You only Live Twice

“2000 Pesos,” the boy claims with great self-confidence. He has a neon-yellow colored Iroquois hair style and his skin color is evidence of his creole heritage. He wears colorful shorts, flip-flops and a muscle shirt that dramatically reveals his tattoo, showing a – let’s say – slightly underdressed girl with an impressive bust size. The detail that immediately catches my eyes, however, is that this girl similarly has a tattoo showing an Iroquois biker.

Determined not to pay what I consider blunt robbery, I resolutely shake my head and make my counter offer, not less impertinent then his: “500 Pesos, and not a single Centavo more!” He smiles the don’t-bullshit-a-bullshitter smile. I respond with my sweetest don’t-trick-your-brother smile. 

My 17-year old son Tom taps me on my shoulder: “Maybe we should try one more time to get a taxi? I mean the kind with four wheels.” Skeptically, he eyeballs the vintage and obviously brutally over-tuned motorcycle and its colorful rider. He is not worried about the price for the ride. He thinks what I think: “How should the four of us plus him fit on his Suzuki moto-taxi and take a 15 km ride through the mountains?” And Tom sure is not the kind of guy who gets worried too easily.

The Four of Us

The four of us are, besides my son and myself, my two boat dogs Cap’n Jack and Scout, two beagles that have traveled four continents on my sailboat. They have never ridden a motorcycle in their short lives, though. They still look happy because they don’t have a clue of the matter of our negotiation. Sometimes not knowing is a blessing.

Two Worlds in One

We have been roaming the province town Santa Barbara de Samana, or short just Samana, to find a taxi for more than an hour now without success. I have a phone number of the taxi service that brought us here from the marina but their prices were robbery, and I would rather crawl on all fours through the jungle than to pay them another Centavo. Just the fact that our sailboat Seefalke is docked in the only marina in the area, inside a pump-gun guarded, white-rich-man community, is reason enough to charge us ridiculous pump-gun guarded, white-rich-man rates. 

The destination of my desire is Playa El Valle, one of the beaches that the harbor master strongly recommended as one of the must-see-places in the area. He is a Samana Peninsula native and visibly proud of his back yard. He really got excited when he was talking about all the fun things to see around here. So, I am determined to go to Playa El Valle, and this Suzuki Iroquois seems to be my only way.

I ask him again if he really is convinced we can all fit on his vehicle. His gestures speak more than a thousand words: He noisily revs the engine, shrugs innocently and smiles knowingly. Then he asks me if I think that four horses per passenger, the four-legged ones included, wouldn’t be enough. I don’t know why but this answer didn’t take away my doubts completely. His bike looks like a Suzuki GN125 to me, mid 1980s made maybe. If I remember correctly they made the engine with ten horsepower. Doing the math he must have tuned it up times two. I am actually getting slightly more worried, much less considering the absence of helmets or other safety gear.

An Offer I Hope He Will Refuse

So I make him an offer that I hope he will refuse: “Brother, I’ll pay you 1000 Pesos but we need two bikes. I am ok with dying here and now but I have a responsibility for these three here, you understand?” He nods compassionately. In his look I recognize pity for my burden of responsibility. Then his sharp whistle drowns out the traffic noise and another biker sets out toward us from the other side of the potholed three-and-a-half lane main street of Samana. We finally agree on 1200 Pesos, 600 for each. Tom asks me with a smirk: “Shouldn’t it be us who get paid for this?” Oh, I am such a bad dad!

So, Tom gets the little one, Scout, and I take Cap’n Jack as we climb on the two motorcycles starting what we think will be our lives’ last ride… the crossing of Styx, the journey to the Happy Hunting Ground. The dogs seem to understand the seriousness of the situation as they kick their legs like in a dog-karate contest. We grab the panicking canines tight like a screw clamp which leaves us with limited ability to hold on to the two-wheeled suicide machines taking off like a rocket. 

I am just happy that neither Tom’s mother nor my former first mate and owner of my two boat dogs are here to see this. In fact, if one of you two are reading this right now, I strongly recommend that you stop right here, as to continue may cause physical harm like a heart attack or nervous breakdown.

Why Speed Bumps Are Called “Speed Bumps”

We soon begin weaving through the chaotic traffic of Samana… around pot-holes, wrecks and donkey carts, through narrow alleys, busy streets and dirt roads, past markets, lottery shops and unfinished and long forgotten buildings out of the city and up into the mountains. I learn why speed bumps are actually called “speed bumps”: 

Well ahead of the bump you need to speed up and lift the front wheel to not bump into them, but hawk-like fly over them. The black tire stripes on the tarmac after each speed bump mark the current records of the informal long jump competition. With our over-loaded vehicle we won’t break any records, but surprisingly we do collect some flight time.

