Planet Hiker

Using gua gua to travel to the waterfall of El Limon in Dominican Republic, 2010-07-19


"Este es una gua gua?" (Is this a gua gua?) I asked, being suspicious that the man is trying to pull a fast one on me.
"Si, este es una gua gua tipica" (Yes, this is a typical gua gua) answered the man, being slightly offended that I did not fully trust him. His bloodshot eyes meet me sternly, projecting confidence. Never the less, we were tourists with little knowledge of who to trust, where to go and what to expect…

By the way, “gua gua” is what in Dominican Republic people call cheap public transportation, normally operated for short distance travels such as between villages, and are usually in a form of a microbus. But this one was a pickup truck with 3 wooded benches bolted in the back. Be it a bench and not a seat, a pickup truck and not a van, either way – it sounded like cheap transportation, so we hoped on. Soon a few more villagers climbed on as well, bringing with them all sorts of sacks, probably filled with rice/beans type of bulk produce. Finally, when there was absolutely no more room left available, one more tourist hauled himself into the gua gua and we were off to the village of El Limon to see a local waterfall.

The ride itself was quite thrilling. We had a 360 degree view of the local countryside, sprinkled with little colorful houses perched here and there. As the road wined around the hills, we’d get an occasional manure whiff from the horses and cows grazing on the lush tropical greenery, mixed with the heavy exhausts of the pickup truck’s diesel engine. Every now and then the gua gua would stop in front of someone's residence and the driver's assistant - the man with whom I spoke earlier - would drop off a sack or two at their doorsteps (or rather at the barbwire-fence gate). I can only guess how he managed to remember who gets what, but apparently he knew exactly what to do and we would drive off without having to wait for the owner to "sign off" on it.

With some room opening up in the back of the truck, we more or less reestablished personal spaces and began exchanging curiosity glances with the other passengers. The easiest person to start off a conversation with was the other tourist, so one of us asked about what country is he from, to which he replied "Spain". Of course, like every other Spaniard I have ever met, he immediately declared that he is NOT Spanish. Presumably, his region (it was either Bask or something of that nature) should be an independent country but is currently under the tyranny of the big state. By the same token, he deeply regretted Spain's recent win of the World Cup, as it was the only team that he did not want to win.

By the time we sorted out the nationalistic differences, the gua gua stopped in front of a big sign that read "Cascada de El Limon" and we hoped off, ready for the next phase of the adventure. The man who has been assisting with the deliveries got off as well and called up the local "tour operator" - a chubby man, wearing slick clothes and a lazy smile, typical of someone who makes money of off other people's hard work. With his gaze floating in approximately our direction but never making eye contact, he explained that it will cost 600RD (about $16US) for the 4 of us – such is the price of the guide to the waterfall.

Knowing that he's not a guide, I asked "Eres una gia?" (Are you a guide?).
“No, I am not a guide” explained the man “but I will arrange for one”.

The fact that we didn't actually needed a guide, since the trail to the waterfall was quite easy to follow, plus the idea that the chubby man would take the biggest cut of the fee, was quite upsetting to the Spaniard. He protested paying anything at all but the gua gua assistant intervened, pointing out that we are after all tourists and that the local people should receive some money. Knowing just how poor people here are and that $4US each is really not that much, especially when considering that if we were to book the trip to the waterfall via a tourist agency then it would have been $30US each, I encouraged the Spaniard to comply.

After poking around for any other options for not paying the fee, we finally forked over the 600 pesos and went off following our guide – a young boy, wearing a red Spiderman t-shirt and torn jeans, who took a particular liking in Naomi. He always made sure to hold her hand when there was a muddy patch to cross and helplessly blushed when the local kids made fun of his sincere efforts in acting professional.