Going to San Francisco. Not San Francisco CA but San Francisco de Macoris, at the center of the Dominican Republic. The trip there from Nagua is one of life’s great pleasures, sitting in the bed of a pickup truck with Paul Simon’s Graceland playing on my headphones. The sun is brutal and there’s no shade, but speeding through the endless rice paddies at sixty mph provides enough of a breeze to make it comfortable.
Public transportation in the DR is strange but efficient – a polyglot of minibuses, sedans, pickups and motorbikes, organized in such a way that any passable road has a standard driver or two. On the highway between Nagua and San Francisco, a transit syndicate runs a truck every fifteen minutes. Fifty pesos to ride in the cab and forty to ride in the bed, which – sunburn and dust notwithstanding – is a much better deal. The buses – battered, monoxide-wheezing and mostly not air-conditioned – ply the same road, but their ultimate destination is the city of Santo Domingo. One may also encounter dump trucks without engine housings, flatbeds moving gigantic John Deere rice threshers and the sparkling SUVs of the rich. Dodging through it all are dozens of motorbikes, roaring without mufflers, carrying multiple passengers and sacks of grain. The exhaust is sometimes potent.
It seems as though the battles of Christianity are fought on the road. Where vehicles in the US are sometimes lettered with “No Fear” or “Who’s Your Daddy,” the public buses and trucks in the DR are boldly labeled “Christ’s Chosen,” “God is with me – don’t attack me” and “Jesus my Lord.” As I swivel to look at the bus bearing down on my truck’s tailgate, I see that it is called “The Distinguished One – with more faith!” I can’t help but wonder, how much more faith? Fifteen percent? Fifty percent? The bus roars by before I can pose the question to the driver.
There is something about being squished into a single bus seat with three other people that provides a sense of a common goal. Something about riding three to a rickety motorcycle reinvigorates a latent sense of spirituality. And despite the raccoon-eyes that come from an hour’s ride in the bed of a pickup wearing sunglasses, going to San Francisco is always worth it. I am paid back by the big sky and the freedom of the road.