The first speed bump catches me totally by surprise, though. I expect my driver to do what I would have done, which would be to slow down, carefully crawl over it and then accelerate again. But the opposite is the case. When he accelerates, the enormous g-forces brutally push me backward. Pressing Cap’n Jack on my chest with both hands, it’s only my legs clamping us to the bike and keeping us from being catapulted underneath the vintage truck racing right behind us. I see the truck driver’s excited grin, revealing his golden tooth twinkling in the sun, and I feel his hot breath in my sweat-soaked neck. Ehm, no, the hot air is actually coming from the overheated engine that is pushed beyond all reasonable limits.

When the front wheel loses ground contact I feel my thighs merging with the seat, developing over-humanly strength, and when we finally go airborne I see Cap’n Jack rising higher and higher until, like in zero gravity, he is floating past my face right over my head. In slow motion I reach out to him, grab him in midair and pull him back on my chest right in time before the bike touches down with screeching tires, a good meter short of the black stripe marking the local record. I hear my Iroquois rider swear in disappointment. I get the feeling it is his own record that we just missed.

Best Man by Default

I don’t have time to relax or even breathe deeply because the bike is swerving suddenly, right towards a girl walking on what is supposed to be the curb. From what I see from behind, it’s one of those Caribbean goddesses: chocolate colored skin, long black hair, moving her voluptuous curves with naturally-born grace, effectively enhanced by hula-hoop size earrings and a super-tight super-short neon-pink stretch dress. I haven’t seen her from the front yet but I know it would just perfect the picture. So does my driver. 

I think to myself: “No, he is not going to do this! No, he cannot possibly want to do this!” And as we come as close as an arm’s length to her well-proportioned body I clearly hear that kind of smack when a male hand spanks a female booty over the almost unbearable noise of the engine. He really did it! 

“¡Cuando regrese, me voy a casar contigo!,” (When I return I am going to marry you!) my intrepid friend proposes to her as we fly by.

When I turn around smiling my most apologetic smile I expect an angry woman, cursing us with all her power but she just smiles back, amused, obviously content with the effect her body has on passing bikers.

As I am still wondering if I just witnessed a Dominican blitz engagement and by default turned into my driver’s best man, I hear my son’s voice: “Hey papa! Are you having fun yet?” as they are taking advantage of our slight detour to one of the seven wonders of the Dominican Republic and pass us with death-defying speed. Oh, shit, the race is on now. Everything till now was just a warm-up. 

A Fair Price

We accelerate as well, and reach the first mountaintop almost at the same time. The view over the jungle is breathtaking. “At least I’ll die seeing something beautiful,” I think to myself, but I am not scared anymore. For now, I just want to win this race. Our lives are just a fair price to pay for it. 

At least I die seeing something beautiful…

On the way downhill our drivers turn off the engine. It turns quiet for a while. Just the wind is howling in my ears as we get faster and faster rolling down the winding road with heart-stopping speed like in a free fall. We all cuddle up and duck down to be as aerodynamic as possible. Only Cap’n Jack’s head is sticking out like a brake flap, creating unnecessary air friction, the literal dog in the manger. 

I take a peek at the speedometer and it shows zero, obviously not quite correct, but I am kind of happy about it. I don’t really want to know. 

I think I see it before my driver does. On the valley bottom there is something shimmering, silvery. Is this water? Or just tarmac reflecting the sun? “Holy Molly, it is water,” I think. As we come closer I can confirm it is a huge puddle. It had rained the past few days, it makes sense. I can only speculate how deep it is. But I am positive we will find out in a few moments, one way or the other. There is no way around it and we passed the safe braking distance lightyears ago. My friend is trying to crank the engine just as we are about to test our amphibious abilities. I can only hope he knows what he is doing. 

The motor starts a millisecond before we hit that road pond in a ginormous splash. Surprisingly we get less wet than I expected, but we do get wet. Cap’n Jack is not happy and it takes all my strength to keep him from mutiny and on board. I turn around and see Tom and his bike. They were less lucky as they were fully hit by our wake. I see his driver grimly looking at us, thirst for revenge sparkling in his eyes, water dripping from his angry face. My pilot and I high-five as we are ascending the next mountain.

You only Live Twice

As we descend the next steep road down into another valley there is suddenly a deafening bang that shakes our bike badly. It only takes a split second for my creole Iroquois to regain control and we stop at the side of the road. The chain snapped. Obviously not his first time. Cesar, that is actually the name of our driver, gets it fixed in a few minutes and off we go again. 

A few minutes later and against all odds we make it to the beach. All six of us. Alive. It better be worth it. When I get off the bike, I kiss the dogs, I hug Tom and I shake Cesar’s hand, thanking him for the extremely fast and extraordinarily safe ride, and for taking such good care of us on land, on water and in the air. Who wants to live forever anyway? 

Playa El Valle

When he asks if they should wait for us to take us back to town, I see Tom’s eyes, silently begging me to turn down this honestly well-meant offer. Tom might be right. You only live twice.

So, as a gentleman I selflessly release Cesar of his obligations: “You better get back to your fiancé, bro, and close the deal!”

Road Impressions