is a bus, but it kind of reminded me of a volkswagen van, with dirty, ugly, tattered patterned old curtains hanging from all of the windows. The bus seats were old vinyl and equally dirty. And, the aisle was made for hips the size of a 10 year old. All three of us had to turn sideways a little to walk down the aisle to the free seats near the back of the bus.

We all sat separately as there weren’t many people on the bus at this point. Amanda asked someone if we were on the correct bus, and then asked if the ‘Express bus’ we could see out the window was faster than the one we were on. When we discovered it was, we decided to switch buses … well, that didn’t go so well. We started to get off the bus and were greeted by the same young man in the red shirt who shoed us back into the bus telling us that we’d be leaving in three minutes. Of course, that’s three long Dominican minutes!

We sat back down feeling like we were prisoners and not being allowed off the bus. I remember saying to the girls … “if you really want to switch buses, we can get off, he won’t stop us.” But, instead, we agreed to just stay put as we were sure the bus would be leaving soon. And, the other passengers told us it was only about a 30 minute bus ride.

Sitting on the bus waiting was horrendously hot though. In 40 degree heat, on a small bus with no breeze … not fun.

About 15 minutes later a few more passengers had joined us, including one local lady who sat down with Christine even though there were other free seats available. This was odd, however, Christine chatted her up in Spanish and somehow ended up with a gifted mango from the girl, and a guide to help us get all the way straight to Boca Chica and off at the correct stop.

A couple of minutes after we left the bus stop, the young guy in the red shirt came to the back and told Christine that she needed to remove her hoop earrings because she was sitting beside the window. The young girl explained (in Spanish) that it would be easy for people on the street to reach in and grab them because they look expensive and were hoops, so easy to grab on to. I think they also closed her window at that point.

Moments later, there were vendors reaching in the windows offering up candy, sunglasses and snacks for purchase. I didn’t see anyone buying anything, so not sure how they ever make any money this way, but none the less they were relentless in their attempts!

All along the way, the bus stopped to pick people up. After a few people got on, I decided to move up and sit with Amanda. Seemed better than both of us sitting with strangers on a packed bus. Within about five stops, the bus was full. Once we got outside the city, the bus got fuller than full, with a few people standing. Luckily, not for long, as people were also getting off all along the way.

The young man in the red shirt came along to collect money from everyone, $50 Pesos each for us. He made sure to smile nicely, wink and deliberately hold on to each of our hands a little longer than necessary, just to be flirty. Actually, it was just kind of awkward … but I guess he liked it.

For the next 30 minutes or so, we sat on the bus as people hopped on and off at various towns along the way. Christine continued to chat up her new friend Theresa and finally, we got to our stop. Theresa motioned for us to get off and follow along with her, so we did. She walked us down along the beach and showed us a couple of places we could stop if we wanted to. We had mentioned being hungry, so she showed us to a restaurant, sat down for a few minutes and then, *poof* she said goodbye and disappeared, not to be seen again!

We think, aside from being friendly that she also brought us to this particular restaurant because she was friends with someone there, but we will never know!

We spent a lovely afternoon at the beach, then made our way back to the main highway to catch a cold, air conditioned Express guagua on the way home. For the extra .50c American, this bus was worth it! We had a short little chat with a friendly, yet slightly crazy man on this bus and then made it safely back to Parque Indepencia where we walked about 10 minutes to get home.

Overall, an interesting experience with local transportation. I’m certainly glad that my first time I went along with my two new friends who speak much better Spanish than I do! I haven’t done it again yet, but I suspect I’ll be heading that way again when I’m done school to visit some of the other beaches as well as the city of La Romana. I’ll be catching the air conditioned Express bus for sure though. I’m sure I can afford the .50cents for comfort!

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