An American Puta in Punta Cana
Hopping off the 737 into the sticky heat of the Dominican sun, the unfamiliar landscape captured me for a few moments. But inevitably, my eyes drifted to my vehicular surroundings just as the gaze of a forty-something middle-classman drifts to the chest of the young waitress at a sports bar. An oddly shaped Leyland with half the cab cut away was the first to catch my gaze. Chuckling to myself, I snapped a picture and moved along with a distant hope that the automotive landscape would arouse my interests.
Departure from customs led into a lobby where dozens of employees tried to sham us into paying for a ride in their poorly maintained vans. Stopping us every two or three steps, these shysters were incredibly desperate to pocket a few pesos. I wasn’t having any of that shit. We muscled our way through the sweaty crowds and hopped into our private Hyundai H-1, which sported a stick shift much to my delight.
Screaming onto the highway with as many revs as the little diesel could muster, we merged into a sea of Hiluxes, HiAces, and many people who drove like they were high. I tried in vain to score a few photos through the strange mesh sun-screen that was peeling off the side glass. The hustle and bustle of the luggage area prevented me from grabbing a snapshot of the humble Hyundai as we gathered our belongings, but I was determined to get a few good shots during our stay.
I held up the whole gang as I stopped to scan the surrounding parking lots, grinding to a halt without notice in order to capture a few tidbits of automotive obscurity. I spent a couple days unhealthily eyeing a “customized” HiAce at the resort entrance before gathering the balls to walk over and take a picture. Despite the locals’ strange glares and my first hangover kicking in at 9am, I walked back to the air conditioned lobby with a smile on my face and my phone in hand.
The few times we left the resort, the automotive wilderness left my retinas in sorry shape. One car rental company in particular shamelessly plugged Shelby Super Snakes on their billboard while directly below lay a singular Mustang GT with a full on AutoZone chrome treatment. Stick on trim was a recurring theme, as well as tape stripes and “custom” badging.
Since our parasailing got cancelled due to weather and I got to keep my lunch, we signed up for an off road excursion instead. I had no idea what I was in for, but the prospect of whipping some sort buggy got my heart racing. The chance to make my friend scream in fear from the passenger seat put a stupid grin on my face.
The 4Runner shuttle hurried us through the city streets and stopped on the edge of a highway, where we boarded on a tired flatbed cabover that had some glorified park benches and scaffolding loosely attached to the rear. A near hour long voyage to the middle of nowhere left me confused and excited, ready to drive whatever poorly maintained contraption my fifty dollar payment allowed me to get my hands on.
I took the hot seat for the first leg of the trip, explaining the controls to my less car savvy copilot. The group leaders started the buggy by jumping a couple wires together, and after affixing our seatbelts (read: ropes) we were on our way. Giving myself a good forty feet of space between myself and the next buggy in line, I gave it the beans right from the start much to my friend’s discontent. Mud puddles were met with full throttle, soiling my glasses and my copilot’s shorts.
Due to the inebriated state of several buggy drivers, the whole group was ground to a halt every forty five seconds or so during the rough patches of terrain. Instead of waiting patiently and quietly, my eighteen-year old self thought it would be wise to repeatedly slam the gas pedal to the floor, showering the poor sap behind us with the smell of burning oil and excitement. This poor sap turned out to be my friend’s dad and his six year old sister, but that did not put a damper on my self-titled position as “Rev-It-Up Randy” for the day.
Neutral drops did not escape my mind, but the N-R-D shift pattern protested my hooligan driving tactics. A loud clicking sound accompanied by a jolt forward was the less than stellar result of my transmission torture, but the sorry thing soldiered on without a hitch.
On the way back from the gorgeous beach that marked the turnaround point, my friend and I switched roles. Hesitant to lay into it at first, he gave into to peer pressure and drove just as hard as I did during my stint at the wheel. My back was taking a beating from the hard plastic seats and sagging suspension, but that was a "tomorrow problem" in my mind.
Halfway back to the starting point, the lead buggy ran out of gas. Our buggy happened to be the closest one to them, so they decided to siphon a bit from ours. A perfectly reasonable idea, but the execution not so much. Filling up a used water bottle to the brim, roughly a third of our fuel survived the perilous three steps between our tank and theirs. They didn’t stop with just one bottle; over a liter and a half later they decided to call it quits.
Shockingly, our buggy sputtered and stopped not ninety seconds up the path, and the non-English speaking tour guide frustratingly tried to start our engine to no avail. Perhaps the concept of an empty fuel tank escaped his mind, but his frustration transferred over to my friend who took the helm of a spare buggy that was luckily a few paces from where our original buggy gave up the ghost. This spare buggy had chunks of the tire flapping in the breeze with belts clearly visible, and the steering wheel took more turns lock-to-lock that I can count on my fingers.
Unintelligible instructions and rickety controls drove my friend insane, so he finally gave in and let me make up time on the final leg of the journey. A full throttle sprint in this death trap had me laughing like a madman, wafting and bouncing dangerously close to a full blown crash. Sweating and smiling upon our return to the starting point, my distraught passenger did not share my laughter at the blatant disregard for routine vehicular maintenance. Several days later waiting to board the flight home, my body was still screaming for mercy while my heart remained set on hauling ass in an open wheeled monstrosity at any chance I could get.